Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Pearl 6:6-7 In The Covenant of Moses Is They Brightness Shadowed Forth

St. Ephrem's The Pearl 6:6

Since they have extolled thee too much,
Or have lowered thee too much,
Bring them to an even level.

Come down,
Descend a little that height of infidelity and heathendom;
And come up from the depth of Judaism, though thou art in Heaven.
Let our Lord be set between God and men!
Let the Prophets be as it were His heralds!
Let the Just One, as being His Father, rejoice!
That Word it is which conquered both Jews and Heathen!


Come, Thou Gift of Holy Church, stay, rest in the midst of Her!
The circumsized have troubled Thee,
In that they are vain babblers,
And so have the [false] doctrines in that they are contentious.

Blessed be He that gave Thee a good company which bears Thee about!
In the covenant of Moses is Thy brightness shadowed forth:
In the new covenant Thou dartest forth:
From those first Thy light shineth forth unto those last.
Blessed be He that gave us Thy gleam
As well as Thy bright rays.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Spiritual Condition of Infants (a review)

Have you ever taken a seemingly insignificant topic, idea, or person, and delved into that subject learning all the interactions and facets connected to it?  Several years ago a friend lent me the book Cod, which did exactly as described above.  The author took this ubiquitous fish and explored it in the history of Western peoples, and lo and behold, not only did you learn about this fish, but the whole of history began to open with connections and causes you never grasped in high school Western Civ. 

Theology works in similar ways.  Taking a small tangential subject and exploring how others have wrestled with one issue opens up the way that person thinks about God, Christ, Sin, Salvation and the Church.  When all research is done and the topic is laid bare on the table, you end up with much more than you expected. 

Adam Harwood did this with The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal.  Harwood is a professor at the Georgia Baptist college, Truett McConnell, and grapples with an issue painful for anyone who has lost children and thorny for the Christian friend or clergy called to minister to a friend in time of crisis. 

This is not some dry academic tome, although there is no doubt he has done his homework.  It is packaged in a readable work, full of personal stories and historical narratives, navigating the tragic nature and steps of logic necessary for such a topic. 

The book begins with the author stating his assumptions about the topic and how he came to interact with this subject and the theologians he has wrestled with along the way.  Related topics and questions are considered, and then he jumps headlong into the historical treatment of the fate of infants. 

His historical survey looks at both East and West, but the East is a small chapter compared to the bulk of the book dedicated to Western views, primarily in the Reformed, Anabaptist, and Baptist traditions.  This is to be expected.  Harwood himself is Baptist, and he should know his tradition well, and there seems to be enough diversity in these views allowing for a lengthy discussion. 

His review of the East is commendable, because he includes and gives credence to a portion of Christianity often ignored.  Irenaeus, Gregory the Theologian (Nazianus), and Gregory of Nyssa are the prime theologians considered.  And while it is a small chapter, he does well, because the East doesn’t have many of the theological problems making this a tougher issue for the West.  One fact stands out clearly in this book:  Western theology is primarily a struggle and response to Augustine.  This is not true only in the Roman Catholic world, but the Protestant world as well. 

The problem of the West is man inherits a sin nature from Adam, and in some quarters this inheritance includes the guilt or condemnation of Adam.  So each person is born condemned and deserving of eternal punishment.  Each theologian tries to escape this problem with a solution including exceptional mercy on the part of God (through baptism or family ties) or an inherited nature not equating to inherited guilt. 

In the East, there is no sense of a sin nature man inherits.  What man inherits from Adam is mortality, and this existence of death is the breeding ground of sin.  Being born into this breeding ground of sin or “state of sin”, leads people to sin.  So whether a man lives a life free from the commission of sin, he still is in need of a Savior from the bondage of death.   When God became man through the person of Jesus Christ, He sanctified human nature delivering it from death by using the cross to inject life in the grave destroying its power upon man and shattering the bonds holding man in slavery.  So the infant who dies, has been sanctified and saved by Christ’s death. 

Several points of interest arose in my readings of the Western theologians speaking to their theology as a whole and how it interacts with the East (if unknowingly).

  • The assumption by many of the Western theologians that salvation is deeply tied to a person’s understanding, continues to bubble up, and presents problems.  In some cases, there is a sense salvation occurs through knowledge of God, whereas in the East, salvation is through communion with God. 

  • He references a study on the Moral Life of Babies done by a research university full of interesting data to explore at a later time.

  • Western theologians are so afraid of Pelagianism (man does not inherit a sin nature nor guilt, and is capable of saving himself by living free from sin), they never want to question whether a person inherits a sinful nature and the implications it may bring. 

  • One theologian comes close to the Orthodox view: “a person who is unable to make moral judgments makes that person subject to the effects of the presence of sin but not the guilt of sin.”  The illustration used is the children of the rebellious Israelites in the Exodus.  These children were not guilty or responsible for their parents lack of faith, but they still suffered the consequences by wandering in the wilderness. 

  • Zwingli, who I always thought of as one of the more radical early Reformers, said something soundeding very Orthodox: “For what could be said more briefly and plainly than that original sin is not sin but disease and that the children of Christians are not condemned to eternal punishment on account of that disease.” 

The author eventually concludes each person inherits a sin nature from Adam, but he does not inherit the sentence of condemnation upon Adam.  The only sin where man can be judged is the sin he is morally aware of committing.  Upon become morally aware then a person is guilty of sin.  Therefore an infant or small child would die innocently and be covered under the sacrifice of Christ through the mercy of God. 

