Following Christ Into the Night: A Reflection on the Fear of the Unknown

I often feel very alone when I think of the uncertainty of my future. Sometimes at night a sense of desolation follows me and shakes me awake before my morning alarm. I wake up with fears of insignificance, rejection, and isolation. My mind and heart say maybe your fears are real. Maybe you are truly alone.

My response to these fears is often rationalization–convincing myself through logical analysis that I’m not alone. I have a caring family, good friends, and challenging mentors. I have a community that makes the feeling of isolation ludicrous. Furthermore my mentors always bring me back to Scripture. They quote I will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.

What happens then? The lack of evidence for reasons to be in despair only invites it back into my mind and heart.  I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach; like I’m walking a tightrope and all the assuring voices point me to the safety nets below. But nothing prepares me for the fall.


I wonder if that same feeling was in the mind of Jesus’ disciples. I suspect it wasn’t easy following the God man. There must have been confusion, uncertainty, and perhaps despair that trailed them on the roads of Galilee and Judea. They lived with a man who spoke like the Torah and the prophets all at once; who pronounced woes and wept over cities; who killed fig trees and resurrected dead men; who pacified zealots and cleansed the Temple with a whip.

They followed a man who was seen, even by member of his own family, as insane, and he was scandalous in his association with prostitutes and Samaritans. They followed him with bread-and miracle-seeking crowds who would disown him in a moment.  The disciples were cut off with Jesus in his offences. They were left alone with his person.

I think about Jesus prophesying his death. Of all the hard words of Jesus, this might have seemed the most ridiculous and possibly the cruelest. They had followed Christ, had been associated and threatened with him, and now he says he will die by the hands of their leaders. To their minds the fear of the unknown might have been the unspeakable thought of life without him. They would be mistaken and condemned men, submerged in the wake of another false messiah. I want to say I would have thought and acted differently from the disciples, but they faced a fear that I can’t comprehend. If all I had was Jesus and he told me he was going to die, I don’t know if I would have listened to him either.

I follow Christ into the unknown, and I strategize like the disciples did. I can be passionate like Peter and make big promises, prioritize the reign of the Messiah, and zealously cut off ears. I enjoy the grad attempts at control in the face of Christ’s unsettling prophecies.

I’ve often read Peter’s denial of Christ as an act of self preservation—saving his own skin. But what if Peter was afraid of the implications of Jesus’ death more than the loss of his own life? If he was trying to save himself, why would he follow Christ into the midst of the enemy? It seems like Peter was trailing Jesus to spring him from the situation—he was thinking like a revolutionary. But the plan of saving him meant Peter had to deny his relationship with his friend and God.

I follow Jesus into darkness. He could tell me exactly what I need do, who I’ll be, and where I’ll go, but he just says “Follow me.” So, like Peter after Gethsemane, I often follow him to upset his plans. I garnish his commands with my own schemes because I rely on evidence. I deny him to save him. I weep bitterly.

I want to see God, but he is invisible. I want to consolidate and organize his ways, but they are mysterious. Why doesn’t he remove my fears of insignificance and of hurting others? Why is the imminent future so unknown? Why am I haunted by loneliness when he says he’ll never leave me? Why does he allow Satan to sift me like wheat?

My faith is small and capricious. There are days when the Son of God is revealed and I, like Peter, fervently spew “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” There are other days when I would trade his Name for his Kingdom, and still other days I would trade it for peace of mind.


After the resurrection, Peter and the disciples are faced again with Christ on the verge of leaving them. He comes to Peter and asks “Simon, son of John do you love me?” and Peter says “Lord you know everything, you know I love you.” And Jesus answers “Feed my sheep.”

It’s here, in the ashes of Peter’s denial, in the fallout of faithless doubt, and in face of the unknown that Christ lays the foundation of his Church.

I am the son of Peter; inheriting all of the bad habits and fears of my father.

I’m the son of Peter; redeemed and empowered by the Christ who brings life from death and revelation from the unknown.




