Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Raise the Mark

Foot racers at the starting blocks

Life is like a race. Run to the end. And receive your prize. Or is it?

Pastor Roland was spitting again. He spits when he gets excited. And on this particular Sunday he was very excited.

“I press ON to the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ!” His words entered my mind over and over. The sound of his twangy southern voice bounced off the dry-wall (he hung himself) of the small (mostly) empty country church in which I grew up in rural Kentucky. It was Spring, and I couldn’t have been much older than nine.

The sermon was about running the race of faith. Our pastor, a faithful man who’s integrity and sincerity was unquestionable even though his formal training nonexistent, taught from Philippians. His sermons are my first impression on the analogy of life as a race. A cursory Bible search for comparing life to a race reveals occurrences in at least five New Testament epistles, four of which attributed to Paul. But for me pastor Roland, and not pastor Paul, first defined what it meant to run the race of faith.

The mark. That’s what it’s about — pressing on toward the mark. I got it.

Even from a young age I understood the concept of a race. That’s part of the beauty of the analogy. It’s accessible even to young children. To win! That’s the point of a race. Right? Run fast! As fast as possible. (And cross the finish line before anyone else, too, but whatever.)

So my nine year-old ears listening to this sermon heard this, “Run the race. Hard. When you reach the mark you get the prize: Jesus.”

I was good with that. When I finish my race I get Jesus. Cool. Let’s go!

Until last month.

I was reading Philippians in a Bible study with some guys from my church. I read chapter three where Paul discloses why he runs the race: to attain the resurrection. (3:11) He explains how to run the race: let go of the past. Press on to what’s ahead. (3:13) But reading his explanation of the prize, the language struck me in a way it hadn’t ever before.

Verse 14 reads, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (KJV) The shift for me occurred in the little word “of”. Of what exactly? Well previously I interpreted “of” in attributive position, that is, to refer to the prize that belongs to those called by God. Put another way there exists this prize as a separate object in itself, which will be awarded at the end to those who run the race. However, on this day I read “of” descriptively, that it described the prize to be the calling of God itself.

Do you see the difference?

For the first time I saw that the prize is not just Jesus. It is Jesus. Yes. But it is also the call of Jesus.

The prize is the running of the race. How great is that?! It means I don’t have to wait till the end of my life to receive a prize. It means the whole point of this life isn’t to wait till the end so I can then receive my prize — at a later date — somewhere off in the distant future.

It means life matters now. The day-to-day details that we call mundane, become anything but. How I choose to spend my time — matters. How I treat my wife and kids — matters. What I eat — matters. How I spend money — it matters to God. All of it.

Now. Lest you accuse me of denigrating the sufficiency of Christ to be the prize, as what Paul meant when he penned this passage, let me here fully admit I believe in the sufficiency of Christ. For all things.

Look, the same guy who wrote Philippians also wrote Colossians, which contains in its first chapter one of the most beautiful and brilliant pictures of Christ’s deity as immutably and unquestionably supreme. I suppose in this post I’m clarifying the prize of Christ for the satisfaction of running the race, which is to say finding satisfaction in the running of the race itself, or the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

This means I can find satisfaction in this life, today. And that is perhaps the most exciting implication from this insight. This world is still fallen and broken. I fully admit. I’m not saying we’re fully glorified. That’s the hope of our resurrection. But we can be satisfied in Christ now.

“Faith is the Victory” goes the old hymn I sang all those years a

go in Roland’s small country church. What I’m learning now, decades later, is that faith is also the prize. The high calling of God in Christ Jesus is the prize. I don’t have Jesus fully, yet. But I am called, and I am running the race. And my soul can be satisfied.

It’s enough.

What is (not) the gospel?

sapling tree

“THAT’S NOT THE GOSPEL!” I burst out, yelling at the dash housing my car’s radio.

Late one evening recently I heard a radio spot on XM radio’s “The Message” — a Christian music station. Between songs, the announcer asked if I were having a bad day. He said, “Cheer up! Better days are ahead.” (I’ve paraphrased here.)

That’s what irked me. That’s what sparked my ire. The announcer said nothing else — nothing of Christ. Christian hope does not lie in circumstance. It lies in redemption and the hope of the resurrection. That’s the hope of the gospel.

In effect the radio announcer said that we should hope because things will get better. They may. But that’s beside the point. The announcer’s statement predicates hope on circumstance. That’s a dangerous place to affix hope. Circumstances change.

