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Monthly Archives: November 2020

Do Your Righteous Acts Avoid “Filthy Rag” Status?

 

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All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
– Isaiah 64:6

 

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This passage from the book of Isaiah this morning is really a bit stunning.

Who, here, is God talking to through the prophet Isaiah?

Whose “righteous acts” are like filthy rags?

Who are the ones that are “swept away by sin”?

Well, in a sense, He is talking to the nation of Israel as a whole.

He is talking to that assembly of people, basically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who He has called to be His own…

In other words, He is talking about and to that people who should be showing who their God is by their actions, much like that parent who is concerned that their children represent the family well….

That is really who the book of Isaiah is focusing on here…even as the prophet also has talked about, for example, how it is too small a thing for God to only be their God, and how a “Bigger Tent” full of people for Him will be created….

So, let me ask the question again though: “Who is God talking to here through the prophet Isaiah?”

Is his primary audience, the primary ones receiving the message, those who trust in Him?

In other words, is the audience a group of people who really believe in God yet not enough? Who need to try harder?

Is their faith at bottom functional, but they just need to get busy with doing more good? Get their “act” together?

Who need to put a little bit more work into their good works so they will pass muster?

Is this the point of the passage?

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Well, if we read Isaiah 58 alone, just a few chapters earlier, we might get the idea that God is primarily angry because He’s just not seeing the output He should be seeing…

The ones He chose are clearly not caring about their neighbors as He intends, and, interestingly, they have total disregard for the Sabbath laws, not showing proper respect for them at all!

So what’s the answer?

Simply hop to it, get to it!?

Deeds not creeds!?

Just do it!?

Well, if we look at things this way, we are really remaining on the surface…

Because… you see… the people Isaiah is talking about have a much, much deeper problem.

And it seems to start at the top. He tells us that their watchmen, or shepherds — that is their priests — have become “blind” and devoid of “understanding” (56:10-11)

Isaiah calls them “animals” (56:9) and “mute dogs” (56:10-11)… people more intent on the next party then fulfilling the function God gives them (Lessing, 147, see Matthew 24:45-51 too).

We might compare these useless Old Testament priests with the New Testament Pharisees, but the Pharisees at least had the pretense of goodness and righteousness!

No, we are actually far from that here… God’s chosen people, Isaiah tells us just a chapter later, are “children of transgression,” the “offspring of deceit”

…“burn[ing] with lust among the oaks under every green tree” for the false gods of the nations.

In other words, these are “people of the lie” who are committing spiritual fornication with other gods…. They’re “making their bed wide”…

And not only do they oppress those under their power, as we also read about in Isaiah 58, but they are also literally “slaugher[ing] their children in the valleys” (57)… offering these horrid sacrifices to their false gods…

Their community is characterized by violence, slavery, accusations, and libel (58: 4,6,9).

Captivated not by Yahwwh, the true God, they are serving their false gods, and so… they have false understandings of who the True God is. What He is like…

The highest worship of the true believer is to confess “Amen. God is right and true.” Convicted and led by the Spirit of God through the Word, the believer confesses sin and receives grace.

On the other hand, the one who does not have the beginnings of true faith can only see God as a Cosmic Butler (see also Malachai 3:13-15) or, alternatively, as an Angry Tyrant to be appeased.

But getting the imagined Cosmic Butler (or perhaps Divine Vending Machine, or Supernatural Sugar Daddy) on one’s side or satisfying His anger through one’s actions… through one’s outward shows of humility even–not to mention outright ignoring things He’s actually commanded!–

…is not, to say the least, a characteristic of the true believer.

This is sheer unbelief.[i]

Now, these people to whom Isaiah speaks really do have some concern about what the God of Israel might do to them.

So… they are hedging their bets and doing works, like fasting,[ii] that they think might win God’s favor — just in case he is the real or stronger God!…

In case there is anger to be appeased… (Cyril of Alexandria)

And this is not only sheer unbelief, but sheer paganism.

These whoring hypocrites should know that they can have no other gods before Him.

Therefore, one chapter after our O.T. reading today, Isaiah speaks for the Lord like this:

All day long I have held out my hands

to an obstinate people,

who walk in ways not good,

pursuing their own imaginations—

a people who continually provoke me

to my very face…

(65:2,3)

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Again, they have a heart problem.

They have no true faith, these men and women who Isaiah says “take oaths in the name of the LORD and invoke the God of Israel–but not in truth or righteousness…” (48:1)

Again, in Isaiah chapter 58, all these peoples’ words about being shocked and surprised at God’s unresponsiveness to their fasts and their “worship”– “daily” or not–are not a lie. 

They really are surprised….

Because as they suppress and flee the true knowledge of God, they can’t help to, at least, “go through the motions”….

To use a very weak but easy to understand illustration…. they are like the web page on your computer that has lost its vital connection to the internet — to that which provides its power, and makes it “fresh”.

I think Scripture says it better:

They are an empty husk…

They are a dead leaf hanging on a tree…. (see 1:30, 28:1)

Such is the situation of this wayward people that will not listen to Him when He calls out….

“Cry out to me!”

That is

“Trust in me. For all your needs. Depend on me… Look to me…  I will make you what it was I had in mind from the beginning. Your delight in me will be contagious. I will make love flow like a river from you…”

Again, in sum, these people, who were indeed the seed of Abraham, His chosen people according to the flesh, are not simply those who were weak in faith and needed His discipline…

They are rank unbelievers.

Rank unbelievers He is nevertheless patiently reaching out to (though He is not above mocking them as well….)

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So, as we can see, Isaiah’s primary audience here is actually unbelievers! – even if they are descended from the flesh of Abraham!

And Isaiah, as is right for God’s prophet, is aroused to compassion…

He states:

No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to[
b] our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

Again, Isaiah prays not just for himself and those who really do believe, even if only weakly…

He is also praying for all those that God chose and who should be believing…

We might think of Jesus here, who prayed as He entered Jerusalem to die:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Isaiah too, wants all of them to be saved, and hence cries out “for we are all your people” to the Lord.

He prays on behalf of the entire visible assembly of Israel…

He identifies with them, he is in “solidarity” with them. [iii]

No, he is not their savior, but like the Savior Jesus Christ, Isaiah is nevertheless in effect crying out: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…”

…or Stephen in the book of Acts, who, as he is being stoned says, “Father, do not hold this sin against them…”

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So…

“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…”

So what does Isaiah mean when he says “All of us” and “all our righteous acts” here?

He is deliberately using hyberbolic language to help his hearers understand the seriousness of the situation.

For example, he is not saying that he himself is finally, ultimately, “unclean.”

As if he were without faith in God and full of rank unbelief!

He is not saying that his own righteous acts are not made clean through the faith he has in God’s merciful and gracious promises, ultimately to be fulfilled through the death of His own Son, the coming Messiah, Jesus.

He is saying that God’s very own people—even though they were given special promises unlike the other nations and given the Holy Spirit (and hence faith)—have basically all fallen away, and have become unclean.

