My People Are Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge: Part Five

[Note: This entry is part five of a series [1].]

At the end of the previous section of this examination into the heart knowledge God desires and expects from believers, we asked the question of what consequences or repercussions result from the lack of that heart knowledge. Since love is such an important matter that it is discussed widely throughout scripture, in the utmost seriousness, its absence ought to be a matter of considerable seriousness as well. Given that love is how believers are to be recognized by the world, and given that showing this love, even in demanding ways, is expected of believers, we ought to expect that the absence of love carries with it certain consequences. That is precisely what we find to be the case, to which we will now turn.

The absence of love and outgoing concern was a matter that greatly troubled the prophets of ancient Israel. The last words of the Hebrew Scriptures, as they are ordered in most English-language bibles, express this concern very starkly, in Malachi 4:4-6: ““Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” There are many ways that this particular passage is interpreted, for it is clear that John the Baptist fulfilled at least one occurrence of this prophecy and he clearly sought to bring the hearts of the people in line with God, and also strongly rebuked the corrupt authorities of his time, whose hearts were not turned to the commonfolk of Judah. Not coincidentally, judgment soon came upon the people of Jerusalem and Judea some forty years or so after the time of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. However this passage is interpreted, it demonstrates a need for reciprocal love and concern between fathers and children, whether this is viewed within the context of generational conflict, a wide gulf between authority figures and those they lead, or God and humanity at large.

The prophet Amos was particularly concerned with several aspects of the condemnation that came from a lack of love and concern. What is also notable about Amos is the fact that the judgment for a lack of love and respect tends to fall heavily on Gentile nations, especially at the beginning of the book. Amos 1:9-10, for example, reads: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, which shall devour its palaces.”” Here we see that the Gentile Canaanites of Tyre are promised judgment in the destruction of their places for their betrayal of a covenant between them and Israel established first in the times of David and Solomon and afterward in the time of Omri and Ahab, sealed by a marriage alliance between Ahab and the wicked queen Jezebel. Despite the fact that centuries had gone by since the alliance began, the Bible conceives of treaties of alliance as being eternal (see, for example, the treaty between Israel and the Gibeonites [2], and so the betrayal of that covenant by Tyre showed a lack of love, and merited divine condemnation.

Even Israel had to pay a serious price for the violation of its treaties, even treaties gained by fraud. As it is written in 2 Samuel 21:1-6: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah. Therefore David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?” And the Gibeonites said to him, “We will have no silver or gold from Saul or from his house, nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us.” So he said, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” Then they answered the king, “As for the man who consumed us and plotted against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the territories of Israel, let seven men of his descendants be delivered to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord chose.” And the king said, “I will give them.”” Here we see that even though the Gibeonites had originally gained their treaty relationship with Israel out of fraud, once that treaty was agreed to it was in force for eternity. God takes covenants, of which treaties are a kind, extremely seriously, to the point that those who violate treaties and their descendents are subject to the death penalty for their treachery. This ought to be a reminder of us to take our covenants seriously, if any such reminder was necessary, and to act in love towards others with whom we are bound by covenant.

Returning again to Amos 1, this time verses 11 and 12, we see God pronounce a judgment on Edom for its eternal hostility against Israel: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever. But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”” Although Esau [Edom] and Jacob [Israel] were brothers, the wrath of Edom from losing its birthright and blessing to Jacob’s trickery became hardened into generational hatred. Edom always chafed at its subordinate position to Israel, and even during the time of Jesus Christ the Iduemans, descendents of the Edomites, still plotted to rule over Judea harshly and overturn the shame and loss suffered by their ancestors. Despite this judgment, Edom did not repent of their hatred of Israel and Judah, for about 150 years later the prophet Obediah had this to say about the judgment on Edom for his lack of brotherly love in verses 10 through 14: ““For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. In the day that you stood on the other side—in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem—even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress. You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity. You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained in the day of distress.” Here we see that the failure of Edom to show love and compassion, instead stealing and mocking and gloating about Jerusalem’s destruction, earned Edom a stark promise of condemnation that was fulfilled when Edom fell to its treacherous Arab allies and was driven into exile.

Given that this absence of love and honor brought judgment even upon Gentiles, those without a special covenantal relationship with God, is it any surprise that the absence of love would have such serious effects for those who consider themselves believers. Let us consider what Jesus Christ says in Matthew 25:41-46: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Just as blessings and eternal life come to those who show love to others, whether brethren or enemies or those they consider the least worthy of love and honor, so to those who do not show love and concern for others, no matter how fervently they consider themselves to be God’s people and no matter how earnestly they expect blessings from God, can only expect eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire for their absence of love and concern for others. Having hearts open to expressing compassion and providing what help and encouragement we have the power to give is a dividing line between salvation and condemnation, and something we have to pay close attention to in our lives.

Do we believe that we as contemporary Christians are immune from this judgment? Are we so sure that we have a devoted love and concern for others? Do we live our lives full of sensitivity to the needs and longings of others, and as we are blessed by God with abundance, do we give aid and comfort to those who suffer a lack? Or do we revel in our self-sufficiency and show a hardness of heart towards others? Truly, we must all examine ourselves, but in light of what the Bible says to the Church of God in the pages of scripture, are we really so safe to consider our own conduct as showing the sort of love and respect and outgoing concern that we do not need to be troubled by the promise of judgment to come to others? What is the relationship between love and judgment in what God says to the Church of God in Revelation 2 and 3, to give but one example, and what is its relevance to us today? It is to this set of questions that we will turn next.

