Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Category Archives: Scripture

Beautiful Things

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

  ~ Revelation 21:5

On a trip to help my dad pick up a lawn-mower today, I slipped on a hill that turned out to be muddier than it looked. I caught myself, but my hand was covered in earth as a result. I wiped it off as best I could, knowing with some annoyance that I wouldn’t be able to wash it off until much later. But a few minutes later, I looked at my hand in the sunlight — and scattered all over it were grains of something that sparkled in the light. I suppose there are specks like in any handful of dirt, but I’d forgotten about them. In those particles of dust and grime filling the lines of my palm, I saw a touch of beauty shining at me. That reminded me of this song.

Whether or not you’re familiar with it — even if you can’t yet relate to the heartfelt story of  pain and redemption captured in its notes — it’s worth listening to and giving time to reflect over:

One of the ways I think our Lord most delights to display His beauty is through using what is weak, what is despised, what is barren, what is broken, what is forsaken, what is worn and exhausted, to shine the very radiance of His face. He makes everything beautiful in its time — even pain, even weakness and defeat, even lowliness and ashes, even dust. We serve a God of beauty.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

  ~ Psalm 27:4

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A word from Remarque/The sting, the indifference, and the triumph

Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.

~ Erich Maria Marque, All Quiet on the Western Front

I finished my first war novel yesterday, All Quiet on the Western Front, for one of my history classes… Had I read it, I might have been tempted to breeze through the story too quickly, or gotten distracted by the number of commas and somewhat run-on sentences (which I suspect partly results from it being a translation from German; then again, that’s how I write sometimes too). But with a good audiobook recording, there is no such option… Mere marks of punctuation become gasps, human pauses and tones rife with expression; the human reality becomes manifest in a way that can’t be escaped by skimming ink on a page.

I’m not advertising for audiobooks or discrediting reading out of a physical book in any way. All I mean to say is I had no way out. The grey world Remarque fashioned enveloped me, engulfed my soul as I listened. The battlefields of the Great War (aka World War I) in all their awfulness, desperation and numbing deadness, became real to me; as real as they could have been, short of my being there in person. I heard nothing but words, words; but I felt the horror of the world in them.

One of the greatest points of emphasis in our class has been how prior to WWI, the West was at the height of optimism. Progress was inevitable, Western superiority unassailable, confidence unshakable. Then came the war.

It was more terrible than anything anyone had ever known. It shattered the tower of optimism the West had been erecting for at least a century. The delusion strained and broke under the weight of millions upon millions of corpses, strewing the battlefields of Europe. The wonderful technological advances of mankind became deadly: artillery that decimated entire regiments, gas that dissolved one’s lungs from the inside, machine guns that could mow down dozens or even hundreds in a single battle. And this was progress?

No longer did the world seem orderly, rational, and always improving. Now, it seemed senseless, violent, chaotic and void of meaning. And so, the castle of modernity crumbled, and the ghostly form of post-modernity began to rise from the ashes. Nihilism and hedonism became respectable – what else was left? When the order of the universe seems to go to pieces at your feet, what else can you do but numbingly conclude that nothing truly matters? That the opiate of pleasure is all that remains?

The cry of Ecclesiastes became widespread: “Meaningless! All is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Therefore, eat, drink and squeeze what little pleasure out of this rotten life you can, before it all comes to an abysmal end…

Yesterday we were under fire, to-day we act the fool and go foraging through the countryside, to-morrow we go up to the trenches again. We forget nothing really. But so long as we have to stay here in the field, the front-line days, when they are past, sink down like a stone; they are too grievous for us to be able to reflect on them at once. If we did that, we should have been destroyed long ago…

“Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing which brings us though safely, so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting. We can do nothing else, it is a sheer necessity. We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in peacetime, would be out of place here. Kemmerich is dead, Haie Westhus is dying… Martens has no legs anymore. Meyer is dead, Max is dead, Beyer is dead, Hämmerling is dead, there are a hundred and twenty wounded men lying somewhere or other; it is a damnable business, but what has it to do with us now – we live… We will make ourselves comfortable and sleep, and eat as much as we can stuff into our bellies, and drink and smoke so that the hours are not wasted. Life is short.

Remarque could have merely described the numbing effect of the war on the main character and the other young soldiers in his novel. But he did more than that… he made you live it with them. He made you experience the sheer weight of the agonizing horror, the desperate purposelessness, and (eventually) the stoic indifference that these soldiers felt – that they had to make themselves feel to stay alive enough to function one more day. I felt nihilism creeping into my own soul as I listened; how can one believe in purpose, in meaning, in any sort of goodness in life apart from carnal pleasure, after experiencing what these men experienced on a daily basis for nearly four years? Each man was like a card in a deck, randomly shuffled and left open for the wind to whip about in any direction it pleased;  some straight into the fire, some only to be singed, some to be seared so badly that it would have been better if the whole card had been burnt, damned at once to the flames rather than this agonizing half-existence of torment. All at the whim of the breezes.