It is a general truth that they really do not even begin to seek God rightly, or even seek him imperfectly in the way that someone filled with imminent dread, terror, might be willing to listen to his voice.[iv]

They hardened their hearts, and so God confirmed them in their sin, hardening them some more…[v]

Isaiah though, is hoping for a miracle….

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God therefore uses him to convict Israel of particular sins – their so-called “righteous acts”…[vi]

And which sins are these in particular?

Well, there are a number of them, many of which we already talked about this morning.

At the same time, there is indeed one which is at the root…

This one:

“you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.”

You see, the core sin here is trusting in one’s own torches, one’s one lights, one’s own way of lighting one’s path before them…

In other words, trusting in one’s own wisdom—or man’s own wisdom.

Our own understanding.

Our own “Enlightenment” if you will.

And this means that when these people hear a Word that points to the exact opposite, like Isaiah 8:20, which says:

“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”

…they are going to spurn such counsel and indeed choose to remain in darkness, to live according to their own lights… their own rules.

To trust that whoever the God that is there might be, He’s going to understand…

He’ll “get it”. I’ll make the cut (I hope!) ; I’m not so bad….

Note in the Isaiah passage that it explicitly says “No one calls on your name….”

Again, the point in Isaiah is that the ones being targeted here are not “righteous” at all!

They have no true faith.

Their works are done without faith!

These are those who are “swept away by sin”.[vii]

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So where can we find a faithful people?….

As always, we can find them where God is present in His mercy.

Again, our God stands out among all the gods… Unlike them, He really does care for His people, for He is holy…. set apart:

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways….

Of those of whom we have been speaking, those not believing, God says this:

“…you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me…” (43:22)

Our Psalm for today though is actually quite different… Unlike those in Isaiah, here the people, though suffering, though in distress, really do seem to be calling on His Name![viii]

And why do they do this? Because they are the ones who are eager to learn true knowledge, just like we heard in our Epistle reading for today:

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledgeGod thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you… He will also keep you firm to the end… God is faithful.

God gives us the true knowledge we need. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, His Son, the Messiah, that saves us and the world.

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It is the nature of mankind to rebel against God… It was not only men like the late 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant who did this, but Mr. Kant certainly helped…

Immanuel Kant encouraged his fellow “human beings” to grow out of their superstitious infancy, and to “have the courage to use their own understanding,” not trusting in any “external source”… This was called “the Enlightenment”.

Putting Man’s Reason on the Throne, he again fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about those determined to be the Enlightened ones, who “walk in the light of [their] fires ; and of the torches [they] have set ablaze.”
[ix]

But folks like Immanuel Kant have always been without excuse.

Why?

Because even if you don’t think that something qualifies as proof, God is the One who makes the final call.

This is why He, through His Apostle Paul, says things like this:

  • … [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by [Jesus Christ,] the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
  • …I am speaking true and rational words… for this [resurrection of the Christ] has not been done in a corner (Acts 26:25,26).”

And, so, in sum:

…And when he comes, [the Helper, i.e. the Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

Basically:

  • “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved…” (Acts 4:12)
  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

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Interestingly, the whole latter half of the book of Isaiah actually moves right along these lines as well.

It is all about how God has purposes in this world – great and grand and glorious purposes in His Son Jesus which culminate in the new heavens and new earth – and you can either be a part of it or get run over by it.

And, accompanying this, the latter half of the book of Isaiah is all about God’s prophecies — and stubborn Israel and other nations as well being rebuked and accused by God through His predictive prophecies…

They are all without knowledge of the future, which only He has!

And today too, in Mark 13, we see Jesus urging us to recognize the same thing: that only our God, only the true God, has the power to know all things, even what will happen in the future.

Jesus is saying that God is in control and that what He has said is going to happen is indeed going to happen…

In our little mini-Armageddons in this world—where betrayers look to make peace with Christian persecutors—He means for us to see and depend on these truths.

Are you ready? Again, remember!

 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

Be ready!

Only He, ultimately, has your back and can back it up…

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For years, many of the “Enlightened Ones” mocked those who believed that Isaiah 53, a great prophecy about Jesus Christ, had actually been written before He was born…

But then…

“In late 1946 or early 1947, Bedouin teenagers were tending their goats and sheep near the ancient settlement of Qumran, located on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in what is now known as the West Bank. One of the young shepherds tossed a rock into an opening on the side of a cliff and was surprised to hear a shattering sound. He and his companions later entered the cave and found a collection of large clay jars, seven of which contained leather and papyrus scrolls. An antiquities dealer bought the cache, which ultimately ended up in the hands of various scholars who estimated that the texts were upwards of 2,000 years old. After word of the discovery got out, Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists unearthed tens of thousands of additional scroll fragments from 10 nearby caves; together they make up between 800 and 900 manuscripts.”[x]

Remember when Jesus said the rocks will cry out?

Well, these “Dead Sea” scrolls, which date back to 200 years before Jesus was born, more or less contained complete copies of the entire Old Testament.

Including of course, the book of Isaiah.

And with that Isaiah 53.

Remember, just a bit of that reads:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

Believe!

Believe this God who proves Himself not primarily by great acts of power…fireworks… but through simple, humble, subtle, and surprising words of truth foretelling simple, humble, subtle and surprising deeds of righteousness…

Even if the end, though coming like a thief in the night, will be like the Exodus or Jericho or Mt. Sinai as well – quite dramatic…

Well, to further edify our souls, here are just a few more passages from Isaiah to help us close, and they are relevant to the prophecies we look to in our day:

  • “I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. [So] I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’” (48:5)
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” (46:10)
  • “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come– yes, let them foretell what will come.” (44:7)

And what about you here in the midst of these words?

Most importantly, do your righteous acts avoid “filthy rag” status?

The question is, do you have the blood of the Lamb, which pays for all your sins?

The knowledge of the Prophets and the Apostles, my brothers and sisters, is yours!:

Behold again, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Amen.

 

Notes:

[i] While there are times that God does deal with others like Isaiah who actually do believe and call upon the Lord in truth, particularly those who are weak in faith (see, for example, chapter 51 and 57:15) in almost every case here from chapter 40 in Isaiah he is dealing with people who are completely turned against Him and who must be pardoned and renewed – drawn again to turn again to Him by the Spirit’s power — so that they have true faith and be like true children (as in 44:5). Not even the remnant that will remain remains because the whole of it was faithful.

No, like the Pharisees, those who should in fact show themselves to be God’s people often seem unafraid of God’s true words and secure in their own righteousness, their own “righteous acts”. Unlike the Pharisees in the New Testament, they do not even follow God’s law outwardly (see examples in sermon). In spite of this, Isaiah knows that God choose them as His own particular people, and like the Apostle Paul does in Romans 9:1-5, closely identifies with them as his and God’s own people. While at times he distinguishes himself from them (see 59:2), he also desperately wants to be in solidarity with them (see the radical nature of Isaiah 63:17 even!), even as he, finally, will not identify with their unbelief (see 65:10 and 13)

[ii] Things being warped like they are for these folks, when they actually do think of their religious heritage and tradition–they can really only ever go through the motions as they, for example, fast….

