Writing as Art

During my final semester of college, I’m taking a class called “Vision, Voice, and Practice.” The painting and poetry professors have teamed up to teach it, and it’s offered for either upper division Art or English credit. That’s where the “Vision” (art) and “Voice” (writing) parts come from.

The class has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to study that strange being known as the Art Major. I’ve learned that  these beings are most active at night, understand the term “Class starts at 8:00am” very loosely, and like to talk about symbolism. They’re also deep thinkers, insightful, and caring.

Being in a class with art majors has given me a glimpse into the art world—a world where trinkets arranged in boxes help people think about exploration, and a pile of jumbled words  produces a 3D object.

in-class text coll. treeBeing part of this community has made me think differently about my writing.

In my mind, I’ve always categorized “skill” into three sections: skill, craft, and art. The difference between these three had something to do with practicality and objective beauty. I might be skilled at washing dishes, but the activity isn’t beautiful, and is definitely not an art form.

Craft got a little closer to art, but it was still too practical. The glass-blower creates beautiful bowls that hold liquid, and the wood worker creates sleek tables, chairs, and surfboards. But these things were still practical—they were working pieces, not art pieces.

Art, though—art was the shimmering pinnacle of creativity and beauty. It wasn’t supposed to be practical. It was the standard of perfection that practical people looked to and dreamed of reaching.

I had always thought of writing as part of the craft category. It can be measured definitively by a set of rules and requirements (grammar and style) and becomes better with practice. It’s used practically: to record the minutes of a meeting, persuade the public to vote for a new tax, or warn drivers about the deer that might cross the road. Therefore, writing didn’t qualify as art.

My definitions were wrong.

I won’t attempt to give a definitive, holistic definition of “Art” in this post. That’s book and dissertation material. But I will say that any good definition of Art will not demand physical beauty, and will not exclude practicality.

One of the main purposes of Art is to make us think—to challenge our pre-conceived ideas and broaden our perspectives. Sculptors use clay and photographers use printed images, but they both use them as mediums to convey an idea, or even to produce a practical object.

Writers use words to the same end.

Language as a medium doesn’t depend merely on definitions to convey meaning. It also uses style, sound, restriction, and even visual presentation—the same criteria we use to evaluate art.

By the same token, Art doesn’t exist apart from the practical concepts and struggles of humanity. Artists are trying to work out answers to these questions through their work. There is no such thing as meaningless art, (though some have tried). The end result always includes an idea, a concept.

secret garden, 2The other essential part of Art is active creativity. A rose is beautiful, even “sublime,” but it is not human art. This is where “Practice” comes into the class title. We are actively practicing our disciplines, not floating around in the philosophy of Formland, but grounded in the work we make. Our assignments are both individual and collaborative, but in each one, we’re creating something.

Through Practicing the collaboration of Vision and Voice, I have learned to not limit my own work, but to see it as Art.

All the pictures above are projects done in this class. If you’re interested, you can check out the class blog here for more of them.

Why You Should Listen to Communists

Don’t panic. I am not a communist. I’m a patriotic American, and I fully believe in the freedom and opportunity of the capitalist system, in which hard work, motivation, and diligence gives way to success.

I did, however, just finish reading Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto, with (I hope) an open mind.

Let’s face it: nobody agrees about everything. We’re all constantly trying to convince each other that our opinions are the right ones. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of automatically dismissing other beliefs. Instead, there are several key reasons why you shouldn’t disregard someone else’s ideas before hearing them out:

1. They might be right—or at least, partially right. It would be a mistake to allow pride to keep us from learning from others. Ever heard the saying, “Every lie contains a grain of truth?” The people who disagree with you feel just as strongly about their ideas as you do about yours.

Take the Communist Manifesto, for example. Most capitalists think communists want to take away freedom. In the Manifesto, Marx writes, “Rightly so. The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at.”