[1] See the previous posts in the series:


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Book Review: The Good Spy

The Good Spy: The Life And Death Of Robert Ames, by Kai Bird

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Broadway Books in exchange for an honest review.]

There are really multiple aims going on with this book, and some of them succeed better than others. For one, this book is a highly sympathetic biography of one of America’s most notable spies, a fellow named Robert Ames, who developed a key area of expertise in the Middle East as a pro-Arab CIA intelligence officer from someone who knew him as a child and obviously greatly admired him. An equally important, and vastly less successful aim, of the book is a complex desire to make a cultured PLO playboy into a sympathetic character, make the Palestinian cause sympathetic by seeking to downplay its massive and pervasive hatred of Israel and presenting them as innocent victims of Jewish aggression, and to make the CIA and its camp in favor of human intelligence sympathetic, none of which are ultimately successful to those who come to the book with sufficient existing outside contextual knowledge.

In terms of its structure, the book discusses the personal and professional path of the life of Robert Ames, from his childhood in a modest and conservative working class family to his education, a fateful decision as a draftee to learn Arabic, and his quick rise through the CIA, where he showed himself ambitious and sometimes quite fierce but also diligent and hardworking and a friend to those contacts he cultivated through his career as a clandestine operations officer in the Middle East. Although the CIA did not end up helping out with the report, and plenty of the people who gave intelligence to the author did so without using their real names, in order not to blow their cover, I suppose, the book reads like a nonfictional version of a novel by John Le Carre or Graham Greene, both of whose novels are referenced as being relevant to the life of Mr. Ames. The book details Ames’ attempts to encourage a pro-Palestinian view at the CIA and with the general diplomatic and government establishment of the United States, efforts that ultimately failed first because of the 1972 Munich Attack and then because of the assassination of “The Red Prince,” and finally the death of Ames himself in the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing. The author then briefly ties up loose ends by looking at the aftermath of Ames’ death for his family and offers some deeply troubling looks at the fate of those considered most responsible for the bombing that killed him.

Although this book tries to make Ames into an innocent, what it seems to do most effectively in detailing as best as possible the operations of the CIA and other intelligence organizations, like that of Israel, which falls under unjust and extremely prejudicial criticism here, is demonstrate to the reader the immense corruption of the intelligence infrastructure of the United States from the pen of someone who seeks to defend and endorse it. Over and over again the author points to the corrupt nature of how a certain elitist mindset was cultivated in the CIA, and how ineffective espionage efforts were given several times the budget of our legitimate and open efforts at foreign diplomacy. Additionally, this book shows how intelligent and patriotic intelligence officers go native based on their own biases, and then try to drive policy based on those biases, and then how authors fall into the same traps trying to write about such intelligence officers in a sympathetic way. Perhaps most simply, the book shows the United States as being willing to deal with the worst sorts of evil men (and women) around the world so as to have influence and access to knowledge of certain international actors, as well as the fact that such people do not consider it necessary to be open and transparent about their activities or feel the need to serve the interests of the American population in encouraging a pro-intelligence attitude by which intelligence gathering skills are a normal part of being an educated and alert and perceptive person, as opposed to being encouraged only by a narrow and opaque elite. This book, in shedding some light to our nation’s troubled intelligence world, should help prompt a serious conversation about how we can best serve our nation’s interest by honesty and openness rather than a dependence on either sordid spycraft or a reliance on technological gadgets to spy on and take out our enemies from afar.

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Fall Into The Gap

The book I read today is a reasonably sizable volume [1] that deals with a skilled and highly intellectual spy named Robert Ames who the author believes could have healed the breech between the Arab Middle East and the West, largely by virtue of being highly skeptical, even hostile towards Israel and very empathetic about the plight of Palestinians and Arab nationalists in general. Now, I for one am skeptical both about the wisdom of this particular spy’s particular worldview, yet even so his life serves as an interesting example of how to build bridges and empathy with someone, and it is that which I would like to discuss, apart from concerns about the justice or lack of justice in the causes of those friends that he cultivated in his time as a clandestine CIA official before he was killed in the Beirut Embassy bombing in 1983. His death is a cautionary tale on the limits of empathy when one is not dealing with people who are honorable and decent.

In reading about this spy and his behavior, I was struck by the way in which he developed empathy for the Arab world, a particular part of the world I do not find very empathetic. He learned their language, studied their history and their literature, and was able to listen patiently to them tell their own stories, adding his own commentary to demonstrate his own familiarity with the mindset and worldview of people. Although he was a spy, and certainly a skilled man at keeping secrets, he was also someone of a high sense of honor, considering the people who were his sources of human intelligence as friends, worthy of respect and honesty, rather than merely paid sources to be ruthlessly exploited. He also tended to value the insights of those he befriended to such an extent that he showed a willingness to argue with other analysts who had different perspectives, including those who were more favorable to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan than he was as a partisan of the PLO.

The ways that Mr. Ames built up his empathy for the Arab world is a good template on how anyone can built empathy. For one, learn how to speak someone’s language. Learn how they think, see how they express themselves, learn their worldview, and the meanings and symbols that are attached to their communication. For another, read their history and study their culture. Whether it is similar or alien, once we know where someone comes from and their sensitivities and longings and heritage, we can better appreciate them as a person in their own right, and that allows us to treat them with honor and respect as a human being, and if they share our basic principles and a framework of respect, such strangers and aliens can become very close friends and partners in common causes. Additionally, spending time and communicating with others allows us to keep tabs on them, to understand what they are dealing with, and to keep the relationship alive.