And God condemns this. It is not that the Lord is against fasting, its just that He will not be one of many gods…

[iii] Do your righteous acts avoid “filthy rag” status? In one sense, maybe you should not want them too! After all, you should, at the very least, be eager to be in solidarity with others. As Paul talks about in Galatians 6:2, we can take on, somehow, the troubles of others, their sins… “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…” Even as you also must recognize that they will need to, finally, answer alone for their own sins before God.

[iv] See this message here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/10/05/what-more-could-i-have-done-for-my-lutherans/

[v] See 63:17 and the commentators’ debates about 64:5: “you yourself were angry and [so] we sinned….”

[vi] I note that this passage is often used as a way of describing original sin.

The notion of original sin says that by nature, right from the time our lives get started, man is not faith-filled but rather sinful:

“In sin my mother conceived me” like the Psalmist says or “we[, like [all men]] were by nature deserving of wrath” as the Apostle Paul says. So I too, have inherited the guilt of sin.

I will sin, and sin until I die.

That teaching, that doctrine, is undoubtedly true, as such passages demonstrate. But this passage from Isaiah is actually not describing that doctrine.

The idea that this passage should be used help explain the doctrine of original sin is simply mistaken: this passage is not meant to convey that teaching. It is, on the contrary, meant to convict God’s people—even us today—of particular kinds of concrete sins…

Still, this passage in Isaiah might also make some people think of another passage from Isaiah, spoken of earlier in the book. In chapter 48, for example, God says to his wayward people Israel:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.”

Of this passage, verse 8, the Lutheran Study Bible says:

“The Lord… [notes] that they were corrupt from the beginning. You, too, started life in the occupation of sin, which continues to manifest itself in sins like those of Israel. The Lord’s refinement can purge away your sins. As you reflect on your persistent weakness, recall also the Lord’s patience and mercy announced for you in Christ.”

You should also consider buying a Lutheran Study Bible, but in this case, this explanation is mistaken: again, this passage is also not meant to convey the doctrine of original sin. It is, on the contrary, meant to convict us of a particular kind of sin…namely, the sin of trusting in our own wisdom and thoughts about life and the future, and not the God who makes life and the future, and who knows it all before it occurs…

[vii] And hence, with things being so bad, the Lord puts it this way:

Whom did you dread and fear,
so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
and you do not fear me?
I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
but they will not profit you.

(57:11-12, ESV ; in verse 12, the NIV has “I will expose your righteousness and works…”)

[viii] Even though here God’s people are actually praying – seemingly really calling on His name – we have every impression here that the time of their struggles—even the discipline (not condemnation) that God is applying to them—is not yet done…

“3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision[b] to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.”

Is God disciplining you?

Is He disciplining us?

And how might questions about God’s discipline fit in with the significance of the distress that Jesus speaks about in our Gospel lesson today?

[ix] Again, remember this key passage:

11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

From mankind’s “knowledge,” or that which is falsely called knowledge, our ideas and actions and goals and strategies proceed…..

Human beings have always been like this. Apart from the guidance of the Word of God, they tend towards disintegration, decay, and destruction.

That thing we call the “Enlightenment” is actually a good way of explaining this what goes wrong. The late 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant said the “Enlightenment” was:

“the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. [Infancy] is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use one’s own reason!’” (Immanuel Kant, 1784).

This kind of thinking leads to disaster though. If I question my spiritual inheritance in Christ – and even turn away – it is not because I used my own understanding apart from other influences.

It is because I choose to turn away from one Person and to trust another, namely, the Father of Lies.

If I don’t realize that this is happening I only reveal that I shun adulthood, embrace childishness, and dwell in darkness, like those Isaiah speaks about….

Kant was not talking about an understanding formed, and guided by the Scriptures, by “the rule of faith” (Isaiah 8:20).

He was, instead, at war with this. For all of his many keen insights and observations, this philosopher made claims for men that were far too grand – and frankly, ridiculous.

And it is not just him, of course: this problem has always been there, and philosophies like those of Enlightenment man—whatever their perks and benefits—have only exacerbated this problem!

What is the alternative? Again, Paul’s words to the Corinthians discussed in the sermon. Embracing Isaiah 8:20.

[x] https://www.history.com/news/6-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-dead-sea-scrolls

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Discussing Frank Wilderson’s “Afro-pessimism” with Matt Garnett

Come let us reason together?

 

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So, my core take-away on the issues of race being discussed today:

There are definitely other views. What to make of the Critical Race Theory spawn of Afro-pessimism, particularly the one put forth by Frank Wilderson III?:

Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 in podcast form in Buzzsprout, and Matt’s write-ups:

“What happens when ideas from university campuses finally hit the ground? It’s one thing to talk about ideas and it’s something else entirely to make good on them. For those who still question whether or not the approaches of Critical Theory can be adopted by the Church, enter one Frank Wilderson; author of *Afropessimism*. Wilderson talks in a recent interview about what strain of Critical Theory will be able to “end the world” and that strain is the “Race” version of this philosophy. Translation? Critical Race Theory, in Wilderson’s estimation is the best candidate to end the West. If you don’t think that includes the Church…… Nathan Rinne of Concordia St. Paul and I discuss this alarming interview.”

Part 1: https://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/6264943-when-bad-ideas-from-the-academy-hit-the-streets-and-the-church

Part 2: https://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/6375298-is-it-the-end-of-the-world

Part 3: https://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/6488746-critical-race-theory-and-you-and-your-family-and-your-country-and-your-church (start around 30 minutes — content from part 2 repeats).

(“These are strange and confusing times especially when you don’t understand how your enemy thinks. This week, Nathan Rinne of Concordia St. Paul continue our saga of helping you to understand and make sense of what’s going on in our culture and world. This is round three of us showing you how the philosophy of Critical Theory aims to “destroy the world” with a seemingly irresistible ideological agenda.”)

On You Tube:

Part 1:

 

Part 2:

 

Part 3:

 

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Trying to Get as Many Heavenly Rewards as You Can

I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

– Matthew 25:23

 

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In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus indicates to His disciples He might be a while in getting back to them. We hear, in part:

After a long time the master of those servants returned…”

It’s hard for many of today’s disciples to wait for their Master’s return.

For Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and as such, Christians desire to be where He is in utter fullness.

For to Whom else should we go?

He is the Light on the darkened paths of the fallen world which does not recognize Him, and in Him, we are the light as well – the light for the life of the world, a city on a hill…

Where He walks, we walk – and the beginnings of the world’s transformation and the ushering in of the new Creation follow in our wake.

Planting the seeds of His Word, new communities of worshippers are created, joining the heavenly chorus from ages to ages.

This too, is His gift to us. This is our inheritance. This is our calling.

For we are the maidens to whom our Faithful One is betrothed – awaiting the final consummation of all things and the great wedding feast with people from all tongues, tribes, and nations!

This is our Christian faith!

And two of the men in Jesus’ parable seem to get this, seem energized by this

According to the text they get to it immediately!