After reading an admission like this, it’s easy to balk. But Marx is trying to solve a very real problem. He thinks society is fundamentally ill because the rich no longer care about the laborers, but only about profit. And he’s right—the consumer world is often heartless. I just don’t think Communism is the right way to go about fixing the problem.

2. By understanding their view, you can better understand your own. Automatically dismissing Marx’s ideas as crazy and impractical doesn’t formulate a better solution to the problem. Instead, I should work through why Communism is a bad idea, because it will help me truly understand and appreciate capitalism.

This is why we study history. We’re hoping to learn from the dead and not repeat their mistakes.

3. You have a better chance of convincing them your opinion is right. This works two ways. First, you’ll understand their argument well enough to refute it properly. If you’ve done the work of understanding their side, you can reasonably show them why your view makes more sense.

Second, “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” A shouting match will only offend your opponent. If you aren’t willing to listen to others, they won’t listen to you.

Honestly, after reading the Communist Manifesto, I’m amazed that Marx was able to convince anyone to follow his views, let alone revolutionize entire countries. He makes large, generalized statements that are untrue, unresearched, and unfair. Yet he gets away with them because he is so passionate about the subject.

But I’m glad I read it, because it has given me a more charitable view of Marx. It’s not that I agree with his views, but I no longer see him as an evil villain, conspiring to destroy human happiness. He was a humanitarian, a visionary who saw a problem and dedicated his life to finding a solution, even if that solution turned out to be flawed.

Pull Question: The Origin of the Species

Why is the existence of God beyond the scope of science for Darwin?

Darwin’s Origin of the Species ends with the following sentence:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

I was rather surprised—and pleased—to find that Darwin does not immediately couple his theory of evolution with atheism. In this last sentence, he even alludes to life as being initiated by the Creator. There are several conclusions I can reach from a cursory glance at this ending:

First, Darwin is writing to lay people. Before this time, he had produced other scientific works, but none were directed to the common people. The Origin of the Species was meant to be read by the unscientific masses, and when Darwin published the book in 1859, most of the West was still Christian. To publish such a theory and not still attribute existence to God would have severely damaged the reception of the work.

Second, Darwin never claims to know the source of all life. He writes in his conclusion, “It may be asked how far I extend the doctrine of the modification of species. The question is difficult to answer…it does not seem incredible that…all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth may be descended from some one primordial form.”

Notice here that while Darwin postulates that all life may have descended from one original species, he makes no move to claim that this species sprang into existence of its own volition. He does not cite the big bang theory. In fact, he states, “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one.” Darwin simply steers clear of the original source.

The existence of God is outside the scope of Darwin’s work. Darwin understands that speculating on the original source is a question of Why and not of What. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states:

But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes – something of a different kind – this is not a scientific question…The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. (Book 1, Chapter 4)

Science is an observational practice. This means that it is relegated to answering the question What? It cannot move to answer the question Why?—that is the job of religion. Darwin very wisely sticks to answering What? He observes that species gradually change over time, and conjectures that perhaps they modify from one species to another over longer periods of time. But he stays away from guessing at the original source of all life, because that would be answering Why life exists.

Atheists have since encompassed the source of all life in the theory of evolution, which  moves the theory from the realm of science to that of religion. Darwin never made that claim. At one point, he comments, “My conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection…I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.”

However Christians may disagree with Darwin, we cannot rebuke him for denying the existence of God. He never did it.

Why Read Books?

The current age is that of technology—but more importantly, that of the Internet. We thrive on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. We watch movies on flat screens, post pictures on Tumblr, and text instead of talk. Our world is instantaneous, filled with fast-paced sound bites and  bold colors to catch our fleeting attention. We get frustrated if a webpage takes more than one second to load.

In this kind of world, books seem boring—an outdated method of receiving information or entertainment. Unless they’re e-books, they’re not eco-friendly, take up space, and require time and patience.

