Exits and Advents

Brideby Glenn Fairman   8/15/16
A female on my running team spent the last few months caring for a father who had been a peripheral character throughout her entire life. By every measure of earthly justice, she should have turned her back on him – as her sisters eventually did. Nevertheless, every day before work she would arrive at the nursing home and prepare his oatmeal (because the staff did not do it right), and every evening she would sit with him so that he would not die alone. During his final days, I sincerely do not know whether the old man had that epiphany that Hollywood loves to sugarcoat death with — that “Come to Jesus” moment where a selfish and bastardly life is transformed with a quivering lip and a palsied grasp of the hand. For many who pass out of being, the strings do not crescendo as the camera pans away and the screen fades to black.

But for Socorro, despite all the cold heartache she had received from this blank cipher throughout the half century of their shattered glass relationship, she had determined in her soul that she would expend herself and redeem in a small but courageous way what no one else would. What can we learn from such an action? If not here, where are we to show mercy?  If not at the nexus where our personal pain and the commandment to love both coalesce and resolve, where can the power of the Christian witness find its traction?

It is at the crossroads of death that not only our theoretical, but our existential religious convictions are put to the test. For some, having long rested in the comfort of superficial platitudes not wholly thought through or wrestled with, our impending death or the death of a loved one can be viewed as an obscure footnote or a terrible ordeal by fire. Of all the tribulations that humanity is heir to, it is suffering beneath the shadow of that vast “Unknown Country” that ultimately jars us from our soulish lethargies like a cold hard slap in the face. On more levels than one can grasp, it is in death that we encounter our great awakening.

When mortality’s icy blast of reality seizes us with its grim necessity, we discover, to our astonishment, how much of our belief was centered in the head and not in the heart. It is here that nature and revelation are instructive in mankind’s ascent. It is here, in the crucible, that we discover why the evils of death and suffering areElderlyLady so integral to the Christian life, and why temporal happiness is by no means the goal of a believer – but a stumbling block. Our fragile mortality reveals in a categorical manner what Reason cannot teach: that we are pilgrims – anxious strangers wandering in a familiar but foreign land. Indeed, if truth be told, the absence of death and suffering in our depraved states would be the most profound horror imaginable, for it would thwart the stratagem of Heaven to redeem and transform us. Living forever apart from the Divine Source would literally set our souls in the concrete of eternal misery – the very definition of Hell.

To the mature Christian, in contrast with the natural man, the deaths of believers and the unsaved are measured not by degree, but by kind. The Christian knows that the believer, following his temporal life, will behold the face of God and receive the glorious welcome: “Well Done…” Conversely, that same believer knows the curse that awaits those who could not be bothered to turn from adoring the shadow of self and face into the light. The unbeliever will approach death on the continuum from stoic resolve to indifference to utter horror, depending on the cast of his mind. The hedonist will certainly lament the end of pleasure, and every man will mourn his transient idol(s) that he pursued in the darkness of his own understanding – all to the exclusion of what he was created for.

Attending the funeral of a transformed Christian brings forth a bittersweet sadness that is tempered with the glory of hope. We mourn as we do a beloved friend whose journey takes him from our arms, with the knowledge that we shall not behold him again on this bank of the river. But implicit in that hope is this: as he has forded death unto life, so shall we — and the corresponding reunion shall be accompanied by unspeakable joy.

Yet, from the perspective of the unbeliever, death is an absurdity at best. It calls into question every lesson and dilutes into nothingness every meaningful exchange. Those who would find solace in a divorce from consciousness, to the exclusion of love and light, would seem to have been composed of the thinnest of desires. For those who found a beastly contentment with eat, drink, and sex, it is as if nothing higher had been quickened during one’s lifetime to forestall that surrender to annihilation.

One who would wish to view the healthiest of attitudes (and most counter to the spirit of our age) regarding death should look no further than the Apostle Paul. Having long died to self, he counted his happiness in Christ and ceased to worry about the question of eternity. In truth, he was already partaking of its glory and was only awaiting God’s finishing touches when he stood before Nero. In his walk with the Deity, Paul understood without equivocation what C.S. Lewis wrote about with such clarity:

We are to be remade. All the rabbit in us is to disappear – the worried conscientious ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy… Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

The Christian faith is filled with such wonderful paradoxes, but to fully understand the Cathedral of Faith, one must first enter in. The mind awakened realizes that what at first appeared alien and formidable from the outside, eventually answered every significant question and quenched every longing. To push past the stronghold of self, by opening what can only be unlocked from the inside, will forever be man’s greatest decision — for in truth, our shadows give an elementary comfort that satisfies and deadens as surely as any narcotic. And like the self-imposed prisoner in Plato’s Cave, the projections of those specters on a rock wall, lit by a fire wrought with our own hands, will suffice as long as the fear of abandoning control is dominant within us. It is only by the prompting of Heavenly Hands that we stand up, repent of our darkness, and step out into the Light.

In the same year that my father took ill, I met a 95-year-old black woman in the same facility in which he was convalescing. She had been there for nearly two decades and I found her to be such a blessing that I continued to visit her periodically until she passed last year at the age of 100.  But despite her beaming spirit and vitality, the last several years had not been kind to her. Even more, the once bubbly personality rapidly deteriorated to the point where she no longer knew me, and even screamed in terror at me on my last visit. I used to wonder why the Lord would keep her alive in this twilight life of torment, but then I would reflect on the effect she had on the staff who would caress her and tenderly call her Mama. I have no idea how many people – folks who enjoyed her just as I did, could claim that Jessie Douglas had enriched their lives. How many throughout the decades would contemplate the ragged state of their own souls, and because of her positive faith, reassess?