Further, as a Christian response to this admonishment, what would you say then to Coptic Christians in Iraq right now being tortured, imprisoned, and beheaded for their faith by ISIS? Would this advice tell them to cheer up because better days are ahead? Somehow that just seems hollow. Maybe callous is better. No.

Cruel.

Look, the hope of the gospel is that Christ died to atone for the brokenness of the whole world. He fulfilled God’s righteousness required by the law. He died the death we deserve so we can live the life He earned. That’s the power of grace. By Christ’s sufficient sacrifice we are God’s ministers of reconciliation and redemption.

In Christ God is redeeming sin. Not by circumstance.

It’s not like sin doesn’t matter. It’s not that sin can be ignored. Why else would Jesus have to die? No, God is building His glory on the redemption of the world. And He is more glorious for it, not less.

Our hope as Christians is not in our circumstances. Our hope is firm. And it is fixed. Our hope is in Christ.

Forgiveness: How Can it Be?–Reflections on a Song by Lauren Daigle

“How can it be?” Performed here beautifully by Lauren Daigle is a song I can’t get out of my head. I am compelled by this song.

Why?

Not sure. But in this post I’m going to give it a go. I want to uncover what makes this song so compelling and discover why I am so compelled by it.

Resonance. That’s what it always comes down to. Doesn’t it? I resonate with the message of the song: wonder–wonder at God’s gift of grace. To start with the title, “How can it be” is a question. The title itself calls into question the very possibility of forgiveness. It’s too wonderful to be true. The song’s starting point is the obvious state of our hearts: imperfection and brokenness–what the Bible calls sin. We are dirty, unclean in our sin. Could anything be more obvious about the human condition? To contemplate God then, in His goodness and perfection further contrasts our character with His. The more I contemplate God, my sin becomes more apparent, not less.

Beautiful.

It’s from this starting point the song begins. The title: recognizing our broken and sinful state wonders at the possibility of forgiveness and freedom from slavery to sin. I love that. It begins with disbelief–disbelief that something so wonderful could possibly exist. And if I’m honest with myself, that’s where my heart begins each day, not with belief but with disbelief. To conceive of something so wonderful as freedom–freedom from the slavery to sin and death is almost too wonderful to comprehend. How can that be?

Everyday it seems my heart has to be converted from disbelief to belief. And that is the power of God.

The melody of this song is gorgeous and versatile. Daigle’s unique almost gritty vocal timbre makes her distinct from other Christian artists today. She sounds like the Adele of Christian music. In this studio recording she demonstrates a wide range of vocal control, not just showing off the beautiful versatility of this melody, but also the breath-taking range, control, styling, and dynamics of her vocal chops.

My wife introduced me to this song a few weeks ago. The past week this song has been my heart’s meditation each day. I have yet to get through an encounter of this song without crying and becoming nearly overwhelmed by emotion. God’s grace is powerful. To contemplate it nearly overwhelms me each time. My prayer this morning is that I never get over it.

This morning that’s my prayer for you too. May we never lose our wonder for God and His never-stopping, never-giving up, absolutely crazy, absurd, and outrageous love for us.

Marriage and Tooth Paste

tube of tootpaste

A tube of toothpaste taught me a real lesson about my marriage and myself.

As a single man I prepared myself for matrimony. I studied God’s word to define marriage and learn what my role as a husband would be if I got married. When my fiancée and I began marriage counseling we talked through our expectations about important things and even small things like toothpaste-whether to squeeze from the middle or roll from the bottom up. To which I thought either way is fine. These preparations all taken together bless my marriage to this day. I’m glad I did it. But I’m afraid I let my preparedness go to my head.

I wasn’t married long before the discovery began. I learned that squeezing the toothpaste from the middle is actually inefficient. VERY inefficient. I learned that squeezing from the middle is in fact NOT acceptable. In fact it’s downright inconsiderate!

I learned that I really DO have a problem with squeezing, and squeezers. And that now includes my wife. This was quite a change from my pre-marital position on these topics when I thought I was so laid back that either was fine. Clearly I did not know myself.

Regrettably, I allowed the toothpaste issue to fester for several weeks before addressing it with my sweet wife. What’s worse is that as the irritant continued, my sinful heart gave in to resentment. I began to believe things about my wife–awful things against her character. They were untrue, but still I believed them.

