Friday, August 17, 2018

The Problem of Pain

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
Ps 71:20

Psalm 71:20 is very much about resurrection, for I can easily imagine the cross and the empty tomb when I read these words. But I must remember that this psalm is also for me all through the course of my life. To paraphrase Calvin:

If I enjoy nothing but a uniform course of prosperity, I'll no doubt have good reason to be happy. But in that case I would never experience what it is to be delivered from destruction by the stupendous power of God. I must be brought down even to the gates of death before I can see God as my deliverer.

I know that to some this is a poor explanation for the problem of pain. But I have to admit that it works for me. It's not the only explanation. It's not even the best explanation. But it's a good explanation, because even somebody who resists it has to admit it's true: I cannot appreciate goodness if goodness is all I experience. If I eat nothing but candy, I will never appreciate how good chocolate or caramel are, since they're all I'll know.* Moreover, a diet of candy is so unbalanced as to be unhealthy. And the same can be said about joy: If I only know joy, I'll never appreciate what joy actually is. Moreover, it is unhealthy to know only joy, for then how could I coëxist with those who suffer? Such people would be so foreign to me that I couldn't even communicate with them, let alone be of any help to them. My life would lose meaning.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin, born March 25, 1942, joined the church triumphant today.

Saint Rocco's Day

Today's the feast day of Rocco (Roch), the patron saint of dogs.

In Bolivia, today is considered to be the birthday of all dogs.

The Wisdom of Age

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
Ps 71:9

Look, I get it. Congregations want younger people. A church that has no young people may have to shut its doors in a generation. But that doesn't mean I like seeing the blurbs in the denomination's employment opportunities section stating explicitly that a particular congregation wants a pastor who can "attract young families."

Most older people also like seeing younger people in the church. But let's not cast our seniors off in the process. It was often their vision and hard work that built the community of faith into something substantial, and it's even more often their gifts that keep it going in its present form. So I think they deserve more respect than we often give them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Place of Refuge

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me.
✜ Ps 71:1-2a

Psalm 70 ended with a very impatient prayer: "Don't delay." And about the opening verse of Psalm 71, Calvin says that the one "whose mind is in a state of constant fluctuation, and whose hope is divided by being turned in different directions, in each of which he is looking for deliverance, or who, under the influence of fear, disputes with himself, or who obstinately refuses the Divine assistance, or who frets and gives way to restless impatience, is unworthy of being succored by God." 

But wasn't "restless impatience" the whole point of Psalm 70:5?

I suppose the answer is Yes and No. Impatience, yes. But the impatience was single-minded. It was focused on God alone, and if the prayer were not answered as immediately, the psalmist's mind would not flit off to some other possible source of help. It was God or nobody.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Take On Me

This song was big in the mid-80's when I was still in grad school. I think its official music video was probably one of the cleverest of all time. For obvious reasons, the group, A-ha, reminds me of yesterday's portion of the psalter. In reading about A-ha yesterday morning, I discovered they were Norwegian. I never knew that before.