They leap into their work with true vigor, as indicated by the verbs that describe their actions…

We might compare their energy to a couple young Wall Street sharks eager to get out into the world and make millions under their mentor’s profit-seeking eye…[i]

But not all those we find in the church we see with our eyes feel this way. Some, for example, are like the man who says in our parable, “I knew that you were a hard man…”

I wonder if Judas, though being as close to Jesus as He was, also thought Jesus was a hard man.[ii]

“Jesus, I know you have your mission, your purposes, your goals…. But, be reasonable. You are tearing the world apart…”[iii]

If he did, he would not be unlike a great many “wise” men and women outside the church either, would he?

“Jesus… please. Can’t we just try to allow for people to ‘be authentic’ and ‘be who they are’ as much as possible? Can’t we just look to have human progress and flourishing the way that we think it should be done? Can’t we just focus on ‘peace, peace…’ and ‘safety’? Be reasonable! You are being much too hard… Difficult…”

And so we read, also in the book of Matthew, in the chapter right before this one: “the Son of Man will appear in the sky…! [excitedly]

…and all the nations of the earth will mourn…” [sadly] (24:30).

+++

We are told in the Bible that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

And we see this morning that in our Lord’s parable, the slave says:

“’Master… I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you….”

Now, it might sound like this man did act out of fear – but is this really the case?

On the one hand, it might seem to be… Several Bible commentators think so. When I was young man, I often thought that this is what was happening when I heard this parable…

…and then I often wondered why the Master did not have some pity on His servant…

After all, didn’t Jesus say that He did not come to damage those whose faith was weak? You know, He said of Himself: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”?

“Why doesn’t this guy qualify?”, I thought…

On the other hand, does it not seem just a bit odd that this servant actually has the nerve to speak such words to the one he says he fears?

Has he just all of a sudden, after being fearful all this long time, just now gotten his courage up when He faces His Master?

And not only this, if he’s really as fearful as he says he is, why would he have buried the talent in the first place?[iv]

No, things are not always as they initially seem.

+++

I no longer think that this servant was living in fear.

At all.

That’s not why he buried his talent in the ground, and hence, the Lord calls his bluff:

“Oh, you knew I was a hard man? Well, if that is the case, why didn’t you…?”

As one commentator puts it: “Wickedness always argues like a fool when it dares to open its mouth.”

It does us all well to remember that when the Bible speaks of sinful or wicked men and fear, it speaks about them having a lack of fear (Psalm 36). Rom. 3:18, for example, makes the accusation that “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is saying man knew God but have abandoned Him. And man knows the truth about God, but suppresses this truth.

Therefore the real issue, I submit, is what it always is.

This:

The Master is truly patient, kind, good, and especially, generous.

Fallen man is not…

Jesus Christ does not come to make unrealistic and unreasonable demands, but “to serve” and “give his life as a ransom for many.” And the greatest of His followers are those among them who serve, who have begun to give like He does! (Matt 23:11)

He says to all that He comes to offer a yoke that is easy, and burdens which are light….

He even tells us that we who have will receive even more, “and [we] will have an abundance”! (Matt 25:29)… giving us both grace and responsibilities that bring joy, love, and life.

And yet…

…when He comes bidding the world to repent, bidding both “good and bad” to “come to the feast!”

…it is people like the tax collectors and prostitutes who repent, believe, and embrace “the way of righteousness” (Matt 21:32).

+++

Perhaps though, we might think that this servant, while not afraid, was just being lazy. This, however, is not necessarily correct either (the NIV translation here is questionable).

Again, Jesus Christ is the one who at the eleventh hour hires extra workers for His vineyard, making them His servants in good standing as well!

Generous! And making the last first, and the first, last.

….and, as Jesus explicitly points out in Matthew 20:15, people are envious… envious…

…Because He is generous…

Envy, again, is the “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to another…”

It really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to see goodness being done to their neighbors according to their own way, and not the Lord’s way…

If they “bless” other people, they want it to be in accordance with their will, their standards, their purposes… their own conceptions of what is just and fair…and just and fair for them.

And Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…

As we see in the Gospels in fact, His chosen people, the Jews, have very, very little time and/or patience for the heralds who come announcing the good news of the Kingdom.

So it is not that the servant in the parable is necessarily lazy… It is that he simply had other things that he would rather be doing, that were more important to do. 

This man, a member of the church outwardly, is much like the Jewish rulers.

You see, pre-Jesus, things were going pretty well in their world.

They were quite comfortable, they were governing things just fine, and most had the respect of the common people. They liked how people saw them, viewed them… They had the kind of status and commendation from the world that gave them a sense of purpose and meaning…

So this man is not necessarily lazy in that he is unwilling to act or participate in any kind of work. It’s just that when it comes to this work, the purposes of the Master, he is not only unambitious but wholly disinterested…

As the sixth century preacher Gregory the Great put it:

Hiding a talent in the earth means employing one’s abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit, never raising one’s hearts from earthly thoughts. There are some who have received the gift of understanding but have a taste only for things that pertain to the body. The prophet says of them, ‘They are wise in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good…’” (224)

This man who buries his talent, like the Jewish leaders, didn’t need this Radical Carpenter from Nazareth coming on the scene and turning over everyone’s tables…

On His own mission of love and in effect accusing everybody else of being the bad guys…

+++

And, again, note that it is evidently not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, who are made miserable by Him – but the whole unbelieving world.

…when “the Son of Man will appear in the sky… all the nations of the earth will mourn…” (24:30).

Well, what should God expect if He makes people feel bad? (see John 7:7).

What should He expect if He breaks into everybody’s world and upsets their apple cart? Knocks their ducks out of the “proper” rows?

I mean, if you are God, you should just understand when people say

“Hey… thanks for the invitation to the Wedding Feast, but I’ll pass”

or

“It’s not like I took the talent you gave me and spent it on my own pleasures… I only buried it after all…”

God, you should just “get it” when people say…

“Look, I didn’t squander the gifts I was given on riotous living, like the prodigal son did… I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m a good person. Ask my peers…”

God, maybe you should just take it a little bit more lightly when people say:

“We don’t really want you here. We don’t need you…Well, maybe we could make something work. What’s in it for me?”

I mean, right?

God, you need to have a “come to Jesus” moment!

Get with the program!

Or maybe, understandably, you as the Master on a Mission get enraged at your useless servants and you throw that worthless and wicked lot outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…

(this what happens in this parable, and it also happens in the parable of the wedding feast to the person who gets into the feast, but isn’t wearing the right clothes…).

Or maybe, you as the Master send your army to destroy those who murder your servants and burn their city down…

(this is what Jesus says will happen to those who not only ignore the invitation to the wedding feast, but kill the servants who bring the message).

And then, of course, the world accuses this Master, the one who served in love, who paid for the sins of His rebellious people with the price of His own blood… of being the worst of impatient and authoritarian monsters…[v]

At the very least, this is what they do in their hearts… the heart which will be fully unveiled, laid bare, at the time of the final judgment…

Where their “accounts” will be settled and individually scrutinized (Origin).

