How can the Unmoved Mover be moved by something?

Israel certainly conceived of God as a stable force. God, the one who was before all things, created “the heavens and the earth.” God is the very being by whom all things have their being by his word (based on the prayer). However, there isn’t any indication that Israelites were children of the Enlightenment. The concept of immutability/unchangeableness would probably have been much different to an Israelite man or woman than for someone today in modern America. For example, in the West, upon meeting someone, one of the very first questions is: “So, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?” In the East, the first question is: “Who is your father?” or “What family do you come from?” Between our two cultural brains, we have entirely different means of discerning status. Though they’re not checking to see if God has always been a factory worker, Israel has always seen God as the God of the forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has – and always will – be the God of his people. He’s a covenantal God. It’s part of God’s immutability, to be sure. God will never “change” in this way.

Throughout Genesis 1-11, it’s quite clear that God is a God who responds. God certainly is with the divine council, deliberating over each action he does (“Let us make man…”, “Let us go down…”). Deliberation includes consideration, and consideration includes weighing actions and suggestions. While we in the West are hesitant to acknowledge God’s divine council, I believe that the Israelites would have seen God as one who considers prayers, sacrifices, and other factors before ordering and acting.

Doing a quick search of the (English) Bible, the word “immutable” does not exist in the English version of the Bible (nor does “immutability”). The word “change,” however, does occur in Scripture (in English). The very first instance we have “God” and “change” in the same sentence is in Exodus 32.12 when Moses is giving his plea to not destroy the newly minted people of God. Then two verses later we find the following: “And the LORD changed his mind…” I understand that this can mean more than just “change.” The word is נָחַם (“nacham”) which can mean: “to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted.” It’s a niphal, and specifically here, God is repenting (“feeling sorrow”) of the action he was about to do. Now, the idea of God “repenting” clashes with our notion of repentance, so most feel more comfortable with the idea of “changing” (which is not outside the range of meaning). But even so, God had said he was going to do something, and if it was part of God’s plan to destroy his people – did he change the plan? Is there a plan at all? It would seem that God does have a plan and method for bringing his people to salvation, but that doesn’t mean that God cannot change. I think it’s telling that the first instance of “change” regarding God is not about God’s unchangeableness but rather the dynamic and “changeable” nature of a God who hears the pleas, a God who hears the cries of Moses (and of his people in Egypt), considers it and “repents” or “changes.” Now, this raises many issues about the nature of God and the true character of God, but it’s something that Israel was comfortable with and it’s something that we have to deal with. It’s in our Bible – we have to figure out what we know (and don’t know) about God’s changeableness. In direct contrast, we have Numbers 23.19 – “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” The word for “change” here is also נָחַם . Here, God is being contrasted with a human (“mortal”), and we have to decide one of two things: Either Num. 23 trumps Ex. 32 and God does not change his mind; or God does not change his mind like people change their mind. Though the latter is no less confusing, it does present a different approach to the contradictory explanation of the former. 1 Samuel 15.29 weighs in with Numbers: “Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.” Same verb again and a similar construction relating to a “mortal.” In Jeremiah and Jonah, we have the repeated theme of God “intending” to bring destruction to places, but with the caveat that God may change God’s mind about the disaster should they repent.

It may be helpful to consider what “repentance” and “change” meant to the rabbis.

“Rabbinic Jewish literature contains extensive discussions on the subject of repentance. Many rabbinic sources state that repentance is of paramount importance to the existence of this world, so that it was one of the seven provisions which God made before the Creation (Talmud Bavli, tractates Pesahim 54a; Nedarim 39b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1). “The Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Elijah, ‘Behold, the precious gift which I have bestowed on my world: though a man sins again and again, but returns in penitence, I will receive him'” (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 28b). “Great is repentance: it brings healing into the world”; “it reaches to the throne of God” (Hosea 14:2, 5); “it brings redemption” (Isiah 59:20); “it prolongs man’s life” (Ezekiel 18:21; Talmud Yoma 86a). “Repentance and works of charity are man’s intercessors before God’s throne” (Talmud Shabbath 32a). Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all the sacrifices.[8]”

Could it be that God’s “sorrow” (contrasted with שוב “shuv” [‘return, repent’]) brings about life/healing/restoration? The law of God has boundaries, but God is a God of grace. The person of Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law so that we can meet the requirements of the law. The law does not change and the law does not move. In the same way, God’s character and God’s holiness do not change. In fact, by changing God’s mind, could it be that God is more true to his character of grace and love than if he had brought all the disaster that he had “intended to bring” on his people? Critics of the OT claim that the God here is only a God of wrath. Exodus, Jeremiah, and Jonah all speak against this, saying that God does not just bring wrath, but is capable of compassion in the face of sin that could be punished (and, under law, should be punished).