The characters of men and women firmly anchored in the world are surprisingly mundane, but a transformed life like Jessie lived is as a rare pearl. When she left the outside world for the last time, she threw open her home and gave every earthly thing away – making peace with her losses and forging on ahead in hope. I did not know till after she died that she was a beloved teacher with a Master’s degree. What endeared her to me was wholly invisible by the reckoning of this age; that, and the fact that she kissed my hands whenever I would call on her. How happy she made me — knowing that there were people on Earth just like her. In my spirit’s eye, I can see her standing incandescently as a bride: a luminescent pillar in the Living Temple of God – where a life’s suffering and death were but mere momentary preludes to that great adventure that stretches out beyond the reach of forever.

Glenn Fairman returns from the wilderness and writes from Highland, Ca.
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57 Responses to Exits and Advents

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I think this is one of your better pieces, maybe your best. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Glenn wrote this not only because he’s a very good observer but because he wanted to put me to shame. I can’t begin to match this woman’s demeanor.

    As site owner here, I’m supposed to praise to high heaven this wonderful piece of writing by Glenn the Greater. But how can I? This unnamed female makes me look like a chump as I struggle with an aging mother who is losing her marbles.

    God may be good and inspire good things in us when we have to struggle. But so much of this struggle seems gratuitous. I’ve been struggling with aiding my mother for thirteen years…ever since my father passed away. And little by little the glorious life lessons that Glenn speaks of have dribbled away into just a dull sense of duty. No glory. No rainbows. No tearful moment of coming together through the pain. Just drudgery.

    Still, in bits and pieces over the last 13 years (since my father died), I’ve been on that same journey. It’s just that it hasn’t been all concentrated at the end. And there was, errr, active resistance to anything “nice” on my part much of the time, but certainly not all of the time. From my parents, sadly, I’ve learned the George Constanza method of behavior — to do the opposite.

    I do my duty but affection is getting harder to obtain. For my mother, it seems her dementia has, at times, removed whatever filter she had left. Sadness will come at her death but I’ve prayed more than once something such as, “God, take her now to the next level. She’s done with this life.”

    One thing this has given me a true appreciation for is coherence. My mother has trouble sometimes expressing even the simplest ideas. I have been gifted, I hope, in the opposite way. Definitely Glenn the Greater has. And it can be a curse as well, especially when you see the avalanche of incoherence that is called “Donald Trump” and watch as people praise this man to high-heaven. He may be a necessary evil at the moment, but that’s about all you can say for him.

    Life is not a puzzle to be solved in our minds. But we are truly lost to our emotions, maladies, proclivities, grievances, and obsessions without the filter of reason. As I watch my mother age, I realize there are a lot of things I need to let go of so that when the filter comes off, I have something worthwhile remaining, or at least something that is no wholly disagreeable.

    The funny thing is, I know this one lady who has advanced dementia who can’t remember what she said 30 seconds ago, but she’s a very sweet lady. She and her husband popped in for a visit the other day. She’s lost the coherence of memory but not an attitude of sweetness. God works in mysterious ways, which is to say, he works in what appears to be haphazard ways.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I can understand your feeling about your mother’s eventual death. My maternal grandfather had the family curse (deterioration of the cerebellum), and he had a bad case of it. He was totally incomprehensible. After he died, I didn’t cry at his funeral because it seemed he was now better off.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I, of course, have tongue firmly planted in cheek in regards to Glenn. But if I couldn’t laugh about this stuff once in a while, I would scream.

        The only thing I can say about my mother is analogous to the funny drunks and the mean drunks. I don’t drink but when I did, and I had a couple in me, I was funny when tipsy…absolutely hilarious. Not a mean bone in my body.

        But we’ve all seen the mean drunk. They get one sip in them and they just ooze belligerence. Well, I think I see the same sort of thing in Alzheimer’s patients. It is what it is. But mean drunks can be a pain.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    All suffering would seem to be gratuitous when one is on the receiving end of its fury. The fact that our editor feels a sense of shame merely points to a herculean standard that lies outside the province of our human capacity to love as God loves. How quickly, when faced with the grinding and inexorable decline of our parent into the twilight horror of dementia, we realize that our native reservoir of compassion runs dry, leaving us with only two options: abandon the plow and walk away or plead with the heavens for the necessary wisdom and fortitude. If you can not look to One stronger than yourself, who else are you to lean upon?

    I’m sure by now we all realize that life is a contest where no one gets out alive. Yet, it is how we approach those tribulations that determines if we shall ever find a place of peace to dive into when the friction of existence bears down upon us. Bad actions and indelicate thoughts stem from the anger, anxiety, and frustration that catches us in their vicelike grip. Such thoughts would shame Hell, if given a voice, but still we proceed on through our sufferings in a zombie-like manner: desiring nothing other than the faint glimmer of light at the other end of this darkness. When we do arrive, and arrive we shall, the perspective of it all changes, and we come to the knowledge that this suffering was not gratuitous, but offered so that we might be excavated into something deeper and more valuable than we were before.

    When my mother went into the hospital for what would be her terminal diagnosis of aggressive brain cancer, she refused the tests that would have determined whether the doctors could have saved her life. I had to actually lie to the hospital and take matters into my own hands because mom was being so difficult. I swore at both my mother and father (and they at me) for their retrograde actions during their declines because they made a terribly difficult thing infinitely more taxing for those who only wanted to honor them. These times reveal that we are all too human when traversing the maelstrom. I wish I could have done more, but I eventually realized that I was wrestling with my parents’ fear at death’s irresistible necessity. The blade cut both ways, and as they were changed, so was I.

