The New Testament is indeed a book full of hope, but we may search it in vain for any vague humanist optimism. The second coming of Christ, the second irruption of eternity into time, will be immediate, violent, and conclusive. The human experiment is to end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary will disappear before the permanent, and the king will be seen for who he is. The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God's archangel - these may all be picture-language, but they are pictures of something sudden, catastrophic, and decisive. By no stretch of the imagination do they describe a gradual process. . .
. . . In my judgment, the description which Christ gave of the days that were to come before his return is more accurately reproduced in this fear-ridden age than ever before in human history. Of course we do not know the times and the season, but at least we can refuse to be deceived by the current obsession for physical security in the here-and-now. While we continue to pray and work for the spread of the kingdom in this transitory world, we know that its center of gravity is not here at all. When God decides that the human experiment has gone on long enough, yes, even in the midst of what appears to us confusion and incompleteness, Christ will come again.
This is what the New Testament teaches. This is the message of Advent. It is for us to be alert, vigilant, and industrious, so that his coming will not be a terror but an overwhelming joy.
God created things which had free will. That means creatures can go either wrong or right. Some people think that they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata - of creatures that worked like machines - would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which god designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He though it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cuttng off the branch you are sitting on...
[Regarding Satan's Deception of Man] What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods' - could set up on their own as if they had created themselves - be their own masters - invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery - the long terrible story of man trying to find something outher than God which will make him happy.The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now god designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was - that there was only one of Him and that he cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament give an account of the hammering process.
Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time...One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgive offenses against himself. You tread on my toe and I forvie you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in history.
Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is 'humble and meek' and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)
"The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy . . . Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, then there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same."
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend's talkative wife (turning up when he forward to a tete-a-tete with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own.' Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
The right to go to war concerns the justification that a nation must give in order for it to have a moral right to wage war on another. Augustine laid the basis for four main criteria:
1. Just Authority - is the decision to go to war based on a legitimate political and legal process?
2. Just Cause - has a wrong been committed to which war is the appropriate response? 3. Right Intention - is the response proportional to the cause? i.e. is the war action limited to righting the wrong, and no further. When people speak of "mission creep," this condition is the relevant concern. 4. Last Resort - has every other means of righting the wrong been attempted sincerely so that no other option but war remains?
The conduct of war is clearly a matter of moral concern. Even when a nation is justified in waging war on another, there are moral limits on what it may do in prosecuting the war. Defining and enforcing such limits has been a long a concern for international agreement and law.
1. Proportionality - The proportionality of the use of force in a war. The degree of allowable force used in the war must be measured against the force required to correct the Just cause and limited by Just Intention (see Jus Ad Bellum). 2. Discrimination -The combatants discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Innocent, nonmilitary people should never be made the target of attacks. 3. Responsibility - A country is not responsible for unexpected side effects of its military activity as long as the following three conditions are met: (a) The action must carry the intention to produce good consequences. (b) The bad effects were not intended. (c) The good of the war must outweigh the damage done by it.
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The commander was neither for Joshua nor for his enemies. He was for God and God's purposes. God is not on one side or the other. God is on His side and He is most concerned with His own purposes being carried out. If that is the case, then I think about the Christians in Syria who are being attacked, the weak and the defenseless, children, and the elderly. I think about those who do not want this war but this violence has been unleased on them anyway. I think about what God wants to do here in the midst of geopolitical meltdown in the Middle East from Libya to Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Praying for peace right now.
Perhaps the position of Christians when asked whose side we are on should be the same as the commander of the Army of the Lord. Neither. We are wanting to see God glorified and His will be done. We want peace and justice and the innocent to be protected, but we do not see a way through this mess, so we pray. We are citizens of a different Kingdom and are aliens and strangers in this world. As for me, in my American citizenship, I am not in favor of striking Syria at this time based on what we know. The Rebels that will be emboldened and empowered by an attack on Assad seem to be just as bad as he is. The whole situation seems like the worst kind of quicksand and the unintended consequences of effectively throwing our lot in with the Rebels concerns me greatly. Civil Wars are always incredibly complicated and this one seems to be more complicated than most.
But, as a Christian, I believe that neutrality is called for - not neutrality when it comes to dealing with evil, but when one side is just as bad as the other, I am not sure that we should be on either side. Protecting civilians? Yes. Aiding and abetting the Rebels? Not so much.
Prayer for our leaders to have wisdom and to act with justice needs to come from the Church to God. Prayer for the helpless and the refugees in Syria. Prayer for those being killed in the horror of war. We follow the Prince of Peace. We should pray and work for peace. When peace is not possible, we should pray that whatever course of action that is taken should be done with the utmost integrity and desire for justice. But, our main goal should be peace. On the surface, it appears that the boxes on Augustine's Just War Doctrine can be checked off by what President Obama is proposing. But, what lies under the surface of the hearts of men? What are the real motives? Is there any such thing as a "good war"? Who gains from this and what drives this push for war? We can make judgments, but at the end of the day, only God knows. We do what others cannot or will not do when we cry out to God and put this in His hands. We pray and trust what is said in Proverbs 21:1: "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes."
Scripture says that the state was established to bear the sword to punish wrongdoing (Romans 13:1-5). I am not a strict pacifist. There is a role for the state to protect its people and the weak and to punish evil. I do not deny that. If we get involved in this, there should be a stated goal/purpose and we should act decisively and quickly and the blowback could be severe. If we sit it out, the carnage will likely continue. But, the future loss of life from the toppling of Assad including the rise of Al Quaeda in Syria causes me to be against this.
What do you think?
It goes something like this: When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does. The way he gives us our daily bread is through the vocations of farmers, millers, and bakers. We might add truck drivers, factory workers, bankers, warehouse attendants, and the lady at the checkout counter. Virtually every step of our whole economic system contributes to that piece of toast you had for breakfast. And when you thanked God for the food that he provided, you were right to do so.God could have chosen to create new human beings to populate the earth out of the dust, as he did with the first man. But instead, he chose to create new life-which, however commonplace, is no less miraculous-by means of mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, the vocations of the family.
God protects us through the vocations of earthly government, as detailed in Romans 13. He gives his gifts of healing usually not through out-and-out miracles (though he can) but by means of the medical vocations. He proclaims his word by means of human pastors. He teaches by means of teachers. He creates works of beauty and meaning by means of human artists, whom he has given particular talents. . . .
. . . . God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid, said Luther. According to Luther, vocation is a "mask of God." He is hidden in vocation. We see the milkmaid, or the farmer, or the doctor or pastor or artist. But, looming behind this human mask, God is genuinely present and active in what they do for us . . .
. . . . For a Christian, conscious of vocation as the mask of God, all of life, even the most mundane facets of our existence, become occasions to glorify God. Whenever someone does something for you-brings your meal at a restaurant, cleans up after you, builds your house, preaches a sermon-be grateful for the human beings whom God is using to bless you and praise him for his unmerited gifts. Do you savor your food? Glorify God for the hands that prepared it. Are you moved by a work of art-a piece of music, a novel, a movie? Glorify God who has given such artistic gifts to human beings.
Of course, that vocation is a mask of God means that God also works through you, in your various callings. That God is hidden in what we do is often obscured by our own sinful and selfish motivations. But that does not prevent God from acting.