The Soul You Loved

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“I know a man in Hell now.” That’s what the Preacher should have said if he were honest. But no one wanted an honest preacher today. Instead he talked of the good parts of the man’s life, how generous, and kind and caring he was, and what a shame it was he died young–all the things everyone wanted to hear. Old women daubed their eyes and a young lady softly whimpered.

The funeral home was unbearably warm, the small room packed. The preacher loosened his neck tie for the third time and talked of heaven and angels, hoping no one noticed the abrupt transition. He didn’t say the man was there, exactly, but he didn’t say he wasn’t there either. Best to let people think he might be.

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The Injudicious Eye

This is the third post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables and catch up on the first fable I examined here.

THE SNAIL AND THE STATUE

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A Statue of the Medicean Venus was erected in a grove sacred to Beauty and the Fine Arts. Its modest attitude, its elegant proportions, assisted by the situation in which it was placed, attracted the regard of every delicate observer. A Snail, who had fixed himself beneath the molding of the pedestal, beheld with an evil eye the admiration it excited. Wherefore, watching his opportunity, he strove, by trailing his filthy slime over every limb and feature, to obliterate those beauties that he could not endure to hear so much applauded. An honest Linnet, however, who observed him at his dirty work, took the freedom to assure him that he would infallibly lose his labor: “For although,” said he, “to an injudicious eye, thou mayest sully the perfections of this finished piece; yet a more accurate and close inspector will admire its beauty, through all the blemishes with which thou hast endeavored to disguise it.”

It is the fate of envy to attack even those characters which are superior to its malice

Many applications could here be drawn but I would like to focus on just three:

(1) the glory of God in essence
(2) the glory of God manifested in Man
(3) the glory of God manifested in the Earth

(1) The Glory of God in Essence

The fable of the Snail and the Statue reminds me of a quote from C. S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain:

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

This is both a sobering and liberating thought–we can’t mess up the glory of God and neither can anyone else. Yes, we pursue holiness. Yes, we defend the Word of God when it is reviled. Yes, we desire for the glory of God to be manifested in all the earth. But the pressure is off. The fear is gone. We can listen to the blasphemous venom of a man like Richard Dawkins, spewing hatred and slander against Yahweh and walk away with our chins up, knowing that no slime he can manufacture will deface the beautiful image of God and that there will come a time when all the slime shall be scraped away and all shall see Him as He is.

2. The Glory of God Manifested in Man

I have written elsewhere:

It has been said: “To err is human, to forgive divine.

But by what authority do we redefine humanity? When we sin, we do not merely dishonor God in the same way that the stranger at the department store dishonors the woman behind him when he allows the door to slam shut in her face. When we sin, we blaspheme God’s image branded on us, we violate and misrepresent the humanity God created good like an ambassador speaking other than the words given to him to deliver. It is not in human nature to err but in corrupted human nature.

Sin is the ugly slime that sullies the image of God in man but it does not deface it, only obscures it. The “accurate and close inspector” will see beyond the slime, looking to Christ as the spotless representation of of Manhood as God designed it to be and look forward to the day the distortion will be removed.

3. The Glory of God Manifested in the Earth

As again, I’ve written before:

“…by what authority do we declare God’s good creation, the Earth, “evil”? Who are we, forgiven wretches, to declare something irredeemable? Will not the Earth, upon whom we brought a curse by our own transgression, also be finally liberated from corruption?

{Romans 8:19-22} For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

There is much confusion among Christians as to what “worldliness” is. Many mistake physicality and pleasure for worldliness. But worldliness does not reside in things or places but in affections. “You lust and do not have”, James tells us, “so you bite and devour one another”.

The problem is not with “the world” as in “the physical Earth”, but what depraved human beings do in it.

Dr. Bob Gonzales makes the following point:

“John describes “the world” and “all that is in the world” not primarily in terms of “things” or even “deeds” but in terms of heart affections and attitudes.

This is seen in at least two ways. First, John’s prohibition is directed toward the heart, not toward a particular object or activity. He doesn’t say, “Don’t touch such and such” or “Don’t drink such and such” or “Don’t listen to such and such.” The Greek word translated “love” refers to an attitude, affection, or inclination of the heart. Second, John’s description of “all that is in the world” does not refer to material objects or to human activities per se but to the way in which we view such objects or activities. Movie theaters, electric guitars, sports cars, dancing, drinking beer, smoking cigars and card playing are not the real problem.

The real culprit is the human heart: “For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world” (emphasis added). This is not to deny that worldliness manifests itself in “worldly” behavior. Verse 17 implies that behavior is a component of loving the world. But John zeros in on the essence of worldliness and defines it primarily as a matter of the heart.”

So “loving the world” is about loving the sinful-world system: its measure of success, its value-structure, its aspirations of self-glory–not a list of physical activities.

It’s a subtle form of Gnosticism (the belief that matter is evil and anything spiritual is holy) that urges for separation from external manifestations or associations of evil as the sum of godliness.

The Devil has no power to create–only to pervert, no power to design anew only to misappropriate the old. To an “injudicious eye” the image of many of God’s gifts are sullied. But the Devil didn’t create sex–God did. The Devil didn’t create alcohol–God did. The Devil didn’t create music–God did. Don’t give the Devil more credit than he deserves. His chief power lies in making good things ultimate things and in offering good things in wrong ways and wrong places. “A more accurate and close inspector will admire its beauty, through all the blemishes with which [the Devil] hast endeavored to disguise it.”

The material earth is not something we must flee in order to be godly.

We should look forward to the day when at the passing of this present earth, a New Heavens and Earth are created, the Earth and its gifts living once more in harmony with the dwelling place and character of God, a living portrait of what God first created the natural world to be. It will be a day when the Earth too, and all her gifts, shall have the slime wiped away from her name.

