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Till We Have Faces, Self-Knowledge, and Learning to Die

By David & Marybeth Baggett

One important way that C. S. Lewis went about irrigating deserts and planting gardens was to be honest that the tide had turned against many of his most cherished convictions, and since he was convinced that the new direction was mistaken, he would often point backwards. To the charge that this was retrograde, he famously said, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

After accepting his new post at Cambridge, Lewis—on his 56th birthday—gave his inaugural address in 1954 called De Descriptione Temporum, a description of the times, in which he aimed to identify the central turning point in western civilization. “[S]omewhere between us and the Waverley Novels, somewhere between us and Persuasion, the chasm runs.” To make the case for his proposal, Lewis adduced germane examples from the realms of politics, the arts, religion, and technology. With respect to religion, what Lewis primarily had in mind was the un-christening of culture. Exceptions abound, but the “presumption has changed,” adding

It is hard to have patience with those Jeremiahs, in Press or pulpit, who warn us that we are ‘relapsing into Paganism’. It might be rather fun if we were. It would be pleasant to see some future Prime Minister trying to kill a large and lively milk-white bull in Westminster Hall. But we shan’t. What lurks behind such idle prophecies, if they are anything but careless language, is the false idea that the historical process allows mere reversal; that Europe can come out of Christianity ‘by the same back door as in she went’ and find herself back where she was. It is not what happens. A post-Christian man is not a Pagan; you might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past and therefore doubly from the Pagan past.

In 1935 Cambridge philosopher William Sorley expressed misgivings about this demotion of morality that’s bound to result in an artificially truncated worldview in which moral ideas are paid short shrift. “If we take experience as a whole,” Sorley wrote, “and do not arbitrarily restrict ourselves to that portion of it with which the physical and natural sciences have to do, then our interpretation of it must have ethical data at its basis and ethical laws in its structure.” Perhaps it’s not surprising that Sorley is a luminary in the field of moral apologetics, as the later Cambridge professor Lewis would be as well. For at the heart of moral arguments is the abiding conviction that morality can provide a vital window of insight into reality. Hermann Lotze, a 19th century German philosopher, in fact once wrote that “the true beginning of metaphysics lies in ethics,” a sentiment with which both Sorley and Lewis resonated.

Recall Lewis’s words from Mere Christianity to this effect:

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

This paper is about perhaps the greatest example he provided of this: his novel Till We Have Faces (subsequently TWHF), which harmoniously weaves together and integrates numerous of Lewis’s philosophical, theological, and ethical emphases. It contains, in fictional form, what Lewis thought about the import of myth and beauty, of joy and desire, of reason and imagination. This essay will cover an aspect of the novel that arguably resides at the thematic heart of the story and at the intersection of ethics and epistemology.

Lewis’s story refashions the myth of Cupid and Psyche. It is set in Glome, a barbarian kingdom on the edge of the Hellenistic world, and is told by the main character, Orual, the eldest daughter of Rom, King of Glome, step-sister of Psyche, and sister of Redival. The main story is about Orual’s indictment of the gods for failing to make their ways plain. Ostensibly the worry is wholly epistemic. The indictment comes in the form of an account of the major portion of her life, presented with the request that the reader judge her case against the gods. Her intended audience is “wise Greeks,” who, because of their philosophical education, will readily see in the events she reports puzzling epistemological problems and, therefore, will more likely see the truth of her charge.

71heAHih2wLThe events in question pertain to Orual’s central passion: her love of Psyche. The two people who give her happiness are Fox, a Greek slave her father secured as tutor for his daughters, and Psyche, who is not only uncommonly beautiful but virtuous as well. After Psyche’s mother dies at childbirth, it is Orual who brings Psyche up as her own child. What generates conflict with the gods is the demand, presented by the Priest of Ungit—Glome’s version of the fertility goddess—that Psyche be sacrificed on the Grey Mountain to her son, the Shadowbrute, supposed god of the Mountain. The sacrifice is to remove a curse that has befallen the kingdom.

After the sacrifice, Orual makes a trek to bury Psyche’s remains but discovers Psyche alive and well, radiant in fact, claiming to be living with her husband/god in a beautiful palace. Orual, though, is unable to see the palace, so she is left to figure out the truth. Skeptical the gods are good, she devises a plan to liberate Psyche, but it goes horribly wrong, sending Psyche into exile. Orual returns home to reign as Queen of Glome and tries to forget her past.

As for aspects of the novel that pertain to the question of epistemology, particularly religious epistemology, first one should note that the era and context of the story is distinctly premodern. The default position is decidedly not atheism, agnosticism, or skepticism, but one of robust religious conviction and theological interpretation of the events in question. Following Robert Holyer, we can immediately identify two major epistemological issues: whether the gods are just inventions of the priest and pandering to popular superstition, or rather that the gods are real. The Fox is of the former opinion, but Orual and Psyche of the latter. The second major epistemological question is this: If the request for Psyche’s sacrifice is genuinely Divine, how is it to be understood? Is it a malevolent request born of jealousy and intended to bring suffering not only to Psyche but also those who love her, particularly Orual? Or is there some paradoxical way in which the deed might result in Psyche’s well-being and therefore be consistent with the affirmation that the gods are good? Orual inclines to the former, always casting the holy places as dark places; Psyche, to the latter.

So a central problem of the novel is to read the signs of the Divine correctly and to find in them reasonable assurance sufficient to live faithfully in the face of the irresolvable mystery and ambiguity featured heavily in the book. Evidence is not undeniable or incorrigible, and questions remain unanswered. A related concern of the book involves Lewis’s most important innovation: Orual’s inability to see the palace of the gods. In Lewis’s key adaptation, Psyche saw it and claimed to live in it, but Orual couldn’t see it at all, except once and only briefly.