    Few of us have lived in those ideal circumstances wherein love gushes freely like a beautiful fountain, and a God who has suffered fully understands this. But it is how we rise up and meet this deficit that augments our current challenge –day after day– that we do have a measure of control over. It is because of free will that everyday we are becoming closer to something more beautiful or something more hideous to ourselves and to God–the only standard that will ever matter. The mercy that He will grant to you is commensurate with the forgiveness you will grant to others. There is a rock hard logic to this brand of mercy that is antithetical to the spirit of this world. But once you taste this grace on a personal level, how profoundly our perspective changes as to our relations with others. Looking back on the passing of my mother and father, the fog of life obscured the fact that I was being re-made. The process continues apace, and I am better for it, having been dragged kicking and screaming against my native reason towards my final destination.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      All suffering would seem to be gratuitous when one is on the receiving end of its fury.

      I read this following quote last night from C.S. Lewis “God in the Dock.” Mr. Kung has a saying: “Culture is Everything.” And I doubt that he’d disagree with the idea that “Attitude is Everything.” That’s a lot of everythings to try to add together. But nevertheless…

      But I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a `cruel’ doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were `punishments’. But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a ‘punishment’, it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

      Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

      I take even God with a healthy grain of salt as well. I can’t be sure what is going on. But certainly one of the prime areas in the left/right split (ostensibly, perhaps not always in reality) is the attitude difference that Clive Staples outlines above.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Anyway, I finished reading your reply. Thanks for the very thoughtful words, Glenn.

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    Please give me your take on “Man and Rabbit” and “The Trouble with X” when you come across it…….

    In many ways, you are mourning her passing now, and merely waiting for the seeming perversity of nature to grant her and yourself a measure of long awaited peace. This has and will continue to be a thorn in your flesh—one in which you will eventually reconcile with Providence. You are in my prayers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m starting essay number 8. Concise comments so far:

      Essay 1: Evil and God: Good

      Essay 2: Miracles: I’ve read parts of his book dedicated to this subject, so no new ground for me. I will say that it occurs to me that the two primary points (rather than the perhaps slightly dishonest points argued by athesits) are as follows:

      1) The question of miracles is full of distracting arguments. Lewis rebuts many of them but the main point is this: Miracles are impossible in a universe of pure chance and contingency. All other arguments are diversions from this main point. Atheist dogma is completely contrary to the idea of miracles, of something not only more than nature but that is purposeful.

      2) On the other hand, theists want there to be miracles….so much so that you’d have a damned hard time ever distinguishing purported real ones from wishful thinking.

      So on the topic of miracles, one could say that everything in nature is miraculous and thus we are surrounded by miracles. But as to a miracle in the sense of the Creator over-riding the strict algorythm of natural laws, I’m in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category.

      Essay 3: Dogma and the Universe. An excellent chapter, very strong on logic and philosophy. Here’s a sample, best read in context:

      As regards material reality, we are now being forced to the conclusion that we know nothing about it save its mathematics. The tangible beach and pebbles of our first calculators, the imaginable atoms of Democritus, the plain man’s picture of space, turn out to be the shadow: numbers are the substance of our knowledge, the sole liaison between mind and things. What nature is in herself evades us;

      Essay 4: Answers to Questions on Christianity: All Christians should read this, if only to figure out if what they are worshipping is merely a shtick passed down from a homogenized pop Christian culture or the real thing. A sample:

      If you are not a professional Economist and have no experience of Industry, simply being a Christian won’t give you the answer to industrial problems. My own idea is that modern industry is a radically hopeless system. You can improve wages, hours, conditions, etc., but all that doesn’t cure the deepest trouble: i.e., that numbers of people are kept all their lives doing dull repetition work which gives no full play to their faculties.

      Essay 5: Myth Became Fact. This is the weakest so far. If you believe in Christ then fine. But this intellectualizing by Lewis ain’t gonna get you there. Still, he makes some good points including this one (best read in context):

      This is our dilemma – either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste – or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are in an experience or to lack another kind because we are outside it. As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about; as tasting, touching, willing, loving, hating, we do not clearly understand.

      Anyone familiar with the new editorial policies in regards to purely political articles can perhaps understand my position. But I didn’t read this first. There is thinking and there is doing and they are quite different things. Clive’s position is that myth can act to bring the two together. Perhaps so.

      Essay 6: Horrid Red Things: Another chapter that Christians should read to make sure they didn’t get their dogma out of an analogous box of theological Cracker Jacks. Good stuff by Clive.

      Essay 7: Religion and Science: I’d refer most people to the writings of John Knox for a far better discussion.

      When I get to those two chapters that you mentioned, Glenn, I’ll let you know.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about; as tasting, touching, willing, loving, hating, we do not clearly understand.

        This is tangential to my point about intellectuals being in love with words. The words are not the thing and the use of a word does not necessarily mean one understands what is actually going on.

        At its most extreme, we have lots of people who can write well, but don’t actually know what they are talking about; think young journalists.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Lewis could have spent a couple chapters on this subject instead of a couple pages. There are implications to the basic idea. He’s saying that while you’re in the experience (following impulses, if you will), you’re not thinking about what the experience means. Outside of experience, you can think of things (such as skiing) but it’s a different thing.