By no means is this a complete work.
It’s part of what I’m studying in a class here, and for the most part, I’ve found this work to be wonderful.
To challenge tradition is never easy, but as I begin to study Scripture more and more, I’m becoming more skeptical about how Greek philosophy has influenced how we read Scripture.
The Christian God was quite synonymous with the “Unmovable Mover” (or the “First Mover”) in Aristotelian thought, so it wasn’t a stretch for early Christians (who found great value in the Greek philosophers) to embrace God as “immutable” and the “unmoved mover.” The problem with this designation of God’s character is that it hinders his capacity to love.
If God does not change ever, then his plan is set and he will not turn from it.
The Hebrew word נָחַם is all about “feeling sorrow” and “repenting” and “regretting.” We cannot fully reconcile both Greek and Hebrew conceptualizations of God because, in some ways, they are incompatible.
I am not suggesting that God’s character changes.
I am suggesting that we read Scripture more closely to what Scripture says, and acknowledge that our God can have a plan of salvation and a code of law and holiness. He can demand justice and yet still exercise grace, compassion and love because the God of Israel is a God who hears the cries of the oppressed and is faithful to his people of all generations.

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TftD: Children and the Church

In a class this morning, I heard this quote:

“We need to stop saying that ‘children are the future of the Church.’ That’s wrong. Children ARE the Church just as much as we and the elderly are the Church. They never ‘become the Church’ – they already are.” – Gary D.K.

A subtle but necessary change in language.
A subtle but necessary change in thought.

How would the Church change if we began to treat children as active, contributing members rather than people who, at some point, finally become part of the Church?

Linguistic Musing: Parent vs. Guardian.

Think back. For some of you, way back.
Think back to when you were in elementary/primary school.
Can you recall the letters that went home with you?
What did the letter start with?

“Dear Parent/Guardian…”
For the longest time, I never thought much about it. For some children, they have biological parents – the very people who physically brought them into the world. For others, they had guardians: grandparents, uncles and aunts, foster parents, etc.
On the surface, these two terms seems quite different. And they are. Somewhat.

The term “guardian” is a noun (of course), but its root is “guard.”
“Guard” is an early 15th century word, taken from the Middle French (French that was spoken circa 1400-1600 BCE) noun garde, “guardian, warden, keeper; watching, keeping, custody.” And this word has its root in the Old French verb (~900-1400 BCE) garder, “to keep, maintain, perserve, protect.”

Now, THAT’S a guardian.

The term “parent” is less exciting, but I’ll cover it, anyway.
“Parent” is from Old French (11th century) parent, which is actually from Latin nominative parens, “father or mother, ancestor.” Also, the word parere (prepositional usage) means “bring forth, give birth to, produce.”
Fun facts: The term elder was the native word for “parent” until the 1500s. And even more interesting, the verb form of “parent” wasn’t actually attested to until the 1660s. The noun “parenting” wouldn’t surface until 1959! (“parentcraft” was the precursor to “parenting” [1930]).

So, why did I drag you through French and Latin? Because it’s remarkable how we add to the evolution of language.
The word “parent” means nothing more than producing a child whom you happen to mother or father.
The word “guardian” actually encompasses more of what we ascribe to the word “parent.”

For those of you who are parents, do you see yourself as a guardian?
You should. (Especially the custodial aspect.)
Parents need to become guardians of their children again.
“Guardian” need not have a legal, non-parental connotation.

Our world would benefit greatly if we all saw our children as people whom we have produced AND have the task of guarding, protecting, and keeping watch over.
Our families would be healthier.

 

Our children need protectors.
I am honored to be the guardian of Zoë Anastasia Poppen, and I will protect her with my life.

Looking for Death in all the Wrong Places

Fact: Smoking can kill you.
Fact: Cancer can kill you.

Fact: Apathy will kill you.

Of all the things that have the potential to end our lives, none are so vicious as the disease of apathy.
No other force has allowed as much evil to persist.
No other curse has prevented so much good.
No other weapon can strike with as much power.

Apathy is deadly.
There is no question on whether or not it will kill you; the only question is how long it takes to do so.

