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Removing God from Psalm 23

In order for Psalm 23 to mean anything to someone they must be thinking Biblically.  When our thinking becomes skewed, Psalm 23 makes no sense.   The following is an attempt to show how the history of Western thought would have translated Psalm 23.

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The Lord is my Shepherd…

(Early Church and revived in the Reformation)

God created the universe and man.  By making man and woman in His image He gave them meaning.  As creator, He determined what is right and wrong and it is society’s responsibility to live within those bounds.  That is the universal base.  There is a foundation for law, rights and freedom.  God, as understood through the Bible, is the final authority.

But suppose I do not want to be completely under God.  I would like some ‘freedom’ to think for myself.   What will be my new universal principle?

The Lord is my Shepherd, but I help him guide me.

(Medieval times largely influenced by Aquinas who leaned heavily on the secular thought of Aristotle.)

Why restrict ourselves to only what God has to say?  The Bible is lowered and man is raised higher.  The Bible becomes a guideline that can be veered from and the church is raised to become its equal.  Salvation is by grace but begins to increasingly include the works of man because man is viewed as capable of doing it.  Secular thinking starts to trump the Biblical base and distorts truth.  People start believing and acting independent of the final authority.

I am my shepherd.

(Humanism comes to fruition in Renaissance and is maintained through the modern era.)

Man is autonomous and independent of any supernatural force outside of himself.  Absolutes are impossible to define because there is nothing to give them and therefore man is unsure of how to live.  Optimistically, thinkers set out to find the way.   Truth begins with man, not God.  There is no final authority over man so man seeks how to guide himself.

I am left with the difficult question of what the purpose of life is and how I (and others) are to live.    I trust my mind will lead me to the right answers.

Sheep are my shepherd.

(Beginning with Voltaire, the enlightenment awakens the god of reason and ultimately leads to man being seen as part of a closed system, where he is no longer outside of nature but is merely a part of it.)

Reason falters as it repeatedly runs into unacceptable conclusions.  Opinions seem to be legion, but really there are only a few truly novel thoughts…but no one seems to know what to trust so I look for something outside of man, some natural principle that guides the world.  I look to nature and find it both cruel and non-cruel.  I believe I am only a small part of it, just a mass of atoms.  I become nothing more than a cog in the machine.

Everything is my shepherd.

(Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard struggle to leave room for man amidst determinism and its other varied forms, trying to find meaning by looking at freedom from restraint, history, emotion and what is ‘natural’ (Romanticism).  They are left with only rhetoric and the conclusion that reason leads only to pessimism.)

Now I must let go of reason because it leads me only to a pessimistic outlook.  Reason tells me that without a god I am only part of the machine of the universe, devoid of meaning.  I can say those words but I can not live by them.  History has exhausted its ideas and come up wanting.  If one begins with man, nothing gives meaning. My ‘innards’ tell me that there must be a purpose somewhere in all of this.  But where is it?

So I let go of reason and let the unreasonable give me meaning.  My experiences will hopefully be powerful enough to give me a sense of fulfillment.  (Embrace of Hinduism or Buddhism for some in the Western world may enter here, under the pursuit of experience.)  My personal goals of peace and affluence will guide my decisions.  What is right in one situation may not be right in another.  Each act is based on circumstances and is thus arbitrary to the person and the situation.  What is right will be determined by what I want the goal to be and there is nothing to tell me that my goal is wrong.  What is must be what is right.  My pleasures rule.

Nothing is my shepherd.

(Existential philosophy abandons reason and leaps “upstairs” to find meaning and value without reason.  Nietzsche declares that not only is God dead, but also all (he) supported, mainly meaning.  His conclusions (I believe) likely led him to his insanity-not venereal disease.)

Without a universal base tying everything together with meaning I am only a part of this machine, devoid of purpose or direction.  Nothing leads me anywhere.  I can’t help but become apathetic.  To keep from despairing I create schemes to keep my mind away from the impossible questions.  In place of meaning I take up causes, like ending world poverty, or cleaning up the food system, or keeping the earth from getting too warm, or shaving a 1/2 minute off of my 8 minute mile.  I exist and if you push me to tell you why I won’t know what to say.

All is bankrupt.  Without a shepherd outside of myself my mind tells me I am no more than matter.  Nature, experience and pleasure can not infuse me with any type of meaning or tell me what to value.  Without an ultimate universal base society is left to the chaos of hedonism (pleasure rules) or the tyranny of authoritarianism by the élite to maintain peace.  I have lost my freedom.  I have lost my meaning.  I have lost my bearings.   I am empty.