None of these is anything particularly difficult. To be sure, Ames did not speak Hebrew, nor did he read up on the history of the Jews, and so his empathy and compassion was less for the Israelis than for the Arabs. That which we choose to study, that which we choose to learn and spend time on and focus on, is that which we will be empathetic about and compassionate about, if we have any sense at all. Yet to practice such empathy seems far more difficult than it should be. Why is it that we fail to march into the gap? And given that the behaviors which lead to building empathy for others are so straightforward, what qualities can be acquired to encourage others to show friendliness to us when basic friendliness and gentleness and kindness and curiosity and interest in others is not always enough? How do others learn to trust the evidence rather than the phantoms of their own misconceptions? If shady Arab terrorists can inspire wide-ranging and genuine friendships from intelligent Americans, surely it shouldn’t be hard for someone like myself, right?


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My People Are Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge: Part Four

[Note: This is the fourth post in a series [1].]

At the end of the previous section of this series, we asked what practical guidance for showing love and outgoing concern to others can be found in the pages of scripture. After all, if we cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters, our friends and enemies, and our neighbors and fellow strangers here on earth, then clearly we need to know what we are called upon to do in a practical sense. Given the fact that, as we have seen, the Bible speaks about the heart of love and concern that we should have for others, it is not surprising that we should find a great deal of practical advice that is strongly worded in laws, commands, and instruction that focuses on the behaviors that show love. Let us briefly examine those behaviors, as a way of providing us with a standard that we can use as a benchmark to encourage us in our own practice of love. Let us note at the outset that love also involves restraining ourselves from behaviors that hurt others, such as lying, violence, adultery, covetousness, and harshness, but that this particular examination will focus on the positive behaviors that we show in love.

Matthew 5:43-44 tells us the following: ” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Here we are told that we are commanded to show love to our enemies, to those who hate us, in at least three ways. We are commanded to pray for them to God, to seek what is best for them. We are furthermore commanded to bless them, to speak kindly to them and be gracious to them, rather than being harsh or ignoring them altogether as it would be easiest and most convenient to do. On top of that we are actively commanded to do good to those who hate us, not to ignore them or pretend that they do not exist, not to subtly sabotage them or seek vengeance against them, but rather to do good.

Nor is Jesus the only one to elaborate on these difficult commands. Paul himself writes the same thing in Romans 12:9-20 gives a lengthy and practical, if exceedingly difficult, list of how we should show outgoing concern and love for our enemies: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.””

Here we see a lengthy list of practical ways we are to love our brethren, and love those who hate us. Part of those instructions are positive in nature–we are to look for the good of all, and live at peace with all to the greatest extent possible. We are to be kindly affectionate to others, not cold and remote. We are to be diligent, fervent, serve others, be patient, continue in prayer, show generosity towards the brethren in looking after their needs, hospitable. Some of the instructions, on the other hand, are about what to avoid–being haughty and proud, conceited in our own good opinion, seeking vengeance for ourselves in the name of justice. We are to let God avenge, going so far that our response of kindness and graciousness even towards our enemies is to provoke them into a shameful realization of their error in showing hatred towards us in the first place. Practical and outgoing love is not an easy thing to demonstrate.

Other passages of the Bible further elaborate on what is instructed of believers in terms of their outgoing love and concern as they are able. At least two somewhat obscure passages speak about the demands of hospitality. Philemon verses 17 through 22 give an example of hospitality that was costly to three people: “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.” Paul wrote this short letter and sent it by the hand of a runaway slave who had stolen from his Christian master, and Paul asked Philemon to free the slave, promising to repay the slave’s debt himself and also asking Philemon to prepare a guest room, as a subtle way of ensuring that the request would be granted, since Paul was going to follow up on the request as soon as he was freed from his house arrest, presumably in Rome. Here was an example of hospitality that asked a great deal of grace and forgiveness on a part of the Christian slaveowner Philemon, who was to treat Onesimus as a beloved brother and not harshly as a runaway, and asked Onesimus to ask forgiveness of one he had wronged by stealing from him, and cost Paul what labor it took to repay Philemon for the loss he suffered. Godly love is costly love.

In his letter to Gaius, the Apostle John asks a similarly costly and risky favor of hospitality in the epistle we know as 3 John, in verses 5 through 10: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” Here we see that the local congregational leader Diotrophes, who had some overinflated sense of his own power and importance that would have made him an excellent candidate to lead his own church organization in the late 20th and early 21st century Church of God, had forbidden the members of his congregation to show hospitality to certain godly traveling missionaries, and had even disfellowshipped those who disobeyed his commands. John promises to deal with Diotrophes himself, but instructs Gaius to show hospitality in a way that would be likely to cause him trouble in his local congregation. Sometimes showing Christian love by being friendly and hospitable to others creates trouble for us, but we are commanded to love and be kind and accept the trouble that comes as a result of it, as little as we may enjoy it.