They only condemn themselves here. They only show how they are “projecting,” as we say today… revealing their own hearts as they do.

As the commentator Lenski puts it about the man who buries his talent…

“This fellow imagines his great and generous lord to be as envious and as self-seeking as he himself is…” (980)

And as Martin Fraanzman put it, talking about not only this parable but the message of God’s judgment of the sheep and goats which immediately follows:

“The unmerciful had committed themselves to the unmerciful enemy of God[, that is Satan,] and share his doom (the eternal fire which God did not design for man[, but the demons])” (39, CSSC, 1979).

+++

So what is the contrast?

The wise, the righteous, are those who are about their master’s business, and will be found about such when He returns…

Let’s talk a bit more about some of the details of this parable, and some of its more challenging aspects.

Who is the wealthy man? The wealthy man in the parable is Jesus. Again, He is getting ready to leave His disciples and to go into heaven, where He will be for a long while before returning… (Lenski)

Servants/Slaves? Yes.

And slaves in the ancient world were teachers, accountants, and even treasurers of a kingdom. In other words, not just household slaves or agricultural workers but highly skilled business experts. (Osborne, 923)

What are the talents? Money. A silver talent might be worth 7,300 denarii (and a denarii was a day’s wage). A gold talent could be worth 30 times as much…. And just one gold talent would approximately 800,000 dollars in today’s money! (Osborne)

R.T. France says “the ‘talents’… do not represent… individual ability but are allocated on the basis of [individual ability].” (951) That’s true, though even as this parable deals with money, it also does bring our attention to the abilities of the servant. This then, is where we get the metaphorical interpretation of “talent”, and, in fact, our modern word “talent”.

The text says: “The man…went at once and put his money to work…”

Yes, and “use it or lose it” as they say, right?

Do you have wealth? Use it.

And, also, we should not assume that those who have more talents, and hence more responsibilities, could also not prove unfaithful.

This parable is not teaching that only those with the fewest talents might prove unfaithful in their abilities. Instead, we see clearly that this parable contains a warning for all of us…

It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht).[vi]

Or as St. John Chrysostom put it 1,600 years ago: “Let no one say, ‘I have but one talent and can do nothing with it.’”

Do you have diligence? Can you teach? Speak? Sing? Add and subtract? Negotiate? Are you a good protector or care giver? Do you listen well?

What kind of abilities, what kind of gifts, what kind of material and technological means do you have that you could be generous with as well?

It is better to give than receive! This is the life that Christians have been blessed with!

The wise and righteous do good works, because they have oil, faith, in their lamps!

They notice the signs of the end, and they keep watch for their Master’s return!

They have and will be given more, having an utter abundance!

And this, by the way, goes along with Matt. 13, fourteen chapters earlier, where we read the following:

“The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables…”[vii]

Maybe that is, finally, the most profound way of understanding what the talents represent: the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.

Above all, you have the simple and humble gospel which penetrates this world like yeast through the dough!

What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me![viii]

+++

The talent-burier in our parable today really thinks that he is a believer… but his understanding of who his Master is is dead wrong.

So do not be like the false believer, who has a fake Jesus. Do not be like Judas who asks “Is it I Lord?” (namely, I, who will betray you?).

Let your understanding of Christ, the generous Master, be true!

Be the one who has boldness and joy as the second coming approaches!

See His great generosity… His death on the cross for even your sins! Even today!

You too can hear “Well done!” Fine! Excellent![ix]

“You were faithful with a few things, over many will I station you…”

“Enter into the joy of your Master!”

He has prepared a place for us. There are many mansions there.

You see, our Lord Jesus is eager to comfort His people with the messages about our heavenly dwellings, and yes, even our heavenly rewards.[x]

We see here, in the parable, what He says about new “stations”. This should perhaps cause us to recall Matthew 19:28 also, where He says to His disciples:

“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

I think at this point, in this day and age, it’s also important for us to say how wrong the ideas of some self-proclaimed “Christian socialists” are.

One for example, in an article I read, says this:

“Our struggle is not to raise ourselves above our enemies, but to love them fully [good so far…], because to abolish class means abolishing what makes them our enemies at all.”

Thinking like that is disastrously wrong.

Actually, as I noted last time I spoke with you, God appreciates hierarchy. And He ranks and rewards accordingly. We can even see that there will be different classes or “statuses” in heaven….

There just won’t be envy any longer, like there is so much of it here….

Had the servant with only one talent fulfilled his responsibility, there’s no doubt he would have been equally commended by His Master.

He would not, however, have received all of the exact same rewards as his fellow believers…

And not only this, but all of us, and any “Christian socialist” friends we might have in particular, should see that Christ’s message is not about attaining absolute economic equality on earth or in heaven but is ultimately about the joy of simply being in good relationships with the others God blesses us with…

All faithful servants will enter into their Master’s joy, with Him being their true Wealth.

For the greatest of the gifts God gives is love, and God Himself is love….

+++

So, here, for example, we should think of Paul, who says these tender and powerful words to the Thessalonians:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (I Thess. 2:19)

So again, take into account and do not be like Judas who asks “Lord, is it I?,” but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans for you!

You, who reach others with the joy of this message, and they, who reach you with the message of Christ!

And may we, may all of us, like the good servant go forth in God’s work and be confident: “Master, you delivered to me five (or two, or one) talents; here I have made five (or two, or one) talents more…”

And let us do so always keeping in mind that the good works we do are never meant to be for our own salvation – Jesus has fully won this for us – but for the benefit of our neighbor to our Lord’s glory.

Hence, the Apostle Paul also says:

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load….”

Before we say “Paul, that’s not Lutheran!”, let’s realize that he is writing this in one of his greatest epistles explaining justification by grace through faith… the book of Galatians…

So, why would anyone, particularly a Lutheran…

[Try] to Get as Many Heavenly Rewards as [They] Can?

Well, why would we not want our own rewards to be greater and greater?

Such a thought need not be for selfish or evil reasons, but can indicate proper self-interest and concern.

For if our rewards are greater and greater, what does this really mean?

It means that God and His Christ, His Gospel, have been glorified in the world through us all the more. And even though this is not our main priority, this also means that we too will be blessed to know the joy of serving our God all the more in this life….

Just like a man kissing his wife experiences pleasure in that “good work”…[xi]

Our Lord is good. For we know, in our heart of hearts, that we are unworthy of all of the great love He has for us.

“We are unworthy servants” but of Christ we sing “love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be…”

And so, we are compelled by this love and strive. The Apostle Paul puts matters well:

“My dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

We will never get beyond the fact that it is only in, with, through, and by our Lord Jesus Christ that we inherit—not merit—any and all of these blessings.