Little wonder that they became indifferent. How can life have meaning after a living Hell like this? What purpose or ultimate value is there in an empty, heartless existence of Russian roulette? A game without thrill, without order, without plan or purpose… only death for the randomly selected and emptiness for the survivor. A game so vicious that the only way to survive is to let it all sink down, down like a stone, into the recesses of one’s being… The sting is too much. Indifference becomes the only way to cope. It all must be… must be meaningless.

But that’s just it though… If there was no meaning in it all, if life had no purpose, if all of existence truly was nothing but chasing after the wind, a random game where it doesn’t matter who dies and who survives to emptiness… why would death matter? Why should we fear it so? Indeed, if life had no meaning, death wouldn’t either; it would have no sting. If there were no meaning or purpose in life, there would be no terror in dying, no horror at the atrocities of this world, no agony in war. Remove absolute goodness and you have an amoral world; and no longer can you be touched by the grasp of evil and suffering, because all is meaningless. The young men of Remarque’s novel let their feeling sink down into them, make their hearts stony, because they realize this. If they continue believing in purpose and meaning, they shall be torn to pieces by the horror before them. But if they are indifferent… if all becomes meaningless, then the terror of seeing death and unspeakable pain all around them is numbed. “Fear we do not know much about — terror of death, yes; but that is a different matter, that is physical.” The real suffering, the heart-pain one finds in seeing one’s comrades fall and writhe in agony… that can be muffled away if all is devoid of meaning. They cut themselves off from the feeling of death by cutting themselves off from life.

They are unable to handle the reality of death; not because it doesn’t matter but because it matters too much. And the only way they can bear the piercing, terrifying gaze of death is to make nothing matter. Only keep yourself busy doing nothing; pursuing empty pleasures that have no substance but distract for a time so that you don’t have to remember the emptiness within you. It can’t be filled, but it can be ignored. So let it sink down… it’s the only way to keep living.

Thus far, I have lead a stain-free existence. Even for a fairly well-off, middle-class citizen of a ridiculously privileged nation, my life has been remarkably free from pain. And when compared to the daily, crushing suffering of millions across the globe, it almost makes me sick. Certainly it makes we wonder… why should I be spared? I’m no better, I know that for a fact. And whenever I catch the smallest glimpse of the suffering others have experienced in this world, down through the years and to this day, my words fail me… but still, I must ask: Why so much pain, so much agony? Why the seemingly pointless suffering, the endless groaning, the futile pleas for relief? Why does death reign so strong?

I know nothing of the suffering of those soldiers in that Great War; I might imagine it pretty well on the receiving end of an audiobook through the mastery of a writer like Remarque and an actor like the one I opened my ears to. But even when I do suffer truly one day, I know that I will never know a fraction of the pain that they or other millions of inhabitants of this world and its history knew daily in their bones and hearts. I don’t have all or even most of the answers, and I don’t even have the true experience of pain to back up the little I do know. But what I do know is this:

There is another way. There is a solution, and it is not to turn one’s heart to stone, appealing as that is. It is not indifference, it is not meaninglessness or vainly chasing pleasure to make the pain go away. And it is not embracing the death.

It is life itself swallowing death up.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our human frailty, we could not dream of speaking such bold words. Death is too mighty, immeasurably too awful for us to taunt… Yet when we serve a Lord who triumphed over the grave, who became the victim of death – and won anyway – only then can the victory be sounded. Only then is the sting of death removed – not by removing life as well, but by Life overcoming all the force that Death can boast. It is only by the triumph of Life over Death.

Today, I celebrate that triumph. I have no victory to boast of in myself; but I boast in my Lord who overcame all, who is Life Himself, who died and now lives forevermore. And because I am in Him, I do not fear the power of death.

One day – perhaps through war, perhaps through another medium of evil – one day, I will suffer, and this time not merely through my vicarious imagination. It will be real to me as it never has been before. Will my neat ideological categories hold then? Will I be able to keep myself from allowing a heart of stone to sink deep into me, to harden with indifference, as my only means of survival? If all my words were merely a theory, I doubt it. Better men than I have cracked under far less.

But because I stand in a reality, because my confidence comes not in an optimism in mankind or a philosophy in myself, I can say with full confidence that, by the grace of God, it will be possible to stand fast, with a heart of flesh that is willing to be broken again and again, and made new each morning by new life. It can be done; it has been before. I know not if I will be adequate for the trail – I probably won’t be – but I serve a God who is faithful. And no matter how weak I am, no matter how powerfully Death rears its head and crushes me beneath its load, the One who is called Life is greater yet.

I learned the sting of death from Remarque in a way I have never known before. I felt a fearful indifference bent on survival rise up in me as never before. But just maybe, I understand my Lord’s triumph over Death in His everlasting Life a little bit better this day because of it.

Wishing you a Resurrection Sunday filled with the true knowledge of His power,

~ Timothy

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite?

When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night

Where is the victory, where is the prize?