Often those who show the love that is instructed by God are unaware of the full ramifications and consequences of what they are doing. As it is written in Matthew 25:37-40: ““Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” Here we see that the righteous were not aware that by being friendly to strangers, by feeding the hungry, by providing a cup of cold water to those who were thirsty, or clothes to the naked, or visiting the sick and imprisoned, they were showing love and concern to Jesus Christ by paying particular attention to the weak and vulnerable and often neglected and exploited. It is for this reason that James, the half-brother of Jesus, says in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” By loving and showing care and concern for those who cannot or will not pay us back, we show that we are motivated by love, not by a desire to profit from expectations of reciprocity.

At times, though, we are not rewarded for our love and concern for others merely in heaven, but on earth as well. One of the more obscure parts of the Sabbath law in Leviticus 23 is verse 22, part of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which reads: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” Here we see that part of the love that landowners were to show was to leave part of their fields, their own property, available for the poor and foreigners, who had no land of their own, to glean so as to provide themselves with an honest way to earn their own food. We have one example where this law was obeyed, and it brought a great deal of benefit to the giver as well as the recipient of the opportunity, a poor young Moabite widow named Ruth. As it is written in Ruth 2:19-23: “And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.” So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.” Through his generosity, Boaz provided for two of his relatives by marriage, and ended up finding a beautiful wife for himself, a fitting honor for ancient Israel’s most decent and honorable bachelor. Sometimes, without any conscious intention, we can serve our best interests and provide the opportunity by which God fulfills our deepest longings by showing generosity to others in the seemingly ordinary course of our lives.

Seeing as the demands of showing love and outgoing concern to others address their needs for physical sustenance, for sustaining encouragement and relationships, and even for the deep needs of romantic love and respect and intimacy, we ought to reflect deeply on how God wants us to love others. The love that we are commanded to give is not merely love in thought, but it is love on all dimensions: in acts of service, in quality time spent with others, in physical affection, in words of praise and blessing, and in gifts to others. No language or facet of love is to be neglected, nor is anyone too low or too contemptible to receive our love and concern. These are serious matters, and the Bible is explicit in pointing out the rigorous and practical standard of how the believer is to show love and concern to others in order to demonstrate before the world that we are His people with His laws and ways written on our hearts and minds, living according to the knowledge of God and His ways that we have been given. It is difficult to love the way that we are instructed to love in scripture, and it is easy to give ourselves a pass for failing to meet these obligations by pointing to their difficulty. That said, how seriously did God take these concerns, and what was his response when Israel and even the surrounding Gentile peoples did not act with love and concern and honor towards others? It is to that question that we will turn to next.

[1] The previous posts in the series may be found here:

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Dum Spiro Spero

I find looking at state mottoes to be a matter of particular interest as a student of ironies. While leveling up on a quiz application I have on my smartphone, I correctly guessed that the state motto of South Carolina was “Dum Spiro Spero,” which, in Latin, means “While I breathe, I hope.” What hope does South Carolina possess? Given its history as a particularly rebellious state, even among a rebellious region of the United States, it is hard not to believe that its hope is for what it sees as freedom from burdensome oppression by the rest of the United States. Yet when the historical context is not taken into consideration, such a motto would be an inspirational one in other contexts, for hope is something that belongs to the living and not the dead. Inspired by my pondering of South Carolina’s curious state motto, I thought it worthwhile to look at some particularly ironic mottoes around the world for various nations and would-be nations [1].

Austria-Hungary had the motto “Indivisibiliter ac Inseparabiliter,” which in Latin means “Indivisibly and Inseparably,” until it was divided and separated in the aftermath of WWI into a handful of independent nations, several of whom (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) have themselves further split. A more ironic motto would be hard to find, given that not only was Austria-Hungary itself highly separable and divisible, but that even its constituent parts lacked sufficient unity to hold together. Belgium comes close, with its mottoes “Eendracht maakt macht,” “L’union fait la force,” and “Einigkeit gibt Starke,” which means “Unity gives Strength” in Dutch, French, and German. When a divided but small nation that is neither united nor strong [2] feels the need to have its ironic motto in three languages, it is easy to see that there is a massive gulf between its rhetoric and its reality.

The Azores, a territory that for more than half a millennium has been under the rule of Portugal, has as its motto “Antes morrer livres que em paz sujeitos,” which in Portuguese means “Rather die as free men than be enslaved in peace.” This motto has further irony in that it was the Azores that helped model the slave plantation that brought such misery to the Americas in the aftermath of European colonization. Bermuda, most notable for putting its name on the Bermuda Triangle, has as its motto the Latin expression “Quo fata ferunt,” or “Whither the fates carry us.” In light of the disappearances and mysterious circumstances that surround the place, perhaps such a fatalistic motto is easy to understand.

The nation of Chile, which has remained at peace with its neighbors for more than a century, if sometimes embroiled in fierce internal political struggles, has a somewhat ominous national motto, “Por la razon o la fuerza,” which in Spanish means “By reason or by force.” This motto is an accurate reflection of how Chile has dealt with its internal politics, first appealing to reason, and then if that is unsatisfactory, appealing to the force of a military coup as in 1925 and 1973. Colombia, a nation that has known little freedom or order in much of its recent history, has as its particularly ironic motto “Libertad y orden,” which means “Liberty and order” in Spanish.

Indonesia, in contrast to many nations, at least recognizes the challenges of its diverse population, with its motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” which in Old Javanese means “Unity in diversity.” Interestingly enough, Papua New Guinea has “Unity in Diversity” as its motto, in English. Jamaica has a similar motto, interestingly enough, “Out of many, One People.” These are not too dissimilar to the traditional motto of the United States, “E Pluribus Unum,” or “From many, one,” in Latin. All of these nations recognize a diverse and complicated history with a goal of unity, a goal that has not always been easy to achieve.

