Monday, 23 May 2016

Monday quote

The new morality: That if a book is a great "work of art" it doesn't matter whether it corrupts or not, because art matters more than behaviour. In other words, art matters more than life; comment on life, or the mirroring of life, more than life itself. This sounds very like nonsense.

C.S. Lewis. "Sex in Literature," Present Concerns.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Monday quote

The left is more interested in redistributing wealth than in creating it.

Dennis Prager

Monday, 9 May 2016

Monday quote

The devil knows your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Monday quote

What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe!

Blaise Pascal

Monday, 25 April 2016

Monday quote

The family, after all, is the original and best department of health, education and welfare.

William Bennett

Monday, 18 April 2016

Monday quote

Second Great Commandment—which I usually abbreviate "2C"—(second behind giving God first place in your life, 1C). In everything you do, you need to give the other person at least as much deference as you want for yourself.

Tom Pittman

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Does marrying early help avert the sins of pornography use and fornication

Doug Wilson has written a somewhat controversial post, 7 Reasons Young Men Should Marry Before Their 23rd Birthday. Though I don't necessarily agree with everything he has said, I think the principles behind it are sound. I would like to give my take on a few of his claims (though Wilson may not agree with how I have read him).

The distinction between gift of celibacy and the gift of singleness is probably important: a man with the gift of celibacy is not distracted by women.

Concerning the issue of age. I do not think Christians should approach marriage the way that Wilson recommends. I think we should be more circumspect and place more emphasis on prayer and hearing God in the situation. That said, we need to consider the situation Christians find themselves on a population basis. When are they marrying and why? What are their relationships like prior to marriage? Do they differ from their secularist friends? Are they subsequently divorcing?

It may be that Christian men should marry younger on average. Yet even if this were true this would apply to the group, there would be plenty of individuals who for specific reasons would marry later (and earlier) than average. The church can give general teaching on the nature of marriage and general principles and at the same time, give advice on learning to hear from God in their own situation. What this means is that (specific) people who marry significantly older than the average for good reasons are not an argument against the proposal that Christians (generally) may be waiting too long for marriage.

Something that may suggest people are waiting too long is how they are behaving. The Bible is clear that sex outside of marriage is wrong yet way too many Christians are fornicating. Now adultery is a much more serious sexual sin than extra-marital sex. And God can forgive fornication. Even so, it is a sin, a serious one, and one that Christians should not minimise, especially in the defence of other good things that people desire such as education and work. If the percentage of Christians marrying as virgins is low then perhaps the age of marriage may be part of the issue. Paul after all did write
because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (1Co 7:2-3)
and
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1Co 7:8-9)
So if a person is being tempted to have sex, or is even having sex, then Paul says it is preferable to be married. Arguments about needing to finish university, or having enough money, and many other important things, and largely irrelevant in this context. If you are old enough to be having sex you are old enough to be married, and if you are too young to be married you are too young to be sexually active (not physically, morally).

Which brings us to Wilson's comments on pornography.
The temptations of porn do not disqualify men for marriage. Rather they qualify men for marriage. God has a solution for sexual temptation for those not gifted with celibacy. That gift is called sex, bounded and surrounded with covenant vows.
He expands this in the article though one needs to read more Wilson if he disagrees with him here. Not that reading more may convince him otherwise, just that he will better understand Wilson's position.

Reading through the comments reveals significant misunderstanding of Wilson here. When Wilson says this about a consumer of porn
If a man despises women, hates his mother and sisters, and seeks out the kind of porn that specializes in degrading women, then no one should be surprised that marriage will fix nothing. Something else is wrong with him
he is talking about a person with a specific problem and is not talking about the pornography industry. Of course the industry is degrading and despising of women. But not every man who has seen or used pornography is as depraved as the industry or the hardcore consumer. This is not a defence of the mildness of porn, porn is dangerous and the industry is diabolical. It is saying that people are on a scale and the use of pornography, while always wrong, may be for mixed reasons. One of those reasons is we are sexual and struggle with our sexuality. Porn is an illegitimate outlet for this. Paul says that marriage is a legitimate outlet for this. (I think that refraining from sexual urges when not married makes it easier over time to be self-controlled, and indulging them—including using pornography—makes it harder. Porn feeds intemperance.)

Marrying early may help avert the sins of pornography use and fornication. There are other things to be considered but idea should not be overly contentious.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Monday quote

They never tire of telling us of the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome, but the Church was infamous because it satisfied the Greek intellect and wielded the Roman power.

G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936), The New Jerusalem.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Monday quote

Whenever the church picks up the sword, it lays down the cross.

Greg Boyd

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Bible text design

Publishers have improved the display of the Bible text over the years. I don't mind double columns, they allow a smaller overall Bible; still a single column Bible is preferable. It is many years since I have had a Bible with the text divided by verses; all Bibles should have paragraph format. Nevertheless, the chapter divisions are still quite apparent in modern Bibles. Chapters are often dropcaps 2 deep. There is no indent when chapters start a paragraph unlike the non-chapter paragraphs. In the uncommon situation where chapters do not start a paragraph the verse number "1" is included at the location of the chapter beginning.

