A Dream

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A dream....

image via wikiart

I slept, and as I slept, I dreamed.

It was a terrible dream. Somewhere in a wasteland, as I suppose it could be called, I was walking slowly, stumbling over the scree as I was descending into a wide valley in the early morning light. The sun was almost hidden in the haziness, though I could tell that it was red and threatening even through the strange, ominous fogginess that made it difficult to perceive anything at any distance. The darkness in the valley was vaguely relieved here and there by strange, flickering lights of many colors. I could not tell what they were, but I only got a sense of dread for having noticed them, dim though they were.

And it was silent. Very silent. But what struck me most vigorously was the stench, the reek, the smell of dead and rotting corpses at several stages of decomposition. Human or animal or both – I could not tell. Utterly revolted, I kept walking, hoping to somehow escape the wrenching odor. I wondered if perhaps I should have turned to begin going back up the hill, but I kept on going downward, as I felt a strange draw to continue down into the valley.

I was focused on my footing, for it was treacherous. Clearly a path, it wound back and forth on account of the steepness of the bare side of the mountain. In the glowing haze of the red dawn, I thought I could distinguish some clumps of trees or boulders a little ways off from the walkway in which I found myself. But I continued stumbling on, sick at body from the stench, sick at heart from the dread. It was neither hot nor cold, with neither breeze nor roaring wind to bring some relief to the stillness. I kept on going.

Suddenly, a sound came drifting softly through the mist and I heard it – from where it came, I know not – the chilling notes of some sort of pipe. No real tune, no real rhythm, just wandering notes. I stood stock still as soon as I distinguished it, for I had heard such music once before – and it was not in a place I wished to remember. There it had been dark and chilly and very bitter, unlike this unknown place, though it was similar, somehow.

Then I saw something move. Further down the slope, not far from me, there was a human figure scrambling upwards; by his motions, he was apparently not using the path I was on, but making his way on hands and knees up the steep hillside. The strange music continued, not loudly, but chilling to my heart all the same. It was as though I was frozen in place, watching this person come towards me. I wished desperately to wake and be out of this place, but my dreaming continued on.

Terrible. It was a terrible dream, I said. For so it was.

As this person drew near to me, I could see that he was half-dead, wounded and maimed – but the expression on his face was worst of all. For when he, in reaching for his next foothold, looked up and saw me standing there, the reek of death all around, he paused and smiled – but it was with a searching evil in his eyes, bright with hate. And just then the tuneless music was silenced, and it was very still.

“What are you doing here?”

I was startled by his question more than by his raspy voice.

“I do not know,” I found myself answering as honestly as I could. “Truly, I do not know. It seems to me as if I have been here before, but things are very different from what I remember.”

“You have been here.”

“How do you know?” I couldn’t keep from asking, though I was growing sicker by the moment in the stench.

He only smiled broadly – in which I found no comfort – and he crawled nearer.

Suddenly, I heard something behind me. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded massive – that was all could tell. I glanced briefly at the red morning sun, still low on the horizon, but illuminating the fog so that it seemed the very air was glimmering with dread. In all my surroundings, the red-hued sun alone held no terror for me; rather, it seemed a comfort, for the Lord is often figured as light to his people – and he is – even in their dreams. And I realized I was praying, for I was confounded and frightened.

The rumbling behind me grew louder and the very ground began to tremble. I felt as if someone was restraining me, keeping me from turning around to look behind me up the mountainside. So I looked straight ahead, as the man crouched on the steep hillside, half-glaring, half-laughing at me, but watching me closely as a cottonmouth watches his prey before he strikes. I most certainly felt a stranger in this reeking, still valley. And I waited, as the man was evidently doing, as well.

Then the murmur and massive rustling drew abreast of me and I could see what was happening. Apparently, a huge mass of every variety of people and beasts were descending the hillside, as if a great army was coming in to take possession of this already dead valley. I say it was dead, for so it seemed and smelled, but the ongoing flickering lights gave it an appearance of somehow being alive, in some sort of horrible way. The army of creatures were lost in the haze beyond my view to the left and to the right, but they were clearly intent on where they were going, some looking anxious, some looking listless, some looking angry, some of them even with their eyes closed, none of them, of man or beast, seeming to see me, but going on and on down the mountain slope. For the first time, I heard the shrieks of the hawks and saw the buzzards and eagles flying all together in dark masses above them. I hadn’t realized that the flesh-eating birds were missing from this terrible place until now. Dreams are odd, you know.

Even though I had kicked up scree as I had been walking earlier, this huge army didn’t stir up a stone. Clambering over boulder and barren hillside alike, the huge mass parted around where I was standing and, as it began to come back together on the other side, I saw them also part around the wounded man clinging to the rocks below, marching on in their silence. I still felt constrained and unable to move. The only sounds were the birds and the rumbling of the movement of so many creatures at once – until a sudden outburst of extremely loud noise began beating behind me – or was it behind me? I do not truly know. I suppose someone would call it music, beating, beating, beating – and there was a rhythm, fast, furious, focused – it was bitter to me and so loud that all I could hear – or, rather, feel – was the incessant rhythm beating upon me. If there were words, I know not. There very well may have been. It was most certainly a song of some sort. Instead of resonating within me, as songs often do, you know, it drove me to praying again, lest I lose my mind, my sanity, my self-awareness, even.

And then, even through the midst of it all, I thought I heard the tuneless piping that I had heard earlier, though much louder and more shrill and harsh. The thought came to me – though it seemed it must simply have been my imagination at work – that the screaming rhythm accompanying this vast army was in some sort of invisible battle with the lonely and hateful tuneless music which had come with the maimed individual – who was now just a little ways from me. It was all quite mind-numbing and I closed my eyes, for I was quivering, sick from the stench, unable to move or to shake the sense of some great conflict around me in which I had no part. Again, I wished to wake from this dream. But I slept on; and as I slept, I continued to dream.

The red sun suddenly shone through the fog and I felt the heat of it on me and opened my eyes. The noise increased. A wind stirred up from somewhere and, if possible, the odor of death increased. The huge crowd still rushing around me hastened their pace, though I remained untouched. I saw that the man had drawn closer to me and that the mass of creatures was continuing to part around him, as well – and now I was able to see that, for many of them, person and beast alike, fear stirred in their hopeless eyes as they approached him and hurried by with quickened strides. The hot rising sun was breaking up the heavy, glowing fog, but the valley was still deep in mist, the strange lights still scattered here and there.