Many nations and dependencies include references to God or religion in their mottoes. Tristan da Cunha [3], a small and isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean, has as its motto “Our faith is our strength.” The Confederate States of America had the wildly inaccurate motto “Deo Vindice,” or “God, Our Vindicator,” in Latin. Iraq has the somewhat ominous motto “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” a particularly well-known Muslim chant. Tiny Monaco has as its motto, “Deo juvante,” or “With God’s help” in Latin.

Some nations have particularly beautiful or poignant mottoes when one thinks of their history or Geography. Little Luxemburg, a nation often fought over and divided by its larger and more powerful neighbors [4], has as its motto “Mir welle bliewe wat mir sinn,” which in Luxembourgish means “We wish to remain what we are.” Liberia, founded by freed slaves seeking liberty, has as its motto “The love of liberty brought us here,” something that is true for the 3% or so of Liberians descended from those freedmen, but not for the 97% or so of the remainder of Liberians who found themselves under the rule of those freedmen. Sikkim, a miniscule Himalayan kingdom that was eventually annexed by India, had as its motto the ludicrously inappropriate “Kham-sum-ongdu,” which in Tibetan means “Conqueror of the three worlds,” a claim of extreme hubris given that Sikkim is the size of Rhode Island. Finally, Botswanna, a nation that is full of dry and arid land, has the simple motto “Pula,” which in the Tswana language means “Rain.”

What is the purpose of a motto? Some mottoes reflect ideals, or a goal to aspire to, even if it appears so far out of reach as to be mocking. Other mottoes appear to represent the desires of only part of the population and not the whole people of a nation. Some nations honor God, others seek God to honor them, whether or not they deserve such honor. Other mottoes seem like prayers for rain or for national survival. Yet whatever the motto chosen, all of them present what purports to be an essential aspect of their character as states. Whether the motto reflects reality or aspiration, whether its motto is risible or extremely appropriate, all of them have been chosen by the leaders of the area to reflect their own identity and purpose. Yet even the most ridiculous of these mottoes reflects a hope that if its ideals are expressed than they can be achieved.

It is that hope we ought to celebrate, for all human endeavors require hope to succeed. To be sure, hope is not a sufficient condition for success. Nor does putting something in a motto make it real. Poor Sikkim could not even preserve its own independence in South Asia, being incorporated into India, much less conquer three worlds. Having a motto that one is a united nation does not make it so. Belgium is small enough it should not be the mess it is, but its territories are divided into four regions that barely communicate or interact with each other and that appear destined to shatter apart across cultural and linguistic lines, leaving beside a remnant city-state at its center in Brussels to serve as a fitting metaphor for the dream of peaceful European union. And who knows when and if the Azores will ever be a free area of their own apart from Portuguese rule? Even so, it appears necessary that before our hopes can be achieved, they must be voiced, even if it seems that putting them out in the open on paper only serves to make a mockery of those hopes in a world as cruel as ours, even if that ideal is as modest as wishing to remain as we are in a world determined to force change upon us, or the ideal for rain in due measure, or the desire to see unity instead of division around us. Surely such hopes deserve a better fate than unkind mocking.





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Book Review: A Clash Of Kings

A Clash Of Kings, by George R.R. Martin

The second volume [1] of the novel series “A Song Of Ice And Fire,” this particular volume continues where the previous novel left off. We see the fall of Winterfell to an ill-advised assault from Theon Greyjoy, and the fall of Harrenhall, and a lot of treachery and counter-treachery. We see the dark workings of magic, as well as the danger of dragons. We see endless squabbles over the legitimacy of monarchs and the bad dreams suffered by rigid would-be kings who have dark women doing their dirty work. We see degradation and death and near-death injuries, and a lot of scheming and teasing and immoral behavior. In other words, we see another classic work by George R.R. Martin that chooses grim reality with a hint of magic that manages to speak about our own capacity for treachery and degradation within us, lessons that are easy to forget because the story itself is so compelling and dark.

Make no mistake, this is a sprawling epic, taking place in a complicated world where the aftermath of the death of a king led to the fragmentation of his realm between five claimants, one of them his putative son, two of them his feuding brothers, and two others fighting over the North. The book is sprawling, at nearly 1000 pages in the version I read, with one storyline on one continent and a tangle of storylines involving dying relatives and people trying to stay alive and preserve what dignity they have. People disappear for long stretches of the novel and then reappear at dramatic moments, or appear to face death without having their deaths confirmed, which makes this book a tricky one to read in that the author delights in twists and requires the reader to keep a lot of plot lines simultaneously in mind.

That said, it is easy to see why this series of novels makes for such compelling television. There are a lot of visuals, a great deal of attention to characters, a tension between characters remaining consistent and being so unfaithful that they lose dramatic interest. It would appear, judging from these two novels, that Martin has a great interest in seeing what people are like when the chips are down, how families can easily become scattered and divided, even powerful ones like the Starks, and how hope and resilience are necessary but not sufficient to survive in a grim world where ambitions can depend on the fate of single solitary battles, and where unreliable narrators with limited perspectives do not allow the reader to get the full picture of what is going on in the story, allowing plenty of room for authorial manipulation, which is probably necessary to avoid massive and frequent continuity errors, which probably also accounts for the fact that the temporal markers are so vague.