Among the various signs and signals of divine reality and goodness, perhaps the most important is the experience of the Holy. Rudolf Otto, author of The Idea of the Holy, claimed that experiences of the Holy are one of the basic sources of religious belief throughout the centuries. He distinguished and described several constituent elements of the experience of the Holy, two of which are these (both found in TWHF): (1) tremendum, a kind of dread or fear unlike our other fears—as Orual rightly describes it, a fear “quite different from the fear of my father,” and (2) fascinans, a consuming attraction or rapturous longing. Psyche is poignantly aware of both, Orual mainly only of the former. Fascinans, or “Joy,” to use another Lewisian term, is associated with the objects of the imagination, with beauty, with poetry, and above all with the Mountain—all common motifs in Lewis’s fiction.

A second sign is empirical evidence, which is ambiguous. A third sign is finding Psyche alive and well days after her sacrifice, which raises the question of how reliable her testimony is. The story Psyche recounts is remarkable, but Orual has to admit that Psyche had always been trustworthy. The final and most difficult piece of evidence is experience of divine realities—like Orual’s glimpse of the palace and Psyche’s more continuous experience of the gods.

The epistemological task in the novel is to determine the nature of ultimate reality—whether it is jealous and cruel, or mysterious and marvelous. Reason plays an important role—drawing conclusions from premises taken from a broad array of experience, but much of the reasoning that Lewis thought is called for is implicit and intuitive, requiring an equal mixture of philosophy and vision, a reconciliation of reason and imagination. Orual has to choose between rival explanations in the face of real ambiguity and mystery, a measure of hiddenness that perhaps ensures that her inquiry reveals her real motivations more than just her cognitive prowess.

Lewis suggests looking within, as part of an epistemic quest predicated on the traditional idea that at the foundation of all knowledge is self-knowledge. Thales thought the hardest thing to do is “to know thyself,” employing a phrase that invokes the specter of what would be on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Plato would write that the essence of knowledge is self-knowledge. Centuries before Plato, the Hindu Upanishads confirmed, “Enquiry into the truth of the Self is knowledge.”

In the Apology, Socrates, at the precipice of his own death, asked, “Are you not ashamed to spend so much trouble upon trouble heaping up riches and honor and reputation, while you care nothing for wisdom and truth and the perfection of your soul?” Socrates did not claim to have attained to great wisdom, but the most important knowledge of all, he thought, is self-knowledge. Other speculative matters of alleged knowledge aren’t likely to conduce to greater perfection of the soul than authentic knowledge of the self. And perfection of soul far exceeds in importance anything else, which is why this ancient approach to epistemology, focused on self-knowledge with the goal of moral maturation, resides at the intersection of epistemology and ethics.

TWHF assumes that who we are shapes what we see, but rather than culminating in a radical subjectivism, for Lewis it leads to something like a virtue epistemology, according to which there’s a reality to be seen. Admittedly it’s seen through a glass darkly, but how much of it we can genuinely grasp remains a function of who we are. Understanding who and what we are, then, is foundational to knowledge. For Lewis, poetry—and art more generally—though vitally important, was penultimate, hardly anything like a compensation for lost faith.

In Part II of TWHF, Orual augments her original book—her original complaint against the gods—by writing that “I know so much more than I did about the woman who wrote it.” Interestingly, she says that what began the change was “the very writing itself.” The writing itself—the art—enables the growth in self-knowledge, but this is only the beginning: to prepare her for “the gods’ surgery.” “They used my own pen to probe my wound.” Lewis didn’t think that the epistemic quest was over once we looked within, practiced art, or saw the world under some fresh aspect, but that by growing in self-knowledge we can begin to see the world more accurately, we can apprehend more of reality, and the world will begin to look quite different from how it did before.

Orual had written her complaint against the gods. Ostensibly her complaint is epistemic, but when she adds to the book later, she admits things aren’t as they seem. How does her writing probe her wound and reveal to her the truth about herself? Primarily by a close and brutally honest examination of her various relationships—and the past she has tried so hard to veil. For example, she has had no pity in her heart for her sister Redival, but, after writing her original complaint, she encounters a former servant of her father’s named Tarin, who says, of Redival, “She was lonely.” This catches Orual by surprise, the “first snowflake of the winter I was entering.” She comes to admit as a certainty that she had not thought at all how it had been for Redival when she, Orual, first turned to Fox, then to Psyche, because “it had been somehow settled in my mind from the very beginning that I was the pitiable and ill-used one. She had her gold curls, hadn’t she?”

Next comes insight concerning her treatment of Bardia, her servant whom she loves. He is married, though, and always out of reach. After she finishes her book, she hears he is sick, and within a few days, he dies. She goes to visit Ansit, his widow, but Ansit is bitter toward the Queen, accusing her of working Bardia to death. “After weeks and months at the wars—you and he night and day together, sharing the councils, the dangers, the victories, the soldiers’ bread, the very jokes. . . .” And “I do not believe, I know, that your queenship drank up his blood year by year and ate out his life.”

The Queen replies with incredulity that Ansit should have spoken up, but Ansit says she never would have deprived her husband of his work and “all his glory and his great deeds.” Should she make a child and dotard of him? “I was his wife, not his doxy. He was my husband, not my house-dog. He was to live the life he thought best and fittest for a great man—not that which would most pleasure me.”

Ansit is suggesting that her love for Bardia means she had to give up some of her own desires, not make it all about herself, which begins to prick the Queen’s conscience because this very pattern has always been her own modus operandi. This raises a most important thematic element in the book: a recurring question of what real love means and looks like. Lewis was of the view that we can convince ourselves that our motivation is one of the purest love, when it might be far from it. The point here is that, sometimes when we think we are at our moral best, we may well be at our worst.