I fed my sense of entitlement–my sense of self-righteousness. After all I wasn’t the one being inefficient or inconsiderate–I reasoned with myself. But that’s where I went wrong. I forfeited the covenant I made to my wife. I promised to love her as Christ loves the Church. From the gospel of Mark we know the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (10:45).

I was not loving my bride as Christ loves His.

God convicted me. I knew I was in the wrong to make such a big deal in my heart over something so trivial as a tube of tooth cream. When I did finally come clean with my wife, she responded very sweetly and graciously forgave me for harboring resentment against her.

What I discovered about myself by getting married: I am selfish.

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (James 4:1 NLT) I discovered through the toothpaste test that my problem is not inside a tube of toothpaste. It’s inside me. To be more specific, the problem is the sin that dwells within me. (cf. Romans 7:14-20)

Before I got married I thought of myself as quite selfless. I served people all the time. I frequently gave up my rights to prefer others’ choices ahead of my own. Yes. I thought I was quite a giving person–until I got married.

When faced with a choice to get my own way, in the above instance, I chose the selfish path.

I’m learning that marriage really is an institution God uses to make me more holy. [Hat tip to Gary Thomas and Martin Luther]

For more on this principle of marriage making us more holy check out Gary Thomas’ excellent book, Sacred Marriage

For an excellent (and relatively new) blog on marriage check out http://www.scottkedersha.com/ He’s my marriage mentor.

Thank you, God for loving me enough to humble me–even if You use something as trivial as toothpaste to do it.

Contemplating the Millennial experience: Ryan Lewis — Fake Empire

Characteristic to the millennial experience is frustration when attempting meaningful connection with others. This video contemplates why.

Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) here portrays a young man struggling to connect with a lady friend. The context for his struggle is today’s media saturated culture in which we find ourselves. It’s one driven by consumerism and defined by materialism. The music samples The National’s “Fake Empire” stating, “We’re half-awake in a fake empire.”

(No, Katy Perry, only half-awake;)

jk. But seriously.

I find this video indicative of the millennial experience. Full disclosure: I am a millennial. That is I was born between 1980 and 2000.

Here’s why:

Two major themes in this video tell our story. The first is the difficulty to connect in meaningful and personal ways to people we care about in part because most of our communication today is mediated. We peruse Facebook, send a text message, or write email. Face to face communication is the exception these days. Not the norm. I think the video attempts to highlight the irony that media allows us to communicate any time, anywhere, to anyone. Yet we don’t feel connected. My intuitive sense is that media itself somehow prevents us from connecting in personal, meaningful, and fulfilling ways.

The second theme is an economic commentary. The visual themes are communicated through the still images of people with mouths taped over with corporate logos. These images suggest a strong experiential connection to brands we like: Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, for instance. Their brand presence is ubiquitous. They pervade nearly every aspect of our existence. We understandably feel a connection to these brands.

And yet these brands, to which we do in fact feel connected, are not persons. We can’t have a life-changing, soul-touching conversation with them around a camp fire. Rather they are corporations. No. Worse. They are representations of corporations. Reflecting on this, realizing this truth exasperates the soul!

I believe that’s why the Lewis-Haggerty duo chose to put these brand logos covering the mouth. Experiential connections to these brands is not like a conversation face-to-face with another human soul. It cannot be. It is not rewarding or fulfilling like meaningful human relationships. Yet these brands to which we do feel connected, are nothing but a farce, relationally speaking.

This is the thematic connection to the lyrics, being half awake in a fake empire. Attempts at meaningful human relationships go unfulfilled. Relationships that are real to our experience aren’t actually human relationships, and therefore go unfulfilled. Instead they are connections to corporate entities, carefully crafted only to elicit particular responses from us. On both accounts we are foiled in our attempt to connect with another human being and thus find satisfaction.

This is just one reason I like Ryan Lewis productions so much. They are thoughtful reflections on our contemporary experience. In this case the reflections is characteristic of the Millennial’s experience. Not to mention the music’s good and the video’s compelling. That always helps.

Practice Thankfulness

Giving Thanks to God

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Two reasons: 1) It is uniquely American. And I am proud my country created a holiday to thank God and practice thankfulness. We do get at least some credit for continuing it. 2) It demonstrates humility and faith in God. I love it.

However, I do have some beef with my American pop culture today. We don’t keep Thanksgiving well. That is we don’t celebrate it properly, and we are missing out on blessings because of it.