[1] See:

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My People Are Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge: Part Three

[Note: This blog is the third in a series [1].]

In the previous section of this series, we closed by asking some questions about what kind of relationship God wants to have with us and why it was that God felt the need to create in us a new heart. The overarching question we wish to look at today is what it means on the level of commitment and will to love according to the biblical standard. Love is one of those words that is easy for people to define on their own, and one which is viewed in an almost casual way in society at large. Love is often used as a justification to pursue any sort of desire of the heart, regardless of any standard of morality or anyone else’s desires. The question, though, is not how we are to love by the standards around us, but how we are to love in light of what scripture says. That love, as we shall shortly see, looks far different from what we may be used to.

The place that people first look at when thinking about the love that God has for humanity is John 3:16. Let us look at this verse in its immediate context to get a bigger picture of what this justly famous passage has to say about the love of God for sinful humanity, in John 3:14-17: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Here we see that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the only possible spotless and perfect lamb to pay for the sins of the world was what was meant by this love. We also see that this sort of love is immensely costly. Jesus Christ did not come to condemn, but He came with the goal of offering Himself as a sacrifice for His enemies as well as His friends.

We have detailed eyewitness accounts that the Messiah felt the burden deeply. As it is written in Matthew 26:36-46: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.””

Shortly before being arrested, as He knew a horrible and completely unmerited death approached, He sought the awareness and comfort of His closest disciples, who were unable to stay awake and encourage their Master. Despite His immense grief, and the fact that He did not want to die by His own will, He accepted the plan that He had agreed upon with God that He would die and be lifted up in the agonizing and humiliating death of crucifixion as an apostate to the Jews, cursed for being hung on a tree, and as a rebel against the civil authority of the Romans, so that neither Jew nor Gentile was free for responsibility in His judicial murder, but that all bore responsibility for it just as all have sinned and fallen short of the standard of God’s ways, and are deserving of death. Jesus faced abandonment, humiliation, and torture because it was only through that awful death that we might know life because God is just and because the debt of sin must be paid, and since it cannot be paid by mankind it had to be paid by God and Jesus Christ, who were willing to sacrifice so that we could live.

It is not without grave and serious importance that this sort of self-sacrificial love is commanded of husbands towards their wives in Ephesians 5:24-31, as it is written: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

This passage is worthy of fuller and more knowledgeable commentary than a single man can do justice to it, but it ought to be obvious that God expects the same sort of self-sacrificial love from husbands that Jesus Christ had for the Church. The legitimacy of the headship of the husband in the family is tied both to ongoing outgoing concern for his wife (and their children), through love and tender affection, and the willingness to even lay down his life for his wife should it be necessary. It should be noted that this is not to be done to coerce or manipulate the wife into respect and honor, but all the same it is far easier for a wife to honor and respect a husband if she knows in her heart that he cherishes her and is willing to sacrifice for her. As John wrote in 1 John 4:9-11: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The love that God and Jesus Christ have for us ought to have consequences in the way that we love others.

It is in this light that we should read the fundamentals of love spoken of by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-10: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” It is easy for us to rejoice in the head knowledge about prophetic patterns, but one day those prophecies will be history. It is easy to feel proud about the abilities we have to communicate in our own language or in other tongues, but one day all tongues will be comprehensible by all, and communication between those in the Kingdom of God will no longer be a difficult struggle for any of us as it is today, and there will be nothing for anyone to brag of then. Yet there will never come a time when love will be obsolete, for as long as there are others to relate to, there will be a need for love to bind us heart to heart in outgoing concern. And we see in Paul’s memorable commentary on the qualities of love the same qualities discussed by John: love suffers long, love is patient, love is self-sacrificial, love does not parade itself or envy others but instead rejoices and seeks the best for others, it is generous and full of hope and endurance.

Do we exhibit this sort of love towards God? Do we exhibit this sort of love for others? After all, if we do not love our brethren, whom we see, we are liars to claim that we love God, as the Apostle John says in 1 John 4:20-21. Likewise, it is not our head knowledge about God’s ways or laws or matters of prophecy or interpretation by which people are to recognize us as followers of the Messiah and the people of God, but by the love we have for each other, as John wrote in John 13:35. And, taken from the law, the two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, as it is written in Matthew 22:34-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18. The subject of the love we are to have for God and each other is not something that only appears in one or two scriptures, but something that fills the entire body of scriptures, and is familiar even to those whose only knowledge of the Bible comes from watching people hold up signs with John 3:16 at football stadiums on television. We know, intellectually, that God loves us and that we are to love others, but what sort of practical action is supposed to be a result of that love? It is to that question that we will turn next.

[1] See the first two parts here:

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Book Review: Your Blueprint For Life

Your Blueprint For Life: How To Align Your Passion, Gifts, And Calling With Eternity In Mind, by Michael Kendrick

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.]

Whether a reader enjoys this book or not will depend in large part on what the reader is looking for. A reader who appreciates books that talk about living with intention that are strong on business strategy, focused on pragmatic goals, well-versed in positive psychology, and with a fair amount of biblical citations (including one at the end of every chapter) along with a strong dose of heaven-centered comfort and a belief in blessing that approaches but does not quite reach the prosperity gospel will enjoy this book. It speaks highly of the secular duties of business people so long as they are generous to God with their money, and spends a great deal of time talking about five supposed domains: spiritual, relational, physical, financial, and career. It is telling, although perhaps unintentional, that the relational focus does not include either physical or spiritual brethren as a separate circle of concern, perhaps lumping them in with friends. Those inclined to appreciate positive viewpoints of business thinking with a dollop of traditional Christianity will find much to enjoy.

