Under The Aspect Of Eternity

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Lightness of Being, by Chris Levine, 2004

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly.”

1 Corinthians 1:26–31

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.


Rick WilcoxEngland’s Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. By all accounts she has held her role with deep regard for its responsibility to history and the British people.  She is famously private and guarded of her personal beliefs and emotions.

In 2004, artist Chris Levine, while commissioned to take her official portrait, caught the image shown here in between takes as she rested her eyes.  The meditative state of repose is engaging because it makes her somehow more accessible, more human.  We can almost sense her thoughts.  If you know a little about her, you might know of her beloved Corgis. The dogs have been associated with the Royal Family for years. Queen Elizabeth says she enjoys her Corgis because they don’t know she is Queen.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” wrote Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, and we get it.  It’s the feeling of modern adulthood. We are jugglers, plate spinners and multi-taskers in the kingdom of our own making.  No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with props and material possessions to make us feel successful and accomplished, we all know that, as Montaigne said, “on the loftiest throne in the world we are still only sitting on our own rump.”

The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit (loosely, “falling-to-pieces-ness”).  This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom.”  When external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then life can lose coherence and direction if there isn’t a strong internal structure.

It’s what happens when we make ourselves our own God.

The folly of this lifestyle can only be remedied by seeing the world through God’s eyes – sub specie aeternitatis – under the aspect of eternity.

In plain talk, what that means is that only God’s perspective matters. Regardless of what other people think of us (good or bad) or what society says is right or wrong, the only measure of our life is how obedient we are to God.

All of the importance and significance we seek in pleasures and material possessions is completely misplaced.  We are the pinnacle of God’s creation and our self worth is realized through the reconciliation of grace back into His fellowship.

 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Sub specie aeternitatis

Latin for “under the aspect of eternity”, is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality.

In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means “from the perspective of the eternal”. Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.

Spinoza’s “eternal” perspective is reflected in his Ethics (Part V, Prop. XXIII, Scholium), where he treats ethics through a geometric investigation that begins with God and nature and then analyzes human emotions and the human intellect. By proceeding sub specie aeternitatis, Spinoza seeks to arrive at an ethical theory that is as precise as Euclid’s Elements. In the history of philosophy, this way of proceeding may be most clearly contrasted with Aristotle’s manner of proceeding. Aristotle’s methodological differences in his “philosophy of human affairs” and his natural philosophy are grounded in the distinction between what is “better known to us” and things “better known in themselves,” or what is “first for us” and what is “first by nature” (discussed, among other places, at Metaphysics Z.3, 1029b3–12), a distinction that is deliberately discarded by Spinoza and other modern philosophers.

 

 

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

GENEALOGY OF MORALS

FIRST ESSAY
GOOD AND EVIL, GOOD AND BAD

Is there anyone who would like to take a little look down on and under that secret how man fabricates an ideal on earth? Who has the courage for that? Come on, now! Here is an open glimpse into this dark workshop. Just wait a moment, my dear Mr. Presumptuous and Nosy: your eye must first get used to this artificial flickering light. . . . So, enough! Now speak! What’s going on down there? Speak up. Say what you see, man of the most dangerous curiosity—now I’m the one who’s listening.—
“I see nothing, but I hear all the more. It is a careful and crafty light rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. It seems to me that people are lying; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Weakness is going to be falsified into something of merit. There’s no doubt about it—things are just as you said they were.”
—Keep talking!
“And powerlessness which does not retaliate is being falsified into ‘goodness,’ anxious baseness into ‘humility,’ submission before those one hates to ‘obedience’ (of course, obedience to the one who, they say, commands this submission—they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weak man, even cowardice, in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his inevitable need to wait around—here these acquire good names, like ‘patience’ and are called virtue. That incapacity for revenge is called the lack of desire for revenge, perhaps even forgiveness (‘for they know not what they do—only we know what they do!’). And people are talking about ‘love for one’s enemy’—and sweating as they say it.”
—Keep talking!
“They are miserable—there’s no doubt about that—all these rumour mongers and counterfeiters in the corners, although crouched down beside each other in the warmth—but they are telling me that their misery is God’s choice, His sign. One beats the dog one loves the most. Perhaps this misery may be a preparation, a test, an education, perhaps it is even more—something that will one day be rewarded and paid out with huge interest in gold, no, in happiness. They call that ‘blessedness.’ ”
—Go on!
“Now they are telling me that they are not only better than the powerful, the masters of the earth, whose spit they have to lick (not out of fear, certainly not out of fear, but because God commands that they honour those in authority)—they are not only better than these but they also are ‘better off,’ or at any rate will one day have it better. But enough! Enough! I can’t endure it any more. Bad air! Bad air! This workshop where man fabricates ideals—it seems to me it stinks from nothing but lies.”
—No! Just wait a minute more! So far you haven’t said anything about the masterpiece of these black magicians who know how to make whiteness, milk, and innocence out of every blackness. Have you not noticed the perfection of their sophistication, their most daring, refined, most spiritual, most fallacious artistic attempt. Pay attention! These cellar animals full of vengeance and hatred—what are they making right now out of that vengeance and hatred? Have you ever heard these words? If you heard only their words, would you suspect that you were completely among men of resentment?
“I understand. Once again I’ll open my ears (oh! oh! oh! and hold my nose). Now I’m hearing for the first time what they’ve been saying so often: ‘We good men—we are the righteous’—what they demand they don’t call repayment but ‘the triumph of righteousness.’ What they hate is not their enemy. No! They hate ‘injustice,’ ‘godlessness.’ What they believe and hope is not a hope for revenge, the intoxication of sweet vengeance (something Homer called ‘sweeter than honey’) but the victory of God, the righteous God, over the godless. What remains for them to love on earth are not their brothers in hatred but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous people on the earth.”
—And what do they call what serves them as a consolation for all the suffering of life—their phantasmagoria of future blessedness which they are expecting?
“What that? Am I hearing correctly? They call that ‘the last judgment,’ the coming to their kingdom, the coming of ‘God’s kingdom’—but in the meanwhile they live ‘in faith,’ ‘in love,’ ‘in hope.’ ”
—Enough! Enough!