Some prefer no verse or chapter divisions though numbers throughout the text have never bothered me. They are useful for reference but just need to be prevented from affecting the flow of the text.

Section headings are frequently included and can be helpful in locating a passage. As they are not part of the text they are often displayed in an alternative font. A bolded fontface makes them appear more important than they are.

What I would like to see is a paragraphed Bible where the verses and chapters are included but do not modify the flow. The best option it seems is to leave the verse numbers within the text (some Bibles remove them to the margins) and move the chapter numbers out of the text. A bolded chapter number the same size as the text is less noticeable than a 2 deep dropcap—bolded or unbolded.

A single column leaves page space on the other side of the text for section headings. Using a different font clearly differentiates the headings from the text. Italics may aid this though bolding will over emphasise the headings.

Further de-emphasising the references and headings can be accomplished by greying. An alternative option is the addition of colour which can be quite stylish though making these feature more prominent.

Here is a sample text which I think displays these features more optimally.

Genesis 14:17-15:6. ESV including section headings.

Paragraph indenting is double for poetry and 4 times for line overflow (not shown); no further indenting for parallel verses. Slightly greater line spacing.

The Bible text font is Calisto, as are the chapter numbers and verse numbers. Chapter numbers are the same size as text and bolded. Chapter and verse numbers are 50% grey. The section heading font is italicised Arial; 65% grey.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Monday quote

If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.

Timothy Keller

Monday, 21 March 2016

Monday quote

Among many other reasons, Christianity is good for the world because it makes hypocrisy a coherent concept.

Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World?, p33.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Judah and Tamar

The story of Judah and Tamar raises questions for some Christians. The story itself seems a little unusual to moderns, and others have wondered why Tamar is called righteous, especially when engaging in prostitution.

The story is in Genesis 38 and is worth a read if you have not read it before or are not particularly familiar with it.

Briefly, Judah marries and has 3 sons. He finds a wife, Tamar, for his eldest son Er who is put to death by God for his wickedness before they have children. Tamar marries the next son who refuses to conceive children as any children through Tamar will be regarded as Er's brothers offspring not his, and God kills him also. Then Tamar is sent back to her father until the youngest son is old enough to marry her. Judah does not give the youngest to Tamar for fear he would die as well. Judah's wife dies. Tamar disguises herself and Judah has sex with her thinking she is a cult prostitute. On learning of Tamar's pregnancy Judah orders her execution, which is stayed because Tamar proves Judah is the father.

The story is more detailed and more dramatic than my brief summary. I wish to draw out some issues that I think helps understand this story. I used to think that Tamar's behaviour was wrong, just less wrong than Judah's; now I am more inclined to defend Tamar's actions.

Dealing with Judah's sons Er and Onan firstly. We are not told of the sin of Er, not that it matters greatly. God put him to death for his wickedness. As God is the ultimate judge; all human judges gaining their authority from him. If Er's actions warranted death in God's sight then he deserved death. And if God enacted that judgment then so be it.

The idea that a man had children for his deceased childless brother thru the widow appears to be an ancient custom. Moses describes the laws surrounding this situation in Deuteronomy 25 though this is over 200 years later. In cultures for much of history, and especially thousands of years ago a woman relied on her father for protection and provision. On marriage this responsibility passed to the husband. Now one's identity was strongly related to his family: posterity for men and raising children for women. A widow is left without protection and support. Childless women carried the shame of their condition, raising children being the focus of her role in society. Children also provided for one in his old age. So a childless woman has the shame of childlessness (though maybe not to the same extent as infertility), no child to help support her as she ages, and no husband to protect or provide for her at the time. This left her particularly vulnerable.

The brother in such society was to marry the widow. This immediately gave the widow provision that she lacked, but also the promise of children. The first child (or children) would be considered as a descendant of the deceased husband so as to preserve his name in future generations. The brother was able to take his own wife and have his own family. Of course some of his income would go to support his brother's widow. Note that Judah describes the marrying of a widow as a duty.
Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother."
While Onan took Tamar as his wife, his refusal to enable her to conceive was both an affront to Tamar as she was unable to be a mother, and an affront to his dead brother as he would be left without posterity. It was a very harsh situation. Essentially there was no other option for Tamar, as long as Onan was alive Tamar was unable to remarry yet she would stay childless and Er may remain without remembrance. I tend to think God was probably more concerned with Onan's mistreatment of Tamar than Er's sin. Onan's sin entailed significant mistreatment of others and for such wickedness God put him to death. We see elsewhere in Scripture God's great concern for the defenceless such as widows and orphans.

After Onan's death Tamar was now free to remarry and the duty now fell to Judah's next son Shelah. Apparently Shelah was too young and Judah sent Tamar back to her father. The real reason is that Judah feared for Shelah's life. A question is raised as to how old was Shelah and was he really too young. More importantly was it right for Judah to send Tamar back to her father. I am uncertain as to whether Judah should have taken responsibility for Tamar and provided for her in his own house. This seems possible based on the comment that Judah feared for Shelah, that is, sending her away alleviated Judah's fears.