In terms of its organization, this book is a straightforward one. The first chapter looks at the need to have a blueprint for life that combines one’s passions, one’s gifts, and one’s calling from God. This leads into a discussion of the purpose for life and unique calling, as the author makes a strong stand for individual purposes for mankind based on a few scriptures. After this the book looks at ways for someone to prepare for their destiny through self-examination and prayer. Then comes a chapter with a focus on heaven, to remind readers about the need to have a Godward focus. After this comes a chapter about building faith, with the idea that pursuing goals for which one has a passion, assuming that passion is not out of balance, or against God’s ways, is a good way to have the resilience to see it through. After this comes an introduction to the five factors of life and some practical insights on how to achieve success in the spiritual, relational, physical, financial, and career goals. The latter two could easily have been combined into one, as many career goals are largely intertwined with financial ones, whether in a career focus or as an avocational passion that provides the opportunity for some income. The book closes with a backwards looking conclusion that summarizes the main points of the book and provides an altar call for those readers who are not yet openly avowed Christians.

In reading this book, I saw it as one that will likely be a modest pleasure to those who see it for what it is, a book on personal strategy with a strong business focus that happens to be aimed at a Christian audience with a clear goal of legitimizing business success in the eyes of Christians [1]. It is likely to be a book that does not convince people who are not inclined to believe either in a special individual will for each believer (rather than one extremely complicated will involving all humanity) nor that is likely to convince those who are skeptical of the use of a business consultant’s worldview with an overlay of Christian language and biblical citations as opposed to a book written from a Christian worldview that just happens to be about business and personal strategy. This book reads a lot like John Maxwell’s works, and those who appreciate Maxwell’s approach will find much to enjoy here, as this is competently done with pragmatic advice that, if familiar, is no less true for it.

[1] See also:

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I Demand A Shrubbery

One of my favorite movies of all time is Monty Python And The Search For The Holy Grail. Among the many entertaining scenes from that particular movie is a group of knights who keep changing their name who demand a shrubbery from passing people as part of the toll. There are at least several elements of humor to this gag. For one, demanding a shrubbery was a pretty ludicrous toll, considering that few travelers bring shrubs along with them. For another, the demanding of tolls at various fords, bridges, and other “gates” was a notorious way for nobles and even nations to gain money. As these choke points controlled access to and from areas, those who possess these choke points can profit greatly from the control of relatively small geographical territory. Thus in the Middle Ages a noble could charge certain customary fees to all travelers who crossed into his domains, something which tended to discourage travel, usually charging more for horsemen (since they were presumed to be wealthier) as well as Jews, on account of popular prejudice.

In this light, it is perhaps ironic that one of the patriarchal promises given to Rebekah in Genesis 26:40: “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess The gates of those who hate them.” It is an important matter to possess a gate, or other narrow access way, like bridges or passes or fords or straits or important canals. The possession of these gates controls access, and this can be an immensely important matter whether on the large scale or the small scale. For reasons I do not entirely fathom, I have long found myself in the position of dealing with gates. During my time in Thailand it was frequently my responsibility to open and close the gates at night, controlling the legitimate access into and out of the school where I taught. I have written about Levite gatekeepers at some length [1], and even about cultural gatekeepers who do a poor job at their task, most notably the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame [2].

So it is that as I have noted before [3] that I sit right by a noisy door that is the main entry and exit for the department that is around me. Everybody knows that I hate having this location, whether they have seen me flinch as the door’s loud beep goes off or when people pat my shoulder or shake my seat from behind, or whether they have only read about it online or heard me mention it in conversation. Being the sort of person who is not generally used to having my requests granted, it still remains puzzling why I would be the person who is placed in this particularly unfortunate and high-traffic area, except that it has allowed me to converse with many coworkers as a low-effort kind of networking, given that as long as people come in and out of the office looking for my boss or my neighbors, that they will often want to make some kind of friendly comments with the person guarding the door.

Being the sort of person who tries to make the best of irritating or annoying situations, my particular location has been the source of a lot of grim and somewhat self-effacing humor. I jokingly call myself the door troll, for example, and ask the name or a password of the many people who request me to open the door for them when they leave their keycard at home or on the desk because they are absent-minded. Of course, any good troll demands a toll for those who come along one’s path, and being a fan of ridiculous jokes, I demand a shrubbery from the people who demand that I open up the door for them, often several times a day, because they cannot be bothered to keep track of their keycards like they are supposed to. Often such people at least have the good sense to look guilty when I open the door with a mildly critical look on my face as I have to move my seat to open the door, and that is usually cause for at least a mild glare.