Lewis, like Kant, saw such moral darkness as powerfully suggestive that it’s altogether rational to believe there are resources beyond our own to close this moral gap.
Orual long thought of the gods as indulgent and selfish, and is now accused by Ansit of being “gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s—both your sisters.” Now, Orual writes, “the divine Surgeons had me tied down and were at work.” At first she is angry, but then Orual admits to herself that it is all terribly true, more than Ansit could even know. And she confesses her horrific treatment of Bardia, finally concluding, “Did I hate him, then? Indeed, I believe so. A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love.” She adds, “I had been dragged up and out into such heights and precipices of truth, that I came into an air where [her love for Bardia] could not live. It stank; a gnawing greed for one to whom I could give nothing, of whom I craved all.”

Next, she has to reexamine her relationship with Batta, who had been a servant Orual had executed. Now she remembers that Batta had her loving moments. Yes, she was a busybody and tattletale and rumormonger, but now she recalls Batta’s warmth and humanity. Orual is inexorably forced to face the truth of who she was and is and of what she’d done—none of which she wanted to hear, all of which she needed to hear.

Having long thought of the gods as ugly in character, Orual now sees this as projection; now she comes to think that she herself is like Ungit: ugly in soul. In despair, she plans to kill herself before she’s stopped by the voice of a god: “You cannot escape Ungit by going to the deadlands, for she is there also. Die before you die. There is no chance after.” Earlier Lewis availed himself of the Socratic dictum “Know Thyself,” and now Lewis makes reference to the Socratic notion that true wisdom is the skill and practice of death. Reflecting on Socrates, the Queen writes, “I supposed he meant the death of our passions and desires and vain opinions.”

Philosophy, properly understood, trains us how to die, and not just physically. That part of us that most needs to die is our vainglory, our self-aggrandizement, our pride, our inordinate passions. She then reasons, “[I]f I practiced true philosophy, as Socrates meant it, I should change my ugly soul into a fair one. And this, the gods helping me, I would do. I would set about it at once.” The Queen resolves to be “just and calm and wise in all my thoughts and acts; but before they had finished dressing me I would find that I was back (and know not how long I had been back) in some old rage, resentment, gnawing fantasy, or sullen bitterness. I could not hold out half an hour.” She writes, “I could mend my soul no more than my face. Unless the gods helped. And why did the gods not help?”

In her angst and emotional tumult the Queen comforts herself with her complaint against the gods, and with obstinate tenacity holds on to one last consolation. Namely, at least she had cared for Psyche, taught her, and tried to save her, even wounded herself for her. And then comes a vision. In the vision she has a chance to read her indictment against the gods. The book/indictment/complaint has, however, now become much shorter. She is reluctant to read it, but she does, and in fact, without realizing it, reads it over and over again. We can identify three closely related salient highlights.

First, on the evidential score, she admits that she had been shown a real god and the house of a real god and should have believed; the real issue isn’t that. She admits she could have endured belief in the gods if they were like Ungit and the Shadowbrute. In truth she resents their meddling, their wooing of Psyche, their failure to follow through and devour Psyche as promised. “I’d have wept for her and buried what was left and built her a tomb. . . . But to steal her love from me!” The beauty of the gods—the fascinans she’d heretofore resisted and rejected—didn’t make things better, but worse. For it enables the gods to lure and entice, leaving Orual nothing. Second, she’d have rather Psyche remain hers and dead than the gods’ and made immortal. She has prided herself for her profound love of Psyche, but now the truth is revealed: it isn’t Psyche’s well-being she wanted to secure, but her own comfort. Psyche was hers.

Third, Orual insists that had she been the one to whom the gods had made themselves known, she would have been able to convince Psyche of their reality and goodness. Instead it was Psyche made privy, and Orual resented it. “But to hear a chit of a girl who had (or ought to have had) no thought in her head that I’d not put there, setting up for a seer and a prophetess and next thing to a goddess . . . how could anyone endure it?” Orual only wanted Psyche to be happy on terms she dictated. “What should I care for some horrible, new happiness which I hadn’t given her and which separated her from me? Do you think I wanted her to be happy, that way? It would have been better if I’d seen the Brute tear her in pieces before my eyes,” and “Did you ever remember whose the girl was? She was mine. Mine. Do you not know what the word means? Mine!” The sober truth about who Orual is has now been revealed, its dregs poured out. The complaint is the answer. She now has knowledge of herself, and what it reveals is a horrible malady, a problem in need of a solution.

Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

The death of most importance in TWHF is not Orual’s physical death in the final chapter, but rather the death to which she’s called after coming into a deep knowledge of herself and her moral malady. When Orual faces who she is, her initial response is one of despair, and rightly so when she sees the distance between where she morally is and where she thought she was, when she sees that at her best she is actually at her worst, when she sees that what she thinks is her love is actually mainly hate. Lewis, like Kant, saw such moral darkness as powerfully suggestive that it’s altogether rational to believe there are resources beyond our own to close this moral gap.

The solution called for in TWHF, however, is radical. What’s needed is nothing less than death—not physical death, though. What philosophy, rightly understood, can teach us is how to die—to experience the death of our moral malady, our self-righteousness, our pride, our predatory natures, our possessiveness, our self-consumption. What such moral desperation reveals is the need for radical transformation—far beyond what we can do on the strength of our own meager moral resources alone. And if we “die before we die,” before it’s too late, as Orual is told to do, then perhaps the sting of death can be removed, its inevitability not entail fatalism, and its aftermath be full of hope. For the longest time Orual had hardened her heart and resisted intimations of something more, whereas for Psyche such a longing constituted the “inconsolable secret” of her heart. Psyche’s longing for the Mountain and the imaginary gold-and-amber castle of her youth, rather than a groundless hope or vacuous wishful thought, was the “sweetest thing” in her whole life.

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Different Bodies: Part Two

A Twilight Musing

part one

by Elton Higgs

Paul begins 1 Corinthians 15 by pointing to the Resurrection of Jesus as the culminating capstone of the Son’s mission on earth, forming an essential part of the Gospel message (vv. 1-19).  He then proceeds to argue that if there is no resurrection from the dead, the consequence is that “in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [and] we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).  In the succeeding verses, he goes on to draw a sharp distinction between the resurrected body of Jesus (the Second Adam) and the “natural body” of the First Adam: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 20-21).  After an expansion on why “we are of all people most to be pitied” if there is no resurrection, Paul responds to the question, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?” (v. 30).