“Look!”

I do not know how I heard his grating voice amid the din, but I did, and tried to see where he was pointing with one of his two remaining fingers. The constraining hand upon me was lighter now, so, with difficulty, I slowly turned around to look up the slope, my back now to the red sun. There was a light – a clear light as of the sun on a lovely day – coming over the top of the mountain like a tidal wave, vast and broad, as far along the ridge as I could see.

“Your brothers.”

He spat at me, having drawn now so close in the midst of the passing armies that we were within the same small clear space among their droves.

“Your brothers,” he repeated. “They come to look on us.”

I drew my eyes from the beautiful light above me for a moment in order to look at him. But I recoiled from the bitter hate that I saw in the eyes of the creature as he said,

“You belong to us. You are like us. You are dead. But he – but he,” and his voice was quivering with rage, “– he said you shall no longer be dying! How many has he robbed us of! And doubtless there shall be more!”

Flinging his gaze up the hill at those whom he had called my brothers – who could now be seen cresting the top, a great army, indeed, each one clothed in light itself, as it were – I saw him quail, though defiant yet, while a couple of his wounds broke open again in his agitation. I was horrified at his rage, for in seeing this army walking in light a hope had returned to my failing heart. Though I found no sympathy whatsoever upon his vitriolic hatred, I was stirred with a little pity, even so, dead and dying as he was. By now seeming to have forgotten about me entirely, though he was so close he could have reached out and touched me, he spun around to look at the red sun, which was fast rising higher and higher above the roaring noise – noise as if all Sheol was fighting among itself. Raising his misshapen fist toward the sun, he cursed and cursed such curses as I wish never, never to hear again.

In the midst of this, as the last ranks of the massive herd of creatures parted around me and passed on down into the hazy valley behind me, I heard something familiar, even over the cursings of the dead man beside me; yes, and it was a very beautiful sound, indeed. It was a victory song – I knew it well. Its pleasing tones drowned out the raging noises that had been buffeting me; and all my fear fled at its coming. At the same time I heard the lilting strains, I caught a whiff of a pleasant aroma that scattered the scent of death even as the dew so quickly disappears from before the hot summer’s dawn. My strength was renewed and I found I had already joined in the singing without thinking on it. The constraint was entirely lifted from me and I lifted up my feet to run towards the advancing army whose well-known and well-loved banner I could see floating on the morning breeze blowing in from the sea. For, suddenly, I knew where I was and I knew what day it was.

It was the Sabbath morning. It was the day when all flesh gathers to worship the Lord and when all the sons of God, the redeemed of the Lord, go forth together to look on the flesh of the dead, from whence we all have been drawn, those miserable ones whose worm does not die and whose fire is not quenched.

And I awoke, at last. I quickly arose and went to the window, where I looked out upon a clear morning sun rising over the trees into a cloudless sky and I began to sing the song I had heard in my dream. The Sabbath day was here. Hallelujah. Amen.

Isaiah 66:22-24

Conviction

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image via wikiart. Titled “Farewell of Slav”. Note: I am unfamiliar with the historical situation it is portraying.

“I tell you, my friends, do no fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” ~Luke 12:4-9

Freedom is a gift of God. True freedom is a result of believing God, the One from whom comes justice and truth. It is part of our salvation in Christ and is demonstrated in keeping the law of our Creator and so living as we were created to do.

Innately connected with conscience and with conviction (which two cannot very well be separated), freedom is a characteristic of the child of God. This is because, as God’s own people, we are fundamentally servants to him alone (Leviticus 25:55). We owe obedience to the human authorities over us because our God commands it of us (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Hebrew 13:17; Peter 2:12-17; etc.); therefore it is that the phenomenon occurs in our fallen environment that we owe obedience to the human authorities over us insofar as they are in accordance with the law of our God, who is also God over those who rule wickedly (Acts 4:18-20; Daniel 1:8; Mark 2:23-28; etc.). Lex rex — the law of God is over all and it is that to which we, by conscience and conviction, may and ought to appeal, both as our ultimate rule of obedience and as our defense. Though so many ignore or deny the ultimacy of God’s defining power, we are free people for we know that we shall stand before the tribunal of Christ after we may, perhaps, have perished under a tribunal of man. But woe to those who pervert justice! (Isaiah 10:1-4)

I say lex rex and the lex I am referring to is the law of God. I do not mean that particular something called “natural law” — which always turns out to be inconsistent and vague, subject to endless interpretations. I mean the law of God as revealed in Scripture, for the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever. ‘Tis true that the whole creation bears witness to the truth concerning God and his power and divinity and that his holy law is written in the consciences of mankind (Romans 1:19-20 and 2:14-15) — but if we read the rest of these chapters (and the rest of the Bible!), it is very clear that we cannot put any confidence in the hearts of mankind to lead us to a true understanding of this “natural law” — if, as so many claim, it was through the vagaries of some sort of “natural law” that God chose to define his perfect justice. Isaiah 44:18-20 makes it very plain that there is little use in appealing to the innate knowledge in mankind for justice or for righteousness or for truth: “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is their knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?'”

Our Lord Jesus, while he walked on earth, said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). What is this? We shall know the truth because, by the working of the Spirit within us, we are unblinded and brought to see and to understand, to believe and to know the truth — the reality — the revealed things (the word of Christ) that belong to us as the covenant people of God. How does this set us free? Why? The more and more that we are sanctified and our hearts are enlightened by the Spirit of Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (side note on Colossians 2:3: therefore, one cannot be truly wise or understanding unless he knows Christ), the more and more we will live in accord with reality, rather than in the fog and irrational inconsistency of the unconverted. They are slaves to the darkness, for they love and serve this darkness. Hating the light, since it reveals their sins and inconsistencies, they persecute the free ones, who live as if in the light, living freely before God, the judge of all the world. (Compare John 15:18 et al.)

This freedom of which I speak is not a freedom “to do whatever one wants.” What sort of a “freedom” is this, anyway? It is simply impossible, for mankind has not the power of creation. No one can actually create his environment and bring to pass the thought of his heart. Only God, the Creator of the whole universe and provident Ruler of history has the power to bring to pass the thought of his heart in actuality and reality — i.e. to literally create. And if everyone was to do, within the bounds of reality, whatever they might take a notion to do, total anarchy and chaos would result. What sort of a freedom is this? A freedom to the weak to be downtrodden and a freedom to the strong to oppress. And this is why people submit to tyranny and oppression — it is a safer alternative than the freedom to be lawless.