I need my Psalm 23 shepherd back.

(Please note:  this post leans heavily on the work of Francis A. Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live?”  This is my current understanding of the progression of Western thought.  If you are looking for a resource to reference, I suggest you go back to the inspiration behind this post.)
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in History Clips, Sin, Uncategorized

 

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A Christian without a Bible: the Heart of Devotions

I ran across this quote today,

‘The man who doesn’t read good books

has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’

-Mark Twain

A thought struck me.  In the same way,

The Christian who doesn’t read the Bible

has no advantage over one without Scripture translated in their language.

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The Slovenian translation of Hebrews 4:12 “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

If I leave my thought here, I will most likely only be heaping feelings of guilt upon you.  I understand that many who read this today may have not yet sat with their Bible in their lap.  Those who have, are resisting a smug false-piety for having passed this unexpected test.

The ability to read and own books is new on the stage of history.  It is fascinating to consider Elijah, Daniel, Peter, (even the Bereans!) and others.  They lived powerful, godly lives without having 21st century devotions. They did not get up and read and pray, they probably only prayed.  It wasn’t until well after Gutenberg for the present concept of devotions to become even a POSSIBILITY.

There was a season in my life when I had five little ones under the age of seven.  I languished under a sense of guilt for not getting up before them to read and pray!  How I struggled!  I felt guilty for not executing a practice that I thought was not only beneficial-but ESSENTIAL. I assumed I was failing in some way.  In truth, I was just an exhausted Mother who was largely incapable of putting more into her schedule.

It took a few years for me to come to a sense of peace in this situation.  It was only after I noticed a vibrant habit of mine of converting every thought to a spiritual one that the guilt subsided.   As I brushed up against Scriptures from various places, and met with deeper thoughts, I would meditate upon them until a new one came along.  Often, something would strike me profoundly and when I finally had a moment to myself, I would study it further. I realized I WAS having devotions, I was just doing them unconventionally.

It is better by far I think, to consider devotions as the ongoing, deliberate act of meditating on God’s Word.

The sitting down and reading is not the crucial part.  More is gained if one walks throughout their day, brushing against the Word wherever they go, and relating all they encounter to the truths they have internalized.  The transforming element is the meditation of what is before you at any given time, not the habit, albeit good and beneficial, of opening to the reading for that day.  I can say with all honesty that I have gained more from this habit than from reading at prescribed times.  I am not dismissing the importance of habitual reading, only elevating constant meditation above it.

(I am not speaking of studying the Scriptures.  This is different from devotions. We need to frequently compare our thoughts with the truths in Scripture; this requires concentrated exploration of the Bible to find truth. This is not the same as ‘devotions’ as it is commonly practiced.)

Exposure to His Word can come from many things, in many ways… in my experience, being exposed and prompted to dwell upon God’s precepts is what is critical, not the habit of reading.  A foolish person will neglect the habit all together and then lament the slowness of his Christianity to produce fruit.  A deluded person will religiously sit each morning reading yet have the same fate as the first if they do not continue to meditate upon what they have read when they close the book.

The heart of devotions, is hearing the Word and putting it into practice…it is hearing, however that may be, and then staying focused on it to carry it out.  Productive devotions are the moments we spend responding more to our inner reality than that of the worldly circumstance we are in.    Devotions are not an act, it is a state of being, grounded on the truth we have heard.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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The Light Bulb that Everyone Saw Before You

I shared something that I thought was marvelous with a friend this week.  It was a concept I saw clearly for the first time but only after intense and prolonged introspection and careful study.  Guess what?  They already knew it.

I wrestle with thoughts fiercely.  Even the most simple understandings I flip over and over in my head, examine, question and verify.  Often this takes much time, extensive reading and deep thought. I am the quintessential theologian, I ask why and how about everything and I tend to keep asking those things long after others are satisfied.

This is why it can be maddening to me to share an insight I’ve had.   After passionately explaining what I see and how I came to that conclusion, I look into the eyes of my hearer and realize that they already knew what to me, is brand new.  I get an enthusiastic nod, and hear, “yes, I totally agree” and then no more comment. If I wait long enough, they will yawn.  And I am left speechless.

Am I a dolt?  Am I just that much slower than the rest in dissecting and analyzing my beliefs?  It has happened enough that I expect this to be a possible response when I share anything with another.

So, of course I had to think about this.  How can others already understand so quickly what I have to spend years studying, though they are not given to that type of study?  After dismissing the idea that they are faking understanding (these are godly, honest people I trust) I’m left with the reality that they probably DO understand what has taken me months and months to come by.