JAMES 1:13–15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.


Rick WilcoxHere is sin’s dirty little secret – seduction requires collusion.  From Goethe’s Faust to Kierkegaard’s Repetition literature is filled with dealing with the Devil. The heart of every sin is idolatry because it all comes back to us trying to be our own god. Sadly, the real desires we are working to fulfill are God-given and come with a perfect path of fulfillment, but we usually aren’t willing to either wait or follow direction. Augustine said temptation has three stages – suggestion, imagined pleasure and consent. We get into trouble with step two.

If you earnestly want to be in a loving relationship with God, He’s ready and able to help. If you would rather shut God out and serve yourself, there’s a darker voice who will encourage you to open the cracked door. Just remember, it’s your choice. As Nietzsche said, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

At his best, which by any measure is most of the time and in his opinion all the time, Nietzsche provokes dialogue. Does anybody agree with all his conclusions? Can anyone forget the experience of reading him? Nietzsche insists that we follow any argument all the way to its logical end, even if the end is awful. He is right to demand this consistency of us.

A delightful thing about Nietzsche: He has no time for poseurs of any sort. He loathes Christians, but he is equally mocking of the effete atheists of Parisian cafe culture. It has been stimulating to think of the scorn he would’ve had for a middle-brow “great books” reader such as this one. If one thinks reading “greats” will magically produce wisdom, Nietzsche is a needed slap in the face. He doesn’t suffer people who study philosophy to fake their way through happy-hour chatter or a Katie Couric interview.

What do you really want?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

 

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Genealogy of Morals

Fred Sanders

God was dead, to begin with. If you want to understand the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, you have to start where he started, with the premise that there is no God and that Christian monotheism had all been a big mistake. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, the best thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century had altogether undermined Christian truth claims: Strauss’s Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1846) and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1855) were among the important books that had settled things (two books, by the way, that novelist George Eliot made sure to translate so they could have their effect for English readers). By the 1880s, anybody who still clung to Christianity was either not paying attention or was fooling themselves. The master of melodrama and bombast in the intellectual life, Nietzsche looked back on recent Western thought and said, “We have become God’s murderers.”

So God was dead as a coffin-nail, and Nietzsche knew it. He also knew that the educated people of his day knew it. But what bothered him was that they didn’t act like it. Though sound scholarship had demolished Christian theology, Christian morality was still alive and well. So Nietzsche appointed himself the official whistle-blower on the death of God, and like many of the radicals of the late nineteenth century, he insisted that we should follow out the logic of godlessness to its conclusions.

The very people who had spent the nineteenth century driving God out of their worldviews were failing to draw the necessary conclusions about their morality. Even without God, they held on to absolute truth, to reason, to the binding claims of right and wrong. Worst of all, the godless moderns still had a conscience, and it continued to condemn them when they violated its dictates. Nietzsche spent half his time reminding them that they had no right to hold on to the benefits of monotheism after murdering God, and the other half of his time rejoicing that there was no longer any ground on which conscience could stand.

———

“If God is dead, anything is possible,” mused Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, and it was Friedrich Nietzsche who set himself to the task of showing what that meant for ethics. Since morals didn’t come from a God, where did they come from? He answered that question in 1887 with his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best, and by far clearest, introduction to his overall project.

In short, the first essay in the three-part Genealogy argues that morality itself, the whole idea of good versus evil, came about when weak people figured out a way to make strong people feel bad about being strong. The reason we feel we should take pity on the weak, or feel bad for imposing our wills on others, is that long ago, in some dark, underground workshop of the spirit, the weak had invented “morals” to compensate for their weakness. Instead of just straightforwardly hating their enemies, they declared that their superiors stood under the judgment of a higher authority—God—whose law condemned them. And then, amazingly, they had convinced the strong to accept these twisted ideals as “the way things ought to be.” This was the slave-revolt at the beginning of the epoch of morality, and the slaves have been in charge ever since.

Until Nietzsche, that is, who claimed to be writing with a prophetic voice that announced a new, natural way of valuing things: Whatever affirms and perpetuates life is good, and whatever denies or suppresses life is bad. All of this has to be read in Nietzsche’s own words, though, because they are so powerful (“I can write in letters which make even the blind see,” he said).