However, I must note that the more we are sanctified, the more we come to want what is in accord with the character (and thus also the law) of our God and Savior — so, as our desires come to line up more and more with the will of God, we will find that we do come to desire to keep the law of God out of love of it, as much as fear of the Lawgiver. This is no lawless freedom of which I am speaking. It is a holy freedom to live in reality and truth. This is not a freedom that is dependent upon political happenstance, the integrity of ecclesiastical leaders, economic situations, or familial status. This is not a freedom that is grounded upon any human or any human institution or government. It is a freedom of conscience, a freedom to stand upon convictions, a freedom of self-government, a freedom to obey and live in the light (regardless of circumstances) rather than slavishly conforming in fear to what some person teaches or what some political authority demands.

How? Why? Because, ultimately, we stand only before one authority — our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a freedom from fear for those who love the truth — though it leads into many situations where, like Peter sinking in the waves, we often forget and fear what might happen to us in the Lord’s providence. And as Jesus intervened to draw Peter out of the waves (even while rebuking him for his unbelief), so our God will draw us out of all of these situations — though it may be, as with so many of our brothers and sisters, through the portal of death and many other miserable occurrences. Yet, these very things are to the glory of his name on earth. And, for his name’s sake, he always provides strength of faith, assurance of conviction, and the unshakable conscience of a spirit taught of God (Isaiah 48:11). This is that freedom to which I am referring.

Though it be a freedom of heart, it leads to many very tangible results that have been demonstrated again and again throughout history. Wherever the gospel of the kingdom of Christ has gone out and the word of God has been accounted the ultimate authority, wherever truly free people have lived, they have survived the downfall of twisted unjust orders and societies and there some measure of economic and political freedom has also come to exist — because truly free people are self-governed because they themselves do not slavishly depend on any human being or institution to be law for them — including themselves. Free people are submissive people — submissive to their Lord. Because of this, free people do not hear the voice of strangers, nor follow them (John 10:5).

Hence the importance of conviction in the lives of believers. I do not know about elsewhere than where I am currently dwelling — but I know that in my situation at this time, I see a lack of firm conviction in the believers around me who hold to Reformed doctrine (which I think are those closest to the very teaching of the Scriptures). To be sure, I did not say I do not see any evidence of this — but I cannot say that I quite see evidences of a generalized steadfast solidness and stability of trajectory. Perhaps it is because the well-grounded conviction of possessing truth that is such a characteristic of free peoples is tempered by the deep-running currents of tolerance and the relativism of contemporary Western culture — I can only observe what I see.

Surely, our convictions must be guided by the Spirit of God through the Word of God — lest we ourselves simply repeat the sins revealed so clearly in Romans 1 and 2. Surely it is the law of our God that must inform our consciences, for our very consciences can be seared and twisted (1 Timothy 4:1-3). I do not think that there is an empirical test we can perform to tell us whether or not our consciences are more greatly bound by man or by God. It is evident throughout the history of the church and equally so today that many put a blind faith in something other than the word of God, yet believe that they are acting in obedience to God — despite the fact that, upon closer examination of what God has revealed, they are at odds with the Lord of all and actually in disobedience to him. The apostle Paul, himself formerly a zealous persecutor of Christ, addresses this in numerous places, but here is only one reference: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ…These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” ~Colossians 2:8, 23

Both the questions of if we have convictions and of what our firm assurance of belief holds to is an important matter, for true. Many wise men say that the days are fast approaching when our level of conviction and the depth to which our consciences are held fast by the Word of God will be tested and revealed — on the greatest matters. The days came long ago and are now in full force when we, as believers, are being constantly tested in the smaller matters — how deep are our convictions, really? Is our conscience truly captive to the Word of God? Can we say of this or that in our lives, “I cannot do (or speak) otherwise — examine me by Scripture. If the Word of God says otherwise, I will change. But let me stand at this highest authority. I am convinced that in my actions I will not be shown to be a transgressor of the supreme law. I appeal to it for my vindication.”

Many, many saints before us have said such things — and about almost every practice and custom and belief of theirs. Can we say this? Are we so assured that our lives are reflections of the principles of Scripture? How thoroughly Christian are we?

Let us go to the Word of God with humble hearts and prayer. We don’t always know what we’re looking for and often have no idea of what we’ll be confronted with there — but we must go, willing to be confronted, willing to be convicted, willing to change, if need be, both assisted by the interpretation of fellow believers and directly to the Word, leaning on the Spirit for understanding. The Lord has said that we will find. Therefore, we will. Let us become free. Let us become people of the Book, taught of God, hating what God hates and loving what God loves. Let us become people of conviction.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” ~Psalm 139:23-24

Of Actual Ages and Appearances

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Me

Today, once again, I grinned at the questioner with a very simple reply in return: “Guess.”

She paused, studied my face for a moment, and said, “Nineteen?”

I laughed, actually a little flattered, “Twenty-seven….”

Though the calendar tells me my age is twenty-seven, I actually feel somewhere between seventeen and twenty. Perhaps it is partly because I have such memory deficits. I don’t know. I do know I am a little surprised — though, I must admit, not altogether displeased — that my appearance apparently yet bears such a youthfulness. The oldest that anyone has every guessed my age is twenty-five — and then they said it was on account of my carriage, because I looked a little younger than that. It is especially poignant to me in light of the fact that just two years ago, I was told by a doctor that my blood labwork closely resembled that of a ninety-five-year-old woman in a nursing home. I believe that it must be much, much better than that now, for I felt already half-dead at that point — and now, by the grace of God, my body often actually feels alive again. I had forgotten what that is like. This is rather a recent development in my healing from Lyme and Co. — one I am quite thankful for.

Just yesterday, some one else surmised that I was about nineteen. Last week, it was twenty. And just a couple of weeks ago, it was seventeen. I was apparently sixteen for ten years — and now it seems I have apparently been about twenty for four years, so far — if one is to believe appearances.