And… our efforts will not be in vain…

Amen

 

Notes:

[i] Luz, per Osborne: “The best way to make money quickly in the antiquity was dealing in commodities or speculating in land” (924). The talents, do, after all, literally mean a large sum of money. “[T]his [parable] is not about domestic management, but about high-level commercial responsibility…” “The ‘talents,’ however, do not represent that individual ability but are allocated on the basis of it.” (France, 953, 951). The mood of the parable is definitely far from the reasoning found here: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/09/was-jesus-a-socialist. Also vs. Carter and Reid. Carter specifically, per France, “criticizes the parable for taking ‘the perspective of the wealthy elite’ and ‘punishing the one who subverts the system…” The third slave should be commended “for not adding to the master’s wealth by not depriving others”. He is the “honorable one because he unmasks the wickedness of the master.” Matthew is “a creature of his cultural context.” (p. 951)

[ii] BAGD (756) says this means “hard, strict, harsh, cruel, and merciless” (Osborne, 926). One commentator I looked at said this could also mean “strong” as in “powerful”. In other words, it could be a complement of sorts. Perhaps the servant is being deliberately ambiguous.

[iii] Or maybe, as some have suggested, Judas belonged to the party of the Zealots, and he would have been upset that Jesus wasn’t tearing the world apart the way He should have been doing it to counter Rome.

[iv] France: It’s about self-interest and slave perceiving he would not get much out of the deal. “He may also have been afraid of how such a master might react if his commercial venture failed, but, if so, he has chosen his words badly…” (France, 955).

[v] And in order to get the evil authoritarian, who serves us so that He actually can rule us, to try and trick Him… to undermine Him… to subvert him…. some try to crash the feast.

Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 22 – right after telling the momentous parable of the tenants where the tenants kill the Master’s own son. In the wedding feast parable, they are actually going to pretend, in spite of their faithless hearts, that they actually belong there in the same arena with Jesus (related to this, note also what they do next: first, in chapter 22, the Pharisees go on to ask about taxes and Caesar, the Sadducees about marriages and the resurrection, and the Pharisees again about the greatest commandment ; finally, Jesus asks them about “whose son is the Christ”… and goes into the “Woes!” in chapter 23. Chapter 24 begins to get into the “Signs of the end of the age”…).

They don’t realize that they need the wedding clothes though, and face the consequences, as so many do in these chapters where we read of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”…

Again, as noted above, “it really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to be “good to their neighbors” in their own way, and not the Lord’s way… If we “bless” other people, we want it to be in accordance with our will, our standards, and our own conceptions of what is just and fair.

Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…His chosen people, in fact — have little time for the heralds who come announcing such good news…

They, after all, have other things to attend to: one “his field, another… his business” (Matt 22:5)

So, naturally, they kill the heralds, including the Master’s own son.

[vi] Most of us would place ourselves in the category of the servant who received only one talent. That may be where most of us belong. But that surely is no excuse for being unfaithful with the talent God has given us. It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht, 364)

[vii] “Those who have accepted Jesus’ gift will receive revelation in abundance; those who have rejected it (the Jewish people) will lose even what they have, namely, their place as the recipients of divine truth. Here it has the broader sense of the reality of the kingdom. He followers of Jesus will have the kingdom in abundance, while the leaders and the Jewish people who have opposed Jesus will lose it…” (Osborne, 928)

[viii] 1 What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus, are my Treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s delight shalt be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!

2 The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone.
What is the world to me!

3 The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I’ll be:
My Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!

4 What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!

[ix] Fine, Excellent (Lenski) “No higher commendation can come to any believer from the lips of Jesus…”….

[x] Sometimes, we are afraid to talk about rewards, but as he gives to “each according to his ability” he is also ready to “reward accordingly” (Fraanzman). As Gregory the Great put it:

“All the good deeds of our present life, however many they may appear to be, are few in comparison with our eternal recompense. The faithful servant is put in charge of many things after overcoming all the troubles brought him by perishable things. He glories in the eternal joys of his heavenly dwelling. He is brought completely into the joy of his master when he is taken into his eternal home and joined to the company of the angels. His inner joy at this gift is such that there is no longer any external perishable thing that can cause him sorrow…”

Finally, it is not reading too much into the parable to see heaven as a state “not of indolent pleasure,” as one man put it, “but of active cooperation with the purpose of God as well as enjoyment of his favor” (see France, 955).

[xi] Rev. Christopher Jackson: https://twitter.com/revcjackson/status/1309155090792681473

 

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Is Democracy Dead in America?

“…those who once cared about election interference must now allow the investigations to play out, because this is bigger than any candidate.” — Gen. Michael Flynn

 

+++

I have particular Bible verses that come to mind here, but its probably best right now to keep those to myself. I’ll stick with political commentary.

From where I stand, from all I’ve read, it sure looks to me like there is massive evidence of election fraud. So far, I haven’t found the rebuttals that I have seen about this or that complaint, incident, believable.

Again, other Western democracies, as best I can tell, do not have these problems. Up until about five minutes ago, non-Trumpy sources like the N.Y. Times were telling us that mail-in ballots were a decidedly bad idea. It is not Trump who is making America look bad now, it is certain American cities and media elites that have made us look bad.

Of course I don’t believe a word the media or the politicians say about their denials. What are, to some, “one-off” incidents of problems here and there in these places are just evidence of a “tip-of-the-iceberg” for some of us. The media and politicians both lie for a living, and they have only become that much more brazen, “out in the open,” about everything in recent years.

Isn’t that what Trump is saying too Al?: “The most important principle that I defended 20 years ago, that Joe Biden and many others are defending tonight is: Let’s count every legally cast vote and obey the will of the American people…”

 

Trump gets lots of traction with “Fake news” for a good reason.

Right now, it seems like Trump and the people around him are fighting hard, and accumulating more and more evidence of fraud moment-by-moment. Despite articles like the NY Times piece the other day saying how hard it would be to pull fraud off, the key matters are this:

-Politicians have successfully been pulling off voting fraud in certain areas for hundreds of years (there are even some well-documented accounts of how this is done).

-Certain areas are known for this kind of thing, they have a culture of fraud.

-It would have been much, much easier to cheat in this election given the presence of so many mail-in ballots, “software glitches” here and there.

-Again, the media and Democrats have only been getting more brazen, out in the open, with their lying.

-Finally, they face no consequences for any of their actions. Of course it is reasonable that many of us feel like they think they can get away with it (not all Democrats).

So… I hope Trump and those fighting with him manage to secure whatever evidence of fraud is available to him. It would hardly surprise many of us if much of that evidence has already been buried, but I hope they find whatever is there.

I might end up agreeing with them now!

 

And I do want and hope Donald Trump continues to be President. However, given that votes that should not have been counted are not counted and he does not reach the vote total that he needs, what if more and more people believe that there was enough funny business going on not to trust the process (for whatever reason). Then what?

One thing Trump might be able to do is make a deal. I’ll stop fighting only when we get national election reform that ensures that this kind of fiasco can never happen again, that use best practices and methodologies of places that do not have these kinds of problem, that make it impossible to cheat, and that make it as easy as possible to detect fraud in the system when it does happen.

And if this is rejected? If the Republicans at large won’t fight for this? Or if there seems to be no reason to think that the conditions of such a compromise deal would be adhered to?