Paul goes to nature for analogies to answer these questions.  The resurrected body is as different from the natural body as is the fruit of a grain of wheat from the seed that was sown.  He points also to how the kinds of flesh are different from each other, and how heavenly bodies differ in brightness.  But the difference between our fleshly bodies and our resurrection bodies is even more striking:

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  (1 Cor 15:42-49, ESV)

What struck me in a fresh way in this passage was Paul’s reference to the first man being “from the earth, a man of dust.”   I had always assumed that the “body of death” from which we are finally delivered in the Resurrection is the fallen body destined for physical death because of sin.  A corollary of this assumption was that the original, unfallen bodies of Adam and Eve were not temporal, but eternal, so long as they lived in obedience to God.  But as I pointed out in Part One, even unfallen mankind was subject to some form of limitation on their physical lives; some kind of development in the context of temporality still remained to be worked out.  Paul’s discourse makes clear that Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the participation of all believers in that resurrection, constitutes the final working out of God’s eternal purpose for His creation. By giving details of the distinction between the body of Adam and the body of our resurrected Lord, which we will one day share with Him, Paul demonstrates also the difference between our present universe, whether fallen or unfallen, and God’s “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13).

The core of my new insight hinges on the implications of Paul’s summation in vv. 50-51: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  It is not just the corrupted, sinful body of the fallen First Adam that cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but even the yet-unfallen flesh and blood with which God clothed him in the first place.  If we accept that the original, unfallen Adam and Eve were “flesh and blood,” then it must also be accepted that they were, in some sense, perishable when they were created.  We have no way of knowing what would have developed in our world if our first father and mother had not rebelled, but it seems fair to conjecture that some form of cessation to their fleshly form would have been part of the picture.

I ran across a statement in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet that articulates as a general principle of God’s creation what I believe to be true of Earth and the life God put on it.  The major character, Ransom, is talking to a being in the unfallen world of Malacandra (Mars), who has told Ransom about an ancient race that perished from the planet, leaving the area where they once lived cold and lifeless.  Ransom asks where the divine Creator and sustainer of the planet was when all this happened.  Could He not have prevented this destruction?  Ransom’s instructor replies, “I do not know.  But a world is not made to last forever, much less a race; that is not Maleldil’s [God’s] way.”  I present for your consideration the idea that God’s design in creating the world in which we live was not that it would last forever as it was, even if it had not rebelled; but that it was intended to be the stage for a process by which the Devil would be defeated and God’s moral superiority be established.

The eternal, resurrected bodies we will share with Jesus, as well as the eternal home in which we will dwell with Him, are not merely transformations of our present bodies and our present world, but entirely new, spiritually defined bodies and an abode that transcends completely our material universe.  In this eternal state, body and soul and spirit are so bonded together that they are no longer separable nor distinguishable from one another.  History, which by definition records change, will be at an end, wrapped up in God’s eternal “now.”

Image: “Eternity” by Norbert Reimer. CC License. 

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Different Bodies: Part One

 

A Twilight Musing 

By Elton Higgs  

I have long been intrigued by the question of how things would have developed had Adam and Eve not eaten of the forbidden fruit and been banished from Eden.  One can exercise some inferential imagination by envisioning a world without the known consequences of sin. Attached to those inferences are some questions: Would Adam and Eve and their descendants have lived forever, absent the penalty of death?  Would the innocence of universal nakedness have continued?  If so, it’s hard for us fallen people to imagine there being no sexual desire except for one’s mate.  God arranged the union between Adam and Eve; how would the monogamous coupling of their descendants have been arranged?  Would reproduction be unlimited?  With no need to produce food by the sweat of their brows, would human beings have been engaged in other activities, such as creative, artistic, and scientific pursuits?

These questions may seem to be idle speculation, but I think they lead into matters of some significance.  All of the questions I have posed above are based on the assumption that there existed in the pristine world of Eden an expectation of purposeful and orderly development over a period of time.  God Himself looks in this direction when He tells the newly-created man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Things in the original creation were expected to change in ways designed by God to fulfill His nascent purposes for this new world of His.   Since any kind of change requires the observed passage of time, it seems legitimate to infer that there was a kind of positive temporality in the prelapsarian world that in the postlapsarian world became a degenerative penalty.

Perhaps the best way of getting some sense of God’s original plan for Edenic fulfillment is to consider the implications of the two trees placed in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9).  We find out after Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree that God took precautions against their also eating from the Tree of Life.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  (Gen 3:22-24)

To me, this passage implies that, had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God, there might have been a time for them to partake of both trees under God’s direction.  It seems not unreasonable to conjecture that the Lord wanted unfallen mankind, under His timing and direction, to become aware of the presence of evil in the universe so that He could equip them to partner with Him in the final defeat of that evil, and thereby be ready in the full maturity of their existence to eat of the Tree of Life.

At any rate, I think that God created the physical world as a kind of theater in which to do battle with the Devil.  We have some biblical hints of a battle in Heaven between God and his angels and Satan and his cohorts, in which God by His superior power cast a rebellious Satan down from his exalted position in Heaven (see Ezek. 28:11-19; Rev. 13:7-12).  The most familiar literary rendition of this battle is of course in Books V and VI of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Although his narrative of the epic battle in Heaven exercises the privilege of poetic imagination, it nevertheless presents a drama that may very well have taken place in some form before the creation of Eden.  This was a victory of God’s power, but it remained to provide a setting in which Satan could be confronted with the moral superiority of God, which could take place only in an arena where God’s love could be triumphant over Satan’s hate.  Exactly how that would have worked out if the Creation had not been corrupted by human sin, we don’t know, of course; but it’s hard to imagine how it could have had more dramatic or emotional impact than God’s “backup plan,” in which He participated in the suffering of the sinful world, even becoming a mortal human being and dying in order to redeem the fallen world.