Loving Your Enemies in Ender’s Game

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. How can we love them if we don’t understand them, if we don’t take the time to know them? In the novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Ender Wiggin unintentionally learns the best way to love one’s enemies, and he never forgets it. Though just a child deprived of a family’s love and friendship, Ender does what most adults can never do – he loves those that society tells him he’s supposed to hate.

Ender’s Game takes place in a distant future, when our world had been almost destroyed in two invasions by an alien race called the buggers. In the second invasion, the humans were able to force the buggers to retreat, though at great cost. They’ve had peace for about 70 years now but have been expecting another attack from the buggers. In preparation for this third invasion, the leaders of different countries created the International Fleet – an army that trains children to fight battles in zero gravity on a spaceship. All children on Earth are closely monitored to see if they are eligible for this Battle School. At age six, Ender, the youngest of three young geniuses, is chosen to leave his family and train to save his world, and the book details his life through training to the end of the war.

Ender always looks at life by thinking three steps ahead, even at age six. His brilliance flourishes in the Battle School, and he quickly advances, accomplishing many feats that children twice his age can’t do. This, of course, causes the other children to be jealous and Ender to feel isolated. The adults in command of the school keep Ender busy with training and mock battles, manipulating and controlling his life so that he has no close friends. They don’t want anything to distract him from his training, not even love, because he is their last hope to destroy the buggers. With the fate of the world on his little shoulders, Ender becomes the best commander the adults have ever seen – a quick thinker, a strategist, a hard worker, and, what they wanted most, a killer.

Ender, however, hates himself for this trait. He is terrified of becoming just like his brilliant but cruel older brother, Peter, who tormented him before Ender left for Battle School. He tries to be compassionate, but what he doesn’t realize is that this is exactly what sets him apart from Peter. Ender doesn’t want to hurt people. Several boys bully him at different points in the novel, but because Ender knows how the other boys think and what is motivating them, Ender defeats the bullies, strategically and systematically. Afterwards, though, he always feels guilty. Ender defeats his enemies because otherwise his enemies would have hurt or killed him; but at the moment that Ender defeats them, he loves them. He feels compassion for them. He understands how to love his enemies and doesn’t want to destroy them. He tells his sister, Valentine:

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…I destroy them” (page 238).

Ender’s greatest quality, the thing that makes him different from all the other children, is not his ability to wipe out his enemy completely but his ability to learn about and understand people, even his enemies. He’s the only one who takes the time to understand them, to know their past and the reasons for their actions. And it’s only when he understands his enemies that he loves them and wants to live at peace. There are two ways to destroy an enemy. One is to defeat through harm. The other way is by turning him into a friend. Ender does not want to destroy his enemies; he would rather befriend them and love them.

Not only does Ender love his human enemies, but he even learns to love the alien enemies, those who almost destroyed his world. Though not instructed to by any adults, Ender spends hours and hours trying to understand the buggers, how they think, why they attacked Earth, and how they live. When he does finally understand them, he doesn’t want to destroy them; he wants to live in peace with them. The adults want him to defeat the buggers and completely wipe them out, but Ender wants to forgive them and be friends. The one person who is able to defeat the buggers is the only human who loves the buggers. I don’t know what the movie version of Ender’s Game teaches, but if there’s one thing you learn from the book, though there is much to learn from it, I hope you learn how to better love those you’re “supposed” to hate.

How Living Safely is Dangerous

I tend to think passivity and the middle-way are pretty safe ways of life.  But choosing neither virtue nor vice is more dangerous than choosing vice.  If I am an outwardly vicious person, I cannot deny my viciousness.   On the other hand, by internalizing, that thereby ignoring, my own vice, I risk denying its very existence.

Consider Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees (Mark 3.4):

Jesus: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”
Pharisees: *crickets*

Their problem here is not the typical Pharisaical hypocrisy.  It is a subtler, more paralytic hypocrisy.  They are silent because they hate public correction.  They would much rather be correct than corrected.  If they open to the possibility of their own error, then they also open to the pain of correction.

In life, the ways we tell ourselves we are don’t need correction are just as subtle and crafty.

