Where Can I Hide From God?

I love this passage from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which the great Reformation theologian expounds upon the sensus divinitatis — the “sense of the divine” — which exists within every human mind. Calvin argues that even those who most despise God are unable to escape the awareness of divinity which is “engraved upon men’s minds”:

If, indeed, there were some in the past, and today not a few appear, who deny that God exists, yet willy-nilly they from time to time feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe. One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus — albeit unwillingly — he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf.

Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams. The imious themselves therefore exemplify the fact that some conception of God is ever alive in all men’s minds.

The Discourse of a Gentleman

Here’s what Cardinal John Henry Newman had to say about the conduct of a gentleman in the mid 19th Century:

The gentleman has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome… He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a longsighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice… If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds, who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candour, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits.

This is from Cardinal Newman’s collection of lectures entitled The Idea of A University, published in 1858 and quoted in Mark Coppenger’s recent book Moral Apologetics for Contemporary ChristiansA century and a half later, I find his thoughts to be both edifying and convicting. I certainly fall far short of this standard, but it is a standard worthy of aspiration!

Put Your Hard Hat On

Many thanks to my wife who pointed out this helpful snippet from her daily devotional (in the June issue of Tabletalk Magazine):

God is building us into His holy temple, but that does not mean we lack a role in the construction process. Unlike regeneration, sanctification is a cooperative work between the Holy Spirit and us (Phil. 2:12-13). Because of His work, we strive unto holiness in this life, and our efforts to mortify sin evidence that we are indwelt by the Spirit and truly belong to Jesus. We prove our election as we seek to live as holy people in this world.

The Genesis of Pop

Today I want to share with you a short passage from T. David Gordon’s new book, “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal”. Gordon, a media ecologist, is not re-hashing the tired “worship war” debates between traditional hymns and praise choruses, but is rather making a case for more serious reflection on why and how we choose the songs that we use in our corporate worship services.

In the chapter dealing with meta-messages (“nonverbal messages that go along with our actual words”), Gordon makes a convincing argument that when churches borrow the musical idioms of pop culture for our hymns and praise choruses, we communicate a nonverbal message that the content of our worship songs is insignificant. Of particular interest to me was the following section (found on pages 66-68) on the origin and purpose of pop music (all italics and parentheses are his):

Commercial interests joined forces with mass media (originally radio, but later television also) to create pop music; it did not exist before. Pop music is a form of music designed to appeal, in some way, to the masses. If there were no mass media, pop music would not and could not really exist. Once it exists, however, it serves commercial purposes. Businesses purchase airtime to advertise their products, and they want to sell many products. Therefore, the fee structure for commercial advertisement is based on the size of the audience; stations with large audiences can command higher prices than those with small audiences. But no one tunes in to a radio or television station for the commercials; we tune in for the programming.

So there’s this very basic tension in all commercial broadcasting. The broadcasters and their advertisers are interested in the commercials; the audience is interested in the programming. As long as both parties are content to put up with the interests of the others, everyone is happy. But because the advertisers want a large audience, the producers of the programs must make them easily accessible to the population at large. They cannot produce programming that is profoundly offensive, and they cannot produce programming that is difficult to follow, programming that requires a steep learning curve. So what do they produce? Programming that is fairly insignificant. In the case of music, they produce music that does not require concentrated effort to appreciate, preferring instead music that is fairly simply and straightforward. In short, they produce music that is fairly insignificant, trivial, or banal. It cannot, ordinarily, last an hour (as a symphony with four movements might), and it cannot be musically demanding. For commercial reasons, therefore, pop culture and pop music cannot be either beautiful or ugly; pop music must be easy, and therefore it must be fairly inconsequential. Demanding pieces of music, such as the string quartets of Béla Bartók, would be commercial disasters.

But now, is worship inconsequential, trivial, or insignificant? Is meeting with God a casual, inconsequential activity, or a significant one? Is religious faith itself insignificant? If the music or lyrics of our hymns are insignificant or inconsequential, do they not send the wrong meta-message? Does not their very commonness, their mundaneness, their everydayness, their inconsequentiality suggest precisely the wrong thing? The lyrics of a hymn might say, “Holy, holy, holy,” but the music might say, “Ho-hum, ho-hum, ho-hum.” In such a case, the meta-message competes with and contradicts the message. Neil Postman rightly said*: “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.” So what is at stake is the kind of religion presented in music that is easy, trivial, light, inconsequential, mundane, or everyday. The very existence of the expression sacred music once conveyed the notion that some music was different from other music, intentionally different, differently precisely because it was devoted to a sacred (not a common) cause.

* The Neil Postman quote is from his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”, page 121.

Beautiful as a Pig’s Snout

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” ~ Proverbs 11:22

Another August has brought another heat wave. Invariably, it will also bring out the very latest in ladies’ revealing fashion trends. I remember well the difficulty I had as a college student keeping my eyes from straying when all the pretty girls would lay out tanning on campus. In just a few short weeks, many other Christian guys will be faced with the same temptations when TTU gets back in session. Even now, the young men from our youth group are undoubtedly dealing with similar struggles at the high schools.

So how do guys resist our lust? First of all, it really helps when our Christian sisters choose to dress modestly. It’s bad enough that we are tempted by girls who don’t know any better. We don’t need those who should be our biggest supporters tempting us, too! When we see our sisters resisting society’s pressure to wear what the world wears, it gives us encouragement and strength to resist our sinful desires as well.

Still, the fact remains that every guy is going to be faced with temptation. Even if every Christian girl on campus dressed appropriately, there would still be plenty of skin to look at. No matter how strong our desire to resist may be, our flesh is so weak. Every guy is tempted. Every guy sins. If anyone says he has no sin, he is lying (1 John 1:8).

What we need are weapons to fight temptation. And we DO have those weapons, provided by God himself. God is faithful, and he will not let us be tempted beyond our ability to resist. Though he allows our temptation, he also provides the way of escape, so that we are able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

And what is the greatest weapon we have against evil desires? Proper desires. When Satan tempts us with the desires of the world, we must find our refuge in the desires of Holy God. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ~ Romans 12:21

It is by God’s Word, spoken to our hearts by his Spirit, that we discern his desires. When faced with the temptation of what the world recognizes as beautiful, we must hold to a still higher standard of beauty. To God’s eyes, it is not a woman’s clothing or appearance which makes her beautiful, but that which is hidden in her heart. The imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is very precious in God’s sight! (1 Peter 3:3-4)

The more time we spend in God’s Word, and speaking with him in prayer, the more our minds will be transformed, and our wills conformed to his, as we put on the new self which is created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24). Rather than simply having to “turn off” our sinful desires, we find that our desires themselves have changed! And as we begin to desire what God desires, we find that the things we desire in women are not what they once were.

Brothers, it’s time to stop chasing after the fleeting beauty which the world craves, and to value in our sisters (and especially in our wives, for those of us who have them) the things which God desires.

Sisters, make it your ambition to be a woman who is beautiful in God’s eyes. Then, the men you will attract will be the men who share the Lord’s desires. They’re the real keepers.

Laurie, YOU are my standard of beauty!

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” ~ Proverbs 31:30