Christian readers have trouble engaging Nietzsche because, to state the obvious, they don’t share his presupposition that the arguments of Victorian atheism were in fact conclusive. They would like to reserve the right to go back and have those debates about truth. But as hard as he is to engage, Nietzsche is well worth coming to terms with for several reasons. He pioneered the strategy of discrediting Christianity by ignoring the question of its truth, in order to cut straight to his major complaint: Christianity is bad for human beings and other living things like the mind, the arts, and freedom. That attitude is probably the dominant tone of popular atheism in our time.

Nietzsche is also the one whose systematic, genealogical suspicion toward the whole vocabulary of Christian virtue (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) has burned away so much of the faith’s credibility. Christianity has always been called into question by the bad conduct of its adherents. But Nietzsche (who grew up in a pastor’s home and maintained a commitment to Christ well into his teens) transformed that anecdotal criticism into a wholesale deconstruction. Genealogy of Morals is the book where he did so, and if this book is right, then every word of the New Testament is a mendacious lie. At least, all the significant nouns.

Fred Sanders, PhD, is an associate professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He lectures frequently on the Trinity and Christian art, and is the author of several books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Devil in Literature

The English word devil derives through OE deofol and Lat. diabolus from Gk. diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Greek term is the LXX translation of Heb. śatan, “adversary” or “obstructer.” The devil is to be distinguished from the demons, identified in Christian tradition with the angels who followed Lucifer in his fall, and from other lesser evil spirits. The devil has been given a number of names by tradition. Most commonly he is called Satan or Lucifer, but he sometimes takes the name Beelzeboul or Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, or Semyaza, all of which names derive from the OT and Intertestamental literature. In modern times he also bears the name Mephistopheles. Legend and literature sometimes assign these names to different characters, usually for dramatic purposes; thus frequently in medieval and modern literature, Satan, Lucifer, Belial, and others play different parts.

In the OT, śatan was originally a common noun (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:22), but gradually it became the title of a particular being. Early biblical references picture a creature of God who prompts evil (1 Chron. 21:1), accuses the righteous (Job 1–2), or even opposes God’s will (Zech. 3:1–2). From these passages there developed the more fully defined rebellious angel of later tradition. Two key OT passages which were not originally intended to apply to the Evil One came to be associated with Satan. The serpent of Eden was not identified with the devil until the Intertestamental period (see Rom. 16:20). Isa. 14:12–15, which relates the fall of “Lucifer, son of the morning,” refers explicitly to the king of Babylon, but this passage also (and the name Lucifer) became associated with the devil during the Intertestamental period. The Isaiah passage is attached to the devil in 2 Enoch 29:4-5 in the apocalyptic Life of Adam 14.16 and apparently in Luke 10:18, but the identification was not clear and definite before the writings of Origen (A.D.185-251). On the whole, the OT devil is still a shadowy and inchoate figure.

In the postexilic period, the suffering of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule prompted an intense concern with the problem of evil and the powers of evil. In 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a portrait of the devil began to emerge in which he is the head of a band of evil angels in rebellion against God and enmity against humanity. The Qumran community, with its intense dualism, envisioned scenarios in which Satan led an army of evil angels and evil humans against the divine host, and the NT reflects similar Jewish traditions.

The temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan (Matt. 4 and Luke 4:1–13) is the most dramatic NT episode involving the devil, but his sinister power is referred to frequently (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 5:10–16; 1 Pet. 5:8). The essential function of the NT Satan is to obstruct the kingdom of God; one of his strategies is possession. Christ’s exorcisms and cures are blows struck against the devil’s power and signs of the imminent victory of God’s kingdom over Satan (Matt. 12:22–32). The devil is “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) but his lordship is being broken by Christ (1 Cor. 15:20–28), a process culminating in the eschatological triumph of Christ and his elect (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7–12).

Patristic diabology can be best understood in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism and, later, Manicheism. The Gnostic-Manichean view combined apocalyptic diabology, Iranian dualism, and Greek Orphism to produce a mythology which posited a cosmic struggle between a good God of spirit and an evil god of matter, the latter being equated with Satan. In its strongest and most coherent forms, this dualism denied monotheism and was therefore unacceptable to Judaism and the Christian community. Early patristic writings such as The Epistle of Barnabas, and works by Didymus, Hermas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show both a reaction against gnostic dualism and some influence from it, the influence manifesting itself in a doctrine of a strong dichotomy between the followers of good (often identified with the Christian community) and the followers of the devil (often identified with pagans and heretics). The power of gnostic dualism was evident still in the writings of Lactantius (ca. 245-325). The classic elements of Christian diabology, however, were established by Origen and St. Augustine (354-430) and were popularized in the West by St. Gregory the Great, especially in his Moralia in Iob.