Appearances can most certainly be deceiving, and my age is simply one example of this. I most certainly do not intend to deceive in this — for, when I look in the mirror, I see a young lady in her mid-twenties. I even have one grey hair — but the only thing that surprises me about that is the fact that there is only one that I am aware of. As ill as my body has been, I would not have been surprised it if all had turned grey. Most of it has fallen out a couple of times, so why would it have surprised me if it came back grey? I have had a taste of failing old age — “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:15). “Truly, no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life” (Psalm 49:7), but God has ransomed me and preserved me alive until this day, for his good purposes.

And that is just one of the multitude of reasons I have to praise my God….

Me, again

Wisdom Comes from the Lord

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image via wikiart.org

image via wikiart.org

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the ways of his saints.” ~Proverbs 2:6-7

I have been pondering over this verse for some time, seeking the implications of it, particularly in regard to education. But I suppose that I could really subtitle my thoughts from this verse as, “Epistemology and Freedom,” for those are the thoughts that have come together for me as result. Most of my posts so far concerning the book of Proverbs have been pretty much contained within the book itself, but this time I’m going to draw more explicitly from other places in Scripture for the purpose of clarity.

Solomon flatly states that wisdom comes from God. It is a gift from God (James 1:17-18; John 17:14; John 16:13-15), given to individuals whom the Lord has chosen (James 1:5-8; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Psalm 51:6); through this, then, it is given to the whole body of believers. Scripture is quite clear that no one has sound wisdom unless he believes and fears God — then he knows God (John 5:38-47 and James 1:21-25). The prayer of Psalm 119:66 sums up how this is applied personally in our own lives: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.”

No human being can cause another to thirst after wisdom and to seek God — God himself puts this in the heart of a man, woman, or child. However, he does hear the prayers of his saints, asking for life for another, as it were (John 5:16; James 5:15-20). Hence, as I have noted before, a parent (or sibling or elder or friend or some other teacher or counselor) can and must rely on the Lord to open the eyes and heart and desires of the one being taught. I once heard it a pastor say it this way: “You know you can’t teach hunger — so you pray.” Solomon does not contradict this, nor do the apostles, for our Lord himself has said in the gospels:

“Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me — not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” ~John 6:43-45

“Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me….If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” ~John 10:25-27; 37-39

It is clear from these passages (among others) that believing comes before knowing and understanding (Prov. 1:7; Rom. 1:20-22; 2:13-16). See also John 6:69 where Peter says that they believed, and have come to know. This follows 6:36 where Jesus says that the Jews had seen him but did not believe.

All of this is in accord with Proverbs 1:7, which so clearly says that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. However, this is somewhat against the grain in this post-Enlightenment society that teaches that one must experience something (in some way or other) before he can believe — and certainly before he can truly know (if he can even really know anything for certain). Yet, God commands his children and gives his blessing with it, or upon their obedience. Surely it is necessary to believe the Lord before experiencing the blessing that results from keeping the word of his mouth; indeed, God gives grace upon grace, for it is only by grace that we believe and know and it is only by grace that we receive further blessing upon blessing when we keep his commandments.

When we come to the Scriptures, when we are taught the Word — as Solomon is teaching his son here in the second chapter of Proverbs — whether it is by pastors, parents, or anyone else, we must first believe that it is true because it comes from God. We may not quite understand it all, but his Spirit bears witness with our spirit that their words are the words of truth when they are speaking according to the voice of God in Scripture (comp. Romans 8:16; John 10:4-5). We must be granted the freedom of conscience to ourselves bear witness to the truth — “for the Lord gives wisdom.” This freedom of conscience is a responsibility — in it, by it, once we are to a point where we are maturing as believers (no matter how young we may be — the Scriptures put no age limit on wisdom), we must judge what we are taught by the Scriptures as those “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14

It is something, indeed, to stand, individually, before the God of all and before his Word — and, in reality, this is where we stand. No other mediator can or will we, each one, ever have besides Christ. Therefore, it is important for us to be sure that we believe what we claim to know — and apply it and practice it in our lives, lest we be found liars and it be demonstrated that his truth not be in us — for it is undeniable that “the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14

Over and over throughout the history of the people of God, authoritarianism has crept in, wiggling its way into pulpits and families and nations, denying that wisdom comes from God alone and refusing his word that it is he alone who grants knowledge to those whom he calls. Men and women have set themselves up to determine truth for other people, demanding that they be obeyed, for they have the truth from God which they will then make their dependents to learn. Surely, they are the people and wisdom shall die with them (Job 12:2)! Yet, it is a mark of honesty and a demonstration of a Christian’s assurance of possessing knowledge from the Lord to point others always and only to the Scriptures as the source of their own teaching, inviting those taught to test their words against the Word of God and find out whether or not these things are so (com. Acts 17:11). Believers are indeed free in Christ, having been set free by the truth. It is then that, by his Spirit, they are enabled to know God and to keep his law — in which only is a man or woman truly free to be a man or woman, fulfilling his created purpose, function, and work — rather than chasing after some twisted perversion of personhood and duty that only enslaves them to sin, death, and the silent “peace” that hell holds forth to sinful people while they yet dwell on earth.

The freest people — the only truly free people — are those who submit their thinking entirely to the Scriptures and to the Scriptures alone. We all believe this or that because of the authority of who it comes from, right? And usually we will only really believe it if, deep down, we have some sort of motion that agrees with them, right? When I believe something that my good friends tell me, it is because I believe that they are trustworthy. Yet, the only finally and ultimately trustworthy One is the Lord God himself. Everything that he says is authoritative and true and it is on that authority that we may — and should — believe him. Furthermore, he has not left himself without witness — the work of the law is written on our hearts and consciences simply because we are human, made in the image of the God who alone gives wisdom and understanding (Romans 2:15). There is a witness within our very deepest being that the words of God are true.