So to keep Thanksgiving myself and for my family, I want to practice Thankfulness by giving thanks to God in this post. I will take a cue from a wise colleague of mine, Sue Bohlin (Check out her insightful blog.) Here I will make the choice to thank God even though I may not feel good about them.

In this post I will thank God for things that are hard.

First, I choose to thank you, God for my dad’s health issues recently. A couple Mondays ago I was finishing my day at the office when my mum calls. She says dad got checked out by his doctor for a routine check up when doc asked him to check into a hospital so they could run some tests.

The tests came back with good reports. All is fine. For now. But that was a scary day for me and my family. Thank you, God that You give us what’s best for us and not necessarily what we desire. My desires are broken and twisted. Thank you, God for giving me an opportunity to trust you by faith that you work all things together for my good and your glory.

Second, I choose to thank You that marriage is hard! Marriage is certainly NOT the butterflies, romance, and warm feelings as depicted in TV and movies. No it’s better. Thank you, God. Marriage takes work, they say. And my marriage seems to take work every day, sometimes hour by hour. Thank you, God that You believe I can handle the task. Thank you, God that you only give me what I’m able to handle. Thank you, God that you make a way of escape from temptation that I may never have to sin when I walk by faith in your Spirit.

Third, thank you ,God that my children are disobedient. By their disobedience I learn the depth of my own depravity. I feel angry when my son disobeys. I do. I felt it last night at dinner when he decided throwing rice on mommy was appropriate. I feel angry when he disobeys and I identify with your anger, God. Through it You remind me that you respond patiently with mercy and compassion. You alone are the One who deserves to be angry. You alone are rightly justified in your anger. Mine is motivated from selfishness. Yours is not. Yet still you treat me with love and compassion. You give me mercy when I deserve death. Thank you for teaching me patience through difficulty.

You are good. You want good things for me.

Thank you, God.

On Fatherhood and Snotty Shirts

I was at Home Depot last night buying light bulbs for the house. It was a family trip, and my wife and I had split the kids. She had our one month-old daughter. I had our two year-old son.

I hate referring to kids as snot-nosed because it demeans a beautiful and precious gift from God, which they are. But as in last night’s case, my son actually had a snotty nose. He has a bit of a cold it seems.

As I was patiently pondering the pros and cons of LED versus incandescence, my son decided he had waited in the cart long enough. He wanted to get down and explore. So he stood up in the cart, threw his leg over the side, and began to climb down. He quickly lost his balance. Sensing immediate danger I lunged to the cart just in time to scoop him into my arms and prevent his fall.

Whew! Catastrophe averted in the Home Depot tonight! I was relieved.

In my urgency I grabbed my son any way I could. It so happened that I was holding his chest against my chest and his face was planted on my shoulder. When he righted himself and sat up in my arms my shirt now prominently displayed the contents of what had been, only moments ago, in my son’s nose. My shirt now had a three-inch green stripe across the left shoulder. If you didn’t know better you might have mistaken me for a pilot!

I placed my son safely back in the cart, along with whatever bulb was in my hand at the moment, and headed for the check out. While en route I glanced down in disgust at my shirt’s new adornment. I was quite displeased by the unsanitary nature of it. Ick! I loathe having bodily fluids on my clothing. I rather like to be clean.

However, I then directed my eyes down toward my son. He was smiling–filled with glee to behold the many wondrous sights a home improvement store has to behold an impressionable young toddler. My frustration could not be rightly directed at him. After all it wasn’t his fault.

Now I’ve only been a father for a few years. And I detest the stereotype that parents live in messy homes doomed to perpetual chaos and that they always wear dirty clothes because their children continuously soil them. I shudder to think I fulfill that stereotype. Rather I work to reverse it fastidiously.

But in this moment last night at Home Depot I realized something. Yes I am a father, and yes I have a massive snot wad on my shirt. That cannot be denied. And I suppose to be fair then, I should have to at least entertain the possibility for discussion whether or not I fulfill this awful stereotype. Fair enough. But in this moment I lost no degree of disgust against wearing mucous for all to see. I loathed it every bit as much as I always have.