          While reading this, I was screaming, “Clive! Clive! Surely the non-beast man endeavors to be in the moment while still considering on some level whether or not he should be in that moment.”

          He didn’t get there. But that’s our job here, to fill in the gaps. It’s similar to the dichotomy of acts vs. faith, a subject he touches on. The basics we all know by heart here (but, again, he didn’t delve into much): If you have good faith, you’ll naturally be drawn to good acts. If you don’t have deep faith, then you can certainly “act your way to good thinking.” That is, do the right things and you’ll engender good natural thoughts, perhaps even faith.

          I think too much and don’t do enough. But, good god, after reading David French’s rather good article about how men are getting weaker (a good Pajama Boy essay…but we said it here first probably years ago), I don’t feel so bad.

          And we are mere animals without our passions being tempered by our reason (good reason, that is…not just any ol’ “reason” will do).

          But this has been a most readable collection of essays. And I think all Christians need to read some Lewis in order to get their bearings. What passes for religious thought in many corners is the equivalent of reading a comic book. It’s simplistic. Lewis adds depth to many issues.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Outside of experience, you can think of things (such as skiing) but it’s a different thing.

            I believe one has to combine the experience with thoughtful reflection in order to come close to understanding.

            I think this is important in understanding the motives of others as well. This is why I try to create a situation in my head in which I can “feel” how another might have felt at a particular moment and go from there in order to come close to understanding why a person acts as he does.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Makes sense to me, Mr. Kung.

              I’ve been watching reruns of “Cheers” on Netflix of late. Diane Chambers is forever ruining nice moments by self-consciously analyzing them and thus draining the life out of them. There’s something to be said for spontaneity and just going with the moment.

              On the other hand, a violent mob could be said to be “going with the moment.” We don’t want to lose our reasoning power. We really ought to have some little angel on one of our shoulders stopping us from doing really stupid stuff.

              So you get this dichotomy which I understand. And then I think you get the third leg of the stool which is intellectualizing. It’s not just commenting on something that has happened, will happen, or could happen. It’s using words and ideas to construct very complex, even plausible, castles in the clouds.

              This is what happens regarding Trump, for instance. He can be summed up as “He’s a bum that we seem stuck with at the moment. It’s probably better to vote for him than Hillary but he’s still a bum.”

              But people go on and on intellectualizing and (usually works in parallel) rationalizing that Trump is not only not a bum but a great thinker and doer. And if you can know a man by his fruits (and followers), most of them online are scary people from what they say.

              I think a lot of our obtuseness comes from the normal human social need to “go along to get along.” Bluntness, even if the bluntness is true, is usually considered impolite and destructive. So it becomes very very easy, especially with peer pressure, to construct all kinds of artificial castles in the clouds and intellectualize and eventually get so far from reality that Orwell’s truism kicks in that in a time of universal deceit, the truth is revolutionary. And it’s certainly impolite.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Some of the Trump defenders are people who know him personally, and are sure he couldn’t be the ogre he’s perceived to be by the rest of us. Their opinion shouldn’t be ignored, but they need to realize that they could also be wrong. Anyone who studies the career of Jerry Brudos (presented well in Ann Rule’s Lust Killer) will understand that even a wife can be unaware that the man she lives with is a monster.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As to miracles, note that the Catholic Church (which uses miracles as the basis for sanctification) studies them very carefully. They do this with Lourdes, and have never officially declared the Shroud of Turin to be the shroud of Christ (as many would like them to do). Doesn’t mean they’re right, but they do try to be careful.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I must admit that I remain skeptical about miracles. So much of what passes for religious thought is simply confirmation bias. One person survives an airliner crash that kills 300 and it’s declared a “miracle.” Personally, I think the word is so liberally used, I don’t trust it. Perhaps miracles have happened in the past. It’s possible. But human beings have all kinds of motives for forwarding miracles quite apart from whether they’ve seen a sea actually part or not.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Note that the Bible generally has God trying to make use of natural functions for his miracles — such as using a strong wind to separate the sea in that case.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I find miracles problematic. Just one of them blows away materialism completely. But how many miracles have there actually been outside of tall tales, coincidences, misperceptions, and fraud? And God using a strong wind to separate the seas just undercuts the idea of a miracle. If rare natural occurrences are deemed miracles, the case for miracles is made weaker.

              In one of John Knox’s books he (perhaps it was another writer) comments on the “Privileged Planet” aspect of earth, the seemingly miraculous set of circumstances that makes life on earth possible, including apparently a moon of about the size and orbit of our own moon. He speculated that God had basically (a la Red Dwarf’s episode, “White Hole”) played billiards with the planets in order to establish the earth/moon size and relationship (crashing them together). But something indistinguishable from a natural event is reducing the “miraculous” down to simply redefining natural events with our labels. If God and miracles are nothing more than what would have happened anyway, then I don’t see any room for miracles.

              I just think the existence of real miracles is a very problematic thing for theism. They would be a fatal thing for atheism/materialism.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                An interesting event in recorded history that can be treated as a miracle or as a flukish event of nature is the survival of the Habsburg agents in the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 Catholics spoke of the Virgin Mary’s personal intervention, so Protestants started talking about a dung heap (C. V. Wedgwood referred to it as “a pile of moldering filth”).

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    Are not the Creation, incarnation, and resurrection miracles? Without these, we are stuck with the incoherence of Naturalism. Without the latter two, Christianity is damnable gibberish.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good. You’ve just transitioned me into a discussion of the chapter, “Man and Rabbit,” from C.S. Lewis’ “God in the Dock.”