Yet, this can be, and often is, overridden by sin, which blinds us and enslaves us — there is no freedom in autonomy, only slavery to the insanity of sin. Death holds out the dark silence of annihilation or some other stupefying lie as a consolation to the one who is not set free by the truth that he is a sinner, that he is accountable to his Creator, that he may come into life and song and living color if he only submit and say that his Maker is right and holy and that he himself is a sinner, justly worthy of death — but that God himself provided a propitiation and salvation for him in the One Mediator, Christ Jesus, who is worthy of all praise and glory and worship and rule, forever. It is this one who believes the truth about reality who is then free to obey God — and, obeying him, to live in freedom from self-centered fear and self-aggrandizement. It is these two things — fear and pride — that are the driving manifestations of that will to godhood that is at the core and root of all forms of authoritarianism, which imposes a creature between a man and his God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

This subject of epistemology and how a biblical epistemology is at the root of free people is related very closely to education and theories of learning. Sadly, it is an area where Christian education far too often takes up the spirit of the age, with its underlying doctrine that children must “experience the world” before they can really believe their parents — and thus also believe the Scriptures — about the sinfulness of sin and the graciousness of grace (as I have heard and read Christian parents claiming to be the case while seeking to justify sending their children to be raised in the state schools). Yet, is not Christian education primarily heart-work? And is not the desired result of Christian education that we might know God and understand how to view all things in life through the framework of Scriptural teaching? (Psalm 119:59-60; compare 119:98-100) It is like this — or it should be, shouldn’t it? — “I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” ~Psalm 119:102-104

It does not say: “through my experiences I have learned to hate sin”; nor, “because I have experienced the world I have now come to see through the Scriptures”. The latter simply cannot be, though there is an element of truth to the former assertion. However, we will never truly hate sin — all sin and idolatry — unless we first love the God of truth and his commandments, for it is these things that teach us what he loves and what he hates. We do not learn this from experiencing the sins of the world in some fashion or another. We only learn to love the Lord by learning of him and what he says. Sin is not necessary for goodness to exist. Rather, sin is a perversion of goodness and can never be ultimate — therefore, it cannot exist if there is no righteousness. But goodness is not like that — it is holy and ultimate.

Surely, the aim of Christian education is love of righteousness and hatred of evil (the two sides of the fear of the Lord). This we learn by the Word of our God, not primarily by experience. True, we most assuredly shall experience this and that, being struck with pain as well as with joy, but it is not these experiences of pain or of joy that teach us to love righteousness and to hate evil. Sometimes, due to some problem in the sensory systems of the body (which is ultimately the consequences of sin), these experiences can be completely out of accord with reality — unless we say that there is no objective, true, reality in which we all exist and the subjective is all that is (which is a self-contradictory position on numerous points). Experience cannot actually teach us any more than that pain exists; and that, often for apparently absurd reasons. It cannot teach us rightness and wrongness, ought or ought not, why or how. At best, it can only show us commonly occurring experiences of this or that. Yet, too many Christian parents seem to believe that their children learn, truly learn, knowledge and wisdom through “experience”; and so they attempt to structure their educational methods accordingly, be they ever so unwitting (as so many are!) that they are using methodologies and presupposed doctrines that are not in accord with the Scriptures.

For sure, the hand must be trained to a task if it is to become skillful and fine-tuned — but if the apprentice does not believe that the master’s words are true, or that his practice is sound, he will not learn from him aright and will not come to know the skill as the master does — and he will never surpass him until he believes his master and further applies the principles he has learned from him. He must believe and trust that the master will teach him truly. And when Christian parents remove their children too soon from their immediate presence and training, the seeds of bitterness and unbelief are far too easily planted, since this culture is so overwhelmingly antithetical to Christ and to true Christian practice. This is one reason for the great importance of abiding in Christian families and communities where the Word is being lived out because it is truly being believed. If the next generation is to become wiser than their teachers, they first must believe that God is and that he is God — and also be trained how to think and how to understand what he has said, lest they do not see fit to acknowledge God (Romans 1:25, 28). For he is there and he is not silent.

“Learn by experience” is surely a foundational principle of the spirit of the age, perpetuated by socialist educators and various other God-haters who sit in their authoritarian seats and declare doctrine en haute. By claiming that experience is our teacher, they thus make each person autonomous as a determiner of their own law-word, their own truth — which simply cannot be. Yet they remain the teachers, seeking to bind all as servants of sin, alongside of themselves, under the guise of their spell of proffered freedom from justice — which is really a freedom from God. Yet, in all this, they use something they know not what in an attempt to deny the same. They must use language, though they attempt not to. They must use logic, though they actually teach people how not to think, rather than training them how to use and develop this innate facet of our beings as men and women made in the image of God.

But the main point is this: if the fear of the Lord is the ultimate end of Christian education — as it is said to be in the book of Proverbs — then this implies, fundamentally, the teaching and learning of language and logic in order that the Lord and his law might be known and applied and that his wonders be understood aright. Only then can we become free people, praising the Lord who has made us, bought us, saved us, clothed us, and will keep us, in Christ, forever, as his people. Yet, even little children with less-developed capacities and skills in rhetoric can know God — for wisdom is from God. Experience is not really our teacher — we have one Teacher, God (Matthew 23:8, 10) — how then can so many Christians distance their children from the heritage of the promises of God by seeking to train them according to the unbelieving methods of statism, romanticism, and Marxism (whether in state schools or by the use of some other unbiblical curriculum) — and therefore advance both the goals and the agenda of the very ones who, not fearing God, hate the Creator and his holy righteousness?

 

The Apostate and His Creator

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The Apostate and His Creator

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Psalm 36: To the choirmaster. Of David, the servant of the Lord.

“Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The world of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.” ~11-4

This is the apostate. He does not necessarily outright deny God’s being; he denies God’s power, he denies God’s justice, he denies God’s nature. Taking counsel only within himself, he takes counsel of evil — and he loves it. This one does not fear God, so he does not heed him or speak truly of him within himself. The result of this is that he does not hate the things that God hates, but rather loves them, taking careful heed and putting much thought and care into doing and planning exactly those things that are against the Lord, his Creator. He places his attention and purposes towards things that are not good, for he does not reject evil — because he fears not God. He is not ignorant of God, nor of justice, nor of righteousness, but he refuses to find out and to hate his sin, for he does not fear God, and so does not love him, nor love his righteousness. Rather, he prefers to believe the outworkings of his own evil heart — in so doing, he is following his longing for godhood and control.

Having known God, the apostate would rather set himself up as his own definer of good and evil, and so sets himself to be lord and judge for himself. He who gets to decide right from wrong — or if there is wrong — or even if there is existence — is lord and judge, is the god, the source of authority and definition of reality. The apostate claims this for himself, in his own life, if not in the lives of all. The more that these people are aware of their hatred for righteousness and of the One whose Word is set against them and their deeds and imaginations, the more that they are active against those who fear the Lord and against their works. And when they set themselves up as teachers among society and as guides to the blind, then they are the most dangerous, for they appeal to the sinful nature of every human heart. And such is the generation in which we live. The apostates are the respected ones, the teachers, the leaders, the experts, and the ones at whose mouth the West seeks wisdom and understanding and knowledge.