I approached the check out however, totally unashamed and without an ounce of regret for the decision that resulted in my snotty shirt. I did not regret choosing to save my son. If presented as two possible options I would much rather have a snot-nosed shirt than a seriously injured son. I realized that being a father doesn’t mean you lose your sense of cleanliness, propriety, or healthy sanitation. Those are all important. I might even go as far as to say sanitation and propriety are hallmarks of civilization. But rather fatherhood means loving someone else more than even those important desires you have for yourself.

In fact Scripture calls us to a love even greater, indeed. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Scripture calls me to value and love my son even more than myself. While I would definitely say I’m not there yet, I can also say I’m closer today than I used to be in large part because God made me a father.

I love my son. I love being a father. One thing I’ve learned is that being a father does not mean you lose all sense of dignity. Instead, I think, being a father means learning that some things matter even more than dignity. Or in this case, someone who matters more. Namely, my son.

Noah: A Christian film review and endorsement with qualifications

Russell Crowe as Noah

Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 production of Noah.

My initial read of the recent 2014 Aronofsky production of Noah was strong endorsement. After careful analysis I endorse it cautiously.

As a conservative Christian my endorsement comes with a few caveats about characters drawn from non-biblical sources, lines that question good theological interpretation, and thematic elements not present in the Genesis account. None however, will come as a great shock to the biblically minded Christian accustomed to digesting mainstream media these days with a discriminating palate.

Christian critics lampoon the film for its departure from the Genesis account (See Erick Erickson’s review). Christian theologians charge it as gnostic subversion of the biblical text  (see Dr. Brian Mattson’s insightful review).

I conclude that it is a masterful and insightful retelling of the biblical epic. Before I address the controversy condemning the movie for Gnosticism, let me tell you why I liked the film so much.

The film makers get three big things right.

[Warning: Spoilers contained below]

Reason #1 They get they story right. The movie’s producers remained faithful to the plot from the biblical text, which goes as follows. God commands Noah to build an ark to save them from the flood. Noah builds the ark. The flood comes. Mankind is wiped out. Noah, his family, and an ark full of animals are saved!

That’s it. It’s a rather simple story. But the movie makers remained faithful to it. And that is important. While this fact does not itself make the movie great, I will share below what makes the film great, it was however a requirement for excellence. It passes.

Reason #2 The film makers get the right perspective on three key concepts: God, man, and salvation.

  • God — Forgive my cynicism here, but I am used to God being mocked in mass media. I prepared myself for a dose of that in Noah, but found myself pleasantly surprised when the credits rolled and I hadn’t heard one word against the Creator. God is portrayed in the film very reverently, by Noah at least, and that is presented as respectable, honorable even. God’s authority is not seriously questioned, rather it is affirmed. God is unapologetically;) described as the Creator, the giver of life, and the ultimate authority on all things. He is also given the ultimate credit for saving Noah and everyone on the ark, as is fitting. God should rightly be praised as the savior. This movie definitely portrays him as most directly responsible for salvation, in this case, deliverance from death by flood.
  • Man — Introductory courses to theology teach four basic facts about mankind. (1) Man was created by God, and he was (2) created good. (3) Man bears God’s image. And (4) man sinned by disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Those are the four facts. The movie got all of these right. That’s great. But what’s outstanding is that it is also correct on the implications of these facts. Because man sinned, he marred or veiled the image of God. Because he (we) sinned we broke the goodness of God’s creation. Nothing now is perfect. This is what we call the Fall. Nothing can be perfect, left as it is. And nothing is as it should be. What the writers of Noah got so incredibly right here is that they placed the locus of responsibility for the Fall squarely on the shoulders of mankind. There were no snarky potshots against God. There were no implications that really God is to blame. From each of our story’s protagonists and especially Noah, we see that they understand we sinned and we therefore rightly deserve death. (Romans 6.23)
  • Salvation — Scripture teaches that salvation belongs to the Lord. (Psalm 3.8 KJV) Man is the one in need of salvation. We are the weak one. God is the one who does the saving. God therefore deserves the credit and the glory for salvation. The filmmakers gets this right. Noah is portrayed as a humble man, a faithful man who obeys God, even if it costs him a great deal. His struggle to obey at great cost is explored in depth propagating some of the controversy surrounding the film which I will address below. However, Noah never indicates that he feels as though he deserves to live or to be saved from the flood. Noah is never shown boasting in his greatness, rather he gives thanks to God for salvation.

It is painfully clear, upon reflection that the writers consulted theologians when writing this story. The writers didn’t just nail the story, they tell it in a way that is faithful to the biblical definitions for God, man, and salvation.