      I was very disappointed with this chapter in the same way I am with the disingenuous (or just fatuous) formulation of: Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or the Lord. There are far more possibilities than that. Jesus could have been misquoted or misrepresented. It would have been quick and easy to transition a rabbi into a Messiah with a small and dedicated group of followers telling whatever story they wished to tell, for whatever reasons they wished to tell it.

      And we don’t know the ins and outs of ultimate reality. Is the only choice that Jesus be a lying man or the Lord? Are not there other possibilities, perhaps just a very enlightened man?

      In “Man and Rabbit,” C.S. Lewis uses the same faulty logic: Either Christianity is true or it isn’t. Well, such a statement flies past a whole host of possibilities. Islam could be true or not true. Hinduism could be true or not true, and so on. This is a throw-away essay of no great depth, although I think he has written about why an incarnated, self-sacrificing God makes sense in the scheme of things. But this essay is purely for believers. I found it somewhat delusional itself.

      However, the other essay you recommended (or at least wanted me to read), “The Trouble with X,” was enormously thoughtful and well-written. Here’s an excerpt:

      Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag or your son would still drink, or you’d still have to have your mother-in-law to live with you.It is a great step forward to realise that this is so; to face the fact that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with – and that you can’t alter their characters.

      And now comes the point. When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For, of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. He has provided a rich, beautiful world for people to live in. He has given them intelligence to show them how it can be used, and conscience to show them how it ought to be used. He has contrived that the things they need for their biological life (food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise) should be positively delightful to them. And, having done all this, He then sees all His plans spoiled just as our little plans are, spoiled – by the crookedness of the people themselves. All the things He has given them to be happy with they turn into occasions for quarreling and jealousy, and excess and hoarding, and tomfoolery.

      The entire chapter was a splendid read — whether or not Christianity is true.

      So therefore I would posit that what you offer is the same false choice that Lewis does. The choice isn’t between Christianity and naturalism. It’s between naturalism and all sorts of beliefs about supernaturalism. Christianity may be the best and only true version of supernaturalism. But that’s a different argument. I can reject naturalism and still not accept Christianity. Many do so, of course, from within Christianity where they treat, in the words of Lewis, their religion like a “patent medicine,” a way to feel good and be prosperous.

      Yes, without naturalism being the product of something else, and not its own maker (aka, without supernaturalism), there is no Jehovah. And without the specific miracles claimed in the New Testament, there is no Christianity. But Jews certainly believe in Jehovah (and their own set of miracles). I remain skeptical regarding miracles because they seem to be so easily and quickly fabricated, often not at all dishonestly, by people.

      And should an ultimate system depend on hearsay from thousands of years ago?

      Here’s a quote from the essay:

      One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any of you have really lost that desire. More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christianity is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of facts-to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.

      I more or less agree with that. But Clive doesn’t touch on the fact that the search for truth could proceed outside of Christianity. Or maybe parts of Christianity are true. In his writings, for instance, he seems to indicate that he doesn’t literally believe in things such as Jonah being eaten by a whale.

      The question of faith in regards to all this is if one is willing to say “This is all that I need to know.” My “natural inquisitiveness” simply doesn’t stop there.

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    As for the apostles, many men would die for a thing that they believed to be true. But how many would die for something they knew to be a lie? Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down. There were many Messiahs that popped up in that generation and all became mere backwater footnotes because they were not who they said they were. After the resurrection, 12 totally defeated and dejected men turned the world upside down. What event caused this? As Christ identified Himself with God (I and the Father am One), he would either be Lord, Lunatic, or Liar. He did not leave the option open that He was a great moral teacher on the order of a Buddha. Every man must answer the question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      If one can show (outside of biblical evidence) that these apostles died when they could have lived (and escaped torture) by abjuring their faith, that would be a strong indicator of the truth of Christianity. One weirdo might be believable; a whole slew of them isn’t.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      As for the apostles, many men would die for a thing that they believed to be true.

      I agree that the apostles believe it to be true. I’m not quite back at Christianity 101, Glenn. I was familiar with these arguments (and it’s a good one, in this case) twenty years ago.

      To be fair, to quote Timothy, the world has been full of people claiming this or that, or groups of people claiming this or that, including miracles, including being god or having a special connection to god, often including a willingness to die for these beliefs (not at all rare amongst humans). “God,” from the preponderance of the evidence of human behavior and psychology, is often little more than our inner conscious or desires made into an idol, thus the Second Commandment.

      I’m the first one to trumpet Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” There are various ways to translate that, but I’ve always taken it as “STFU…turn off your incessant internal dialogue. Stop wanting this, that, and the other thing. Turn off the siren of vulgar culture, if only for a moment, and see if some other connection arise other than never-ending internal blabber.”

      For if there is a God, and god made humans, then we have a built-in capacity to receive some kind of signal, presuming this God means to be in communication in an esoteric and subtle way. As for the truth of Christianity itself, that remains, at least for me, more of an idea than a reality.

  7. Gibblet says:

    “Note that the Bible generally has God trying to make use of natural functions for his miracles…”

    That’s a good point Timothy. Why reinvent the “wheel” in order to accomplish a “miracle” when He’s the One who invented the wheel (Us and all of Creation) in the first place?

    Many of the signs and wonders Jesus did while on earth He ascribed to the person’s faith, perhaps as a divine answer to the plea of many who need more than just a physical healing: “I believe. Help my unbelief”.