So, why read books? Here are four good reasons:

1. Words are the medium of ideas. Whether spoken or written, we use words to communicate with each other—to facilitate relationships, hash out ideas, and express emotions and needs. Without words, we would be reduced to little more than animals. Think of Helen Keller. Before she learned how to use sign language, she was impossibly lost in  isolation, with no language to communicate. When Anne Sullivan  gave her the gift of words, Helen was finally able to share her thoughts and ideas with others.

For millennia, books have served as the medium for preserving ideas. Whether the idea is a mathematical theory, cooking recipe, or family history, books allow us to entrust wisdom to others. I can pick up a copy of Plato’s Republic and hear the ideas that founded Western culture—ideas which are still relevant and discussed globally.

2. Reading is good for the brain. I’m not talking about reading dense philosophy or science books. The very act of reading—even a fun novel—stimulates the functioning of the brain. Research at Emory College has found that reading makes the brain more receptive to language, and increases the connectivity of neurons. These changes last for up to five days after a reader has finished a novel. Reading is an active engagement of the brain to the material on the page.

3. Books give us perspective. By myself, I can’t understand what others have suffered, or what it means to be part of another culture. But I can learn so much with a book. Reading Gone With the Wind helped me understand a period of US history from the losing side. The Secret Life of Bees and To Kill a Mockingbird showed me what it was like to live on the wrong end of racial prejudice. Books take us outside ourselves and teach us to see through the eyes of other people. Hopefully, we can learn to be more understanding and avoid the mistakes of older generations.

4. Books require imagination. One of my rules of life is to never watch a film adaptation before I’ve read its book. Starting with the movie ruins the book for me, because I’m left with the actors’ faces in my mind, instead of using the author’s words to invent my own picture. Books are grand in a way films can never be, because books allow us to imagine. The mind is a wonderful place to wander, and books help us find our way there.

I’m not saying  we should forsake technology in favor of printed material. Other mediums can certainly engage in the same ideas as books. For example, the movie Dead Poets Society has helped me think through the narrow-mindedness of certain social expectations, just as reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice did. Video games teach problem-solving and strategy skills; blogs provide immediate interaction with ideas. These mediums are valuable in their own right.

But for me, there is nothing better than printed words on a solid page. Books are worth reading.

Starving, Going to War, and Giving Thanks

The images that come to mind with Thanksgiving are typically related to food: turkey, gravy, stuffing, a slice of pumpkin or apple pie. Family may also come to mind, along with the occasional Pilgrim. We don’t usually think of bloodshed, cannons, civil war, and patriotism. Yet these were the circumstances under which Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

As with other holidays, memory is vital—in order to properly celebrate, we must remember the reason for our celebration. Our national holiday of Thanksgiving has two origins. The first is with the Puritans, who came to the New World to escape the confines of the Church of England and consequent persecution from James I. Their Thanksgiving was not, as public schools teach, to thank the Native Americans for their help. They were thanking God, and invited the Native Americans to join in their celebration.

Growing up, I sat down with my family every Thanksgiving morning to read portions of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, a book which recounts the details of the Puritans’ first few harvests. They were difficult years—almost half the colonists died within the first winter. Their first hard-earned harvest, with which they celebrated the first “Thanksgiving,” was not enough to last the winter for those who had worked all year to grow the food, as well as the hoard of new-comers who had just landed from England with almost no supplies. Yet, true to their Puritan principles, they continued to praise and worship God for his blessings.

Due to reading that book every year, I know that Thanksgiving, like many American holidays, is centered around God. While I associate it with strong religious ties, I don’t automatically think of it as also having strong patriotic ties. However, the original purpose of Thanksgiving was for both religion and patriotism to be combined. This is where Abraham Lincoln comes in.

On October 3, 1863—in the middle of the American Civil War—Lincoln issued a proclamation, instituting a national day of thanksgiving to God. The proclamation itself is not long, but like his famous address at Gettysburg, it is powerful. Within the short text, Lincoln rightfully acknowledges the blessings of God, even in the midst of the devastation caused by the Civil War:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gift of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Even when the fate of the United States was uncertain, Lincoln wanted to recognize God for his blessings and mercy upon our country. At heart, Thanksgiving is a holiday deeply rooted in the Christian heritage of those who have relied on God to pull them through—the starving Puritans, and the torn armies of the Civil War.

Recently, a professor of mine offered some profound advice: it is crucial for us to not pass straight from Halloween to Christmas, but to fully immerse ourselves in the celebration of the harvest. If we skim over Thanksgiving in our hurry to get to Christmas, we completely miss a season in which we can be grateful for the Lord’s provision and blessings.

We are facing different challenges in the twenty-first century than the Puritans faced in the seventeenth century or the Union in the nineteenth, but God is still good, and He is still with us. If American Christians could thank God through starvation, sickness, war, and slavery, we can certainly thank him through our own grief and struggles. While feasting is an appropriate—and self-gratifying—activity for the holiday, Thanksgiving is not just about sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes. It is about giving thanks to our Creator, who in his rich mercy, has granted us the privilege of living in a country that allows us the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A Final Act of Service

Who does a funeral benefit? This last week, I took some time off from work and school to be with my family as we buried my grandfather. It was a difficult but rich time, remembering and learning more about a man who was one of my heroes. Prior to this week, I had always thought that the funeral was solely for the benefit of the loved ones left behind—a way for us to remember the deceased in the best light possible, and to garner comfort for our loss by gathering together and mourning communally. Even though the memorial service was centered around the life of the deceased, I imagined that its purpose was to give comfort to the living, not necessarily to benefit the dead themselves. How could the deceased receive any benefit? They cannot be present at their own funeral.

Obviously, all this is true—the deceased is not present to enjoy the service, and the family left behind does receive comfort and closure from the funeral. But this week, I realized that my previous conceptions of funerals are not entirely true. Benefiting the dead or the living is not an either/or option.

There is a sense of duty which accompanies the family planning a funeral. It feels extremely important that everything go well: that the eulogy praises and appreciates the person’s life, that the coffin or urn is beautiful, that we sing songs the deceased loved or relate memories that honor them. In many ways, this part is like planning a surprise birthday party without the knowledge of the recipient—we want everything to be perfect, not for ourselves, but for the guest of honor. This is why it means so much to the family when friends attend the funeral, even if they were not close to the deceased. Their presence supports the family, but it also honors the dead when they make it a priority to come.

And the deceased is the guest of honor at a funeral, even though they are not physically there to witness it. In a way, the funeral and burial are the last acts of service we can provide for the loved one who has passed away, and because of this, we act as though we are benefiting the person through the service.

This is right. We really can benefit the dead by honoring their memory. When I speak well of someone, I am respecting them, even if they are not within hearing. I constantly tell people how wonderful and smart my boyfriend is—and often, he doesn’t hear a word of it. But just because he is not present to appreciate my words of affirmation does not mean that those words are insubstantial. I do not simply say them to feel good about myself, but to respect and cherish him, in or out of his hearing.

My grandfather was a wonderful man—he lived a life that truly glorified God through his  family leadership and vocation as an artist. I benefitted greatly from attending his funeral, both by remembering the man I knew, and learning about other aspects of his character through the eyes of others. We put on a beautiful service in his honor—a service he deserved. This week, when I heard my grandmother say things like, “This is for him,” and, “I want the best for him,” I realized that her words are perfectly appropriate. We benefitted my grandpa by honoring his incredible life. Yes, his service was a blessing for those of us who will miss him, but it was also a blessing for him, and I feel privileged to have been part of it.

A Time for Everything: Changing Seasons

Last weekend in Los Angeles, we had 90-degree weather. On Saturday, I wore shorts and flip flops; on Sunday, a sun dress.

I am very tired of the summer.

Don’t get me wrong—one of the reasons I love living in Southern California is the near-paradise weather. We rarely get rain, bask in 80 degrees in January, and shudder at the winter frigidity of 50-degree nights. When it comes to the weather, we are spoiled rotten. However, I don’t want a perpetual summer. It’s the middle of October: I want to start wearing sweaters, boots and scarves—even if scarves in Southern California are used more for decoration than to keep one’s neck warm.

However appealing it may sound to have summer all year round, I am so thankful that God created four seasons instead of one. The changing weather is our primary indicator for the passing of time, and with the change of seasons come changes in food, clothing, and habits. In the transition from summer to autumn, strawberries and avocados give way to squashes, carrots and oranges. I begin not only to wear more clothing, but my wardrobe pallet has darker tones than my summer dresses and t-shirts.

The changing seasons also bring us a shift in mindset. Spring is alive with new growth and reawakening—I get itchy to be out in my garden, planting iceland poppies and sunflowers. Summer has undertones of care-free ease and the fullness of life and strength. By the time we reach autumn, there is a waning: the days grow colder, and I begin to think of pumpkin treats, blankets and cozy sweaters. Winter is the sleeping season: the whole world seems to be hibernating until warmer days come to reawaken life again.

The holidays we celebrate compliment these various mindsets. Easter reminds us of the hope and new life we have in Christ—it would be an odd holiday to celebrate in November, with the long season of cold and darkness before us. Thanksgiving commemorates the completion of harvest—it would be improper to celebrate the holiday in March, when the planting season has barely begun.

Even though October is much too early for carols and gingerbread houses, I become antsy for Christmas about this time every year. Last fall was the exception. I did not get an early craving for Christmas because for the first time in my life, I experienced a true autumn. I was studying abroad at Oxford University, which has a latitude just north of Vancouver, Canada. I had to rely on not only scarves to keep my neck warm, but mittens for my hands, and wool socks for my feet. I fell in love with the sharpness of the cold air and the changing colors of the leaves. Warm pumpkin treats became even more special, because they belonged to their own unique season, not just the vague period following summer. I was not impatient for winter, because I was able to experience the full season of autumn.

Our God is amazing. He knows that we need consistency, but He also knows that we need change. We always have summer, autumn, winter and spring—and always in that order. Summer does not give way to spring; winter never proceeds autumn. We also do not experience the desperation of Narnia’s 100-year winter, and life would be boring if every day was a repeat of the perfect 80-degree weather from the day before.

Even though I appreciate distinct seasons of weather, I do not always value differing seasons of life in the same way. Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, understands this principle better than I. He writes in Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV)

I don’t want a time to mourn—I would be perfectly happy to always dance. I would rather laugh than weep; I would rather have peace than war. Yet, just as the change from summer to autumn is good, it is fruitful to break down, as well as build up. God uses various seasons in our lives to teach us different lessons. It is easier for me to learn humility in failure than in success, and I will never learn to seek well if I don’t first lose something precious.

One of my favorite songs by Nichole Nordeman is Every Season. It reminds me that change leads to growth, and that God is present not only in the bright strength of summer, but also in the darkness of winter. I need to learn to better appreciate change, and look for God’s guidance both in mourning, and in laughing.

What Kind of Faith Do I Have?

There seems to be a disconnect in my life between my absolute faith in Christ as the Savior of the world and of my soul, and my sometimes-less-certain faith in his guidance of my everyday life. Of course, in my head I absolutely believe that he will provide for me every second of every day. But sometimes my heart does not believe this as securely as my head. I feel like the man whose child was possessed by a demon and in desperation, cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Matt. 9:24) I don’t like uncertainty—I want to know what is ahead and how I should act or react. I want to know, but most of the time, God’s only reply is, “It’s ok to not know; you must trust me.”

I’m not very good at that.

So there seems to be two kinds of faith in my life: first, the grand, overall faith of Jesus as my Savior; and second, the plodding, grinding faith of Jesus as my daily guide. I know how my faith works in the eternal part of the story: I believe; Christ saves me; I die and go to heaven instead of hell. It’s the nitty-gritty details of what happens tomorrow that I struggle with. I graduate from college in less than nine months—what will happen then? Will I be able to find a job in my chosen career? Where will I live? Can I be successful and make my family proud? When God says, “Have faith in me,” about these kind of things, I struggle more to say, “Yes, Lord,” than when he asks me to trust in him alone for my salvation.

Somehow, I don’t think there are supposed to be two different kinds of faith in the Christian’s life—and neither does John Wesley.

Wesley was preaching in England at a time when many were concerned with the issue of assurance—how we can be certain that we are saved. This concern came as a result of Calvinism, in which many insisted that no one can be sure of salvation (although Calvin does not expressly say this himself). Wesley was very concerned with the salvation of his congregation, but not only as a distant event that would take place only after death. Instead, he spoke of saving faith as something that is very present, and should influence every action of a Christian’s life:

Whatsoever else it imply, [salvation by faith] is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained, on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith…a salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word justification; which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart. (Standard Sermon One, Salvation by Faith)

Not only does faith save us from hell sometime in the vague future, but our faith saves us from sin now. This is what Wesley means by deliverance from the power of sin. The Christian who believes in Christ for his eternal salvation also believes in Christ for his everyday needs, and relies on Christ to guide him in doing good works. There should be no disconnect between our saving faith and living faith—it is all one faith.

This is the same idea that the Apostle John teaches in his first epistle:

 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John’s idea of abiding in Christ and following his commandments is the same as Wesley’s idea of the present, daily saving faith. As Christians, we cannot only believe in Christ for our salvation after death—we have to believe in our salvation now, on earth.

It’s hard for me to “not be anxious about anything,” and instead, have faith in Christ to help me lead the kind of life that will glorify him. I am so eager to try for righteousness on my own. I only have one life; my tendency is to think that it might be messed up if I let the Lord take control. But in reality, he’s in control anyway. I may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

From Atoms to Mustard Seeds: Assurance and Uncertainty

John Wesley insists we can have assurance of our salvation. Romans 8:16 states, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Wesley takes this to mean that we can be absolutely certain of our entrance into heaven:

“To secure us from all delusion, God gives us two witnesses that we are his children [his Spirit and our spirit]…Their testimony can be depended on. They are fit to be trusted in the highest degree, and need nothing else to prove what they assert.” (Standard Sermon Eleven, The Witness of the Spirit)

The problem with Wesley’s argument is that it is based on a feeling of conviction. The reverend does warn against deception by instructing his congregation, “Let every man who believes he hath the witness in himself, try whether it be of God; if the fruit follow, it is; otherwise, it is not.” Nevertheless, feelings can be misplaced. Mormons are some of the kindest, most sincere, and religiously pious people I know. Yet when they are presented with a difficulty in the logic of their faith, they ignore rationality and instead reply that they know their beliefs are true because of a “burning in their bosom.”

John Calvin capitalizes on this possibility of deception, insisting that faith may not be real, but only a false pretense. In other words, feeling an assurance of salvation is not a promise of that reality. According to Calvin, if someone turns away from his or her faith, they were probably not part of the elect, and never truly saved in the first place:

“The faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretense. They are borne along by some sudden impulse of zeal, and erroneously impose upon themselves, sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter II)

If Calvin is correct, then I could believe that I have salvation through Christ, not realizing that I will fall away 20 years down the road and end up one of the reprobate. That is not a comforting notion.

Which of these two doctrines do I believe? Both Calvin and Wesley are well-known, well-respected theologians, whose texts are still read centuries after their deaths. They both present convincing arguments, defended with conviction. Yet the opposing arguments and objections seem equally convincing. How could God allow a single soul to slip through his fingers, once grasped? Yet how could God cling to and save a soul that does not desire salvation?

In all honesty, I do not have a final answer for this issue. It seems very important—not necessarily to the non-believer, but to every Christian. I would like to absolutely know that I am safe in Christ—that I will not fall away and find myself burning eternally after my death.

While I don’t know all the intricate details of how salvation works, I do know one thing—God is good. He sent his Son into the depths of hell to save us from our foolish decisions, which means that he desires our salvation. Jesus tells his disciples, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matt 18:12-14)

This issue of salvation is only one of many uncertainties. The more questions I have, the more unanswerable questions I have. I must rely upon my Creator to support me through the uncertain and unsolvable. That is extremely difficult. As humans, we want to have knowledge and certainty; we want a floodlight on our path, not a simple lamp. Yet if we did know all the answers, there would be no need to trust God. If a mustard seed of faith will move a mountain, I only have an atom. But more answers will only decrease my reliance on faith, not increase it. I pursue God more through uncertainties and trials than times of assurance and harvest, which is probably one of the reasons for testing. And while it is hard to suffer through uncertainty, if it will bring me closer to the Lord, I am willing to endure.

Experiencing Joy in Leviticus

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Before time came into being: I AM. After the world has passed away and Satan is cast into the lake of fire: I AM. God will never change, never be imperfect, never sin. He is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Savior of all creation.

Yes, yes, you say. I am a Christian. I know all of that.

Yet our reading of the Bible often does not reflect this knowledge. Many of us read the New Testament over and over again, and stay clear of the more ancient books. If we do read from the Old Testament, we read books like Genesis or Esther or Psalms—maybe even Job or Ecclesiastes. Not the prophets; not Lamentations; certainly not Leviticus or Numbers. Those books seem to contain nothing but doom, gloom, instruction and destruction. The excuses we list to get out of reading and studying these books are endless: They are boring. I do not understand the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture. I cannot pronounce that Hebrew name. I am not an Israelite. Is God seriously telling them they are forbidden to eat bacon?!? And the real kicker excuse: They were written before Christ, so they are not relevant to me as a Christian.


Wrong! Even in these books, the boring books, the ones we skip over because they are long and tedious and sad and scary, we can still find the “New Testament” attributes of God. He is still good, merciful, loving, patient. He is not different from the God who sent down his Son to die for our sins and save us from eternal death. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If this is true—and it is—we should be able to find the awesome power of his love and mercy in any book of the Bible. There are amazing lessons for Christians to learn from the Old Testament, if only we will look.

I have recently been reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Not happy circumstances—God warns Israel and Judah of the coming destruction and exile due to their sins, and when they refuse to listen, he follows through on his promises. Israel falls to Assyria; Judah falls to Babylon. Yet in the midst of reading about war and death, I was in tears while reading a portion of Jeremiah because of the love and mercy God shows to a single family as a result of their trust and obedience. God’s punishment is not cruel or uncompassionate; his mercy moves beyond justice. He is patient with Israel and Judah, even when they have rebelled against him for hundreds of years.

Far from being irrelevant to Christians, the Old Testament books shadow the cross. Israel’s cycle throughout the Old Testament is always the same. They make a covenant with God, they break their covenant—they sin, worship idols, intermarry, etc. God sends warnings through the prophets, asking, entreating, wooing Israel to return to him. They do not listen. God punishes them through destruction, exile, plague, pestilence and the sword. The people return to God, ask for mercy, and beg Him to deliver them from their dire circumstances.

The amazing part is that he does. Even knowing that the stubborn and unfaithful heart of Israel will turn away again, he still delivers them. This cycle repeats over and over, seemingly hopeless, until one day a star appears over Bethlehem and God sends his only Son to end the cycle and redeem the faithful once and for all. This is the great story of humanity. And the difficult Old Testament books are part of it.

I realize that this Old Testament aversion does not apply to every Christian—there are many of us who do study the law and the prophets. I also realize that the New Testament speaks more directly to us, because it was written after Christ’s birth. I am not suggesting we abandon the New Testament and study only the Old. I have read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John many more times than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and that is probably correct. Yet as Christians, we should not ignore the first part of God’s epic story. Christ’s victory on the cross does not nullify the importance of those who waited eagerly for that victory.

So go read some Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Habakkuk. Look for hints of the perfect character of God—the coexistence of his justice and mercy, destruction and restoration, love and anger. You will be amazed at what you find.