Scripture is littered with references.
The voice of Christ speaking to the Church in Laodicea, saying that he wished they were either hot or cold, but since they are neither [lukewarm], he was about to spit them out of his mouth.

Jesus taught that it’s not what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out of them.

Not to mention the many kings of Israel and Judah who allowed foreign gods and altars to run their lands.
Who encouraged turning away from the LORD.

On Monday, Dr. Tom Boogaart said something that startled me.

“If the words are supposed to be in our heart, and the Spirit works within our heart – what if the Spirit gets to our heart and doesn’t have anything to work with?”

Another professor, Travis West, has adopted a new term for “memorization”: learn by heart.

For some reason, Dr. Boogaart’s question terrified me in a way that an angry German Shepherd would terrify a 2-year-old. His words frightened me because they exposed a deep cavity within myself.
I have portions of Scripture memorized, err, “learned by heart” – but there are so many more that I could have.
That I should have.
I lack the life I could have. And in place of that life is only death.

I have to ask myself (and by proxy, all of you) these questions: What do I put into myself?
Does it bring life to others? Or death?
Will it bring me life?

And perhaps the scariest question of all: if it brings me life, is this a kind of life that will endure?

The answer is “No.” A resounding, deafening, cruel, empty and raspy “No.”
My life is not filled with life.
I seek objects of death. I seek to fill things that make me feel good, make my life easier, and to take my gaze away from the problems of the world.
My heart is a battlefield, and I’m losing ground.

The Spirit is our advocate – the run who runs with us.
His job is to remind us of the things we’ve read.
The things we’ve learned. The things we need for life.
Remind. He’s here to remind us (among a myriad of other things).
What can the Spirit remind us of if we willingly refuse to put things in our hearts?
Any person can memorize. Anyone can remember something.

How many movies can we quote?
How many songs can we sing without even thinking?
How many “quotable sayings” have we locked into our brains and hearts?
Yet we hardly know anything from Scripture.
We fumble through Google to find the keyword of a passage that we think might pertain to what we’re trying to say.

Our problem is apathy. Our problem is a lack of effort.
We don’t want to try because “it’s hard.”
Because it’s not practical.
Because it’s inconvenient.

We are living a half-life, and we’re responsible.

But it doesn’t have to end this way.
Death never has the last word.
This isn’t over.
We are not enslaved if we give our allegiance to another.
The shackles of apathy do not bind us if we’re covered in the blood of another.
Jesus came to give us life, and if you chase after him, you will find it.

I have found the cure to this sickness, and I’m reading Scripture with a new hunger again.
I will not let this curse destroy me.

Don’t let it destroy you, either.

Poll the Internet: Why would you break into a seminary?

This morning, presumably before the sun rose, Western Theological Seminary was broken into by an unknown person or persons.

He just really dislikes the textbook for Congregational Study.

The point-of-entry? President Brown’s window.
The means? A large block of cement.
Has anything been taken? Doesn’t seem so (though I haven’t heard officially).
Did the person actually get in? Unlikely, as the glass shards fell outward, creating a pike-like barrier for any would-be thief/vandal.

So, dear Internet, why do you think someone tried to break into the President’s office?
Money?
Fame?
Glory?
Calvin’s Institutes?

Tell me what you think, either here or on Facebook/Twitter.

Roadrunner beats Coyote. Mountain/Desert kills Migrant.

This is my attempt to record my thoughts, images, and struggles as I experience Mexico. I do not promise anything profound nor completely accurate, but I do promise to relate what I can.

“Fence? That’s a wall, bro.”
I’ll be honest from the start – I did not want to come to Mexico. I really dreaded getting on the plane in Grand Rapids, switching planes in Atlanta (which is a strange airport, by the way), and landing in Tucson (which I think should be spelled “Tuscon”). I will insert this glimmer of interest – I did want to feel what it felt like to stand in Mexico, staring into the United States through a huge, pillared wall.
And that’s what I did today.
I stood in the Sonoran desert amidst thorn bushes and Yucca plants and gazed into Arizona.
What a bizarre feeling to know that I can go back to Arizona whenever I want to.
The border guards might hassle me at the port and search me, but they’ll eventually wave me through.

Not if I was Mexican and without papers.
They wouldn’t care if my visa had been stolen.
Or lost.
Or that the back-up for work visas in Mexico is well over 18 years.
They’d just “red light” me and shove me back “home.”
“I suppose that Remmington shotgun is loaded.”