Reason #3 The movie makers get the big picture right. Here is where I lose patience with critics who denounce this film because of the liberties taken from the text. Yes they took liberties. But they got the big picture very right. Look, the reason God includes this story in our Bible is to warn us. It serves as a warning that sin is heinous. Sin is a big deal. God takes it very seriously. We all have within us the capability for great evil.  The atrocities executed under Adolph Hitler don’t make him a moral monster, they make him human. We are each of us capable of despicable evil, and when we engage in sin, it grieves God. This story serves a sobering warning from wickedness. Noah gets this right.

Sometimes I fear Noah’s story has been cemented in the minds of American Christians as a feel-good children’s story. They picture him as the guy with a fluffy lamb under each arm and all smiles. Countless children’s wings of church building have depicted this story in murals with rainbows and smiling animals walking respectfully into the ark in an orderly manner as if nothing were wrong with the world. These murals portray nothing of the Fall or the wickedness of man which necessitated God’s sweeping global judgment. They entirely miss the point. The writers of this motion picture did not.

Noah’s story is born out of desperation. A peak into Noah’s world would have been bleak to put it euphemistically, disturbing is probably more like it. This fact was not lost on Noah’s producers.

Perhaps most importantly what this movie gets right is correctly situating this story into the larger meta-narrative of Scripture. While the Bible is made up of 66 books, penned by dozens of human writers, in multiple languages, from different nations, over the course of more than a thousand years, through the Bible, God is telling one story. The Bible tells the story of God making man, man rebelling against Him, and God coming to rescue man.

Noah the motion picture tells this same story. God created man in the beginning. He created him good, and gave him a choice to obey or disobey. Man chose disobedience and so brought death upon himself. How do we become free from this curse of sin and death upon mankind? God. God is the only hope mankind has for deliverance. As Noah’s only hope was God’s provision in the ark, so our only hope is God’s provision in Christ.

Jesus Christ alone is the way the hope the truth and the life. No one can enter the Father except by Him. While the movie does not mention Christ by name, it makes plain that the only hope of salvation is found in God. God would later reveal himself to us through Jesus Christ. But as far as Noah’s concerned that wouldn’t occur for centuries.

Noah gets so many things right I love it. The three most important things it gets right are the story, a biblically informed cosmology, and where the story fits into the big picture of the Bible.

Controversy

Are there non-biblical influences on the story? Yes. Were some of those influences Jewish mystics? Yes. Did teachings from Kabbalah influence the movie? Yes. Is the movie a gnostic subversion of the biblical text? I don’t think so.

Here’s why.

Doctor Brian Mattson makes a pretty compelling case for the gnostic themes woven throughout the movie. It’s a good read, and worth your time. Compelling points include Adam and Eve portrayed as fleshless beings of light, the snakeskin talisman used to pass on the family blessing, and the subsequent reversal that talisman suggests that the serpent is in fact divine (true wisdom) and not the Creator, who is rather Himself deceived.

After further consideration, I do not agree with Dr. Mattson’s interpretation. To his credit he posted not to educate the public as much as criticize Christian leaders who endorsed the film without even being aware of its gnostic themes he claims were obvious. I admit I did not see any connection to gnostic teaching. That is mostly due however to my casual familiarity of Gnosticism.

Doctor Mattson, criticism humbly accepted.

Nevertheless, weighing his interpretation against my reading, and the readings of others, I do not think the film is a gnostic attempt to subvert the biblical text and dupe Christians into agreeing with a gnostic story influenced by Kabbalah.

My primary reason? Darren Aronofsky, the films director and co-writer, says so himself.

Peter Chattaway sat down with the co-writers Aronofsky and Ari Handel and asked them about their creative process and what sources influenced them. In one particular segment Chattaway asks about discrepancies between the movie and the Genesis account. Here is what Aronofsky said.

“[W]e treated Genesis as the word of God, as complete truth. We were trying to bring that story to life so we didn’t want to contradict anything. We wanted to represent everything that was there and let it inspire us to tell a dramatic story with the themes and the ideas that are in there.” (patheos.com)

Deceptive? Doesn’t sound that way to me, though that’s Mattson’s charge.