This little essay (Part One) represents a refinement of ideas I have held in rough form for some time.  My central point here is that God’s created world, both before and after the Fall, is in marked contrast to His eternal being, which has no beginning and no end and is perpetually and always the same, yesterday, today, and all possible tomorrows.  As God’s inherent nature is immutable, so is the place where we will dwell with Him in resurrected form for eternity (see the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21-22).  “Heaven” is where all divine purposes have been realized, and there is no longer the need for change toward an objective.  The catalyst for this refinement of my ideas on original and fallen creation was a rereading of Paul’s discourse on the Resurrection in I Cor. 15, in which he details the radical contrast between the temporal bodies of the first humans and the eternal bodies that we will share with the resurrected Christ.  Part Two is an analysis of this passage, with application of the principles Paul enunciates to the larger matter of the radical difference between the temporal earth and our eternal dwelling place with God.

Image: By William Blake – William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7735228

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Freedom in Christ

 

A Twilight Musing 

By Elton Higgs 

            As on every July 4, we heard a lot earlier this week about “freedom,” which in the context of the holiday refers to the political freedom gained by the American colonies breaking away from an oppressive British government.  The justification for that action was eloquently and nobly expreessed by a Declaration of Independence.  However, “freedom” is often used more for its emotive content than its precise definition.  It frequently embodies a self-congratulatory attitude, as in identifying the U. S. as one of the nations of “the Free World.”  The term also commonly refers to the rights of individuals to do as they wish, being under no legal restrictions in making their choices, as in the popular catch-phrase, “a woman’s right to choose,” referring to abortion.  However, as the founders of our republic understood, the exercise of freedom requites a foundation of moral law.

The Bible has a great many references to freedom, but they are not primarily (and sometimes not at all) concerned with political or civil freedoms.  In fact, the concepts they convey are often counterintuitive to human reason, for, particularly in the New Testament, they are presenting the paradox of people who are apparently politically or personally free being in bondage, while the freedom that God wants to give His people is spoken of as slavery.  In fact, our fallen human condition means that we are enslaved in our natural state, and that our only deliverance from that bondage is to become slaves to Christ:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  (Rom 6:17-22)

This is worlds away from the idea of “freedom” as something we have a right to.  Jesus made this distinction clear when he imparted His radical truth to the Jewish leaders:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”   Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Freedom, Jesus tells them, is not something they can claim as a part of their “rights” as Israelites, children of Abraham.  Rather, it is something granted by the Son of God, completely His to give or withhold.  As Paul says, the only thing we fallen humans can claim as our “right” is death, whereas “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

It’s appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our “free” country, with its constitutionally defined Bill of Rights.  But no amount of political or personal freedom in the society of mankind can bring us the freedom that we most need, the God-defined and grace-granted freedom “from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).  Let us principally rejoice in that which makes us “free indeed.”

 

 

 

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Lord’s Supper Meditation – Food for the Body

A Twilight Musing

By Elton Higgs 

(See Num. 11:4-10; John 6:30-34, 48-51)

“We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:5b).

When we read in Numbers 11 the account of the Israelites complaining about the miraculous daily manna from heaven, we are amazed at their perversity in rejecting God’s miraculous daily supply of food for them.  How could they be so quickly desensitized to this miracle of God’s provision?  How could they fail to be thankful, even for the daily task of gathering the manna?  But before we are too critical of the Israelites, let us examine how we regard Christ’s body, the symbolic Bread of Heaven, presented to us in the Lord’s Supper.

There are significant associations in John 6 between the manna in the wilderness and Jesus as the Bread of Life.  He says that He is “the true bread of heaven,” and that His disciples must eat of His body and drink of His blood.  Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic implementation of this truth, for in it we are repeatedly refreshed with spiritual food from heaven.  Have we become blasé about this regular provision by God for our spiritual nourishment?  Are we bored with renewing our thanks for the gifts of God through Christ?  And, if so, are we not as profane and sacrilegious as the Israelites were?

We resent it when our children are not thankful for the food and other daily supplies that are so regular and abundant that, like spoiled brats, they take them for granted.  It is to guard against that kind of insensitivity that we habitually offer thanks at meal times.  One of the traditional names for the Lord’s Supper is Eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving.”  Each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we acknowledge and celebrate the supreme gift of Jesus Christ.  If in partaking of this feast we are not acutely aware of the faithfulness and sufficiency of God’s gifts, we, too, become petulant children, turning up our noses at the Bread of Heaven, God’s true, life-giving Manna.

When we partake of the bread, representing to us the body of Christ, we affirm the wondrous fact that our death-bound bodies have been transformed into receptacles of the Spirit of Life.  We have already died, and the life that we now live is Christ in us.  While we reside in this fallen world, His sinless human body becomes ours, too, and the Holy Spirit that dwells in us is our guarantee that we will also share in His resurrected body, after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil.”

We acknowledge our inability to feed ourselves spiritually every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper together, and we admit that we are all needy creatures, not worthy even to have the crumbs from God’s table.  But that attitude puts us in the right frame of mind to realize how privileged we are to be invited to eat and drink with Jesus.

The fare God offers here goes beyond even the miraculous manna in the wilderness and water pouring out of a rock. The new person in Christ must be fed by the Holy Spirit, who will produce in him or her the proper characteristics of the healthy new life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).  If these qualities are manifested in our lives, we know that we have truly communed together at the Lord’s table.