In Gregory’s account, God created the angels good and gave them free will. Lucifer, one of the highest angels, sinned through pride and envy, choosing his own will over God’s, and he led many of the other angels after him (these became the demons). Envious of God’s love for humanity, Satan used the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress his divine ordinance. God punished fallen humanity by leaving it in the devil’s power, though this power was ultimately limited by God’s sovereignty. In his mercy, however, God the Father sent God the Son to liberate humanity from this slavery to Satan. The Incarnation and especially the Passion of Christ restored human freedom. Those who accept Christ form the community of the saved, “the city of God.” Those who do not accept Christ are cut off from salvation and form “the city of this world.” From the Incarnation until the end of the world, some will be continually added to the kingdom of God through faith in Christ; Satan continues to attempt, however vainly, to block that saving work. In the last days, Satan and the Antichrist will make a last pitched battle against the Christian community but will be foiled by the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring his kingdom to fulfillment and utterly destroy the power of Satan (cf. St. Ephraim Syrus, Nisibene Hymns; Hymns of the Nativity).

Through the influence of Gregory the Great and the other Fathers, such views were firmly imprinted on OE literature, most clearly in the homilies of Aelfric and the poems Genesis B, Christ and Satan, and in the “harrowing of hell” narrative. These works offer a powerful extrabiblical rendering of the history of the struggle between Christ and the devil, to which further details were gradually added by folklore. Medieval theology reduced the patristic emphasis on the devil by tending to replace the ransom theory (which saw the act of salvation as God’s payment of a ransom for mankind to Satan) with Anselm’s satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo? (which made it a sacrifice offered by the incarnate Son to the Father and put Satan in the background), but literature on the whole preferred the more dramatic ransom theory.

The devil is a powerful figure in Langland’s Piers Plowman, usually behind the scenes but sometimes overtly, as in his attack on the Tree of Charity in C.16 and in the harrowing of hell (B.18; C.20). Chaucer, for the most part, prefers to present the devil satirically (Monk’s Tale; Friar’s Tale and Prologue), an approach taken also frequently in the morality plays. His most dramatic appearances in ME literature are in the York, N-Town, Towneley, and Chester mystery plays, especially in the plays centered on his fall, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the harrowing of hell. Sometimes frightening in these plays, he is more often a fool, as the playwrights exploit the audience’s knowledge that all of his posturings against the kingdom of God will be foiled. By the 14th cent., then, the devil had, in literary treatments at least, become more often comic than fearsome. This trend was reversed, however, during the 15th through 17th cents., the period during which Satan’s power was perceived to be at its height.

The leading Protestant Reformers, especially Luther (who came to the subject with strong Germanic convictions about the existence and power of demons), returning to what they saw as a biblical emphasis upon the power of Satan, added to the new fear of the devil. The legend of Faust, homocentric, pessimistic, and individualistic, reflected this view; it also produced, in the German Faustbook of 1587, the first use of the name Mephistopheles. Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend in Doctor Faustus (1588 or 1589) produced the first major diabolical portrait in modern English literature in the character of Mephistopheles, here Satan’s agent, rather than the devil himself. Spenser shows the devil in human guise (e.g., Archimago, Orgoglio) and in the form of a dragon. Shakespeare presents humans demonized by their sin (Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard in 3 Henry 6 and Richard 3, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago in Othello), though in both Hamlet and Macbeth the devil’s evil, destructive power can also be felt more directly.

Although belief in the devil’s power was almost universal among both the elite and the uneducated during the early 17th cent., English philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1628) and John Locke (1632-1704) laid the basis for skepticism regarding both witchcraft and the devil. English writers, as a result, were divided over whether to treat the devil seriously (as in Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter [1607]), or satirically. The comic Satan of Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass (1616) clearly indicates Jonson’s skepticism; John Webster’s The White Devil (1608) and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1623) emphasize the evil in humanity. Sir Thomas Browne argues in Religio Medici (1.30, 31, 37; cf. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1.10, 11) that the denial of supernatural evil is tantamount to atheism, that the devil, being the father of lies, often seduces people into a skepticism concerning his own existence in order to pursue his diabolical ends.

John Bunyan, in his characterization of Apollyon in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Diabolus in The Holy War, presents a potent Satanic presence. But the most vivid (and influential) portrait of the devil in English literature is unquestionably that of Milton in Paradise Lost (1667; rev. 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671). Milton added a wealth of detail, color, and texture to the traditional story, but the two most important effects of his poems on diabology were first to set the story in language so powerful and memorable that it was henceforth fixed in the literary imagination in Milton’s terms even more than in the Bible’s, and second to portray the devil’s character in a “heroic” vein. Critics still argue whether Milton made Satan more heroic than he intended; whatever one’s critical position, it is undeniable that Satan, “High on a Throne of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,” can be seen as a figure of immense majesty (PL 2.1-2).

The deism and skepticism of the 18th cent. undermined belief in the existence of the devil, the key philosophical text being David Hume’s “Essay on Miracles,” the tenth chapter of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) affirms orthodox belief in the devil’s existence, but his interest in the subject is not apologetic but “aesthetic”: stories about diabolical encounters are intrinsically fascinating. By the end of the century, traditional beliefs had eroded to the point that Satan could scarcely be taken even as a credible metaphor. “Gothic” writings degraded the “sublime” to produce horrors and thrills by portraying the grotesque, the decadent, the wild, and the monstrous. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830; 1884) exemplified this attitude, using demons alongside ghosts, corpses, and witches for the purpose of inducing horror.