During the interview both writers openly admit they consulted non-biblical sources including Jewish midrash, Kabbalah, and Enoch among many others. Their conversation revolves around it really. Were they influenced by texts other than the Bible? Absolutely. Would I have consulted those sources if I made the movie? Probably not. But more importantly are the film makers attempting to cleverly deceive faithful Christians, and Jews for that matter? No.

Peter Chattaway, who conducted the above interview and posted it for Film Chat, concluded similarly. So has Ryan Holt. And it is to them I give credit for my position. [hat tip]

[Spoiler] The last allegation of Dr. Matston’s I’ll consider is that Noah’s erratic behavior on the ark is best explained as a gnostic seeking to become more like the Creator by murdering his newborn granddaughters. Again I refer to the words of the writers themselves from the same interview mentioned above.

Says Aronofsky, “the story of the film is a test to bring Noah to the same conclusion that God wants him to get to.” (interview source) While not referring explicitly to Noah’s actions on the ark, it’s obvious Noah’s crisis of character experienced on the ark constitutes part of this test. Regarding the testing of Noah and how that reflects/changes his character, Aronofsky later in the same interview says,

“[H]e is tested, and goes through the most difficult test possible, and he comes out the other end with the way God wanted him to sort of succeed, and I think that, you know, within that mythology, that’s the way we decided to perceive it, that there’s this long line of people being tested with their faith, and either they succeed or they don’t. And Noah definitely succeeds.” (interview with Chattaway)

Conclusion

I endorse Aronofsky’s Noah and recommend Christians go see it to re-imagine this biblical epic. I qualify that endorsement by reminding you believers in Christ, this picture does not hold the authority of God’s Word. Therefore, do not allow this film to mold your perception of what actually happened where the Text has already clearly spoken. [Spoiler alert] Easy application: there were no rock monsters who protected Noah.

I caution believers to keep in mind there are extra-biblical sources which significantly influenced this rendition of the story, sources which I do not think are necessarily true. However, I still recommend the film’s viewing because these sources don’t necessitate the falsity of their teachings. That is to say, while I do not think the way this story is portrayed on screen is likely how it actually happened, based on what I read in the authoritative text–the Bible–it is at least still possibly true. And that was all Aronofsky was aiming to achieve. He wanted to retell this epic story from Scripture with imagination.

Go see it. Enjoy it. Keep thinking.

3 ways to make sense of illogical conversations

A friend of mine asked me for advice the other day. His name is Jack. Now Jack has been talking with his friend John about a Christian response to the problem of evil. It would be more accurate to say Jack asked me to recommend some good reading to pass along to John. Jack didn’t ask me for my advice. But before I made any recommendations, I wanted to know more about John, their relationship, and how Jack has lead the conversation so far. So I asked a few questions.

Both Jack and John are believers in Christ, so they approach the issue from a standpoint of faith. John struggles to reconcile two facts he knows for certain, yet seem to contradict one another. The first is that God exists. He is good. And He is all-powerful; The second is that gratuitous evil and suffering exist.

I’m not surprised Jack asked me for help on this issue. It’s a very sticky one. Consider, for example, that it has been around virtually since man has been writing and thinking. It’s a very difficult issue – not impassable – but very difficult. To be specific, the difficulty is in accepting both statements as true without contradicting one another. Acceptance is far more difficult than understanding intellectually how they can be reconciled. Isn’t that how most things are in life?

Here’s what surprises me. The more questions I asked Jack to properly understand what’s really going on with John and to best diagnose his issue, the more Jack became frustrated. Jack was frustrated by my not answering his question. He wanted to know what books and/or articles to read so as to help John. The implication I picked up from Jack’s subtext was, “Tell me what John needs to read so he gets it–so I can fix him.”

I applaud Jack’s heart to love John with truth and to call him to a deeper understanding of God’s truth, and ultimately to a deeper faith. But I paused when I realized Jack thought John’s problem was an issue of understanding — that John just doesn’t get it.

Even though Jack is my friend, I look up to him like a mentor so I didn’t have the heart to share with him what I’m about to write which is what went through my mind next.

When people are being illogical there’s usually an explanation. John doesn’t recognize that there are intellectual (Christian) resolutions to the problem of evil. In this context Jack knows John is being illogical, but couldn’t figure out why. I propose three ways to straighten out these curves in the conversational path.

1) It’s personal. John may have history encountering people he perceived as righteous, let’s even say they were faithful Christians, yet were unduly struck by calamity. Maybe he watched that happen to his parents or a close friend. Personal experience often dictates our most closely held personal beliefs whether they are intellectual or not.