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” 5-9

Yet, all around him, the apostate, as everyone else and everything else that is, exists in the permeating reality created by the Lord. He cannot escape it. Despite the wickedness of men, the Creator is God, the Lord. He has made his covenants — with the earth and with his people — history shall be accomplished according as he has said it shall come to pass. His steadfast love, his covenantal love towards the works of his hands and of the word that has gone out from his mouth, shall continue, despite all the flailings and cursing of an apostate generation. This steadfast love is broad and encompassing, high as the highest sky; his righteousness is a great and overwhelming as an encircling range of great mountains; his wisdom is a vast and unsearchable as the deepest ocean. He is God. The Creator is God alone, the only One who can stretch out his hand and bring salvation, life, joy, and light to every living creature, man and animal. Yet, he offers peace and accomplishes it in the lives of his creatures only when they acknowledge and worship him, confessing his Son, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, as Lord indeed. For God spoke, and it was so, that he would send One to bear the iniquity of the peoples, to restore them unto God, and to make peace between a repentant apostate and his God. If we refuse this testimony, we are apostate, calling God a liar and choosing to worship a creaturely lie about reality than the Creator himself, who has so abundantly given a witness of the truth in which we dwell.

The apostate, the unbeliever who has refused to acknowledge God, has cut himself off from these things, though he professes to seek them. He seeks to define and create these things for himself, as he sees fit, rather than submitting to God and acknowledging that, of himself, by himself, he is a sinner. Life, peace, happiness, salvation, light, righteousness — these things as defined and sought for by an apostate are different than that which is, for “he does not reject evil.” Yet, for those who submit to the encompassing reality that God has created and set them into, there is feasting and joy in the presence of God, who is the very fountain of life. Only when we come to him to define reality and righteousness, as our great Father and Lord, only then may we see light and it appear light to us. Under the shadow of his protecting care and covenant word of love towards those who fear him, we may take refuge, yes, even in the light itself, shone forth in our hearts and made visible to our eyes and delighting our hearts by the power of the Spirit of Jesus at work within us.

“Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.” 10-12

It is because God is God, unchanging and unchangeable, that we may come to him in prayer. It is because God is God that he hears and answers whatever we ask that is according to his holy will. We pray that our Creator and Savior would be as he ever has been, continuing his mercies upon us, continuing to work justice in the earth, saving us — we who believe in him and hate evil because we love righteousness — from the destructive power of those who would be god over us, for they would rule the world that God has created according to their own hearts instead of according to his word and will. And, we may be assured, the power of the apostate shall not overcome those who fear the Lord, lest they stretch out their hands to do evil. Our God is the one Lord, the Creator — and he is the Lord of history who shall judge the secrets of every man’s heart at the last day by Jesus Christ when evil and transgression and sin and apostasy shall be finally put down forever.

Praise Him!

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Praise Him!

“Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him for his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” ~Psalm 150

What a noisy jubilation is this praise of the whole creation of our God, the Lord! Even as the his light is so bright we cannot behold it, for it is so pure and holy and beyond us, even is the noise of this praise to him so great we cannot quite hear it, for it overwhelms our little, poorly-tuned ears!

“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'” ~Revelation 5:13

Then…

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“…then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…so you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” ~Proverbs 2:5-6, 20

Today, I’m summarizing a general overview of the five “then’s”that follow from the “if’s” in verses 1-4 of the second chapter of Proverbs. If the addressee applies his ear, mind, will, and action, then he will find, it will be given to him, he will learn, he will be delivered, he will inherit.

The first “then” is in 2:5: “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” This brief passage explicitly states that he will find the fear of the Lord, which has already been declared to be the beginning of wisdom (1:7).

Secondly, in verses 9-10, then he will understand what is good, he will learn what is righteousness, and it will be pleasant to him. This hearkens back to the opening lines of the book, fulfilling the purpose set forth in 1:2-4: “To know wisdom, and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity…”

In the third place, Solomon tells his son that this knowledge and wisdom will deliver him as it is applied in his life (2:7-11). It will guard him from the ways of evil men and wicked women and will save him from walking in the paths of the transgressor (2:11, 12, 16). Not only shall wisdom be an ornament to him (1:8-9), it will keep him from sinning.

Fourth, by this he shall also be kept from the death of the fool because he has learned to walk in the good ways of righteousness (2:20; contrast 1:32-33).

Finally, there is a again a warning, coupled with a promise — the righteous shall inherit, but the wicked shall be rooted out of the land (2:21-22). It is the Lord who owns the land; and it is he who shall work directly into history and in men’s lives in his ruling as he enforces his own law in his own land.

Throughout this passage recounting these “then’s” that follow from the “if’s” of the first few verses, I particularly noticed that there is both a learning of righteousness and a being kept from sin that are being emphasized here. There is no neutrality being presented — a man (or a woman, for that matter) is contemplated as either righteous or wicked. It seems to me that this implies the covenant of grace, God’s covenantal people, and the justification that was to be completed once for all by the Christ. For this righteousness of the righteous person is evidently not measured by some innate “goodness” of sorts, even as wisdom is as something beautiful which is put on one’s self, not as a limb or a native quality of a human being. Yet, in no other way than in perfect goodness can anyone stand before God — only in a full legal righteousness can a man be categorically declared “righteous” over against the “wicked.” The Lord is holy and no flesh is clean in his sight (please see the entirety of Romans 3). And there is no works-righteousness being taught here in Proverbs 2 — it is clearly said that if you will call, if you will seek, God will give, God will guard. There is no self-generation of wisdom, nor of righteousness, being taught in this book for instruction, but all wisdom and righteousness is, over and over again, declared to be from God. The seeker, the finder, has something done to him or for him, in order to actually come into possession of wisdom and to walk in the good paths. His duty is to obey, to love, to seek — and God himself will act (compare 1:22-23).

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” ~Romans 13:14

If…

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If...

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“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures…” ~Proverbs 2:1-4

There are five examples of “then…” that follow from thus seeking wisdom diligently: 1) finding the fear of the LORD; 2) understanding justice and righteousness; 3) deliverance from evil men; 4) deliverance from evil women; and 5) walking in the good ways and thus remaining in the land.