Judah failed to give Shelah to Tamar when Shelah was of age. This is mistreatment of Tamar by Judah; she is in the same situation as when she was with Onan: unable to remarry (as pledged to Shelah) and unable to have children. Tamar's solution is to goes up to meet Judah in disguise. It is uncertain whether Tamar intended to appear as a prostitute in order to have sex with Judah, or whether she responded to his request for sex.
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”
The text may read that he thought she was a prostitute because of the veil. However it possibly just implies that he thought she was a prostitute because she was sitting at the entrance to Enaim and he did not recognise her because her face was covered with a veil. Judah's friend Hirah calls her a cult prostitute (qedeshah).

Tamar takes a pledge then leaves before Judah can redeem it. Tamar dresses like a widow again. Judah finds out she is pregnant and demands she be burned. Tamar was betrothed to Shelah so getting pregnant is proof of adultery. This was punishable by death. Adultery is a more serious crime than sex outside of marriage or prostitution by a woman who is not betrothed or married. The request for death by burning seems a little excessive by Judah. It is prescribed in Leviticus 21 for daughters of priests who become prostitutes, possibly because priests are to be holy.

Tamar returns the pledge to Judah making him aware the child is his. Then we hear this interesting comment by Judah
She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.
This is not necessarily claiming Tamar is righteous, the comparison is with him. Judah is acknowledging that his behaviour is worse than Tamar's. Judah is not claiming that he is indeed righteous, thus he need not be claiming that Tamar is either.

Nevertheless, I think Tamar's choice may be acceptable, and if not the best decision, surely an understandable response of a desperate woman. A key to understanding this episode is that Tamar's behaviour with Judah had nothing to do with sex. It was that from Judah's point of view, but for Tamar it was merely the means for her to gain the status and responsibility that she had failed to obtain; first because of her wicked husband, then because of her wicked brother-in-law, then because of her fearful and unfaithful father-in-law. It was right that Tamar be treated righteously, yet she wasn't. Perhaps she should have let God fight for her as we learn elsewhere in Scripture, but interestingly we have a Canaanite woman who acts honourably in all her dealings yet is mistreated by the people who worship the true God. The fact that Tamar secured her own rights is of less concern.

Judah makes right his failure to give Shelah to Tamar. He takes Tamar into his own house and provides for her and her children (she had twins), though does not lie with her again. Tamar now has both provision and children, she is honoured by her posterity (Rut 4:12), and she becomes an ancestor of the Messiah (Mat 1:3).

Monday, 14 March 2016

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Man of blood

David slaying Goliath, Rubens
David had designs on building God a house (temple). Nathan the prophet encourages David's good desire but after a revelation from God, Nathan tells David that he is not to build God a house but that God will built up David's house and one of David's sons will build God's house (1Ch 17). Later David charges Solomon:
Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’ (1 Chronicles 22:6-10 ESV)
and
Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’ Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father's house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me, ‘It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. (1 Chronicles 28:3-6 ESV)
God forbids David to build his temple because David has shed much blood.
But it happened that the word of Yahweh came over me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made much war; you shall not build a house for my name because you have shed much blood upon the ground before me. (1 Chronicles 22:8 LEB)

God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name because you are a man of war, and you have shed blood.’ (1 Chronicles 28:3 LEB)
God approves of David's desire to build him a house (temple) and offers to build up his house (posterity). David makes preparation for the temple: he collects much gold, silver, iron, wood and stone; and buys the plot for the future temple where God stays the angel's hand. David had fought his wars to defend the Israelites from her enemies, and at the direction of God. God said David was a man after his own heart. So why does being a man of war disqualify David from building the temple?

Don Richardson links this passage with the events surrounding Peter striking off Malchus' ear (Mat 26:51; Mar 14:47; Luk 22:50; Joh 18:26). His point, and I think he is right, is that the kingdom of heaven cannot grow through the power of the sword. Peter was using a sword in a situation which God was instituting his kingdom. Jesus had to die to secure our salvation and his followers were not to use force in this circumstance.

Because the temple represents God and God's kingdom, it is important that the builder of the temple be seen as a man of peace. The growth of God's kingdom is through persuasion, through God working in the hearts of men and men responding to God. The kingdom is never to grow through the threat of conquest: conversion must not come at the end of a sword.

This is not to disparage the power of the sword. The sword is a tool of judgment that God gives the state (Rom 13:1-4). As king, David wielded the sword appropriately (save Uriah). God judges men and nations; and brings discipline, destruction and, to the stubbornly rebellious, death. Yet God does not will the death of his enemies. God's purpose is to make his foes friends. To that end God is growing the kingdom of heaven, but tools of judgement are not the tools of mercy. The church is not to grow by conquest. A man who says, "Convert or die," is not speaking in the name of the Lord.

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