    As an example, a neighbor was in a horrific automobile accident some years ago. By the looks of things it was amazing she was not killed, she was told. One of her injuries was a compound fracture in her arm with the bone protruding through the skin……yet, by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital her arm was completely healed. She is a Christian and was no doubt praying hard all the way to the hospital. Did God allow her body’s natural (God endowed) healing power to work in a supernatural way to repair her arm in order to help her unbelief and bolster her exsisting faith – while His grace (unmerited favor) and mercy (love) answered her prayers for physical healing? Can that be defined as a miracle?

    This neighbor is a woman of very strong faith in God, made stronger by this “miracle”. And – because she continues to suffers other physical ailments for which, no doubt, she has prayed for healing- I conclude that the grace and mercy shown specifically to her for that specific injury was meant as another “sign and wonder” to all of us regarding the nature of God.

    Somewhere, recently I read, “We are not bodies that happen to have souls, we are souls that have bodies”. If that is the case, then it makes sense that God would make the salvation of our souls His top priority. That the bodies of the redeemed will then Oneday be ressurected in perfection and reunited with our souls is the wonder that is God.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      As an example, a neighbor was in a horrific automobile accident some years ago. By the looks of things it was amazing she was not killed, she was told. One of her injuries was a compound fracture in her arm with the bone protruding through the skin……yet, by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital her arm was completely healed.

      Gibblet, with all due respect, it’s stories such as these that have me doubting miracles. I guess if that happened to me, I would think otherwise. And I would hope if it did, all of you out there would consider me a credible and sober witness.

      But claims of miracles seem way too willy-nilly to me as if they were a means to try to rationalize our way outside of the laws of nature and find someone working specifically for us. And that could be. But cherry-picking facts and (in my opinion) inventing stories about miracles doesn’t do it for me. There’s a reason I remain skeptical about a lot of religious things and it’s not because I’m not open to the possibility of miracles.

      But I guess it’s like the Donald Trump factor. I’m not quick to jump on board and to BE-LIEVE x, y, and z about something without good cause. Trump is the miracle-worker of our economy, of illegal aliens, of planetary peace, and he’ll fix the Supreme Court. I just don’t have that kind of marching gullibility.

      Now, if someone were to say to be, “Brad, just have faith and live like it’s real. Gather up your cross and carry it. Learn to be hopeful and thankful instead of a grievance-filled pessimistic libtard.” Okay, I can go with that. And that message appeals to me. But all the other gobbledygook surrounding it turns me off.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This reminds me of the scene in The Brass Bottle when Tony Randall points out to the genie that he can’t persuade everyone he’s real. He can perform miracles for individuals, but when they realize he really has these powers, they will be considered crazy because genies don’t exist.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          The one who claims miracles can exalt in being on the side of the angels. The skeptic is the party-pooper. There’s very little to be gained from pointing out that it is unlikely that anyone’s compound fracture miraculously was cured. It’s more likely a story made up for one reason or another.

          But, of course, it’s always possible that a miracle happened somewhere. But how miracles have become cheapened by such stories. Genies might exist and miracles might happen. But does this genie exist or did that miracle happen? It’s impolite to wonder. That there is even the remote possibility that a miracle such as that happened is very pleasing because it gives up hope that we are not just dumped here on this planet to suffer and die with no reason at all. We are looked after.

          Well, I don’t believe in Darwinism but it’s perfectly possible that the way nature is set up, broken bones never, ever are healed via miracles. Them’s the breaks, so to speak. I wish this were not so. And I don’t flaunt my pessimism as one of The New Prometheans who wear their hard vision of life like a badge of honor.

          But I just prefer not to get lost in stories. If Christianity is true, it ought to be grounded in something more than just a dozen disciples. It ought to be true and proven every day in some objective way. But it remains a faith. That is to say, there remains a dark and blurry curtain over ultimate reality. We don’t know. We hope. But we don’t know. And I’d rather know fewer things for sure than to speculate, even if the speculation made me feel better.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            A good example of what it can take to heal a compund fracture can be fond in Gary Corby’s Death Ex Machina, in which an actor suffers a severely broken leg in a flaw, and the doctor (using a device actually invented by Hippocrates) straightens out the leg to enable the fracture to heal — accompanied by a great deal of pain. (The device bears a certain resemblance to the rack.)

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I would grant that a Creator created the complex program that runs our bodies, including our healing system. As they say, no doctor ever did anything (for the most part) but set the conditions up so that the body was able to heal itself (such as setting bones and/or sticking them back under the skin in the case of compound fractures).

              But I think the Ministry of Miracles is severely out of whack. Instead of putting the miraculous likeness of Jesus in a piece of toast, I would suggest that the Almighty heal AIDS-infected babies or people born with birth defects. I wish for everyone to lead a long and happy life. I hope that all their maladies are miraculously healed. But if I’m running the Ministry of Miracles, I would get to work pronto on the most deserving cases.

              But it doesn’t seem to work like that. Miracles are more word of mouth, a hope against hope that the shit of our lives is but an unpolished gem. God is great. God is good. God is perfect. And yet nature is harsh. I haven’t watched the show, but no wonder the popularity of series such as “Lost” where the premise is that a group stranded on a strange Island where paranormal happenings abound and the survivors have to figure out what’s going on. That’s the position we find ourselves in.

              But are the alleged paranormal happenings in our world real or the result of something else? What’s it all about? Christianity explains it all via the prism of sin/redemption. But the world seems far more multi-faceted and complex than that.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Norman Spinrad in his strange story “Carcinoma Angels” brought up spontaneous remissions, in which a cancer (for no reason anyone can tell) goes away. Naturally, people will tend to give credit to whatever they’re doing (such as praying), and call it a miracle. Who knows? Maybe it is. (Zenna Henderson once dealt with this in a short story — sadly, I don’t remember the title — in her collection Holding Wonder.)