 Image: By Juan de Juanes – [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23065137

 

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What Women Want

By Tom Thomas 

King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere baffles him.  Like Arthur every other man is perplexed too.  We don’t know what makes her tick or what she wants.  In the Broadway play ‘Camelot’ King Arthur muses to himself.  He cannot figure Guinevere out.   I so identify with him.  King Arthur remembers Merlin the Magician teaching him about the animals.  Merlin turned him into a beaver to teach him about beavers.  Arthur says, ‘I should have had the whirl to change into a girl to learn the way the creatures think’.  ‘How to handle a woman?’  he wonders.  ‘Ah, yes’ he remembers.  Merlin said, ‘The way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, merely love her…’

The prolific crime and mystery novelist Ruth Rendell knew what woman want.  The hero in her novels is Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.  Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford exemplifies what woman want in man.  She used to get tons of female fans telling her they wanted to marry Chief Inspector Wexford.   Ruth knows the reason: Chief Inspector Wexford answers what woman want (1) he makes them laugh (2) he ‘likes women very much and always has time for them’. (W Post, Obituaries, May 3, 2015)

Jesus fulfills a woman’s deep want and need more than any man.  Why have so many women over history followed Him?   He did what Ruth Rendell said:  he shows he likes women.  A revolution occurred because He dignifies them.  He accepts women as having standing.  As men, Jesus gives women access to Himself.  He always has time for them.  He pays them attention.  I want to try to show how the account of Martha, Mary and Jesus makes this clear.   How their want of Him made Him the one thing necessary in their lives.

Jesus entered Martha and Mary’s village of Bethany.  Bethany is just over the crest of the Mt. of Olives.  Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus into her home.  Martha is the only woman I can think of who invited Jesus into her home.  Taking the initiative to do so took self- confidence.  It tells us she was friendly toward Jesus and his ministry.  Jesus did not decline Martha because she was a woman.  Perhaps Martha could do it because her home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples.

Martha’s sister Mary was also there.  When Jesus entered, Mary followed the Lord.  She took her place at His feet.  She begins listening to what he was saying.  This is radical.  Jewish teachers were generally opposed to women learning.  Jesus not only lets her sit at his feet. As we shall see, he expects her, a woman, to listen and learn.  This is still controversial in 2017.  The Taliban says the Moslem Quran does not allow women to be educated.  If Jesus entered your house, would you be sitting there with him?  Where was Martha?

Martha was ‘distracted.  She is overburdened by the various tasks of hosting guests.  She is anxious to provide a fine dinner and comfortable hospitality for her special guests.  Every host knows the tension between being with your company and attending to the ongoing preparation for dinner.  Guest’s hands and feet need washing; heads need oil; towels for drying;  fire for cooking tended; meat prepared and cooked; the vegetables, the bread, the deserts, and water drawn.  The tables have to be set with your best utensils and crockery/china.  The candles filled with oil and lit.  Flowers put in vases.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner as newlyweds Pam and I hosted my parents.  It was nerve-wracking for Pam.  Pam had never prepared a turkey in her life.  This was her first dinner for the in-laws.  She knew none of the recipes my parents enjoyed.  She baked a cake from scratch.  It was three layers.  When I cut the cake, it crumbled into bread crumbs.  She had iced the outside, but forgot to ice between the layers!

After all, Martha is entertaining Jesus!  The Prophet who taken the world by storm!  Martha is just plain stressed out.  She wants to give him an impressive dinner.  But she is feeling put upon.  With all that needs to be done, her sister is sitting there with Jesus.   Martha leaves her preparations and makes her way to Jesus.  If she appeals to Jesus, Jesus will tell Mary to help.  Mary will listen to the Master.  The Holy One will enlighten Mary to her injustice and selfishness. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?’ Tell her then to help me’.  ‘Tell her to do her share.’  Tell her to pitch in.  ‘Many hands make work light’ my mother would say.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha’.  Saying her name twice shows his strong interest in her.  There are many people around him but He considers her.  ‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  You’ve been thrown into undue disorder and trouble.  These ‘worldly’ matters are too much oppressing you.  Things have gotten out of perspective.   You’re in overload.  For a lot of people, life moves at a chaotic clip.  It’s an all too typical woman’s – yes, man’s too – but particularly a woman’s concern today.  She is working a stressful job; she’s trying to be a good mother/wife. Women typically bear the brunt of the responsibilities of family and home.  Maybe she is also taking a night class to work on her degree.  I heard of a single woman holding two jobs; her father had Alzheimer’s in a care facility; her mother who lives with her has a health issue; and she is raising children.  ‘Martha, Martha’.

Was Martha ‘multi-tasking’?  She was trying to juggle multiple tasks.  ‘Multitasking’ is our word for today for juggling the overload of many duties.  ‘Multitasking’ is doing two or more cognitively complex things at the same time.  Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a U of Penn neuroscientist, says ‘multitasking’ is a myth.  Yes, you can chew gum and watch the baby at the same time.  That’s not multitasking.  But you cannot make cordon Bleu and solve a problem with your boss on the phone at the same time. If you try to do them at the same time your brain has to switch back and forth constantly.  You do neither well.  Focusing on more than one complex task is virtually impossible.  If you’re a teen – or Tom Thomas – it is impossible!

‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  Are you too? Jesus continued. ‘But one is necessary’; ‘there is one need; ‘there is need of only one thing’.  Simplify.  ‘Mary has chosen the good portion’.  The word ‘portion’ connotes ‘food’.  Jesus puns, ‘Mary has chosen the better food.’    What food did Mary choose?  Jesus…the bread of life.  She chose to sit with and listen to Him.  What food did Martha choose?  The bread…of the kitchen.  Given the choice between life’s duties, responsibilities, vocations, and avocations and Jesus, Jesus  ranks above them all.  Which are you choosing?  Which is your practice?  Which is your first priority?   Is everything else second to Him?    What if Martha had done that? Driven, Type A people are asking who would have provided the beautiful arrangements of food and drink?  Better to have Jesus and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than a Better Homes and Garden banquet without him.   Jesus consistently messages this: to the rich young ruler: sell everything, give to the poor, then come and follow me; to the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus.  Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.’ Martha doesn’t realize who is in her midst.  Few people do.  In him is ‘the fullness of deity dwelling bodily’…the One who is before all things… ‘the one who is to have first place in everything’ .