But these are consequent to the “ifs” that Solomon here lays forth. He utilize eight verbs, putting term on term, to describe how his son may attain unto the knowledge of the Lord and of his ways, in order that he might receive the blessings of the covenant. Each of these “ifs” are contingent upon the son’s will, desires, and applied labor.

The father cannot coerce his son into wisdom, nor does he attempt to do so. Immediately after warning of the death that comes to those who scorn wisdom until it is too late, he tells his son what he himself must do in order to avoid this end himself. I particularly noticed that he didn’t tack the warnings upon the conclusion of his book as an afterthought — no, he urgently makes his son aware of the life and death nature of these things of which he speaks. He loves him, so he will tell him about the most desirable thing of all and of how he can obtain it; for it is not something that he can gain for his son, but only model for him, explain to him, and urge him towards. Indeed, he loves his son so much that he first of all tells him of the harsh reality that falls upon those who fail to obtain this end. It is only after doing this in a couple of different ways that he begins to instruct in his son in what he must do if he would not die the death of a fool under the justly scornful sarcasm of rejected Wisdom. For, of all things, he should most of all esteem the counsel and instruction and rebukes of wisdom.

So, then, what must be done? How is this to be gone about?

First — even, perhaps, primarily — he must listen to his father, receiving, taking in, seizing the words given to him. This is most certainly a verbal education, requiring literacy of thought, a command of language, a mind able to reason and equipped to think. It seems obvious that this must be presupposed, or this instruction simply cannot be followed. According to Scripture, then, the use of language is vital to gaining wisdom.

The second imperative here is that the son “treasure up” or “hide” his father’s commandments in his own heart. They are to be protected, kept, held dear, and pondered upon as a most precious thing; the son himself must regard them as real and binding upon himself, as his own precepts. Notice also that this father commands his son. He is not suggesting nice things or a set of little sayings and observations that he maybe has found useful in his own life. No, he commands him as one under authority himself, for his son is a child of the covenant. If this father were to neglect thus leading his son in the ways of righteousness as defined by God, the Covenant-Maker, he himself would be sinning. If he neglected this duty, he would be acting as if there is another truth besides that which is and as if God does not destroy the one who breaks his covenant and preserves the one who keeps and does it. Thus it is that he commands his son to keep his words: he is confident that what he speaks is the truth of the God under whose life-encompassing covenant he stands.

Solomon follows the command to his son to treasure up his words with an admonition for him to make his ear attentive to wisdom. In other words, he is telling him to listen, not just to hear. There is a difference. He must wait to listen to wisdom, putting his attention upon it, for wisdom is not obtained through careless osmosis — the one who would gain wisdom must shut his mouth and open his ears and patiently apply his mind and reason.

The fourth imperative therefore follows closely: “incline your heart to understanding.” His very inner being must have a desire for wisdom that draws him to love it and seek it. This kind of heart the son must strive towards and cultivate — lest he die. Solomon adds increasingly inward and even emotional elements as he comes to the second half of his instructions in how to gain wisdom. He quickly proceeds to tell his son that he must love wisdom and understanding so much that he will call out, raise his voice, seeking and searching for insight as earnestly and as diligently as he would for a hidden wealth of treasure. Truly, it is only for the very deepest desires of one’s heart that a person will cry out and go a-searching. By implication, then, Solomon is telling his son that unless he loves wisdom this deeply and applies his efforts this entirely, he will assuredly fail to gain it.

In these eight imperatives, Solomon is returning to the theme with which he opened his book of instruction, just now beginning to tell his reader the “how” he should approach all that follows. He lays it forth as a mission, a duty, a quest, comparing wisdom to precious riches once again. He sets out the obtaining of understanding and insight as a difficult thing, but immensely valuable, giving the task meaning, value, and worth. People tend to value what they have labored for — and to labor for that which they value. Solomon does not ignore this as he impresses upon his son what is the most valuable thing of all. Yet, in this, there is an urgency and an implicit warning, as well, for if the son does not take up this challenge, if he leaves the gauntlet lying there, so to speak, he shall not find what his father is directing him towards in the rest of his instruction — and he shall assuredly not gain Wisdom. Then, if he did not value the fear of the Lord, he shall surely die under the mockery of that truth he disdained.

Many years later, another wise man of God wrote on the same subject: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” ~James 1:5-8

In Which I am a Field Nurse

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Sometimes memories merge with reality....

Sometimes memories merge with reality….

“You need to send my number to the VA…. I have it on me…you know where it is?”

His intelligent blue eyes were bright and testing me, an impish smile behind the tears.

“You don’t have your dog tags on.” I smiled and flicked the blanket on his chest gently.

“Phooey! Must a-got shot off.” He turned his head in disgust. “But I can tell you my number. Wait…. What is my number? I can’t remember….”

I wiped the tears off his face some more, tears that came partly from a fear of losing his identity. He had asked me earlier to keep them from running down his nose, because they tickled.

“They have to have my number at the Army hospital.” There was an urgency in his voice.

“We’ll take care of you here, anyways.” I smiled again.

“Yes. Yes, they will.” Then, after a puzzled pause, he suddenly began rattling off a number quickly, with relief in his voice. He wanted me to repeat the last four. I did, holding his hand.

“You’ll get that to them?”

I repeated it again and assured him that I would.

——

“The field doctor came around earlier, and I told him I was fine. But I don’t know, now. Maybe it was that bomb blast…. Sometimes they don’t tell you how bad you are hurt.” He looked up at me trepidatiously.

“But they will tell us. We’ll tell you.”

He didn’t quite look sure. I leaned a little closer, wiping the tears off his nose some more, “I’ll tell you.” He relaxed, but started to cry a little harder. So I brushed back his thin hair again and told him, “I think you’ll be alright. And here’s what I know — I’ll tell you….” He listened, heard me, and stopped crying.

——

“Did you know Harold?”

“No, I didn’t have that privilege.”

“Harold was my uncle. He was five years older than I and we were close. He was right here when he was killed. He and Delmer. You know cousin Delmer? He’s the field chaplain that goes around these parts….”

“Yes, I think I’ve met him, though I can’t remember for sure.”

“Delmer was with him.”

——

As they were getting ready to move him from triage to a hospital room, he asked, rather anxiously, “Will they let my sweetheart be with me there? In the Army hospital?”

“Yes, of course, she’s right here. She won’t leave you.”

