Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Where Do All Roads Lead?

Where Do All Roads Lead?

Robert Frost's famous poem, The Road Not Taken, has almost become a cliche.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It was plagiarism really. Any hick from the Bible belt knows Jesus preached that parable first. What is the meaning of life anyway? The search for significance, for a meaningful life can itself become idolatry of a sort. I've always had a fascination with Abraham Maslow's psychological theory of self-actualization. Basically, Maslow said that we all have basic needs like food and shelter on the physiological level. The poorest among us have difficulty even meeting that need. Then there is the need for a safe and civil environment. Next there is a need for social significance through relationships with family and friends. Further, we have a need for self-esteem and positive self worth. But when all of these needs are met, the real focus is fulfilling our true purpose in life, to accomplish whatever we can accomplish to realize and actualize our fullest potential. But Maslow went one step further in his theory--transcendence or "self-transcendence", which goes beyond just realizing one's complete potential and abilities, reaching one's goals in life.

I am no fan of human reason because reason in and of itself is a dead end. As Saint Paul the Apostle put it,

20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 1:25-29, KJV).

However, Maslow, who is created in the image and likeness of God, at least realized -- even through his darkened reasoning which has been corrupted by the fall -- that we have a need to be connected to the ultimate source which he calls "Being." Someone who has reached such a transcendental plateau is serene and at peace with himself and his neighbor.

The problem with Maslow's view, however, is that he like the Athenians at Mars hill, did not know who this unknown God is. (See Acts 17:22-31, KJV). It is the God who ultimately created the universe, the same God who sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of everyone who will believe (John 3:16-17, KJV). "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28, KJV). The latter is a quote Paul probably gets from the Greek poet Epimenides in Crete and then Paul quotes from another Greek poet, Aratus, who wrote, "Phainomena." "For we are also His offspring." (Acts 17:28). Not only is Paul a scholar but he is not afraid to debate the Greek philosophers on their own turf. But the natural man cannot understand the things of God because such things are not reasoned from below but are rather supernaturally revealed from above via Jesus Christ, his apostles, and the Old Testament prophets through the Scriptures. Reason with out revelation can never lead us to a saving knowledge of God. It is in these last days that God has spoken to us through His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Now, it is not wrong to pursue our vocation in life or even to seek to fufill our highest calling or potential. But when we refuse to acknowledge God in that even our ability to think, reason, and reach our highest potential is from God, then we are in essence committing idolatry. We are placing self, the creation, and personal ambition above the worship of God. The first commandment (Exodus 20:3) and the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) clearly forbids worshipping anyone or anything other than God.

Modern humanity seeks to build its own modern towers of Babel as icons of their own self-importance. Those who are involved in technological advances often engage in modern form of mythology called "speculative science." What is worse, this sort of speculation is often presented on cable television as if it were not simply imaginative speculation but empirical science.

The same can be said of environmentalism and the protection of animals on the verge of extinction. Often the effort to preserve the earth becomes just another form of idolatry and many of these environmentalists actually become idolaters who worship mother earth and nature. It is not surprising that the Universalist churches attract a great many of those who have fallen into this error.

Moveover, many ad hominem attacks against conservative Christianity accuse Christians of being anti-intellectual for daring to question the philosophy and religious motivations of those who exalt humankind above due measure and exaggerate human potential. But the truth is Christians do not reject science, technology or environmentalism. Rather, Christians want to put these efforts of human reason in their proper context and place in due humility.

When we reach the end of our life what will be the ultimate meaning of our life? Of course, none of us likes to think about our own mortality. We go through life as if there is no tomorrow. We pretend that life is never going to end. And ultimately even the earth and the sun will run out and die. Sure the life span of the solar system will be much longer than that of the human race. But in 100,000 years will there still be a human race on planet Earth?

I agree that for now we are accountable to nurture the environment and care for our planet for future generations. This is a command from God (Genesis 2:15).

But self-actualization, according to even Maslow, is not the ultimate meaning of life even from the point of view of secular psychology. To find significance even natural reason leads to the idea that peace within one's self one needs to find a connection to ultimate Being. It is this ultimate Being to which Epimenides and Aratus referred in the quotes Paul used in his debates at Mars hill.

The real question then is how do we know God and how do we make peace with God in this life and in the life to come? Where will we spend eternity when our mortality over takes us, often by surprise? According to Scripture, there are two ways to know God. The first is through our natural reason and general revelation in the created universe, which Paul says cannot do more than lead us into further idolatry and self-destruction (Romans 1:18-32). The only other way to know God is through special revelation. That is, Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God to humankind. God literally becomes incarnate and humiliates Himself in order to identify with us in our sufferings in this life. Jesus came to do for us what we could not do: live a sinless life and be perfectly righteous. More than that He came to pay the eternal penalty for our sins so that God could be at peace with sinners. It is God who is our enemy and unless His justice is satisfied and His wrath against us is appeased, there is no redemption and no salvation (Romans 5:9-11).

Those who trust in their own accomplishments for significance should consider that those accomplishments will not be long remembered. Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address is indeed inspiring but Lincoln was viewing things only from a human and historical perspective:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln's words are the epitomy of grand and inspiring rhetoric. The brevity of the speech and its power lie not only with the inspirational tone but with the rhythym and power of the prose itself. It is no secret that Lincoln read the King James Version of the Bible regularly and that his unique command of language was shaped and formed by his knowledge of the Bible and Elizabethan English. But there is an implicit appeal to human pride and vanity. Americans have often assumed that the United States will never "perish from the earth." But this is in the hands of Almighty God to do as He pleases. The Roman Empire and other nations are no longer here. War confronts us with the awful reality of our own mortality but Lincoln appeals to the idea that the memory of the dead will last longer than his words. But both Lincoln's words and the memory of the dead who died in the cause of our democratic freedoms will eventually die out and be forgotten. Some day even the United States itself may cease to exist.

It is all part of the grand deception that we may somehow achieve immortality through our personal accomplishments on earth. But in ignorance we forget that even fame eventually passes from the view screen into oblivion. Elvis and the Beatles will be forgotten. John Lennon's memory will someday be forgotten.

Even if we were to write a great novel which might be preserved through thousands of years of human history, should the parousia or return of Christ be delayed, even that will pass away. Therefore, to seek significance in self-achievements or self-accomplishments is no more lasting than seeking significance in material wealth or things.

And even if we retreat to personal relationships as the meaning of life, our relationships can never completely satisfy because relationships change and pass away. Our friends, relatives and lovers all die and pass from the scene. Spouses grow old or distant or die before we do. And when we face those losses we begin to realize, to be confronted with our mortality and the ultimate meaninglessness of our lives.

Maslow, having the law of God written in his heart, understood that only a connection with the Divine can bring true peace. It is a focus on the transcendent that in fact makes the sufferings of this life bearable. But Christianity goes beyond that. The ultimate peace with God can only come through God's own plan. To attempt to get to God by one's own futile wanderings is about as intelligent as wandering alone through the Sahara desert without food, water or shelter from the sun, the heat and the wind.

The ultimate question then is, "Where will you spend eternity?" The atheist says that you will spend eternity in non-being. Beyond this life there is nothing and when you die you simply cease to exist. But that view means that nothing you do means anything except in the here and the now. We pretend that life will never end and live as if there is no tomorrow. But there is an end to it all and tomorrow will come to an end. We must all die. All of your relationships and your self-actualization and even your "self"-transcendence ends in nihilism and nothingness or non-being. Even the existialist philosophers knew this and struggled to come to terms with this angst they felt when contemplating the fact that life is short, transcient, and fleeting.

For true meaning, then only the existence of ultimate Being can suffice. This ultimate Being we Christians call God. But more than that God is not merely identified with the material universe as empty fate or blind chance. No, this God is an intelligent and conscious being. We do not resort to mere anthropomorphisms here. But by some analogy of the human existence as created in the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), God is a personal being, eternally existent in perfect relationship within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All roads do not lead to Rome. No. All roads lead to the grave. The old cliche is true. One thing is certain. None of will get out of this life alive. We will all die (Romans 5:12). All things will pass away, including our meager life (Psalm 90:9-12). Abraham Lincoln said that giving one's life for one's country would be long remembered. But he did not say it would be remembered forever. And his inspiring thought that this nation would never perish from the earth may have been merely rhetorical hyperbole. But Jesus said that His own words would never pass away (Mark 10:31, KJV).

I ask you again, "Where will you spend eternity?" Even if you manage to save the earth from environmental disaster and global warming, even that will pass away. Your signficance with human recognition from future generations will likewise pass away. But the words of Jesus will never pass away.

Maybe it is time you considered making peace with God before it is too late? The only real significance is through peace with God. But this too is hopeless. There is none righteous:

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes. 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:10-20).

Grace does not make sense to the natural man. But God clearly says that only grace can change a person's heart (Romans 10:3-4; Ephesians 2:8-9). If we confess our sins and trust in Christ to deliver us from our sins, we can receive forgiveness and the grace to repent and live for God. It is out of this reconciliation then that we can make peace with God (Romans 5:1-2; Romans 8:1). Only those who have this kind of peace can have a true "self-transcendence." But it is a transcendence that is not really "self" but outside ourselves in what Christ did for us on the cross:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24).

If we are willing to confess that we are sinners and only Christ can save us from God's justice and wrath which we truly deserve, then we can be forgiven and pardoned and reconciled to God (1 John 1:8-10; 4:10; John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20). If we believe, confess, and repent then we too can by grace alone be saved and have the significance that really matters. We can spend eternity with God.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.
ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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