The French Revolution acted as a catalyst for a radical revision of the concept of the devil. English writers perceiving the Revolution as a just rebellion against a tyrant king recharacterized Satan as heroic rebel against the tradition and authority of the evil tyrant, God. Thus William Blake (1757-1827) reinterprets Milton’s devil as a hero in the struggle against tyranny, church, and convention. Satan is good, and Jesus is Satanic because he acts from feelings rather than rules and breaks the commandments out of mercy. But Blake’s Satan is also evil, representing hardness of heart, insensitivity, lack of love, and obstruction of the creative processes of art. The evil of both God and Satan are underscored in The Book of Urizen (1794), where Urizen represents Jehovah, the blind tyrant of rules and laws; Orc struggles for liberation from Urizen’s tyranny, but Orc’s violence and hostility make him evil as well. On the whole Blake tends to perceive God and devil, heaven and hell, good and evil as elements of a shattered whole which seeks reunion, centering, and integration. Real evil lies in anything which obstructs that process of integration.

The Romantics perpetuate Blake’s ambivalence toward the devil. Lord Byron’s Cain (1821) asks who is the more evil, Lucifer, who gave Adam and Eve knowledge, or Jehovah, who drove them out of the Garden to exile and death? But Lucifer also is blind and selfabsorbed, rejecting the only possible creative road, his integration with Jehovah. In his treatise On the Devil and Devils (1821), Shelley argues that Manichean dualism affords a valid insight into the divided state of the human soul. For Shelley, Milton’s great insight lay in his making his God no better than his devil. In Prometheus Unbound (1820) Shelley recognizes the difficulty in making Satan a hero and so shifts the qualities of heroic rebellion to Prometheus, who is free of the aggressive, stingy, unloving elements which make Satan an inappropriate hero for the Romantic ethos. Meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) took a great step in shifting the focus of terror from the demon to the monster and from the supernatural to science fiction, presenting a character who was made a monster by a humanity which first created and then abused him. The early Romantic experiment with making the devil a symbol of good was gradually replaced with the tendency to divorce the devil from serious discussions of good and evil. He is frequently made the subject of light or humorous stories such as Thackeray’s “The Devil’s Wager” (1833) and “The Painter’s Bargain” (1834), reviving an earlier folklore motif concerning battles of wits between the devil and humans over a bargain which had been struck between them (cf. Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames” [1917], Stephen V. Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” [1937], and more recent stories, some collected in Basil Davenport’s Deals with the Devil [1958]).

In 19th-cent. America the tendency to center evil in humanity rather than in the supernatural was even more pronounced than in England. For example, in stories of real horror Poe always eschewed Satan; his devil stories, such as “The Devil in the Belfry” (1839) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (1841), are humorous. The devil appears incidentally, however, in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) and his presence is evident in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and The Confidence-Man (1857), the latter of which presents a demonic trickster who makes fools of the passengers on the riverboat Fidèle.
The revival of the occult at the end of the 19th cent. produced some late Romantic sympathy for the devil (Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan [1895]) and the explicit Satanism of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), but ironic treatment remained the norm, as in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903). The attack on traditional views by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had demolished the old concept and opened the door to a nihilism seen at its bleakest in Mark Twain’s work on “The Mysterious Stranger,” which appeared in three main versions, the latest of which was No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1982). At its conclusion the devil announces that there “is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.”

The horrors of the mid and late 20th cent., which have contradicted liberal optimism about the essential goodness of human nature, have prompted the revival of serious treatments of the traditional devil, as in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and Perelandra (1944), Dorothy Sayers’s The Devil to Pay (1939), and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away (1960). John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick affords a recent noteworthy devil-portrait, one which has also found its way into film, alongside The Omen, The Exorcist, and other “popular” tales of diabolical horror.