How can that be?  Of course, they may have wrestled with the thoughts before me, but I don’t think that is the case in many of these situations.  So what’s up?

It's a sphere!

It’s a sphere!

Do you believe the world in round?  So do I and I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about it as you, which is pretty close to not at all.  Despite not thinking about it, I get it, we’re not living on a pancake but a hacky sack.  Yet there are those who have spent close to a whole career studying the round nature of the earth and how that relates to everything else in our solar system.  They get it, but on a much deeper level, not in a superior sense, we both get the world is round, but their understanding is richer.

One can know a thing on many levels- the deepness isn’t the essential part, knowing is.

Understanding “God is love” is a wonderful insight.  You may come to that idea easily where another must first deal with the problem of evil, difficult passages, previous paradigms, the concept of feelings and what it means to exist.  If you are as messed up as me you will probably first have to analyze what love is first before you can even begin to entertain the idea of God being loving.  Then you have to separate loving acts from the embodiment of love and on and on it goes.  After years of deliberation, the deep mind comes to the same conclusion as the one steadied on simple faith: “God is love”.  Though the thinker probably had already accepted that in faith, they have examined it so minutely that when they come to the conclusion it seems to be a brand new understanding.

So is thinking deeply a waste of time or worse, some form of vanity?

While it certainly can be a type of vanity and lead to fat-headed pride, the humble heart is simply intrigued and wants to understand because they are insatiably curious.  They have a drive to comprehend.  It is the artist in them.  Going deeper into a simple idea often reveals connections, patterns, textures and richness to the ideal that is difficult to express unless one has meditated upon it.   It reveals the story behind the title.  It is not a waste of time.  It is a blessing.

And so, if you are bent like me, I encourage you, thinking deeply can be a blessing, even if most everyone else thinks you’re a bit daft for marveling at the qualities of a sphere.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Spiritual Gifts

 

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What the World Needs Now

There are travesties mankind has wrestled with throughout every age, problems that seem to defy solution.  13249318-asian-kid-playing-in-playground[1]With optimism buoyed by ignorance, pride and zeal, each generation swings at the venomous beasts that previous generations battled before.  With every novel approach the problems laugh, and stay entrenched in the newly forming history of today.  The stubborn problems seem incapable of being remedied though the answer seems so close at hand, so sensible, so obvious if we would just do it.  If men’s hearts would change, there would be no war, there would be no poverty, there would be no injustice.  But alas, no one has yet figured out how to do that.  How does one change the heart of the other guy?

We can start teaching children younger, we can put some in counseling.  We can make treaties and rules, penalize stricter,  use social pressure, prevent the problem and deal with it decisively when it shows up.  We can pray.  We can hope.  Have rallies, conventions and think tanks convene.  We can pay for the meal for the folks behind us at McDonald’s.  Sometimes minor victories are won but the war throughout history is always lost.

imagesCAPMIV1HWe are tempted to say it is only ‘some men’ that cause the worst woes in the world.  The loony’s, those seized with senseless greed, the evil ones, THOSE people….if everyone would just see the world as we do, if they would be as we are, we could at last live in peace without grief over the injustices that swirl around the globe.  If other people would only act as we do….yet even those humbled by the cross must measure this in their lives, how much do I think others would be better if they were like me?

At some point, it dawns on us, and if it doesn’t it should, that the world is indeed, just as we are.  It does not need to become more like me, it already is.

Morality is not a matter of extent.  Greed is still greed whether it is big or small.  A lie is a lie irregardless of its magnitude.  Stealing a small thing is no different from pilfering Wall Street.   Selfishness is selfishness.  Hate is hate.  Envy is envy.  Pride is pride.  Lust is lust.

Do I think I will be judged by how much or how many others I hurt, or by the evil found in me? imagesCA4QFCVM Oh, my soul!  You are not exempt!  My sins are wonderfully covered but I will still give an account, most assuredly everything done in the dark will be brought into the light, forgiven or not.  Do not think because Christ has taken upon your penalty that there will be no revealing.  I am not condemned, mercy of mercies, but I will be revealed.  There is no progressing in the Christian walk until one fully understands self and recoils.  Without it there is no hope for humility, and without humility, I may not stand before God.

If one wants to grow in their faith, they must first take time to understand themselves.  When you understand yourself aright, you will no longer be mystified by the horrors you see around you but rather by the good you do see.  If we try to progress without this step, we will be tempted with every work to think that the good somehow springs from ourselves, and inwardly praise our high constitution and ridicule the foul state of others.  My friends, take the time to know thyself.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Sin, Spiritual Growth

 

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