Proverbs

A Tale of Two Creations?

Are there two creation stories in the book of Genesis?  This has long been a viewpoint espoused by many Old Testament scholars, but is finding increasing popularity among non-scholars as well.  Moreover, it is increasingly believed that the alleged two stories are mutually contradictory, that they cannot both be true.  While there are some other parts of the Bible that I cannot explain, I do think the “two creations” interpretation of the beginning of Genesis is clearly false. (more…)

How the Trump-News Feud Hurts America

Everyone who reads the news, or only the President’s twitter feed, knows that there is a major feud between the occupant of the Oval Office and the editors of every mainstream news organization in this country.  In a tweet, President Trump even declared the press:

“Fake news,” of course, was originally the battle-cry of the mainstream media against alternative sites such as the pro-Trump Breitbart news, a weapon which Trump has now turned on its makers.  But the mainstream media is not above the fray: major news outlets have consistently offered the reporting to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency, even a month after his inauguration.

In a recent press conference (which the news media reported was 77 minutes long!) President Trump mentioned that he was enjoying the give and take with the news media, even as he expected them to publish that he was “ranting” (which the media duly characterized him as doing).  It does not surprise me, given what we know of the president’s career and conversational style, that he enjoys some conflict and competion.  And he probably knows that his public feud with the media is good for keeping his name on the front page: this is apparently no presidency to become “boring.”  It probably even helps the mainstream media with page views, even as it panders to Trump’s political supporters (a smaller group than those who voted for him).  So it’s a win-win situation, right?

The only problem is that it is bad for America as a whole. (more…)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

One of my favorite Christian songs is the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and I was delighted some years ago to learn that it was originally in Latin.  Having learned Latin, I am still very fond of the familiar version we sing in church, but that translation (like all translations from verse into verse) necessarily adjusts the meaning to fix the meter.  So for Advent this year, I thought I would provide the hymn’s Latin words with a very literal translation into English prose, not to be sung, but so that the song may be better understood. The Latin text was taken, with minor adjustments of punctuation, from here. (more…)

The Golden Rule for Eggheads?

I should start this post with the caveat that I am not anti-intellectual, and don’t think I ever could be.  I’m an academic, after all; I live by thinking about things (okay, and to teach things).  On the other hand, I reject the intellectual idolatry of much of academia.  So don’t read this post, or the previous post about how God chooses the foolish things to put the wise to shame, as taking a stand against intellectual pursuits.  They are merely reminders that thinking about things, while important, is not most important.

My wife, after reading that earlier post, reminded me of an amusing and oddly appropriate memory lapse I made as a brand new convert to Christianity: (more…)

Once Saved, Always Calvinist?

One doctrinal formula which Calvinists bandy about and non-Calvinists like to mock is “once saved, always saved.”  Like almost all doctrinal formulas, this one is shorthand for a longer assertion.  It’s easy to expand it to “once a person has been saved, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.”  But that formulation still presumes that we know what we’re talking about when we say someone “is saved.”  Although this language is often used, especially among American evangelicals since the 19th C, I don’t think “saved” can meaningfully be used as an adjective as it always is, or even as an absolute verb (i.e. a verb without additional specification of the predicate).  Now, some folks who know their Bibles really well will immediately point out that the apostles used the word “saved” in various contexts without adding additional specification (Eph 2:5 and 8 come to mind).  But we must always ask, in every context, “What is the subject of the sentence saved from?”

Since the notion of “once saved, always saved” has come up recently in a few places, I thought I would re-post here an (edited) email I wrote back in 2010 in answer to a question from a friend.  First, his question:

What does it mean to be “saved”? Is it a once-and-for-all thing, or a lifelong process, or what? A fellow who grows up a believer and manifests all the signs of a Christian and then in, say, his late teens turns away from the faith: is he saved?

(more…)

Proverbs

I appreciate the book of Proverbs.  I didn’t always; it wasn’t always intuitive to me what I was reading.  The proverbs themselves seem to hold out various promises, and yet they clearly were not absolute rules.  (Indeed, I, like all converts, am a counter-example to Prov. 22:6.)  So what are they?  A number of years ago I started compiling a list of common English proverbs, to the tune of “A penny saved is a penny earned,” which helped me see the value of this book of wisdom.