Bibliography 

Baine, M. R. “Satan and the Satan Figure in the Poetry of William Blake.” DAI 35 (1974), 5335A-36A; Bercovitch, S. “Diabolus in Salem: Bunyan and Hawthorne,” ELN 6 (1969), 280-85; de Bruyn, L. Woman and the Devil in Sixteenth Century Literature (1979); Cuddon, J. A. B. “The Transition from the Late Medieval to the Renaissance Conceptions of Satan in English Literature with Especial Reference to the Drama.” Unpubl. B. Litt., Oxford, 1958; Cushman, L. W. “The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature Before Shakespeare.” SzEP 6 (1900), 1-148; Dunaway, R. K. “The Formative Impact of the Devil Upon Selected Renaissance Dramas,” DAI 36 (1975), 1480A; Dustoor, P. E. “Legends of Lucifer in Early English and in Milton.” Anglia 54 (1930), 213-68; Gardner, H. Milton’s Satan and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy (1948); Gokey, F. X. The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers (1961); Kubis, P. L. “The Archetype of the Devil in Twentieth Century Literature.” DAI (1976), 3604A; Levenson, G. B. “That Reverend Vice: A Study of the Comic-Demonic Figure in English Drama and Fiction.” DAI 38 (1977), 283A; Lynch, J. J. “The Devil in the Writings of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe.” New York Folklore Quarterly 9 (1952), 111-31; Marx, C. W. D. “The Devil’s Rights and the Deception of the Devil: Theological Background and Presentations in Middle English Literature.” DAI European Abstracts 44 (1983), 22C; Mallory, T. O. “The Devil and Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Manifestation of Supernatural Evil in Hardy’s Fiction.” DA 27 (1966), 2012-13; Rudwin, M. The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931); Russell, J. B. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Early Christianity (1977); Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1981); Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984); Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); Steadman, J. M. “Archangel to Devil: The Background of Satan’s Metamorphosis.” MLQ 21 (1960), 321-35; Stein, W. B. Hawthorne’s Faust, A Study of the Devil Archetype (1953); Stock, R. D. The Holy and the Daemonic from Sir Thomas Browne to William Blake (1982); Trefz, E. K. “Satan as the Prince of Evil: The Preaching of New England Puritans.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 7 (1955), 3-22; “Satan in Puritan Preaching.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 8 (1956), 71-84, 148-57; Williams, P. N. “Satan and His Corpus: Cultural Symbolism in the English Mystery Plays.” DAI 37 (1977), 5813A; Woolf, R. “The Devil in Old English Poetry.” RES 4 (1953), 1-12.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

The Reconciliation of All Things

ASCENSION Greek icon from the seventeenth century

MERE CHRISTIANITY
C.S. Lewis

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what [God] is doing. [God] is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently [God] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is [God] up to? The explanation is that [God] is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but [God] is building a palace. [God] intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Colossians 1:11–20

11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.


In his landmark book The Philosophy of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg sought to integrate reason and faith as the latter’s evolution of the former.  He recognized the shortcomings of his model and later added a seventh stage making room for what he called “religion.”  He struggled to explain how children grew to evolve morally, and ultimately attributed (at least part of) it to the shift from imaginary to imaginative thinking.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

My mentor at Princeton Seminary, James Loder (1931-2001)—who was also a huge C. S. Lewis fan, who sketched images of Aslan for his children—suggested that we need to make a distinction between the imaginary and the imaginative. Something that is imaginary takes you out of the world, out of reality; it’s a flight of fancy, often escapist. An imaginative act, on the other hand, is an entirely different faculty. It was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who understood imagination as the capacity instar omnium, meaning equivalent to all in importance. As a faculty of the self, imagination has the capacity to create, order, and reorder the world. The imaginative act, thought, or word has the power to put you more deeply into the world, into a world transfigured, into the real.

 

Is your faith more imaginary or imaginative?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Stratification

A concept associated with the Third Wave of psychology, developmentalism, and theorists Piaget, Kohlberg, Fowler, and others. This framework for understanding human behavior describes various strata or stages of growth. Stratification emphasizes the value of humans as thoughtfully and purposefully interactive with their environment.

Distinctive patterns of behavior and thought are empirically observed in various domains at each strata. Physical, cognitive, affective, social, moral decision making, and spiritual development have all been observed as progressing through sequential strata. Based on the conclusion that humans are more similar than dissimilar, each strata is a level of temporary destination that should be fully explored and experienced before the individual progresses to the next stage.

Environment can be instrumental in facilitating or slowing the development inherent in human genetic structure. Each strata is experienced in invariant and sequential patterns. Stages exist across cultures, genders, and eras of time though timing may be different within these variables.

Bibliography

P. G. Downs (1994), Teaching for Spiritual Growth: An Introduction to Christian Education; J. E. Loder (1976), Foundations for Christian Education in an Era of Change, p. 31. Michael J. Anthony et al., Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 669–670.

God Gifted

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci around 1490

1 Corinthians 12:12–31

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.


The wellness movement emphasizes a holistic understanding of man.  It reaches beyond physical health and aspires to that which is nebulously called mindfulness, thus attempting to bridge the body to the soul.  This is not new, of course; its roots are at least Platonic, and even Plato was predated by eastern thinkers who saw man as more garden than machine.

The irony runs deep here because man is contextualized correctly as a functioning member of the body of Christ.  He is singularly essential, yet unfulfilled unless joined to his complementary fellows.

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:

Many years ago I came across profound wisdom in a statement by Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855)—that blessed Dane. Kierkegaard has been one of my theological heroes for a long time, a faithful and trusted companion on my journey. (His surname translated into English means, literally, “cemetery”—kierke, meaning “church” and gaard, meaning “garden” or “yard;” hence, “church yard” or “cemetery.” With a name like that you can only imagine what his childhood was like.) With searing psychological and spiritual insight, this is what he said: “Comparison kills.” When I first heard those words, many years ago, it was as if the hammer of Thor had struck me, and cracked me open, and released my soul. Kierkegaard said, “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes . . . comparison kills,” he said, “with its insidious chill.”*

He’s right. There are healthy forms of comparison, of course. But when we’re always comparing ourselves to others—what others have, what others are doing, what others are achieving—if we’re always looking outward, valuing what’s “out there,” more than what’s “in here,” within us, that which has already been entrusted to us by the Spirit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice and effectively rejecting God’s gifts in us. This is not the way toward life, this is not what the Spirit intends for our lives, this is not the way of Christ. Pathological comparison kills; with its insidious chill it slowly, ever so slowly over time kills our souls.