How does one cope with irritations and annoyance in such a way as to make it more possible to deal with what one is not really able to change and what is not worth fighting over? Throughout life I have adopted a wide variety of coping measures with the absurdity of life. For one, I write a lot, seeking to lower the internal pressures at the cost of making those pressures externally known, which has unpredictable consequences. For another, I have developed a large capacity for dry and pointed wit, at the cost that my wit tends to unerringly find the most awkward and uncomfortable areas to operate without any deliberate or conscious intent. Another response has been to muse and ponder, to analyze and seek to understand why it is that certain situations irritate me so much, and why I tend to find myself in those situations so often. Here too the results are unpredictable, as sometimes one can know what bothers one and why, but not be able to effectively control the circumstances that bother, being limited to trying to cope as best as possible. Perhaps someday the knowledge may be of use, though, even if not today. In the meantime, I demand a shrubbery from those who would seek to rouse me from my private reverie by their presence by my door.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

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My People Are Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge: Part Two

[Note: This is the second post in a series. [1]]

Towards the end we set ourselves a challenge. If matters of the knowledge of the heart are important to God, and if relationships between God and man and between people matter to God, we should expect to find it either mentioned clearly and unmistakably or see it mentioned often and widely. That is precisely what we find. Indeed, the subject is massive enough for books, not merely a series of posts such as this one. In fact, we find the knowledge of the heart as well as the troubled matter of relationships in this fallen and rebellious world being seriously problematic due to the reality of sin. Let us continue our examination of this subject by looking at how far back this problem went and what solution to the problem of heart knowledge was proposed by God in light of the melancholy record of human experience.

In Genesis 2:15-18 we have two elements of the problem of the knowledge of the heart placed side by side in a way that is not accidental: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”” First, God commands Adam not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then God says it is not good that man should be alone. Here we see two different types of experience that God does not want man to have. For one, God did not want mankind to have the sort of knowledge about evil that comes from experience. God did not forbid this sort of knowledge because He is a cosmic killjoy, but rather because there are real and deeply tragic results that come from experiencing evil. Likewise, God did not want mankind to have the long experience of loneliness, because mankind was meant for relationships and not meant for solitude [2].

And yet mankind has a deep knowledge of both evils. Far from finding that the exeriential knowledge of good and evil makes us like God, we are bent and twisted and deformed both by our sins and by our suffering the sins committed against us by others. Our capacity for trust and intimacy are gravely wounded, our hearts are broken, our spirits are shattered. Our longings are bent and twisted by our experience of deep evils. Our fears and anxieties are fed and nourished while everything else is stunted and malnourished. Far from liberating us from restrictive morality, both the sins we commit and those that others commit against us make our lives grievously difficult and marked by deep trauma. Yet we are often denied even the satisfaction of seeking justice against those who sin against us in the realization that we are bent and broken ourselves, and that even if we restrain ourselves from the worst of the evil that is inside of us, we will be tormented by the knowledge that we are rejected and feared by others whom we care about. This is not the sort of knowledge that we were ever meant to have, but we have more of this sort of knowledge than we know what to do with.

Romans 1:18-25 gives the sad and inevitable result of a mankind blessed with intellectual knowledge of the nature of God through science and investigation with the absence of heart knowledge of the Creator God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

It did not take but a few generations of human history for this lamentable tendency to be seen in mankind to such an extent that massive judgment was seen as necessary. As it is written in Genesis 6:5-8: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Just as was the case with the heathen scientists of the Hellenistic period, so too early mankind did not wish to find the heart knowledge that would save them from destruction, focusing instead on the vicarious and actual experience of evil continually.

Why did God regret having made mankind in the first place? God desired to create man in order to build a family, in order to have a relationship with beings capable of growth, beings free to love Him. He wanted children the way that people want children, to have little beings in their own image whom they can raise and shape, whom they can shower with love and affection, in the hope that such beings will carry on their qualities and love them in kind. We are beings created to love and be loved, and yet in early mankind the widespread knowledge of evil was such that instead of longing for love and relationships as we were created to do, the thoughts of mankind were only evil continually, and they had no knowledge of God in their hearts. God was still gracious, though, to Noah and his family, despite the woeful state of mankind at that time.

Matters did not greatly improve when God began working with Israel as a nation in delivering them from Egypt and in bringing them through the wilderness to the promised land. Even before they entered into that land, God bemoaned their key failing, a lack of a heart to know God and love Him. As it is written in Deuteronomy 5:28-31: “Then the Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.’”

Here we see that although God longed to have a relationship with ancient Israel, they were afraid and unwilling to open their hearts to Him. Love, as deeply as we long for it, cannot be forced or coerced, and so God grieved that His people, whom He lovingly delivered from slavery and provided for for forty years in the wilderness, were not willing to have a relationship with Him despite all that He had done. From the very beginning of human history, God saw over and over again that without help, mankind simply did not have the heart to love correctly. No judgment could frighten mankind into obedience, no meritorious deeds of service and deliverance could make mankind grateful enough to love. No thundering voice or witnessing of miracles could awe mankind into love. So instead God chose to have a relationship with a few people over the course of history, but there was no widespread and intimate knowledge of God throughout the period of ancient mankind as well as Israel.

What God had decided was that mankind needed a new heart. As it is written in Jeremiah 31:31-34: ““Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.””

Here we see that God had decided that what Israel needed was a new heart and for God’s ways to be placed in the mind and in the heart so that Israel as a whole could know Him, could experience God’s ways, could have an intimate relationship with Him, so that there would not need to be the attempt to substitute this intimacy with the sort of intellectual head knowledge that comes from most teaching and preaching. God did not and does not want people to merely know about Him. He wants them to know Him like we know a beloved friend or family member, to walk with us and talk with us. It was for the lack of that knowledge that Israel was destroyed. Even knowing that God wants us to love Him and to love each other, what does this actually mean? How can we know God as He wishes us to in a world that is so filled with darkness as our own?

[1] See, for example:


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