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Let us all pray, Timothy, that anyone with cancer receives complete healing. Who knows? It might work. It’s worth a try. It costs nothing.

                We want the innocent to be comforted and the guilty to be punished….or at least led back to righteous ways. I’m all for that. But I’m not a big fan of magical thinking…the kind we see now that has elevated Trump to some kind of conservative messiah.

                The man’s a bum. Hillary is likely worse. But, please, could people hold onto their reason? No. And that’s one thing that bothers me about religion. It seems to often be little more than a framework for rationalizations.

                If people think that the Christian paradigm is how reality works, then fine. They might be right. But it just doesn’t ring true to me. It might be partially true. But, for example, if one born on another continent looked out on his world today, he’d find no evidence for it. There is nothing in the world that says it is horrific only because of sin or even that an Almighty God loves us or takes an interest in us. So what I’m saying is that Christianity could true in a tangential way. But it seems highly a product of culture.

                Maybe like those Trump supporters say about anyone who doesn’t buy Trump’s bullshit, I’m a “purist.” But I just don’t think it’s wrong that things should have a strong sense of making sense apart from the people who go around seeing images of Jesus in their Corn Flakes.

      • Gibblet says:

        I’m a bit behind the thread, but here goes… I wrote this yesterday:

        “Gibblet, with all due respect, it’s stories such as these that have me doubting miracles. I guess if that happened to me, I would think otherwise. And I would hope if it did, all of you out there would consider me a credible and sober witness.”

        Well, Brad, I didn’t really expect that you would believe the story, but rather that you would put it in the scales of possibility that may one day tip the balance from pessimism toward belief. It benefits me nothing to seem foolish by relating stories such as this. But for future reference, what kind of stories would help you overcome your doubt?

        I’ve tried to restate it accurately from when I heard it about six years ago, but I don’t know if the story is true because I wasn’t there. However, I have known my neighbor for those six years and she does not seem the type who needs to make up stories to fill some emotional deficit. She believes it actually happened, and according to her, the paramedics saw both the injury and the healed arm and were just as amazed as you would be. She was the only person in the vehicle when the semi pushed it against the barricade and drove over her, so none of her family can bear eyewitness. And since there is probably no proof of the injury/healing (photos, detailed police report), then how could it make the news (KFZ)? Maybe the paramedics noted it in their paperwork. I don’t know, and that’s not the point.

        “But claims of miracles seem way too willy-nilly to me as if they were a means to try to rationalize our way outside of the laws of nature and find someone working specifically for us. ”

        Is healing outside that laws of nature? Healing is part of our design, although the healing described was atypical. The point is that when you say God can’t do this, or God wouldn’t do that, or that God is not interested in me personally – you are putting supposed limits on your Creator. Does the clay question the potter? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4) Why can’t God be specifically interested in you? Is it…ungodly? Says who?

        “Now, if someone were to say to me, “Brad, just have faith and live like it’s real. Gather up your cross and carry it. Learn to be hopeful and thankful instead of a grievance-filled pessimistic libtard.” Okay, I can go with that. And that message appeals to me. But all the other gobbledygook surrounding it turns me off.”

        From your writing, I gather that you are already living this way. I’m just stirring the pot a bit, to see what comes to the surface.

        “That there is even the remote possibility that a miracle such as that happened is very pleasing because it gives us hope that we are not just dumped here on this planet to suffer and die with no reason at all. We are looked after.”


        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          And since there is probably no proof of the injury/healing (photos, detailed police report), then how could it make the news (KFZ)? Maybe the paramedics noted it in their paperwork. I don’t know, and that’s not the point.

          I have no idea if there were photos, police reports, paramedic paperwork, but if the paramedics saw all of this, they would have been witness to a miracle and in America, we generally don’t let “miracles” go unnoticed. As Brad has noted, we even look for Jesus in Corn Flakes.

          The news media loves to report on this type of thing. So while there is no guarantee that such a “miracle” would have made the news, the odds are pretty good that word of it would have gotten out to some TV station, radio station or newspaper.

          • Gibblet says:

            There once were a couple of doubters
            Of miracles, they were not touters
            Miraculous healing they mocked
            In the story she hocked
            Cause the truth never came from reporters

            But, just so we don’t take the side track
            The point, I must now bring back
            That God won’t be mocked
            Though our senses be rocked
            Who’s to say He can’t be like that?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            ‘Though reporters and truth do not mix
            About miracles I don’t perforce nix
            But with children a-dyin’
            And small babies cryin’
            It’s sure strange the things that get first fix

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Just out of curiosity, have you ever read The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder? We had it (and his play Our Town) in 10th grade.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Haven’t read that one.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                It involves the collapse of a rope bridge, killing 5 people, and a local priest’s effort to figure out why them and not somebody else.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Sounds interesting. It could be because the combination of weight, frayed rope, and just bad luck came together at that moment. Like it or not, we’re more or less on our own regarding these things. Rope bridges that collapse don’t require a divine explanation.

                This kind of thinking is the best grist for the atheist mill because they commonly dismiss any idea of God as simply people anthropomorphizing nature. And you can’t blame them. A friend of mine says (or I read) that you have to get rid of all the little false gods before you can ever get to the real one.