At best, I’ll probably be a member of the Solidarity Party in the future if I vote at all. And I’ll pick up and loudly promote as true the Washington Post’s tagline that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” And that I do not accept Joe Biden as a legitimate President of the United States of America.

And at worse, I’ll fully expect the strongmen and kings to arise in an already fractured, broken, and increasingly unsure and unsafe country.

“….networks called the election for Gore as early as 8:00 P.M. E.T. on election night.” — multiple sources online

 

FIN

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Can Christians Legitimately Justify Voting for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris?

And this means what? “On abortion, there is only one Christian position.” – Laurence White

+++

There have been a lot if very interesting articles written in the past couple weeks from well-known evangelical leaders addressing the issue of voting in the upcoming Presidential election. I am thinking about pieces by John Piper, Al Molhler[i], Wayne Grudem, and Doug Wilson (these last two responding to Piper and his concern about the character of Donald Trump).

One of the most challenging articles that I’ve read though came from Felix James Miller, who write a very thoughtful piece at Public Discourse titled “Why Voting for Biden Isn’t Necessarily a Sin—And Why That Matters”.

“I am adamant that a Christian may in good conscience vote for [Joe Biden] so long as it is not because of the evils he supports.” — Felix Miller

.

Miller himself is not a Biden voter – he thinks “his presidency would do untold damage to our nation and the world” and that voting for him would be “foolish”. He also does not say that he is a Trump voter, but rather shares thoughts like these:

“Joe Biden and Donald Trump both clearly possess great vice and little virtue. There is no getting around that. While we cannot judge a person’s culpability (that is, whether they are accountable for their sins), we should pray for both Trump and Biden to repent from their publicly sinful lives.”

In the article though, he is specifically countering Roman Catholic voices who insist that “any support for pro-choice candidates is always wrong for Christians” (the position recently taken by one Father James Altman, in a very popular You Tube video), and defends a certain kind of person who votes for Joe Biden.

Sit down Father Altman!: “There will be sixty million and counting aborted babies standing at the gates of Heaven barring your Democrat entrance, and nothing you can say will ever excuse you for your direct or indirect support of that diabolical agenda. Period. The end.”
Father James Altman

.

At the same time though, he makes a number of statements that, were they to be taken by themselves, might lead a person to think that he believes voting for Joe Biden is necessarily sinful. For example, he says:

  • “Any person who has freely committed, or even ‘formally cooperated’ in, either [abortion or euthanasia] is not to present himself for communion until he has repented and been forgiven by Christ through His mystical body, the Church.”
  • “To cooperate in a sin… is to support in any way (whether by guidance about, assistance in, or providing material for) another person committing a sin.”
  • “Biden is a vicious man who consistently supports abortion at all stages of pregnancy, while Trump is a vicious man who has taken action throughout his presidency to protect not only life, but religious freedom, marriage, and myriad other socially conservative issues.”
  • “Joe Biden, if elected president, intends to support laws that allow for the murder of innocents. This is evil.”
  • “By casting a vote for Biden, a person is cooperating with evil.”
  • “Biden’s campaign is heavily tied to a number of grave evils, and thus showing public support (e.g. by wearing a Biden t-shirt) would likely cause scandal to others.”
  • “Joe Biden… should be understood by Catholics to have excommunicated himself through his public support for abortion.”

So how does Miller get to his conclusion – that a Christian may vote for Joe Biden and not be wrong in doing so – in his article? The following paragraph is probably the most important piece of information you need to understand his argument:

“In formal cooperation with evil, a person either participates in the object, agrees with the intention, or both. Material cooperation, on the other hand, occurs when a person does not participate directly in the object of the evildoer’s act—namely “what the person is doing”—or agree with the intention of the evildoer—“why he is doing it”—but still contributes in some way to the act. If a woman purchases a latte at a coffee shop that donates money to Planned Parenthood, she is materially cooperating with the company’s evil practice, but she is not formally cooperating with it so long as she does not specifically intend to support abortion.”

Miller briefly concludes that “one may cooperate with evil only if that cooperation is material, mediate, and remote [(not formal, immediate, and proximate)] and if there is proportionate cause for doing so.” He explains the distinctions that he is using by saying, in part, “[a]n example of someone materially cooperating in evil in a way that is mediate and causally distant is a bus driver who unknowingly provides a ride for a woman on her way to have an abortion.”[ii] And the “proportionate cause” he mentions is people who believe in their conscience that only a vote for Biden (or is it Harris?) will avert the scandal[iii] of Donald Trump (“the belief that President Trump has a corrosive impact on society, America’s constitutional order, and the world”) — and  this the danger of increased chaos and civil war (and with this, of course, the opportunity for no improvements on the pro-life front).[iv]

His final paragraph is a call of unity of sorts among Christians struggling with these matters, and sounds a bit like Albert Mohler’s concerns to maintain good relations between Christians of different races[v] when it comes to political issues (see footnote 1 below):

What the Christian call of unity does demand is that we never allow earthly cares and worries to separate us. When we do, we lose moral credibility and increase fragmentation in the church. We are mistaken if we claim that those Christians who make different legitimate political judgments of prudence are rejecting the call of Christ. In fact, by accusing them of sin, we ourselves are acting against one of our Lord’s final earthly wishes.

My initial impression upon reading Miller’s pieces was that, on the face of it, his argument was strong, even if it bothered me.

At the same time, truth be told, I was kind of happy that the argument seemed so strong because I don’t like the idea of thinking that people I know and love voting for Joe Biden might be putting their souls in peril (yes, I think there are dangers involved voting for Trump as well, though please see this article by Carl Truman addressing that matter).

At the same time, however, I wondered how “air-tight” the argument really was and so I asked a couple of really smart Christian brothers whose opinions I respect a lot. Here is what they said.

“[A]midst the nuances of formal/material, mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote *cooperation*, his analysis completely overlooks blatant *negligence*.” — Matt Cochran

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Matt Cochran:

It’s very thorough and methodical in the one facet of the situation it focuses on–cooperation with evil–but it also misses the forest for the trees, in my opinion.

As voters, we shouldn’t be looking at ourselves as merely cooperating with candidates, but also as delegating our authority over the nation to candidates. He’s not thinking in those terms. You can even see it in his illustrative examples, which are all matters of being a consumer or an employee. It’s the thinking of a subject rather than a ruler. So amidst the nuances of formal/material, mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote *cooperation*, his analysis completely overlooks blatant *negligence*.

The perspective of a ruler isn’t how much to cooperate with evil, but rather how much to tolerate evil. He must tolerate some, for he will have neither perfect subjects nor perfect servants. But what he puts up with will depend on how much evil will be caused or goodness damaged by refusing to tolerate any particular evil. As Luther put it, “One must go by the proverb, ‘He cannot govern who cannot wink at faults.’ Let this be the rule: Where wrong cannot be punished without greater wrong, there let him waive his rights, however just they may be.”