Here is the man women want – the man women need; a man who likes women; loves women; wants them to learn from Him, to be with Him and He with them.  He would rather have Martha than a well- appointed home; He would rather have Martha than appetizing cuisine; He would rather have her than fine hospitality.  He wants Martha for herself; not for anything she can give him.  Where have you heard of such a man? Where have you heard of such a holy man, or spiritual leader?  Take the holy one the Buddha as an example.  The Buddha said to his disciple Ananda: ‘Women are stupid, Ananda; that is the reason, Ananda…why women have no place in public assemblies…’

Jesus shows as much interest in her as a man.  He invests in her worth: invites her to join his circle; wills her to be his disciple; believes she is just responsible as a man to God; just as capable of hearing, understanding and learning as a man.  This is a watershed for woman in history.

Women respond to Jesus.  He’s what they want.  He’s what they need.  They’ve heeded his word to Martha.  They have made Jesus their first portion –the one thing necessary.  He has fulfilled their deep want and need.  Probably in greater numbers in church history than men…in different ways: as wives…as mothers…a martyrs…as activists…as writers…as teachers…as evangelists…in mission…to great effect.  Perpetua was a 22 year old new mother.  She was imprisoned by the Romans with her infant for declaring she followed Christ.  The proconsul told her he would release her if she said, ‘Caesar is lord’.  Her father begged her to lie. She would not.  She said, ‘Jesus is Lord’.  She so wanted Jesus, when made to decide, she chose him above her father, her child, and her own life. Her witness lives on today.

Mademoiselle De La Mothe, better known as Madam Guyon, was a teenage girl in Paris.  She was smart and beautiful.  She was tall and well built.  She had a Grecian countenance, high forehead and brilliant eyes, and a noble sweetness.   She thought a lot of herself.  She spent a good part of the day in front of the mirror.  At 17, she fell deathly sick.  She was not expected to live.  As she languished, her sins haunted her.  She realized her self had been her religion.  She knew she was out of favor with God.  She recovered.  See sought God.  The only way she knew to try to get God’s acceptance was earn it:  she began to do good works.  It didn’t take away her sorrow for her sin.  Then she came to understand loving Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart.  Then she came to know personally Jesus Christ not by doing righteous works, but by faith.  Now, she said, ‘For I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ’ .  She was sorrowful of her wasted past.   Why was she so late in finding Jesus?  ‘Why’ she wondered, ‘have I known thee so late?  Alas, I sought you where you were not, and did not seek you where you were!’  She wrote the name of her Saviour in large characters and attached it to her person.  She wanted to be reminded continually of Him. She wrote poems and letters for Christ.  She influenced circles of Christians and mystic theologians like Francis Fenelon.

What do women want?  What do you want?  They want the One who accepts and honors them; the One who wants to be with them; who wants them to be in his company and they in his;  the One who loves them – they want Jesus Christ!  He is the one thing necessary.  Is He for you the One necessity?

 

 
Image by Georg Friedrich Stettner († 1639) – Van Ham Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, Link

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Our Double Baptism

A Twilight Musing 

by Elton Higgs 

 

We’re all familiar with the first baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist, who had to be assured that it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized, in order “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).  Jesus set the pattern of baptism as a mark of the beginning of the Life that God gives, and a special manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit after His baptism was seen as it descended “like a dove” and came “to rest on Him” (v. 16).  That was followed by a heavenly voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17), archetypically reflecting our purity before God as we begin our walk with Him.

But Jesus spoke of a second baptism that He had to undergo, concerning which He was anxious, even while He recognized its necessity:  “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Lk. 12:49-50).  He mentioned this baptism again when He responded to James’ and John’s request to have special seats of honor beside Jesus when He comes into His kingdom.  Jesus answered,

You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  And they said to him, “We are able.”  And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.  (Mk. 10:38-40)

This passage establishes a link between Jesus’ second baptism and the cup of suffering that He prayed fervently to be delivered from in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:39-46).  Obviously, Jesus saw His coming suffering as a second kind of baptism, and when we couple this with statements in the epistles about not only the inevitability but the appropriateness of suffering by followers of Jesus, we see that we, too, must expect to go through a second baptism.

John the Baptist seems to be contrasting the two baptisms when he says of Jesus, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-12).  I take the reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be the water baptism that Peter promised his hearers in Acts 2:38 would be accompanied by “the gift of the Holy Spirit”; and the baptism in fire to be the second baptism, the suffering that purifies and tempers and makes stronger the character of Christians.  Submitting to the first baptism is cause for rejoicing and praising God, and new Christians are often appropriately exuberant, feeling the reality of having been cleansed from all sin.  But just as Jesus had to go through a second and very different baptism before His walk on this earth was done, so we who follow Him must embrace the baptism of suffering that brings us to maturity in Christ.

Jesus tried to instruct His Twelve Disciples about what lay ahead for Him (and them), but they were obtuse and spiritually insensitive.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Mark 8:31-33)

Believers often share Peter’s resistance to the progression from the joy of the first baptism to the second baptism of mature suffering.  It’s significant that later on, after many years of leadership in the early church, Peter speaks with great perceptiveness about the fire of the second baptism: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (I Pet. 4:12-14).

So, just as Jesus experienced His first baptism and the accompanying endowment of the Holy Spirit as the beginning of a new life of service and ministry, so we who confess faith in Him experience the rite of baptism and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as a joyful entry into our new life with God.  But God also calls us to share His Son’s experience of the second baptism, which is the necessary entrance into the completion of God’s purposes for our lives on earth.  Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer with Him (“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” [Jn. 15:20]), and those who preached the Gospel afterward also made clear that confessing Christ and being baptized in water will eventually, as the believer matures, lead to a second baptism of suffering.   Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).  And again: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).