When the grave robber comes, and death finally dies

~ Petra, “Grave Robber”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I first heard this song last Christmas, but it seemed especially appropriate this year, in light of all that happened in Connecticut so terribly recently…

Based off of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the full poem can be found here), this song has been running through my head quite often of late. Whether or not you’re already familiar with the poem or song, please take a moment to listen. Whatever is filling your heart and mind this Christmastime, I pray that this song encourages and strengthens you.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

~ Hebrews 13:20-21

Liberty

I was recently working on a paper concerning the Puritans and how they viewed (and lived in light of their view of) freedom. One of the verses I used was 2 Corinthians 3:17, and the moment it popped into my head, this song would not leave me alone.

Even if you’re familiar with the song, check out this collab between Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham. Good stuff.

Here’s to being free indeed!

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”

~ John 8:34-36

15 Biblical Ways to Get a Spouse

1) Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. (Deut. 21:11-13)

2) Find a prostitute and marry her. (Hosea 1:1-3)

3) Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock. — Moses (Ex. 2:16-21)

4) Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal. — Boaz (Ruth 4:5-10)

5) Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. — Benjaminites (Judges 21:19-25)

6) Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: this will cost you a rib. — Adam (Gen. 2:19-24)

7) Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. Fourteen years of toil for a wife. — Jacob (Gen. 29:15-30)

8) Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife. — David (1 Sam. 18:27)

9) Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you’ll definitely find someone. (It’s all relative though.) — Cain (Gen. 4:16-17)

10) Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a year-long beauty contest. — Xerxes (Esther 2:3-4)

11) When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, “I have seen a woman; now get her for me.” If your parents question your decision, simply say, “Get her for me. She’s the one for me.” — Samson (Judges 14:1-3)

12) Get a man drunk, send him off to war and make sure he dies, then take HIS wife. (Prepare to lose four children though.) — David (2 Sam. 11)

13) Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!) — Onan and Boaz (Deut. or Lev.)

14) Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity. — Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3)

15) A wife? — Paul (1 Corinthians 7)

*   *   *   *   *

I was hoping to have a more profound “first post from the college life” (and ironically enough, I’m sharing this while home for Labor Day weekend), but my theology professor shared this list with us the other day while discussing the various ways the word “biblical” can be used (appearing in the Bible, commanded or condoned by the Bible, and so on), and it seemed worth sharing. Clearly, this list pertains mostly to men, but as my professor made very clear, íf you accept the logic implicit in this list already then there’s really no reason a woman can’t apply any of these to herself as well.

My class nearly died laughing. But who knows? You may find this list edifying, or perhaps even… applicable.

Just remember: they’re all “biblical.”

With a newfound appreciation for hermeneutics,

~ Timothy

Live Like That

This song has been the cry of my heart for some time now. The first time I heard it on the radio, it felt as if someone had dipped a pen into the inkwell of my heart and written a poem with it. I don’t know if it rings the same with you, but it’s worth hearing if you’ve never heard it, and being re-listened to if you have:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:14-16

Hungry

I attended the graduation ceremony of a friend last week, and heard this song for the first time as part of the short worship set at the beginning. It was a rare opportunity; I usually like to sing to everything, especially worship music (and if I can find a working harmony, even better). But here, I found myself not knowing this song that everyone else clearly was familiar with and loved, a song that they were now singing out with all of their being. So I just listened.

Generic? I suppose you could call it that. But drinking in the words (especially the first two lines) makes me aware of how heartfelt they are. Sometimes the simple, even slightly generic words say it best.

(Speaking of heartfelt words, I found a short interview excerpt from the writer, Kathryn Scott, about what she was living through when she wrote this song; check it out if you enjoy Scottish accents.)

Maybe you’re familiar with this song. Maybe, like me until last week, you’ve never heard it before. Regardless, reflect on the words for a spell. Consider the worth of our Lord, and how we can do nothing but fall to our knees at His feet and give Him all that we have and are in response.

Consider how He alone ultimately satisfies our hunger.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.

~ Matthew 5:3-6

How He Loves

This song has been haunting the back of my mind for the past few days, like the ghost of a dear, long-forgotten friend. It’s doubtless been years since I last heard it, up until a few days ago, and it’s not left me alone since. If you’re not overly familiar with it, you’ve probably heard the chorus before at least.

Regardless, let this song fill you for a moment. Reflect on that everlasting, unshakable, deep, deep love… After all, it belongs to you, especially if you are in Christ. It is yours today. Do not make the mistake of forgetting how He loves you…

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

~ Ephesians 3:14-19

Good Friday, Happy Easter

I wasn’t sure what to say for an Easter post. Then I went over to the blog of one of my former teachers and saw this post (I wasn’t sure how to reblog it directly, so I just copy-and-pasted the whole thing here):

——————————————————————

Good Friday: Reflecting on my sin and Savior who paid the penalty.

Resurrection Day: Celebrating. He lives. Hallelujah!

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

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Made my day.

What more is there to say? He took our punishment, and He has risen!

Happy Resurrection Day!

~ Timothy

You’re beautiful

I considered sharing this song through a video with more pictures, effects, and so on, but I wanted the focus to be on the song itself. On the words. On the truths behind those words.

Drink them in, regardless of if you’ve never heard this song before or heard it a million times. If you are a believer, if Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior — this song belongs to you.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

~ Romans 5:1-8