Prompted by a post on another blog, I have included here a number of proverbs that have struck me previously, some seriously, some humorously, with brief comment.

I.

“Where there is no guidance, the people fall, / But in abundance of counselors, there is victory.” (Prov 11:14, NASB)

I’m a younger sibling, so I take this proverb to heart.  I have watched many other people charge ahead without first asking advice, and often regretting it.  In consequence, I like to ask people for advice regarding important decisions.  I make no express or implied warrant that I will follow any advice, but I am happy to ask (and less happy to receive advice unasked-for).

Of course, the proverb speaks of “abundance of counselors,” and what one usually learns when one asks for advice from even two people is that they don’t agree.  Professional advice in particular I have found to be often diametrically opposed, though personal advice often diverges.  Why is that?  When people give you advice, their counsel most often reflects their own experiences of what worked and did not work for them.  Most advice has no greater validity than that.  And this is where the proverb’s “abundance” comes in: if one can ask many people, they will not all agree.  But they will give you a broader range of human experience than just your own experience.  My own inclinations also reflect only my own experiences, and have no broader validity than that!  So asking for others’ advice allows me to identify if something surprising always works, or always fails, or has mixed results which might be managed in some way.  It’s not rocket science, but it can be helpful.

II.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, / But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov 13:12, NASB)

“Desire realized is sweet to the soul, / But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.” (Prov. 13:19, NASB)

The first of these proverbs always make me think of the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes (also known as “A Dream Deferred”).  Christianity, somewhere along the line, got an odd reputation for being against any sort of fun or pleasure.  Some people’s distorted view of God is as a giant killjoy.  But apart from clear evidence in creation and prophecy that God knows how to have a good time, these proverbs also tell us that we long for things, and when we get them we do better (caveat to follow).  Putting off our longings, perpetually missing out on what we hope for, is hard, and not good for us.  Getting what we want is, at some level good for us.

(Now for the caveat.)  As the second part of the second proverb shows, however, we often want the wrong thing.  So when our desires are “disordered” (to use the jargon of Catholic moral theology) or “messed up” (means the same thing), then getting what we want may in fact do us harm.  This is the point of another proverb, which early in my post-conversion life indicated to me that we cannot trust people to know what is best for them:

“There is a way which seems right to a man, / But its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12, NASB)

If people cannot be trusted to know what is best for them, this places limits on individual autonomy (because most people don’t in fact seek counselors, as described in I. above) and calls into question the moral virtue of permitting people to go their own way.   But that’s a digression for another time, if I ever feel inspired to write on political economy.

For my purposes now, it suffices to show that the problem with fulfilling our bad desires, as indicated in the second half of Prov. 13:19 or in Prov. 14:12, is not that we are fulfilling desires, but that we’re stupid.  It’s not a problem of having desires, as if it would be virtuous to desire nothing (a frequent teaching in certain varieties of Buddhism and sometimes Hinduism), but of desiring the wrong object.  We need to learn to direct out desires to good things, above all to God who gave us good desires in order to delight us with satisfying them!  We are not called to be Stoics; we are called not to be idolaters, substituting bad things for the good that God made us to desire.

III.

“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, / But much increase comes by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4, NASB)

When I first came across this, as a new convert to Christianity, it shocked me.  It seems to directly contradict the common English saying (or perhaps only common American saying?), “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  Indeed, it approaches, though without the connotations of violence, “You can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.”  I had never liked “cleanliness is next to godliness,” as it sounded judgmental and I didn’t like doing chores, but when I became a Christian I was resigned to accept that as part of package.  Coming across this proverb revealed to me that there are more important things than being tidy.  I mean, I suppose most people like to appear “put together” and like they “have their ducks in a row,” but sometimes real good interferes with those appearances.  Sometimes in order to get something done, something really good, I need to “get my hands dirty.”

IV.

On a much lighter note:

“In all labor there  is profit, / But mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Prov. 14:23, NASB)

As a soon-to-be teacher, I marvel that the Bible explains so clearly why teachers don’t get paid much.