What other applications do you draw from this fable?

Reviewer’s Digest//Fantasy and Sci-Fi

The Book of Dragons, selected and illustrated by Michael Hague

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Read August 24th-31st

This collection features several delightful dragon stories I’d never heard before or heard only in part. My one critique is that the illustrations didn’t always fit, the dragons often being more cartoonish and whimsical than fierce and magnificent as the stories describe them.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson (Wordsworth Classics)

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Read from October 20th-27th

The featured and famous short story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is refreshingly Calvinistic in its eloquent and provocative portrait of human depravity. I give it five stars. The other short stories in this collection range from 1 star to 4. One crossed the line into useless and awful horror for its own sake (“Thrawn Janet”), several were dull and dragged, lacking the refinement of Stevenson’s later mastery of the short story form but still containing several lines worth underlining, and two stories, “The Merry Men” and “Markheim”, I found almost as riveting and intellectually stimulating as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.”

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton

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Read November 6th-8th
5 Stars

The story opens and moves with the kind of childish silliness that makes you purse your lips, roll your eyes, shake your head, then smile despite yourself. Despite my grown-up sensibilities I caught myself laughing at wandering mangrove trees, giant poison-tongued tortoises that drop out of willow trees on unsuspecting victims, an imaginative girl determined to save the world (from–whatever it needs saving from!), a 12-year-old King who works to tears the citizens of the Island-At-The- Center-Of-Everything to provide a steady supply of pepper to satisfy his inordinate appetite for the spice, a man so long accustomed to shrinking from danger that his body has begun to shrink inside his now-oversized clothes and–of course, at a giant that is asleep under the island and may at any point wake up. Especially if the Leafeaters keep digging around his toes.

But underneath the ridiculous is a current of serious thought that will take you by surprise. You never stop laughing but somewhere along the way, so subtly that you don’t know quite when it began, you start thinking as well. You think about bigness and smallness. Of fear and adventure. Of strength and weakness. Of mystery and life’s frailty.

Life is both more terrifying and wonderful than we realize. It is “a mess and a miracle. So pick up a broom and dance.”

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

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Read October 30th
The first couple chapters were exciting. I loved the style of narration and was immediately draw into the unfolding story. But in the end, the story left me burdened by the sadness dystopias always bring me.

I am increasingly leery of the dystopian craze among my own peers. I think that the occasional dystopian novel is helpful to the Christian because of its unique ability to explore the implications of secular worldviews in a way abstract arguments can’t. Instead of telling you that communism is a dead- end road, they make you feel the oppression, ride the roller-coaster, and recoil in horror as the oppressed pigs of Animal Farm come to take on the likeness and behaviors of the Farmers they overthrew; instead of telling you that Darwinian evolution offers a hopeless future, they make you feel the coldness, the despair, and the emptiness of a godless universe deep down in your bones.

I need these reminders now and then, of just how hopeless the world is without Christ, of just how hopeless the espoused beliefs of many of my neighbors are. But I also think that if this kind of literature and film becomes our main staple and dominates our minds and affections, despite our cognitive disagreement with the worldview presented, the coldness and darkness of it will still subconsciously creep into our own worldview. We’ll begin to accept their view of reality as congruent with our own. I see it in young people of my generation manifested in a profound skepticism that there is hope for the world on the horizon, forgetting that Hope has arrived and He’s coming back and that that has profound implications for humanity. The future we face is neither dark nor cold nor uncertain and we need to be reminded of the hopefulness of our faith at least as often as we are reminded of the hopelessness of all others.

Other Fantasy and Sci-Fi books read in the second half of 2014: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, the Harry Potter books 1-4, The Hobbit (again)
Other General Fiction books read in the second half of 2014: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (click for review)

I Left Heaven For This??

I read the following original short story last month in a writing group I attend and thought it would be a good time to highlight it here on the blog. Like “A (Stereo)typical Interviews with Three Millenarians,” it is a satirical piece that gave me a new angle with which to address theological arguments and craft counter-arguments during an informal debate on eschatology I had with a friend over a year ago. Essay is me telling readers “see, this argument doesn’t hold water,” satire is me beckoning readers to exclaim, “this argument doesn’t hold water!”

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The Profanity of Christian Films (that aren’t really Christian)

The Redemption of Henry Myers

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Network Premier: March 23rd, 2014
DVD release: June 10th, 2014
Dove Rating: 5 Stars for ages 12+
My Rating: 1 star for discerning audiences only

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It was a better quality film than most Independent Christian Films I’ve seen. The acting was decent, the cinematography was good. It was watchable…which is definitely a step in the right direction production-wise but can also be alarming if the message isn’t good.

The Redemption of Henry Myers was a film I wanted to like–and did enjoy at first. All the right elements were in place: basic character development, a solid character arc, endearing protagonist with shady backstory, antagonists out to get main character, main character that has to make big decision, plot twist that escalates tension, gripping scenes of powerful emotion, and finally, the heart-warming redemption of the main character that we’ve been expecting since reading the movie’s title. But all of this marked by the simplicity and profound naiveté characteristic of a manuscript written by a thirteen-year old girl. I’ve read a few, so I should know–heck, I’ve written a few!

But what passes as naiveté in thirteen-year-old girls is bad theology in adults. We are called to a higher level of discernment and must sift and test even the films that at first seem “good.”

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Rapunzel and Mark Antony Get Tangled

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When I first heard that Disney was bringing my favorite princess to the silver screen I was excited. Rapunzel was always one of my favorite fairy tales. As a little girl, I dreamed of having floor-length hair like hers by the time I was 20. But as I reach behind my back and feel the ends of my hair brushing just beneath my shoulders I am reminded that not all dreams come true.

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