What a pregnant clause, “It has been granted to you.”  The gift of suffering in the likeness of Christ is as much a manifestation of God’s grace as the gifts of eternal life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we received in our first baptism as new believers.  The second baptism in the fire of trial is redemptive rather than destructive only because our Savior has been there before us and sanctified our suffering.  He was willing to be born in the flesh so that He could be anointed in power in His first baptism; and He was willing to submit to the “second baptism” of innocent suffering and death for the sake of all mankind.  It is following his path from baptism in water to baptism in fire that marks us as fully redeemed children of God and sisters and brothers of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

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What Happened to James

By Tom Thomas 

What happened to James?  James was our Lord’s brother.  Sometime after Jesus’ death, James was known for being on his knees praying.  Before Jesus’ death James was known for his unbelief.  Before I get to James, let me ask you this:  what happened to David Wood?  What happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians?  What do any of these questions have to do with the resurrection?

David Wood’s dog was hit by a bus and died. His mother was terribly upset. David was not. It was just a dog.   A few years later his friend died.  He felt no sorrow.  He saw how others were feeling and sensed maybe he should feel sorrow.  David was separated from his feelings.  He couldn’t empathize with others.  He was diagnosed a sociopath.  On top of this, David was an atheist.  Right and wrong didn’t matter to him.  One day David’s life came into focus.  He brutally attacked his father and beat him with a hammer until he thought him dead (he wasn’t).  He was imprisoned for ten years.  David is now a missionary, reconciled with his father, and has an earned Ph. D. from Fordham University.  What happened to him?

Before I answer this question and the one about James, let me ask you this:  what happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians?  Let me refresh you regarding Saul.  Saul was a contemporary of Jesus’ apostles.  He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin.  From the age five Saul was strictly educated in the Old Testament law.  At age of thirteen, he studied Scripture under the Jewish scholar Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the Alan Derschowitz Harvard law professor of the day.  He prepared Saul to teach the law. Saul became so zealous for the law he surpassed his Pharisee peers.  He would even kill for the Law.

In fact, Saul took a leading role in hounding the church.  He went to Christians’ houses.  He hauled them – even women – to prison.  Saul said, ‘I was violently persecuting the church of God’…I ‘was trying to destroy it’ (Gal 1: 13).  He took cool pleasure in the stoning of preacher Stephen.  He held the coats for others to throw stones. (Acts 8:1)

Then, suddenly, something happened.  People said, ‘He who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy?’(Gal 1:23)Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem…?” believers asked (Act 9:21) He now goes by the name of Paul.  He testifies in the synagogues Jesus ‘is the Son of God’.  He argues Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:22) What gives?  How could one so passionately against Jesus turn so  for him?  This brings me to James.

What happened to James?  In 2002 an archaeological discovery was made.  A first century ossuary box was uncovered.  An ossuary box contains the bones of a deceased person.  This box had this inscription on it, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.’  Whether or not it is authentic is still being studied.  No matter, Jesus had four brothers, one whose name was James.  Not a lot is known about James. James was the physical son of Joseph and Mary.    He, his brothers, and mother Mary traveled with Jesus early in his ministry.  But Jesus did not win him over.  There was conflict between Jesus, James and his brothers.  They did not believe him.  They thought anybody can claim to be a Messiah in the country where few see him.  ‘If you do Messiah works, show the world’.  Prove yourself.  Do your miracles in D.C., not in Tight Squeeze!  Jesus went to his grave with his brother James a skeptic.

But what happened to James?  The next thing you hear James is on his knees praying.  He is with his mother Mary and Jesus’ disciples in the upper room.  Ancient testimony says James was frequently found on his knees begging forgiveness for people.  His knees were hard like a camel’s.  James is now called ‘James the Righteous’.  He is the leader of the Jerusalem church.  On account of Jesus, James was stoned in 62 AD.  What happened to James? Once a skeptic …now a martyr.

Here’s the answer:  Take Paul first:  he saw the risen Jesus Christ.  At midday when traveling to Damascus a light shone on him.  The light was brighter than the sun and encircled him.  He heard the Voice speak to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’(Acts 26: 14)  Paul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’  ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 9: 5) Paul testified, Jesus ‘appeared also to me.’  ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ Paul asked (1 Cor 9:1).  Seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus instantaneously turned Saul around.  The resurrected Jesus turned Saul into Paul.

What happened to David Wood?  In prison he ran into Randy, a Christian. Randy articulated his reasons for believing in Jesus.  It made David’s unbelief seem silly. David wanted to refute Randy’s faith. So David began reading the Bible. Jesus’ resurrection bothered him.  Why would the disciples risk death to testify to the resurrection if they didn’t believe it? He also read in the Bible Jesus is the resurrection and the life; the Son of God can set you free.  David knew he had many psychological, spiritual, and moral disorders.  He couldn’t help himself. Who could? Only Jesus, the One God raised, could.

What happened to James, the Lord’s skeptical brother?  The apostle Paul gives the answer:  ‘Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he …appeared to James…’ (1 Cor 15: 7)  Our risen Lord Jesus appeared to James!  The risen Lord Jesus revealed himself to his brother.  Jesus Christ showed himself visibly, bodily to James and to Paul.  Nothing else would reverse a James.  Nothing else would reverse a Saul:  not hallucinations; not delusions; not mental dreams; not a myth; not conversion disorder or any combination thereof.   Jesus appeared bodily, visibly.  Our risen Lord turned James the skeptic into James the Just!!  The bodily risen Jesus transformed Saul into Paul.  The meditation on Jesus’ resurrection in concert with the risen Jesus radically changed a sociopath into a missionary.  For nothing else would they have endured and kept true:  through insults, ridicule, rejection, mockery, beatings, suffering, and martyrdom: Paul beheaded and James stoned.

You too can know the risen Lord Jesus.  He says, ‘Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.’ Let Him in.*

*Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona’s book,  The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus has been an instrumental resource in the above.                                              

 

Image: “Ossuary of James the Brother of Jesus” CC License.