              • Gibblet says:

                You might enjoy Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade – a good choice for your next trip to the Hermitage.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                You might enjoy Abandonment to Divine Providence

                I’ve actually read most of that, Gibblet. And what I’ve decided to do is to drop my part in any discussion of religion. It’s never been particularly fruitful. People believe what they want to believe. I’ve always approached it as if there is objective reality…one that necessarily is subject to reason, reasonable probability, and evidence. That’s how I approach it. That’s not how most do. So I’ve basically been talking only to myself to no avail and I will cease wasting any more energy in this regard. No hard feelings. But that’s the last you’ll hear from me on the subject.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              It’s sure strange the things that get first fix

              Ain’t it the truth.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One of her injuries was a compound fracture in her arm with the bone protruding through the skin……yet, by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital her arm was completely healed.

      What does that mean?

      Did the bone pull itself back under the skin and regrow into one healthy piece? Did the wound, where the bone had previously protruded through the skin, stop bleeding, close and scar over by the time the ambulance reached the hospital?

      Or was it a case of the medics straightening the bone, bandaging the wound and giving her 15mg of morphine to ease the pain?

      If it had been the first, we would have heard about it across the country. The news media would have eaten it up.

  8. Glenn Fairman says:

    One need only consider the re-establishment of the state of Israel, scant months after the horror of the Holocaust, to see God’s intervention in human history. If this does not qualify as a miracle, what does? The laws of nature do not have to be suspended in order that His will is accomplished.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Maybe it is a miracle. But let’s notice that we humans are defining it as so. How reliable is that?

      Men built Israel. However, if every single mosque within a 500 mile radius had suddenly disappeared, then I would agree to the miraculous.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One need only consider the re-establishment of the state of Israel, scant months after the horror of the Holocaust, to see God’s intervention in human history.

      On basis of your formulation, the question naturally arises, “Was the Holocaust part of God’s intervention in human history?”

      I believe a good case can be made that the Holocaust helped pave the way of the establishment of the modern state of Israel. The Western world had been shocked at Nazi crimes and misdeeds during WWII, thus the call for the establishment of Israel, which was an old one, was looked upon in a more favorable way than it might have otherwise been.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        It is not in the nature of God to be an initiator of evil on the innocent so that a good might become of it. That reeks of Calvinism and Hegel. He does, however, steer man’s evil intent towards a greater good….a redeeming of evil. An interesting book here is “Is God a Moral Monster?”

        A scant 100 years earlier, a revived state of Israel, despite the fact that it was prophesized in the OT, was thought to be a fantasy–even by Evangelical Christians who had bought into Replacement Theology.

        We have a tendency to look for miracles writ large, or a stunning cure of a cancer case that medicine considered hopeless. Yet, the truly miraculous is a person whom God transforms in his wretchedness into something of beauty, in everlasting terms. Nation states come and go, but it is the players in this drama that God is mining—silent and relentlessly. If I ever pen an autobiography, you will see exactly what I mean..

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Glenn, here’s what I think. I haven’t read “Is God a Moral Monster” but I know the routine. God is blamed for all the bad stuff. I don’t do that. I credit God for all the good stuff too. And I also note that an enormous amount of the bad stuff is due to human sin. Not all of it by any means. But a lot of it.

          I don’t think I’m cherry-picking reality to say this. I think life is an extremely complex thing with a healthy dollop of impenetrable obscurity thrown on top. I don’t think God is a moral monster and yet he allows stuff to happen that would indeed make you or me a moral monster if we had it in our power to stop (such as snuffing Hitler in his crib, for example).

          Christians balance this all out by saying the bad guys will get theirs by going to hell. Maybe. Maybe not. But whether this is true or not, nature is set up so that bad things happen…along with good things of course. God is at least a complicated character.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Yet, the truly miraculous is a person whom God transforms in his wretchedness into something of beauty, in everlasting terms.

          And when you say things like this, this is where Christians *don’t* lose me. Donald Trump is just the gift who keeps on giving. I’ve seen how people can so easily lose their minds. I can see how easily confusion and corruption can reign. I do not believe that man on his own can rise above himself. Turning wretchedness into something of beauty is indeed a wonderful things, possibly a miraculous thing. And I do believe that comes from a source outside of us. We’ve seen what happens when people try to “fix” themselves via human psychology only.

          But I get so friggin’ tired of people seeing Jesus in their pop tarts or splash of coffee and claiming a miracle. Reflecting what Mr. Kung said, perhaps had God stopped the holocaust with a great intervention, I would have considered that a miracle. But I don’t automatically consider the rebuilding after this to be a miracle.

          • Gibblet says:

            There once was a major disaster
            The door to unleash, He held fast, Sir
            We never will know
            What might have come from below
            By His will, it never came out here

  9. Gibblet says:

    “No hard feelings. But that’s the last you’ll hear from me on the subject.”

    I’m sorry, Brad.
    I guess there needs to be a humor font, because as hard as I tried to type that book recommendation (a manual for monks) with a straight face, I couldn’t hold it and ended up laughing as I pictured you reading it on the mountaintop. I’m glad you’ve read part of the book….now you are in on my joke! Many Christians have a sense of humor, and I had hoped mine, though subtle, would be obvious. No hard feelings….

  10. David Schmalz says:

    Illuminating as usual.
    My own parents passed awhile ago.
    They were abusive sinners – and I wrestled with the commandment to honor them.
    In the end, I did what I could at their funerals, extolling only their limited virtues. I left it for God to judge what I could not righteously.
    Peace came only with time, prayer and spiritual reflection.
    I have come to regard that as my own miracle.
    -David in Boston

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