If you want a glimpse of the way Western Christianity and the Protestant world in particular understands sin and salvation, the study of this particular topic provides an entryway into those broader topics.  Harwood does a thorough job collating a large amount of information into a small readable volume. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

How The Foolishness of Atheism Changed My Heart

Over the past couple years there has been an atheist uprising.  Books, speeches, blogs, and even a recent “revival” in DC are determined at best to elicit more converts or at worst to ridicule the religious.  Some think it is funny to demean and belittle “faith-based” living, and unfortunately there is much silliness in the name of religion.  Sadly, the “god” often rejected by the new atheists is nothing but a religious fiction. 

Ps. 14:1 “The Fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”

This passage screams through my head, whenever I hear these new atheist voices.  I can’t help but think of Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, or Christopher Hitchens (God rest his soul). 

How can they question the existence of God?  What are they thinking?  Isn’t it obvious?  This life, this universe, the eye in my head is too complex to emerge from chance.  Are the religious feelings arising from a hike through the mountains or a view of the ocean nothing more than random chemicals bursting through my brain sending waves of awe rushing through my body?

Fools, fools, fools, they are!  How dare they?

But I am the fool.  They may say in their minds there is no God.  I proclaim Him with my lips, yet in my heart I whisper, “There is no God”. 

This whisper travels through my whole being justifying all manner of sin and unloveliness. 

My head generates syllogisms defending the existence of God, and the beggar gets no coin from my full pockets, because in my heart there is no God. 

I recite the Creed proclaiming His Threeness in One, and bitterness wells up at past wrongs, because in my heart there is no God. 

I can expound about God’s Essence and Energies, how He is far yet near, and pride surges when I see the mighty fall or the lowly upholding my self-image, because in my heart there is no God. 

I believe in the faith that established the universe, and anger bursts from my pores at the slightest infraction from my children, because in my heart there is no God.

I stand in my prayer corner offering intercessions, and fear grips my throat refusing to share my faith or defend righteousness among the crowd, because in my heart there is no God. 

Fool, fool, fool, am I. 

Recently, a story emerged from a Texas town about a local man renowned for his aggressive atheism burning every religious person in his path.  He stumbled upon hard times, and Christians in his town gathered together to support him financially and emotionally.  Overwhelmed by their act of courage and love, his atheism melted away and he embraced the faith of his comforters. 

Atheism died, because in their heart they said, There is God!  

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Pearl 6:5 - Not Understanding They Destroy

St. Ephrem's The Pearl - 6:5

By this would those who wrangle against our Pearl be reproved;
Because instead of love,
Strife has come in and dared to essay to unveil thy beauty.

It was not graven,
Since it is a progeny which cannot be interpreted.
Thou didst show thy beauty among the abjects
To show whereto thou are like,
Thou Pearl that art all faces.

The beholders were astonied and perplexed at thee.
The separatists separated thee in two,
And were separated in two by thee,
Thou are of one substance throughout.
They saw not thy beauty,
Because there was not in them the eye of truth.
For the veil of prophecy,
Full as it was of the mysteries,
To them was a covering of thy glistering faces:
They thought that thou wast other [than thou art],
O thou mirror of ours!
And therefore these blind schismatics defiled thy fair beauty.

Friday, April 06, 2012

What a Brutal Dictator Can Teach About Repentance

Imagine the most brutal dictator of modern times, one raised in a Christian culture, but rejecting his heritage for something more sinister, bent on conquest and control, imagining himself as godlike before his people, a man like Hitler or Stalin, then in a miraculous turn of events, he repents of his brutality, embraces his childhood faith, and begins to undo the horrors inflicted upon his people.

Enter King Manasseh.  Manasseh may be the the most evil of the Biblical kings, rejecting the faith of Israel, diving headlong into paganism, enforcing it upon his people, killing prophets, and sacrificing his own children.

Unlike our imaginary scenario, Manasseh is humiliated by defeat and imprisonment, leading to repentance.

His prayer is especially relevant during the Lenten season, and is found at the end of the book of 2 Chronicles, but only in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint).

The prayer has much to teach about repentance.  Prayerfully read the Prayer of Manasseh, and consider these thoughts on a life of repentance.

1.  Sometimes dramatic life events are necessary for us to repent.
2.  Repentance is conditioned upon a vision of the Holy.
3.  The distance you sense from God empowers repentance.
4.  Confession is a critical element to repentance.
5.  Repentance leads to action not just sorrowful feelings.
6.  Repentance is not a one time event, but a way of life.
7.  Repentance is an act of crucifixion of self.  It is the way of the cross.
Manasseh’s repentance was born on Golgotha. For many Christians, each day is a day of cross and resurrection, and such was probably true for Manasseh after this dramatic experience. However, it was his imprisonment and deprivation that opened a crack in his soul for the grace of God to enter. The utter helplessness of his life shattered the image of a powerful king who could defy the traditions of his fathers and manipulate the darkness for his own control and satisfaction. The cross was thrust upon him, but he chose to bear it, and resurrection was to follow.
Most of us may not have such outward displays of wickedness,but inwardly we build kingdoms of darkness to protect ourselves from the fear of death. - The Rest of the Bible

P.S.  Here are some other related resources:


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