2) It’s emotional. Maybe John sees himself as righteous and resents God for the calamity that has befallen him. Perhaps he is deeply hurt and he feels God is responsible. In this case his resentment prevents him from acknowledging God can be both good and powerful, yet evil can still exist.

3) It’s a sin issue. John may be in willful sin and the direct consequences are hurting someone else, not him. He can see the death that sin leads to, but because it isn’t his death, he has no motivation to stop. Yet, to admit that God is good and just, and that evil may abound now, but one day God will justify the righteous and penalize the wicked, would require him to submit to the authority of God and lay down his sin. That’s something he just isn’t prepared to do yet. In this case John’s sin is blinding him to the truth that evil is not a problem for God.

My next step is to have a conversation with Jack that people are more than just brains. Just because what they say is illogical, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you’re saying. God made us in His image, and He is both glorious and complicated. Sometimes misunderstanding another human being requires us to dig a little deeper to make sense of what happened. Most of the time, I find it requires me to dig a little deeper to understand myself.

Who Needs the Gospel?

WARNING: Explicit lyrics and adult content. Please exercise discernment when viewing, especially younger viewers.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are Seattle-based musicians. Neither are believers, as far as I know. This dark video samples “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and outlines the deleterious effects of illicit substances and its abuse. Its redemptive theme is that this duo has discovered their need for the gospel. What I find interesting, is that they may not know it.

Consider the lyrics in the above video. They’re intimate and revealing. They’re honest about very real issues like pain and hurt. I love how he doesn’t shy away from the significance of it.

It has been my experience when sharing pain or hurt with friends that they are quick to dismiss it, quick to point out the bright side. I know they’re trying to help. But most of the time I just feel invalidated, like my pain doesn’t matter. That’s one thing this song gets very right. Our hurts do, in fact, matter. They matter greatly to God.

In one line he explains the motivation to use illicit drugs. “Purple rain coated in the throat/Just so healin'” This is the key to the whole experience he’s trying to communicate. Healing is what he desires–healing from hurt, frustration, and devastation. But Macklemore goes on to explain another layer of frustration. A few lines later he explains that he’s, “trying to escape the skin that barely fit him.”

His frustration is not merely conflict between him and the world. It’s his conflict within himself. He wrestles with his very identity. He’s struggling with who he is. I love that. Yet, at the same time, how disturbing is the notion that he attempts to escape his own skin? How can a man despise his own person? He goes on, “Friendship cease, no peace in the mind/Stealin and takin’ anything to fix the pieces inside.”  The turmoil he experiences over who he is, spills out onto others, into behaviors, and into relationships. I identify with that.

We can all identify with struggling with our identity. Anyone who doesn’t has either no clue who he is, or is lying to himself. It is in our nature to struggle against ourselves. The apostle Paul wrestles with this very thing. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV)

The beauty of this video is that it illustrates what the apostle Paul said would happen elsewhere in Scripture. “[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them [those who don’t know God]; for God made it evident to them.” This is to say that even those who don’t believe in God can still understand that there is a God. A Hebrew prophet famously wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)

The apostle Paul goes on to clarify. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not declaring there is a God, not directly. They are however, declaring one of the first truths revealed to us from Scripture about the nature of man: we’re fallen.

The second story told in the Bible, the one following the story of creation, is about God’s command to Adam – His creation – not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam disobeys. Sin enters the world and mankind is changed forever, and not for the better. By sin we marred the very image God stamped on us. By sin we broke our right-standing with God, we broke fellowship with our fellow man, and as this song so succinctly depicts, we broke our own selves.

We are not whole. We are not the way we were meant to be. We need healing.

This profound truth, the brokenness of mankind is one of the first revealed truths from Scripture. It is also a truth discovered by Macklemore, and he shares that vulnerable process of discovery with us through this song. It’s beautiful because it’s true, and I appreciate it because so few people are willing to face this glaring reality. I’m refreshed that he accepts reality in a culture so eager to deny our brokenness.

Macklemore may not believe in God. But, when he’s right about something, he is certainly declaring the truth of God because God is all truth. Macklemore is not just a talented writer and performer. He’s an artist I greatly admire. But the best part, is that Macklemore even without knowing it or intending to, is declaring the glory of God.

Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Scott Eckstein

Helping define, describe and defend Servant Leaders

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