——

This is a true story. The wounded soldier is my 92-year-old Grandpa, not suffering from shell shock or bomb blast injuries, but from dehydration brought on by infection somewhere in his aging body. His sweetheart, my Grandma, was there the whole time; but, for whatever reason, I ended up being the field nurse standing by his bedside sometime shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, where Harold was killed. My Grandpa actually never saw overseas combat action…but for a couple of entire days, in his own mind he was somewhere in Europe many years ago…. In fact, he rode to the local hospital in a “Navy Field Ambulance” — as I couldn’t think up anything else that would satisfy him why the blue wheelchair van didn’t have a big red cross on it…………

Wisdom’s Warnings

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Warnings...

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“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.'” ~Proverbs 2:20-33

A few more thoughts from my recent contemplations upon Proverbs 1….

Wisdom speaks openly and publicly — so publicly that four examples are given of the open places in which she stands and cries out loudly and clearly. These are places of business, places of socializing, places of leadership; in all these quarters, she speaks freely.

The first words of this section, following on the heels of the surreptitious and conniving words of evil men to gain wealth by making a compact with death, are words of a rebuke. She is not said to be directly addressing the greedy tempters, but it is clear that such are among those to whom she is speaking. Verses 24-25 and 29-30 make it abundantly evident that her counsel has already been heard and rejected by the simple and the scoffer whom she directly addresses in her opening words. Yet, she offers another warning to them — though it is quite evident that these rebukes are not indefinite and will assuredly come to an end. At some point, the time for reproof will be past and she will refuse to answer if they turn and call to her, seeking her help once they are in the midst of the consequences of their actions (26-28). Because they despised her counsel, they will indeed be made to eat the fruit of their works (29-31). And this is, ultimately, death (32).

It is abundantly clear that it is sinful to reject the counsels of wisdom — and this is why it leads to death. Verses 29-30 are the key to this understanding: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,” therefore they shall abide in the consequences. Even though the words are so strident and even harsh, it is actually a kindness for wisdom to rebuke so sharply in accord with justice — it is life itself which is at stake. The chiefest of our duties as creatures of God Most High is to fear him; thus, it is the height of rebellion to despise the reproofs of wisdom that comes from him.

I also noticed in verse 23 that the one who turns in humility upon receiving the just rebuke, acquiescing to its truth and righteousness, to this one will be given the spirit of wisdom to open her words to his understanding. The words of wisdom and the spirit of wisdom are not separate, but always must go together — and both are given. Neither is gained by human endeavor alone, but must be granted by the Lord and giver of wisdom. It is quite clear and evident in Solomon’s teaching that true wisdom is from God and that the understanding of his words is something that is given and not innate to human nature.

Because human power cannot obtain wisdom, it can be stated so confidently that the one who hears wisdom will be preserved from death and the dread of disaster (33). Now, it is not said here that the wise person shall dwell in the ease of riches — it does indeed say that the wise person shall dwell secure, at ease, and without dread of disaster — but it does not say that no disaster shall ever befall him. Rather, it says that he shall be free from the dread of disaster, implying that he stands secure and at ease in his heart. Why? How? Because by his heeding of wisdom, he shows that he fears God. Fearing God, he wholly entrusts himself to his Maker. He does not have to depend upon his own self, his own power, his own limited perceptions — he is God’s and God shall guide him through every way. Thus, the fear of calamity cannot and will not override his life or his heart — because he fears the Lord, the provident Creator, and seeks the paths of righteousness, justice, and life, and does not walk the paths of autonomy, self-reliance, and covenanting with death. Following the law of God may lead a man to material prosperity, it may be, but it is not this wealth, but his fear of God, that secures him from the dread of disaster, for the same Lord who gave it can also take it away.

As this is yet the opening of Solomon’s book of instruction, I noted that he begins with warnings against those who have heard already and have rejected the things he is about to declare to his son. He shows that wisdom offers life to those who turn and heed, but that her mockery and scorn will hold forth no lawless pity on the unrepentant one who despises her words — for her words are spirit and they are life — they are the very words that teach one what it is to fear the Lord. Since to reject her is sin because it is a rejection of the Creator’s law, I understand from this that warnings indeed have a very real place in godly education. “Lest…” is an important concept in training a Christian mind — for the Lord is indeed Lord of justice and he is not mocked; all his word and all his will shall surely be accomplished. This is also in accord with the example throughout Scripture of the way the Lord deals with his people. He does not let us be ignorant of the consequences which he shall indeed cause to fall on those who ignore him and despise his lordship by rejecting his words. He is loving and honest towards us — and so ought we be towards others, even as Solomon is here towards his son by so early in his discourse laying forth these grave rebukes.

Another thing I noticed in this passage is the use of the word “simple.” In our day, “simple” is glorified as the essence of beauty, goodness, and rightness. But it is clearly not with such an opinion that Solomon uses the term. Rather, Wisdom teaches that “simpleness” is not in accord with godliness because it is ignorance — and ignorance leads to folly. Since wisdom is not innate to human nature, neither is it native to the simple and ignorant. This is why it is so necessary to search after wisdom, seeking to leave ignorance behind and to become instructed according to our Creator’s will. And is this not the very aim of Solomon’s instruction — the fear of the Lord? This implies therefore that the Lord must be known, and, as he is our Lord, our duty towards him must be learned. This the “simple ones” do not know, nor understand, nor seek after. However, they can learn. Simpleness is not a crime, per se, though the love of being so clearly is (22). It is a hatred of wisdom and knowledge, wittingly, and thus it is sin. And the Lord does execute justice upon those who despise him.

This is also a reason why Solomon’s book is so clearly written to his son, a covenant child. The warnings are so severe because this son is one who knows, even if he is yet ignorant in many ways. He is shown the ways of the Lord in his upbringing — but if he rejects it, he is justly to receive wrath at the hand of his God. If he, though yet young and simple, searches for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, he will find the fear of the Lord and be blessed, abiding in him. The son cannot be passive, but himself must either heed or despise these prominent warnings of his father. For his sin will be his own. By warning him, his father is demonstrating his love of him by showing him the death the Lord will bring on him if he does not humble his heart before his father’s instruction. And the father is also showing his son that he will have no lawless pity on him if he rejects his teaching, but rather that he will always agree with the law that it is good and just. If necessary, he will side with the law of his God instead of with a rebellious son. For truly, in this case most particularly, the father’s instruction is the very words of God. To reject this is to reject God himself. What a responsibility rests on Christian parents! To know the words of God and thus to command their children!