 

Where does humanism fit into a proper understanding of the Church ?

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Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Soren Kierkegaard

*Sören Kierkegaard, “Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847). The full quote: “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes. This consciousness is the straight gate and the narrow way. It is not the way as such that is narrow, although quite a few people walk along it single-file; no, the narrowness is that each one separately must become the single individual who must press through this narrow pass along the narrow way where no comparison cools, but also where no comparison kills with its insidious chill.”

Kierkegaard’s Writings, XV (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 152.

Soren Kierkegaard

b. in Copenhagen, May 5, 1813

A melancholy boy of deep religious inclination, who, attracted and repelled by Christianity, gave himself up to pessimism, from which the death of his father delivered him, leading him as a man to the study of theology (1840). But he conceived of it as pure subjectivity, and rejected existing Christianity as wrong, attacked Martensen, when the latter praised Mynster (1854), and was led into the bitterest attitude ag. Church and Christianity; d. Nov. 11, 1855. The subjective truth of the personality was the centre of K.’s system. The personality is the ethically existing, not the knowing, which must be capable of infinite suffering, though it is finite. To suffer is to be religious, which includes the paradox. The paradox or absurd is the contradiction between man, a sinner by his very existence, and man determining himself for faith, i.e. not likeness, but contemporaneousness with Christ, as shown, not merely in humility and inner suffering, but in actual experience of the hate of the world, which flies from truth.

(LIT.: Petersen, Sören Kierkegaards Kristendums forkyadelse; Martensen, Aus meinen Leben; Kierkegaard, in the various Cyclop.; espec. Nordisk Konversationslexikon.

Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A. W. Haas, eds., The Lutheran Cyclopedia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 262.

Renaissance Man

This explains the ideal of the Renaissance Man, the individual who masters a wide range of fields in both the arts and sciences. And the supreme instance was Leonardo da Vinci—scientist, inventor, mathematician, engineer, and above all, artist. For Leonardo, the painter was a “god” capable of creating images at will. His Vitruvian Man (named after a Roman architect who calculated the body’s ideal proportions) expresses the neo-Platonic idea that the human being is a microcosm uniting the two realms of spirit and matter. “In the iconography of the day,” explains a historian, “the square was generally taken as symbolic of the earth while the circle was representative of the eternity of heaven.” In Leonardo’s image, then, the ideal human is “both of this earth and heaven . . . the unifier of the universe.”

Did this polymath fulfill the Renaissance goal then of overcoming “man’s dualistic nature”? Sadly no, says philosopher Giovanni Gentile. As an engineer and mathematician, Leonardo anticipated the mechanistic worldview that arose soon afterward in the scientific revolution—a vision of nature “ordered in a closed and fixed system, necessary and mechanically invariable.” Yet as an artist, Leonardo never stopped seeking to capture the ideal or the universal. In a poignant passage, Gentile speaks of “the anguish and the innermost tragedy of this universal man, divided between his irreconcilable worlds.” Standing at the threshold of modernity, Leonardo is a symbol of the modern mind and its tragic inability to find a unified truth.

Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

 

Learning from Pain

the-scream

The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it if you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Your own cries deafen you to the voice you need to hear.

C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed


B.F. Skinner conducted many experiments in which he taught rats to run mazes. He tried food as positive reinforcement and electric shock as negative. He found that pain motivated the rats to learn the maze faster than food, but the shock also taught the rats to fear the maze. Eventually, the rats refused to move, regardless of the degree of shock applied, even to the point of death.  You see, pain is overrated.  The “no pain no gain” mentality has led us to glorify anguish as somehow noble.  That is at best, immature.

The Māori people of New Zealand have much to teach us about perspective. Culturally they envision themselves moving backward into the future as they face the past. Like Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The problem is that we live in a broken world in which we have no control.  If you are suffering, you might deserve it. Then again, you might be innocent and still in pain.   In time we gain understanding, but it’s only wisdom if it leads us to Christ.

Pain’s only valuable lesson is that we are insufficient.  It drives us finally to the arms of Jesus who said “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world.”

There we find the unfailing love of God.

IMG_0181Romans 8:35–39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Dig Deeper

Art: The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later.  The 1895 pastel-on-board version of the painting was sold at Sotheby’s for a record $120 million at auction on 2 May 2012. The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Pablo Picasso‘s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which went for US$106.5 million at Christie’s two years prior on 4 May 2010.

http://www.edvardmunch.org/

 

 

 

Crisis Of Faith

1024px-van_gogh_-_trauernder_alter_mannLes Misérables
Victor Hugo

“Diamonds are found only in the dark bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him that after descending into those depths after long groping in the blackest of this darkness, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it.”


Victor Hugo is the most towering figure in French literature.  Though he produced extensive poetry and prose, he is famous popularly for the novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables.

Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean.  Newly released from prison after serving a long term for stealing a loaf of bread, he is ostracized because of his ex-convict status. Bishop Myriel takes Valjean in and treats him kindly, but Valjean repays him by stealing his silverware. When the police arrive, Myriel claims the silverware was a gift, thereby giving Valjean another chance at a new life. Myriel’s only request is that Valjean become an honest man.

His story is that of a man struggling at once with the brutality of the letter of the law and the yearning for freedom which can only be realized in grace.  Victor Hugo uses imagery from the watery fate of the prophet Jonah to describe Jean Val Jean’s fall into despair. As circumstances begin to drown Jean, “he drinks in bitterness and it is all liquid hatred to him.”

A crisis is that decisive moment when, due to circumstances and the diminished ability to cope, the status quo is no longer sustainable and something must change.  Out of crisis something new must and will emerge—hence the common association of crisis with emergency.

The trajectory of an entire life is often determined by how crisis moments are navigated; such intense junctures (also known as “tipping points”) are pregnant with promise and peril.

The question is never if these moments will come, but whether we turn to One whose grace is entirely sufficient.

IMG_0181Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: At Eternity’s Gate by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh

At Eternity’s Gate is an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh that he made in 1890 in Saint-Rémy de Provence based on an early lithograph. The painting was completed in early May at a time when he was convalescing from a severe relapse in his health and some two months before his death, which is generally accepted as a suicide.

Literature & Liturgy: Victor Hugo and Crisis

Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo

Between 1822 and 1832 Hugo established himself as a major literary figure in France. He wrote poetry, novels, and plays and became a leader in the Romantic movement.

In 1830 his play Hernani was a spectacular success. By shattering the artificial rules that had previously governed the writing of French drama, Hugo brought new freedom to the French stage. His novel Notre Dame de Paris was published in 1831. Translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it became vastly popular in many countries. In 1832 his play Le Roi s’amuse, or The King’s Diversion, on which Giuseppe Verdi later based his opera Rigoletto, was staged. Like so many of Hugo’s works, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The King’s Diversion were criticisms of social and political injustice. Another reason for writing the plays was to provide parts for the young actress Juliette Negroni, who became his mistress in 1833 and was to be his companion for the rest of her life.

In 1841 Hugo was elected to the French Academy, and in 1849 he became a member of the National Assembly. An outspoken political opponent of Napoleon III, Hugo had to flee France in 1851.

He remained in exile until 1870. During that time he wrote some of his finest works. In 1862 appeared Les Misérables, one of the most popular novels of all time. Hugo’s wife died in 1868, and Negroni moved into his home.

After the fall of the empire in 1870, Hugo returned to Paris. There he lived the rest of his life as a literary idol. Huge crowds turned out to celebrate his 80th birthday. Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885, and is buried in the Panthéon.

Some forms of recent Christian spirituality have highlighted the punctiliar (that is, it happens in an instant) nature of crisis and the profound urgency of choice. Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish father of modern existentialism, is best known for his haunting interpretation of the enigmatic biblical story of Abraham offering his beloved only son Isaac as a human sacrifice. According to Fear and Trembling (1843), the divine command to kill made no sense to Abraham and seemed to contradict every shard of moral sensibility; yet in that moment, hung suspended in eternity, the man of faith inexplicably chose to obey. He had said “yes” to God. The murder was averted and the crisis passed, but the father would never be the same again.

Building on an existentialist foundation, twentieth-century theologians like Karl Barth developed what was called a theology of crisis. Unlike the immanent God of liberal Protestantism, Barth’s God is altogether transcendent, touching humanity at tiny points of intersection (rather like the pinprick dot between a circle and a tangent), such that the divine reality from on high can never hang around for long or be domesticated or incorporated into anything human (e.g., such as a sacred text or a religious sentiment). Accordingly, God arrives out of nowhere, topples us off our chairs with a glancing touch, and then disappears. But we know that it was God, and we are forever changed.

According to British historian David Bebbington, the evangelical tradition has always been conversion-centered. The life-transforming religious experiences of seventeenth-century Pietists and Puritans, as well as those that characterized the Great Awakening of the 18th century and subsequent revivalism, all centered around the crisis moment of “salvation” in which disillusionment with alternatives, conviction of sin, and fear of judgment intensified until they exploded in the massive joy and relieved assurance of grace and eternal life. Given this historical legacy, it was only natural that the Christian life would often be conceptualized by subsequent evangelicals as a series of crises, beyond conversion itself, through which important added dimensions of a “deeper,” “higher,” or more empowered and Spirit-filled Christian life could be appropriated.

Inevitably the spiritual journey involves crises, though not necessarily a normative set. With these in view, the Scriptures encourage vigilant readiness, the virtues of courage and resilience when everything is on the line, and hope in God who makes all things new. Happy are those for whom the old is gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Bibliography

Glen G. Scorgie, “Crisis,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie et al., Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 381.
Barbour Publishing Inc, Book Lover’s Devotional (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 2011).
Louis Markos, Literature: A Student’s Guide, ed. David S. Dockery, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 98.
“Hugo, Victor,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).