As voters with authority, Christians must vote as ones under Authority ourselves. We have a responsibility to oversee the various tasks of government, and protecting our own people from wanton murder is right up at the top of such a list. If we refuse an opportunity to take an action on their behalf that will not lead to an even greater harm, then we have neglected our responsibilities and will need to answer for that. The greater such a failure to condemn evil is, the greater our negligence. And honestly, given the scope of the evil of abortion, a greater harm against which it can be justifiably balanced is really hard to come up with in our present context. (Though I won’t discount the possibility altogether.)

The Priest and the Levite who passed by the man on the side of the road might have been able to quibble about their level of cooperation with the robbers who beat him, but they overlooked the more important point: how loving their neighbor meant taking action to help him. There’s something similar going on with the article’s analysis of voting.

Now, the more cynical one is about American voting, the less relevant that line of thinking will be. Also, the less you believe that any available candidate can protect the unborn, the less relevant it will be. But even so, it’s hard for me to find a way to countenance a Biden vote, as those other lines of thinking would lead to refraining from voting altogether.

“It’s not my job to pontificate with a myriad of distinctions in order to find them loopholes.” — Pastor Andrew Preus

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Pastor Andrew Preus:

Very well thought-out, he makes some good points. Here are my two points:

First, I would apply this more often to paying taxes, not so much voting. I do believe there is such thing as a protest vote for someone who you know is not as sound as you would want. For example, I disagree with Trump on his program to extend maternity leave. I don’t believe it is wise to incentivize multi-income families, as this continues to keep people enslaved to corporate greed. And yet, I can see voting for him in spite of this, since he is not by such policy directly attacking the home. He just isn’t helping it. Perhaps it would be material cooperation with evil on his part. One could make the same argument about unwise foreign policy, although I refused to vote for the neo-cons in 08 and 12.

Second, the reason he gives for people to vote for Biden with a good conscience is almost never the case. Christians who vote Democrat almost always do so because they buy into the propaganda, and they care more about their pocket book than about the status of the family, the church, and unborn babies. That’s just a fact. They mostly vote Democrat because of their loyalty to the party. If someone were to follow his logic and vote for Biden, then I suppose I would call it foolish and a sin of weakness. But honestly, I think birth control is also a sin of weakness, at least often. The elect are deceived. I warn them against being deceived. It’s not my job to pontificate with a myriad of distinctions in order to find them loopholes.

+++

At this point, I’m going to just respond specifically to one other thing that Miller says:

“When our moral witness becomes entirely tied to prudential political judgments, we swap our faith in a transcendent redeeming God who offers us salvation for a politician or party who promises to create heaven on earth.”

I think I understand Miller’s concern here, but who, finally, evaluates, or should help us evaluate, when our “moral witness” has become “entirely tied to prudential political judgments”? I don’t really know any people who think they are going to get heaven on earth or utopia by voting for Donald Trump. The impression I often get is that you tend to get people who think Utopia is obtainable via politics and political action the further to the left (or “Left”) you go.

On the contrary, is wanting more jobs for Americans seeking work – particularly for the poorest Americans — necessarily seeking heaven on earth? Even if one does not vote for President Trump primarily because of his pro-life commitments, the increasing amounts of employment under his term in minority communities, for instance, seems like a mark in his favor that should also be recognized. Also, the socialist / communist alternatives facing us. Even if someone reasonable like Andrew Sullivan were right about Joe Biden, he clearly is not going to be running the Democrat party. People know what they are getting with Donald Trump, and not the alternative.

FIN

Notes:

[i] Mohler says that Christians should vote for Trump, but also says of the black community in America: “I also recognize that I know brothers and sisters in Christ who see this differently. The vast majority of Black voters in America vote regularly and predictably for the Democratic ticket, and have since 1960. Like the pattern of white evangelical voting, this is not a surprise. There are long historical reasons why both are so. With my black brothers and sisters, I make my best case for how I see the issues. They have every right to do the same. We each have a vote. Both of us will answer to God for that vote. We earnestly seek to persuade the other. We will likely vote differently in the end. We remain brothers and sisters in Christ.”

[ii] What Miller means by mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote:

“There are two more distinctions that are useful in a fine-grained consideration of this issue: namely, the distinctions between immediate and mediate material cooperation and between proximate and remote cooperation. Immediate cooperation is when a person commits an act that, although not wrong in itself, helps the evildoer in some way to commit sin. Mediate cooperation occurs when a person does something that paves the way for an evil act or helps it to occur (for instance, providing funds that help make it possible for someone to commit an injustice). Mediate cooperation in evil is acceptable so long as it is remote cooperation (which means that evil effect is not brought about directly by the cooperating person’s action, and thus the cooperating person’s action is “causally distant” from the evil) and there are proportionate reasons to cooperate in this way.

(It is worth noting that the question of how voting fits into the distinction between mediate and immediate cooperation leads a small minority of Catholic philosophers and theologians, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, to argue that we cannot in good conscience vote for either major party, a position recently argued in Public Discourse by Brandon McGinley.)

To put it briefly, one may cooperate with evil only if that cooperation is material, mediate, and remote and if there is proportionate cause for doing so. This means that the person does not intend the object (the evil act itself) or agree with its intention, does not cooperate with the evil act itself but only provides something that allows the evil to occur, and is acting in a way that is causally distant from the evil action. An example of someone materially cooperating in evil in a way that is mediate and causally distant is a bus driver who unknowingly provides a ride for a woman on her way to have an abortion. For a visual representation of these concepts, this chart may be helpful.”

[iii] “There is a final consideration when choosing whether or not to materially, mediately, remotely cooperate with evil even when there are proportionate reasons for doing so: whether or not such action is likely to cause scandal. Scandal is defined by the Catechism as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” Thus, if the bus driver’s company began advertising his route as “the most affordable way to get to Planned Parenthood,” continuing to drive that itinerary would likely cause scandal. The bus driver should therefore resign from his route in order to avoid committing the sin of scandal.”

[iv] “If these arguments convince a pro-life person, it seems he potentially has proportionate reason to cast his vote for Biden. One could think that support for Trump will likely, whether immediately or over time, lead to descent into a state of civil war that will be so harmful to our body politic that the possibility of pro-life legislation (or any legislation at all) seems nonexistent. A vote for Biden, according to this logic, is a vote for living to fight for life another day.”

More:

“…a pro-life person who chooses to vote for him does not participate in the evil object (i.e., the person is not casting a vote for or in support of abortion, but is casting a vote to preserve the nation) or agree with its intention (the person does not actually intend abortion), and thus the person cooperates in evil only materially and not formally. Additionally, the voter does not cooperate with the evil act of advocating abortion but only provides something that allows the evil to occur (namely a vote that helps Biden take office), and that act of voting is not itself evil. Finally, Biden’s support for abortion is not the direct means to the voter’s end (preventing another Trump presidency) since the voter is voting specifically to prevent the breakdown of society, civil war, etc., which would presumably also make stopping abortion impossible. Such a vote, then, is remote mediate material cooperation with evil done for proportionate reasons, and is thus morally acceptable.”

[v] Note my concerns about the modern use of the term race: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/08/03/the-apostle-paul-and-love-for-ones-race/

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized