Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sports and Godly Culture-building

I was asked to deliver an address for the school's athletic banquet, which took place last night. I was surprised at how well it seemed to be received, since I hit the "imperatives" pretty hard. In fact, as I read over the speech again this morning, I would have put more "indicatives" into the address were I given the opportunity to alter it. Still, my hope was to show that sports is both far more insignificant to culture-building than is commonly assumed, and yet something that is well-pleasing to God, as is any faithful exercise of our liberty in Christ.

People in our country and around the world “know” that sports is a “big deal.” It is a big deal because people pay lots of attention to sports, and it is a big deal because sports generates a whole host of cultural forces of upheaval and cohesion.  You may have heard some of the strange stories of people being killed in international soccer matches because of a referee’s bad ruling. You’re probably aware of how important the Olympic Games have been for the countries who compete in them, and for those who host them. In fact, the revenue of most individual professional sports around the world is in the hundreds of millions of dollars; revenue reflected in the salaries garnered by the best players—multi-year contracts of up to nine figures. From the enjoyment of fans, the performance of players, the opportunities of owners, to the revenue of cities, the politics of states, and the glory of nations—the “big deal” that is sports presents a powerful agency of building culture in all of its material and ideological facets. Sports is a culture-building endeavor.
It is the culture-building nature of sports that I wish to focus on tonight. We would all have it as a goal, not only to conceive a Scripturally sound vision for what is the Trinitas Christian School athlete, but also to achieve that vision for ourselves and for the future generations of our school. The reality is that no vision of sports culture starts from a blank slate, but the people must seek their part in whatever great commission they receive from their master. For Greeks, the mastery of the body and mind. For Romans, the conquest of human disorder. For Christians, building the house of God. And for Christians, in Christ we are given a new nature, a new mind, and a new vision with new directives for spreading God’s blessings as far as the curse is found. But regeneration does not remove entirely the remains of the old nature, with its lingering beliefs, values, and habits. Nor does regeneration remove the corruption from the world and culture around us. We remain a church militant in the midst of Greeks and Romans and others, and we are not yet the church triumphant. The Scriptural vision of sports culture must find its nature and its directives in Scripture, but we also must combat the remaining corruption of the sports culture we are replacing—in ourselves first and foremost, and in the world in which we live, too. In other words, we have to discipline ourselves to use sports in a manner pleasing to God if we would disciple the nations to do so.
It may come as a shock when we compare the proportion between our attention to and valuation of sports and the prominence of sports in the Bible.  In fact, I’ve found only three passages of Scripture that speak directly of sports:
1.   Philippians 3:14 – Paul’s pressing toward the goal (as athletes do) for the prize of Christlikeness
2.   2 Timothy 2:5 – Paul’s urging Timothy to compete (as an athlete) for a crown in his ministry
3.   1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Paul’s command to the Corinthians to run the race (as athletes do) to win the imperishable crown by disciplining themselves so as not to bring shame upon the gospel.

In each of these passages sports is used metaphorically, that is, as a way of speaking about the nature of disciplined striving. Other metaphors would have sufficed, and in fact did suffice, for in 2 Timothy Paul also uses military and agrarian metaphors to carry the point.
By learning that the Bible’s only use of sports is as a helpful, but non-essential analogy for spiritual discipline, we also learn something far more important and interesting. Sports aren’t essential to the building of Godly culture. Let me say that again. Sports aren’t essential to the building of Godly culture. This is true no matter how much we like to defend the values and virtues one can learn from participating in sports.  For the enculturation of the same values and virtues, if they are indeed Godly, are provided for without recourse to sports—and we know this by the Bible’s own testimony. For the Bible is a book about building God’s house, and its testimony about sports looks more like a swatch for comparing the colors of spiritual discipline than the scaffolding holding up the Church until Christ’s return.
“But, Mr. Butcher, you said sports are culture building.” So I did. “Then, if the Bible’s place for sports doesn’t have much to do with building God’s house, then what does sports have to do with Godly culture?” The answer is, and I mean this quite soberly, as much as our liberty determines. And this is why what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians has everything to do with sports, especially sports in our present culture, even though sports is just a metaphor in the passage. The Corinthian passage is about liberty and idolatry; about the freedom and bondage of the conscience; about self-service and self-sacrifice. Because sports is a major cultural influence in our time and place, we must try to understand what sort of culture-building sports is accomplishing, and what role and what prominence sports ought to play in the formation of Christian culture. For while Christian culture is about building God’s house, that building effort necessarily transforms the culture of the world around us as the house grows in its size and prominence.
Certainly we are at liberty to participate in and enjoy sports as a bodily pleasure and a gift from God. Sports is a positive good. Yet if the culture we are creating through our use of sports is proclaiming a false gospel of self-promotion, the unbiblical exclusion of members in our community, an ungodly love of material gain, or idolatrous worship to the hindrance or abandonment of godly worship—in other words, if our use of sports looks no different from the world—then we ought to obey Paul’s command to the Corinthians and radically redefine our understanding of and participation in these liberties. “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) Would we be willing to set aside our sports, in order to remove all stumbling blocks from the advancement of the gospel amongst ourselves as well as the world?
We, who recognize that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and that our persons are made in the image of God, have a much greater right to the enjoyment of and participation in the physical activities of sports. We’re free; freer than any unbelievers, to enjoy the gifts of God. Yet sports are, perhaps, the dominant idol of our current culture, which means our own consciences are at risk of being tempted to idolatry—sports lovers are all at risk of being weaker brothers here and stumbling into sin. To what extent does our own engagement with sports as Christians promote the well being of others in our churches and in our communities? Does our participation in sports lead us into habits of selflessness and brotherly affection for all the members of our community (not limited to those “on the team”)? Does our use of sports promote unity within the liturgical elements of the Christian life—the speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; the caring for orphans, widows, and strangers; the teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness through the Word of God? Does our participation in sports expand our repertoire of skills for worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ above all else? Each of these questions deserves more than a moment’s meditation, and I urge you all to come back to them later. For now, I can only give you a snapshot of what we want to avoid, and what we want to pursue.
In his book Family-Driven Faith, Vodie Baucham tells the story of a father who came to him in desperation over the fact that his son, who had once been the model Christian kid growing up, was falling apart in college. The boy who had regularly attended worship, been active in his church youth group and outreach groups, got good grades, and even went on a mission trip as a sophomore in high school had stopped going to church, begun failing his college classes, and had been kicked off the baseball team for using anabolic steroids. How was it that this seemingly exceptional young Christian could become an exceptional disappointment? Here is what Baucham then relates:

“Over the next several days he and I unpacked the situation and dealt with some very tough issues. I am not suggesting that this case is cut-and-dry, but we did find some very familiar patterns. First, Thomas’s lack of commitment in spiritual matters was not as strange as it seemed. As I talked with his father, I learned that Thomas was more than just a naturally gifted ballplayer. This kid had been playing ball since he was six and started private instruction at nine! He had been part of a travelling squad at age twelve and was an all-star at every level. This man and his wife had gone to great lengths to see to it that their son became the best baseball player he could be.” (34-5)

Baucham goes on to tell how Thomas’s family frequently skipped church for weeks and even months at a time in order to travel and play baseball games during the summer and fall. Thomas’ father spared none of his resources to ensure Thomas’s baseball success—time, money, instruction, skill camps, and so on. In short, the most vital training that Thomas was receiving from his parents had more to do with the fear and admonition of baseball, than with the fear of the Lord. The father expected others to train his son to be a disciple of Christ. Although none of them would have had any problem reciting with affirmation, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me,” the patterns of their lives revealed that their commitment to God and His commandments had a rival, and that rival was winning over their hearts and subsequently the life of their son. The exercise of Christian freedom became training for bondage to sin.
If you find yourself thinking of ways to excuse this story as an exception, or to extenuate in some way the individuals of the story or “people like them,” then, my friends, you are in a dangerous place, and I would caution you to consider what priorities you truly hold in your own lives. If such a story scares you and causes you to wonder whether or not you are idolizing sports, then you are in the right posture to hear what I still have to say.
Sports are good. I love sports. My father loves sports. You should love sports too, since it is one of God’s good gifts to us. Sports have been a part of my life since my earliest memories, and they have been a source of both great joy and grievous temptation into sin as I grew up playing football and basketball and baseball; even walking on and playing baseball through college. But as much as I love sports, it is at once sobering and liberating to meditate on the truth that God’s kingdom has no need of sports to disciple the nations, or to build up and preserve the purity of Christ’s Bride, or to gain mastery over the flesh. There are many and far more important activities worth our longing pursuit and our mind’s meditation, and if we are choosing sports over them, we will bring shame to our proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we will fail in our duty to our brothers and sisters. All things are lawful for us in Christ Jesus, but not all things are edifying. Any Christian, and any Trinitas Christian School athlete needs to internalize the Biblical proportions afforded to sports and consider carefully the nature of his or her pursuit of sports. And before I finish tonight, I want to come back to a Scriptural vision of sports culture. I want us to leave with a positive vision.
Scripture says that a culture thrives when it obeys the law of God. In sports, this means that the special things God demands of us for Himself must come first. It also means teammates are putting one another before themselves, and their classmates, teachers, parents, and churches ahead of their team. It means not only seeking to outdo one’s opponents on the playing field, but also outdo one’s opponents in showing honor to them. Let me just put a few examples before us, and then I’ll be done.
“I know Mt. Carmel Christian School plays dirty, curses us under their breath, and has no sense of honor for their opponents, but I also know that Proverbs 2o:3 says, “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling,” so instead of being provoked to anger, I’m going to either keep my mouth shut, or open it to praise and encourage my opponents when they do what is well done.”
“I am the best striker on the team, and I usually get the most reps in practice to get ready for the game, but I know the Proverbs 14:21 says, “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor,” so I’ll give some of my extra reps to our weakest striker, so he can improve under the proper training of the coach and other players.”
“I’m on the basketball team, and we get to leave ten minutes early from the last class of the day. I am trying extra hard to get everyone to class as early as possible, and keep everyone as focused as possible, because I recognize that my teachers and administrators are like the righteous man of Psalm 37:26, “[Who] is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing,” and I want to bless my teachers by keeping our class on task.”
“I play volleyball, and I have practice two days a week, which means I’m not home as much to help around the house, or spend time with my family. I am striving to be extra efficient in my homework, and I am giving up more “personal time” to give my family more of me when I’m home, because I believe Proverbs 13:4, which says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”
“The school and its families rally around us during our games, and they help us raise money so that we can play. We decided to surprise some of our families, by taking the team down to their church and helping them clean it up, because we want to be like the Christians in Acts 4:32, “[Who] were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
I could go on and on with more of these kinds of examples—and if I had the time, I would bring the parents and coaches into the mix too! I continue to hope and pray that we will further redefine the way sports is cultivated at Trinitas Christian School. We have a big challenge, since the world raises athletes into disproportionate focus in its idolatrous worship. With that battle in mind I close with Colossians 3:13-16, which is as good a summary as I could find of what a Trinitas Christian athlete should be:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crisp and Gathercole on Jenson

I've been reading Oliver Crisp's God Incarnate and just finished his chapter on the pre-existence of Christ. He takes up a critique of Robert Jenson's view on the issue and takes aim at a few other issues along the way. Crisp's criticisms are predominantly logical or analytical in nature, thought he does make use of an article by Simon Gathercole. I also decided to read Gathercole's article, and his criticisms are predominantly exegetical in nature, but with a few logical criticisms as well. I'll try to provide the briefest of summaries.

First, Jenson accepts a pre-existent Christ, but denies the concept of logos asarkos, that is, that there was a time when the Logos, or Son of God, was without a body. In this he is mainly following Karl Barth, but for Jenson, the precise reason that logos asarkos is problematic is because he identifies the pre-incarnate Son with Israel of the Old Testament. Normally this would be non-controversial, since the NT witness speaks of Christ's presence with Israel explicitly. However, Jenson's definition of Christ's identification with Israel takes a strong sense of identity, that is, Christ isn't simply identified by Israel as His body, but with Israel as His body, i.e. Israel is Christ's body. Crisp uses the analogy of an author being known by a reference to his writing ("The Systematic Theology I, by which I mean the book authored by Robert Jenson") and an author being known with (that is, identical to) a reference ("The author who wrote the book Systematic Theology I, which is Robert Jenson). Under this strong definition of Christ's identification with Israel, Christ would have a body (Israel) prior to having a body (the incarnation). It should be noted that Crisp provides a much more nuanced explication of Jenson's view than I am here giving.

Second, and in order to extend Jenson's rejection of logos asarkos beyond Creation, Jenson's view of time and of God's divinity must be accounted for. Jenson wishes to reject the metaphysic that he believes is inherited from the ancient Greeks ("Olympian-Parminidean"), which dichotomizes and opposes time and eternity. He neither favors Aristotle's view of God within an infinite linear succession, nor Plato's extra temporal reality for God outside of time. Rather, in Jenson's view, God is neither outside of time, nor existent across time in a linear succession of moments. God is, rather, eschatologically determined. He exists as His own future, without being "past" or "present," but is rather like a narrative, where we can speak of before and after.

One of the most frustrating and puzzling aspects of reading Jenson's Systematic Theology I, for me personally, was his refusal to offer an adequate definition of time. He could gesture, he could say what time is not, but he could not present what I considered a coherent viewpoint. I say this because I wish for you readers to know that I am sympathetic to Crisp's account of Jenson, for he finds the same incoherence, though for slightly different reasons. For Jenson, God's life is akin to narrative, where we may use past, present, and future as descriptions, and these descriptions are identifiable with the persons of the Godhead--Father is past, Spirit is future, and Son is present. This is precisely where Gathercole takes issue with Jenson's account of God the Son, since Gathercole argues that Jenson's treatment NT passages concerning Christ's activity in the creation of the world does not do justice to the Biblical data under Jenson's formulation of the persons of the Godhead. Certainly we might say that Jenson's account is interesting as a characterological treatment of the Biblical data, which does speak often of God as the one "before," the Spirit as the testament of "what is to come," and the Son as the one who "now is," with everything weighted toward the eschatological consummation of the narrative. However, I think Gathercole is right that Jenson's emphasis is an overemphasis, and I also agree with Crisp that however artfully styled Jenson's formulations are, they don't clarify anything given to us from the previous witnesses within Christendom. In producing a "pure" metaphysic, Jenson has emptied our conception of time, the divine nature, and Christ's pre-existence of much needed perspicuity.

I haven't done justice to any of the parties in the debate here, other than to give a bit of the lay of the land, along with my own impressions. I'll just leave you with two reasons why my sympathies lay with Jenson's "correctors" than with Jenson.

First, there is Jenson's wholesale rejection of "Greek metaphysics." There has been plenty of ink spilled over the question first raised by Tertullian, "What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens," that is, what does the Biblical God and His revelation have to do with pagan learning? Tertullian's answer was similar to Jenson's--nothing at all! Others were more inclined to say with Origen--"they are essentially the same!" But I side with Augustine, who says that God has frequently given knowledge to those who fail to see Him or seek Him by it, and as Christians we can "plunder from the Egyptians" what is rightfully ours as God's people. The most basic illustration of this, to my mind, are the basic laws of logic (identity, excluded middle, contradiction). Aristotle codified them for the Western world, but surely these things are not Aristotle's possession, for they obtain before and beyond Aristotle's articulation of them. His recognition of the laws of logic do not entail wholesale adoption of his pagan metaphysics anymore than our agreement with Aristotle on any particular point of history or biology would. In this way, I think, Jenson errs in seeking to construct a new metaphysics from scratch.

Second, there is Jenson's description of time. I agree with him that Aristotle and Plato are both lacking. Gordon Clark made the same point in his lecture Time & Eternity. Plato only really offered a description ("Time is the moving image of eternity") that made for a clever aphorism, but not a philosophically defensible definition. Aristotle, according to Clark, wound up in a vicious circle, whereby time and motion were mutually defining without either being properly distinguished. Clark's solution, which he took from Augustine, was that time is a characteristic of created minds. Perceptive readers may sense a problem with respect to created objects that are not minds, but the objection presupposes a certain metaphysic of time and creation, which is not necessarily entailed by Augustine's definition of time. For example, one might propose an Edwardsian metaphysic, wherein creation is ideal, and our apprehension of it (given our finitude) is both derivative and successive and therefore characterized by "time," that is, our minds were not aware of object x, then became aware of object x, and then hold a memory of object x and apprehension 1, while continuing to gather new apprehensions at intervals 2, 3, 4, and so on. But the successive nature of our apprehension of creation does not itself define what is the nature of the objects of creation. I'm not committing myself to such a view, but only trying to show that Augustine's restriction of time to a characteristic of minds can be shown sensible and, therefore, defensible.

Edit: In glancing over this post again, it seems to give the impression that I think Jenson's efforts to be largely disappointing. I don't think that would be a fair expression of my view of Jenson's Systematic Theology. I don't agree with his metaphysics, his conception of time, his expression of the Trinity, and the details listed above, but I found a great deal of agreement and gained some insights I would not have in reading his work. It is easy to only deal with the "big things" with an individual like Jenson, who is attempting a lot. For that I respect his efforts and am thankful for his thoughts, even where we part ways.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Logic, truth, and authority

For private arguments, even if logically impeccable, are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to central and defining matters of Christian doctrine, and may well turn out to be false. For one can have a logically valid but unsound argument. And one can have a private opinion, which, though internally consistent and beyond logical reproach, is inconsistent with other things, such as the teaching of an ecumenical council like Chalcedon, or -- more importantly -- the doctrine of Scripture.

Oliver Crisp,  God Incarnate

Crisp makes a very basic, but often ignored or misapplied point concerning logic and individual viewpoints. Logic is tool of reasoning, a very useful and powerful tool of reasoning, and can be an effective arbiter of truth insofar as its use as a tool is correctly applied. But logic is not a source of or grounding for truth claims. One must bring one's assumptions concerning truth to the tool of logic; one cannot derive the truth of a given claim from the tool. This would be the same as using a hammer and nails to put together a chair without having the wood upon which to use the hammer and nails.

Additionally, one of the difficulties of man, and not just modern man, is submission to an external authority. Even in times when external authorities were obeyed out of fear or tradition, it was not necessarily the case that individuals believed in what the authority dictated. Also, even if they believed, it was not necessarily the case that they do so on the basis of that authority. In any case, the rub is that men have a desire to justify a perspective from within their own mind, according to the dictates of their own reason--and logic can be a tool to solidify such individual views from inconsistencies and error, such that one's claims are internally consistent with one's basic assumptions. But upon what authority such assumptions are based, or what claim to truth these assumptions have cannot be derived from logic, but must be taken from one's own "self-evidence" or upon the evidence of an external authority (such as Scripture and ecumenical councils and doctrinal confessions).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Contention and Contentment

Why it is so, that contention has this effect of hindering spiritual exercises and comforts and hopes, and of destroying the sweet hope of that which is heavenly, we may learn from the doctrine we have considered. For heaven being a world of love, it follows that, when we have the least exercise of love, and the most of a contrary spirit, then we have the least of heaven, and are farthest from it in the frame of our mind. Then we have the least of the exercise of that wherein consists a conformity to heaven, and a preparation for it, and what tends to it; and so, necessarily, we must have least evidence of our title to heaven, and be farthest from the comfort which such evidence affords. 

Jonathan Edwards, Heaven, a World of Love

Note that Edwards here is speaking about ungodly contention, not any and all contention. If that were the case, he wouldn't have published many of his own books, which contend for the faith against the errors of his day! Nevertheless, it is instructive to be reminded that our petty grievances not only steal away our earthly joy, but draw us away from that vision of heaven by which we are filled with hope for the peace of eternal joys, unfathomable. Contentment in all things may be the most difficult of Christian virtues to accomplish, as it requires the most discipline over the flesh and the most clear perception of the things that are yet to come.

Heavenly minded; no earthly good?

Third, they are those who, from the love that is in them, are, in heart and life, in principle and practice, struggling after holiness. Holy love makes them long for holiness. It is a principle that thirsts after growth. It is in imperfection, and in a state of infancy, in this world, and it desires growth. It has much to struggle with. In the heart in this world there are many opposite principles and influences; and it struggles after greater oneness, and more liberty, and more free exercise, and better fruit. The great strife and struggle of the new man is after holiness. His heart struggles after it, for he has an interest in heaven, and therefore he struggles with that sin that would keep him from it. He is full of ardent desires, and breathings, and longings, and strivings to be holy. And his hands struggle as well as his heart. He strives in his practice. His life is a life of sincere and earnest endeavor to be universally and increasingly holy. He feels that he is not holy enough, but far from it; and he desires to be nearer perfection, and more like those who are in heaven. And this is one reason why he longs to be in heaven, that he may be perfectly holy. And the great principle which leads him thus to struggle, is love. It is not only fear; but it is love to God, and love to Christ, and love to holiness. Love is a holy fire within him, and, like any other flame which is in a degree pent up, it will and does struggle for liberty; and this its struggling is the struggle for holiness.
Fifth, If you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love-of love to God, and love to men. All of us hope to have part in the world of love hereafter, and therefore we should cherish the spirit of love, and live a life of holy love here on earth. This is the way to be like the inhabitants of heaven, who are now confirmed in love forever. Only in this way can you be like them in excellence and loveliness, and like them, too, in happiness, and rest, and joy. By living in love in this world you may be like them, too, in sweet and holy peace, and thus have, on earth, the foretastes of heavenly pleasures and delights. Thus, also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven. Thus shall the windows of heaven be as it weere opened, so that its glorious light shall shine in upon your soul. Thus you may have the evidence of your fitness for that blessed world, and that you are actually on the way to its possession. And being this made meet, through grace, for the inheritance of the saints in light, when a few more days shall have passed away, you shall be with them in their blessedness forever. Happy, thrice happy those, who shall thus be found faithful to the end, and then shall be welcomed to the joy of their Lord! There "they shall hunger no more, neither thrist anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Jonathan Edwards, Heaven, a World of Love

 Edwards in these passages expresses how it is that true heavenly-mindedness does not lead to escapism and dereliction of  duty in the present life, but rather invigorates and enhances the Christian's ability to be of great good in the present life. For in longing for heaven, the heart it drawn to its fruits, the desire for which causes within the heart a pursuit of holiness and charity, which are the fruits of heaven. The greater lack of these constitutes the greater lack of heaven, but the greater pursuit of these brings heaven the closer to the experience of the Christian. If the Christian should wish to experience the joys of heaven--wherein no lack of love and no striving against others is found--he must pursue selfless love and beneficent service to his neighbor, and thus to God. The love of God compels us to live as He lives, full of grace and truth. How could a greater measure of such fruits lead to a lesser effort for good in the present life? The contrary is the case, and it is both a shame upon the Church in her failures to conceive of heaven rightly, and condemnation upon her enemies, whose slander is based upon the errors they see rather than the truth that stares them in the face.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Treachery, the all-too-common sin

"I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination." Jeremiah 2:7

Jeremiah 2:7 comes in the midst of the Lord's indictment of His people for their idolatry. His words begin with a memory of Israel's youth, when she followed the Lord out of Egypt into the wilderness as the first fruits of His increase. He then asks what He has done to deserve their idolatry, providing several examples, including the one above quoted, where Israel has forsaken the Lord and His commandments. The Lord recites a litany of grace in His dealings with Israel--He led them out of Egypt (where they were in bondage), through deserts and pits, drought and the shadow of death, in a place uninhabitable. Then verse seven. The Israelites took the gifts that God had given to them and used them to prop up and worship God's enemies.

Imagine such a scenario today. It would be as if your father gave you a portion of his land to keep for yourself and provide some of the increase for the father as gratitude for his gift. The son does this, but in addition to offering the tithe, the son also provided for his father's rivals from his increase. If giving the father's enemies weren't bad enough, the son invited the enemies to settle on the portion of land, which the father had given him, and even acknowledged gratitude to the enemies, as if the giving of the land and the providence of its increase had been their doing. Imagine a U.S. citizen allotting a portion of his land to member of Al Qaeda, or North Korea, for the purpose of settling in and making use of the resources there. Would not the government swoop down and exile or execute the citizen for treason? Would not the father disown the son, or at least remove him from the inheritance?

The more shameful realization comes in recognizing that there is no good thing that any of us possess that has not been given to us by God. Our minds, our families, our liberties, our possessions, our times and talents, and so on--all of these things belong to God and have been allotted to us as an inheritance for uses that not only benefit us, but bring honor to the One who has given it. To make use of these things in ways that defy God, dishonor Him, or otherwise break faith with His requirements of us is to engage in treason.

There is a danger (though it is built upon a misconception) in recognizing that all sins, from the most petty to the most egregious, are rooted in treason. The danger is that the notion of treason becomes cheapened in our estimation, and we act as if it were something easily forgiven, or an acceptable casualty of circumstance. But who of us would tolerate such treasonous acts upon our own person? Isn't it the case for most that when a trusted friend has forsaken that trust our inclination is to cut that person off entirely? Isn't this especially so when the trust isn't simply broken, but broken for the purpose of aiding our rivals? Such friends would be considered enemies, and would be anathematized from our fellowship.

Thanks be to God that he is not a man! One of the reasons God calls us to love our enemies is because that is precisely what He did in delivering us from our treasonous guilt before His holy throne of judgment. Nor is God's love of the sort that winks at treasonous acts as though it were a slight thing. His love is a consuming fire, chastising the traitor so as to ward him off from the temptations to follow down that path. Too often, I think, we Christians want to bask in the softness of grace--and it is a comfort beyond the most vivid imagination. But there is a firmness in grace that seems much more prominent in Scripture. It is the grace of being welcomed back into the camp after you've deserted and given arms to the enemy. You deserve death, but instead you get the lash and a chance to prove yourself loyal again. There is comfort there, too, but I don't think it preaches well to the contemporary culture, which is inclined to think of itself as the sovereign, and the Lord as the gatekeeper or financier of our wealth.

Or, to put it another way, we are a generation of traitors who have grown comfortable with the self-deception of trying to engage loyalties on opposing sides. The tragic irony of it all is that, if we truly were sovereigns rather than slaves, we would have eradicated such traitors long ago. The Lord is long of nose (Ex. 34:6), but it is not as though He does not see past the end of it, nor remember all that goes on in secret or in broad daylight.

"If you will return, O Israel," says the Lord, "Return to me; and if you will put away your abominations out of my sight, then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, 'The Lord lives,' in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him they shall glory." For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Jeremiah 4:1-4