On the way to the desert, I gawked at the beauty of the Sonoran mountains.
But my mind, in appropriately rude fashion, juxtaposed the statistics of desert-related migrant death over those gorgeously deadly peaks. How many die out here? How many are found?
If this were the United States, the whole region would be a natural preservation with ranger stations and overpriced eco-vendors (read: preserved with capitalistic greed).

But not here.
Here there is only fear, hope, death, empty water and beer bottles, treaded riverbeds, and that wall.
“What do you think God thinks about the wall?” Anne asked.
God hates the wall.
That’s not hard to see. What is hard is getting everyone to hate the wall.

The economic tension with illegal work immigration is valid (see comments on this in later posts).
The abuse of caught migrants is not.
The plight of these people is very real.
Too real. Too painful. And what do most migrants get as a reward for surviving the dangerous trek to and over the wall?
Bad treatment, jail, and deportation. If they’re lucky.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t control immigration.
But we as the United States are NOT treating Mexican brothers and sisters as equals. No – to the U.S. – they’re much less.
This, my friends, should not be. None of this should be.

But there is still hope.
There’s a song by Brave Saint Saturn called “Heart Still Beats.” The background for the song has little to do with immigration, but it has much to do with the heart of Mexico. At least I’m interpreting the song to have meaning for my brothers and sisters seeking better life.
Below is a link to the song (along with lyrics):
“Heart Still Beats”
The girl in the alley kneels with exhaustion
She’s guarded by the skinny guy who limps from some infection
Behind a veil of bleached thin hair her eyes tell a story
Like a photo of Berlin, December 1944
She’s looking for a handout, she’s been high for several weeks now
She’s too far gone for whoring and the money just gave out

And her heart still beats inside
And the blood runs in her veins
A remnant of life remains
Her heart still beats inside

The man finally comes to the door, I’ve seen him several times
He always looks p*ssed off and his sunglasses stay on
I think he got his biceps and tattoos while in prison
And it doesn’t seem to bother him when he says “go to h*ll”

And his heart still beats inside
The blood runs in his veins
A remnant of life remains
His heart still beats inside

The thought it comes to my mind, to somehow intervene
But it could bring me trouble, and what can I do anyway?
It’s hard to be effective when it happens so often
To see a life unraveling, through drawn Venetian blinds
I’m sickened by compassion, I’m stifled by my limitations
Anesthetic apathy, come take the pain away

And my heart still beats inside
The blood runs in my veins
A remnant of life remains
And my heart still beats inside

Oh God, we need you here
We’re sinking fast and we don’t care
The evidence is all around me, on both sides of my door
Our hearts beat

Time for a little textual analysis.
The third verse is of particular interest to me.
It reads: “The thought it comes to my mind, to somehow intervene
But it could bring me trouble, and what can I do anyway?
It’s hard to be effective when it happens so often
To see a life unraveling, through drawn Venetian blinds
I’m sickened by compassion, I’m stifled by my limitations
Anesthetic apathy, come take the pain away”

How true this is of myself. I want to intervene, but I think that “it could be bring me trouble, and what can I do anyway?”
What really struck me was two lines later. After seeing the wall in person, the pillars at one point alternate in an interlocking pattern. The tiered appearance reminded me of Venetian blinds. “To see a life unraveling, through drawn Venetian blinds.”
Many lives have unraveled behind those blinds, and it’s time that should stop.

God is breaking me, and he’s a bit too good at knowing my pressure points.

Discussion: Abortion and Suicide

(For all my normal readers: This is a discussion for the youth group that I work with. You may still read it, of course, along with any comments that come, but for the sake of the discussion, I ask that you not comment. That way, the students will be able to comment freely. Thanks.)

———————————————————————————————–

As we always start out, what have you heard about abortion? What does most of the world say?
What kinds of things have you heard from your family? From friends?

In the same way – what have you heard about suicide?
What kind of “feeling” is associated with suicide?
And how is suicide treated in churches today?

———————————————————————————————-

The world contains opinions almost as varied as the stars.
With the topics of “Abortion” and “Suicide,” it’s no different.

From the people I’ve talked to, these are some of things I’ve heard about abortion:

“Abortion is simply a choice. We make them everyday. There’s nothing at stake; it’s not a baby until birth.”

“It’s tricky. When does life begin? Does it begin the absolute moment of conception? Or does it truly start living 3-4 weeks later? I’m sure scientists know, but I don’t. I think life should be preserved and treasured, but it’s a tough subject.”

“I can see saying it’s ‘murder.’ It’s living from beginning to end. The only question/problem I have is the topic of rape. Are you going to tell a woman who’s been raped that she can’t have an abortion? Maybe you can, but I don’t know if I can.”

Those are just a sample, as always, but they get at the idea. There’s a wide range out there of opinion.
Let’s see what Scripture has to say on this topic.

Flip your Bible open to Psalm 139:13-15 (or you can use a website like Bible Gateway). Think about this passage for a moment. Now read Psalm 22:10-11 and Galatians 1:15.
God actually communicates with babies inside women! That’s nuts. The God of the universe, the same God who created Venus and Mars, elephants and mountains, also “knits together” every child that’s ever been born. Our bodies are wonderful things – especially the reproductive power of the female body.

(For a fuller list of the sanctity of life, check this site.)
Rissa’s going to take over here for a brief moment and write a bit on her take on abortion. Should be excellent. 🙂

I have always been a strong “pro-life” advocate, but I will tell you – since becoming pregnant and learning and discovering things about the incredible process of life formed in the womb that I had never known before, that passion is even stronger. Let me share a few of these discoveries with you 🙂 According to our country’s current laws regarding legal abortions, a woman may have an abortion anytime between conception and the end of the 1st trimester (12-13 weeks) – no questions asked, whatsoever. After that, women may get an abortion in the 2nd trimester if there are complications that would endanger her health. Now, many of these laws work around the tough question of “when does life begin?” by calling it an embryo the 1st and 2nd month, a fetus the 3rd month and 4th month and maybe a baby by the 5th month or much later. Here are some things that I learned about “when life begins” while “watching” my baby grow about that first trimester in which so many abortions take place.

  • By week 5, (which is technically only 2 weeks after conception – ask me later 😉 the heart is formed and is already beating.
  • By week 8, the baby with a gradually forming face, limbs and internal organs is already making movements
  • By week 9 and 10, muscles and bones and cartilage are forming – there are even baby teeth forming and the elbows are working! The stomach and kidneys are already doing their duty.
  • By week 11, the baby has hair, nails, and distinctly formed hands, feet and ears.
  • By week 12, most of the body’s systems are FULLY formed – they just need to grow and shift a little. 🙂

Do you remember that ultrasound picture that we showed you a few months ago? That was our baby at 11 weeks. 2 inches long but with a fully formed body with all functioning systems, movement, and heart beat. Now, I knew even at this early point in pregnancy that the baby was alive, but I was shocked and completely in awe of how alive the baby was at only 11 weeks – bouncing up and down, swinging arms and legs, stretching out and curling back up. It was the most incredible moment of my life to watch the life of my child – all 2 inches of him/her. 🙂

Life is precious. And life is precious to God. The witness of the Bible shows that our God loves all of life – whether in the womb – or out of the womb.

Stick with me, we’re halfway done. (I can almost hear the groaning.)

Suicide
This is a tough subject. This life is hard, and there are many people without anyone to comfort them.
No one to turn to, no help – no savior. This, my friends, is hopelessness. And I pray none of you ever experience the depth of despair you can fall into when you lose all hope.

But when you lose hope, you do some pretty desperate things. Most people who “attempt” suicide merely do just that – attempt something serious to get attention. However, any loss of life is tragic.

Go back over some of those verses above. Does God care about you? Without a shred of doubt.
Why else would he send his ONLY son to die for every single person who ever lived? Jesus never even met you physically yet he died for you on the cross. That’s the kind of God we serve.

God loves everyone, including those who want to take their own lives. Job 1:21 says that God gives…and God takes away.
He’s Creator.
He’s the High God.
He’s the One with a plan. And He’s in control. That means God’s in control of everything. From the spark of life and spirit in the womb to the last breath of life. Suicide is a grasp at that control, thinking that life isn’t worth living.

ALL life is holy. God is the author of life. Without Him, we wouldn’t be.
That’s why our lives as Christians are so important. We are called to be the witnesses of Christ to a world that’s selfish.
That wants control.
That kills. That steals. That thinks of only itself.
God loves, so much, that it killed His only son. If there’s nothing else you get from this discussion – please get that. 🙂

Thanks for hanging in there for this post, everyone. Don’t feel like you have to comment, but if you’d like to – Rissa and I will be glad to read them and respond if you have any questions.

I pray you all stay safe in the snow, and that you all sleep well tonight.
-Zac and Rissa