For example, let’s say that I get really angry when my roommate retires early to bed because it prevents me from staying up late studying in our room (a totally theoretical situation).  In response, I can either lash out in anger, communicating how much I dislike the inconvenience of his early bedtime, or I can pretend it doesn’t bother me in the least bit.  Ignoring my anger seems the holier option, but it turns out to be the more dangerous one.

It seems that resisting anger could be the better option in the following ways:

  • It exemplifies a holiness that should be emulated.
  • It resists the natural tendency to sin in this way.
  • It displays self-control, which is Spiritual Fruit.
  • It avoids painful confrontation.
  • It practices self-denial.

Nevertheless, what if this passive response is more deceptive than constructive?

Notice that my pretending not to be angry is just that: a pretense.  It is just like that Pharisaical lie that tells me I don’t need correction:  it communicates something false about myself.  Thus, being bold in the wrong ways will tell me more true things about myself than my silence.

Whenever we convince ourselves to live safely, we actually hinder the process of sanctification.  By “safe living” I mean choosing the least confrontational, most holy-seeming option available.  These can vary from offering a service you really don’t want to do to seeming really solemn during a worship service to Pharisee-like silence.  We sometimes think seeming like the caring person is more important than actually caring for others.  This sort of self-deception does two things:

First, in these pretenses we hide from men.  Instead of confronting us about our flaws and failures, they praise our purity. By producing this positive image of ourselves, we deceive others.

Second, this success in hiding from men actually conceals us from ourselves. If we hear their praises enough, we will actually start to believe them. Then, when the pretended safe living becomes our truest form of living, we have trouble recognizing our own flaws.  By extension, we will also have trouble with sanctification. The temptation to sanctify a projection of ourselves paralyzes the process of the true purification that works at the core of who we are, where Christ is.  We feel safe because we try to hide from the exposing power of sanctification.

By safe living, we distance ourselves form our fundamental identity in Christ.  As we continually try to reinforce the self-perfection we have constructed, we rely on the people around us to tell us how sound this self-perfection structure is.  Affirmation can feed the monster within that desperately wants others to confirm the false perfection we outwardly project.  We forget to cling desperately to the perfection of Christ, subtly defending, instead, our own self-righteousness.  We choose to identify with a false righteousness instead of the perfect righteousness Christ offers us.

Fortunately, this form of self-deception is relatively easy to identify.  We must, however, be open to the fact that we practice deceptive safe living in the least suspecting areas of life.  There are two main ways to recognize this self-deception.  First, you have an unexplained need for affirmation.  If you need others to approve of you in certain areas of your life, dangerous safe living has probably crept into those specific spaces. Second, you are hurt deeply by personal flaws that people bring to your attention.  If you feel a powerful aversion to a confrontational remark or probing question, search for self-deception lurking nearby.

The Holy Spirit will bring people into your life to provide this service.  He will also remind you of the painful remarks people make about your flaws.  These all serve to keep us truly safe, in Christ, not deceptively safe, in ourselves.

One who finds freedom in Christ is free to live dangerously.  You are no longer bound to sin, so why be burdened by the thought that others might consider you sinful?  Instead consider those occasions when the deep darkness inside you swells to the surface as opportunities to boldly confront that deep darkness and give it, with all its twisted ways, to Christ.

It is unhealthy to have sin, but it is fatal to silently pretend it isn’t there.

The truly safe man rests in this prayer:

Lord I need you, oh, I need you

Every hour I need you

My One Defense, my Righteousness

Oh God, how I need you.

Vacation Bible School and Athanasius: the Power of the Gospel

I never thought I’d be using Saint Athanasius to explain God to a fifth grader. But this Wednesday, I found myself thinking over Athanasius’ arguments in On the Incarnation as I challenged a group of squirmy 10-year-olds to tell me why Jesus had to die on a cross. Why couldn’t he die in his sleep of old age? Could he have died from a disease, and still save us? A lively discussion ensued about public executions, gruesome pain, and hell. I was a very proud vacation bible school leader.

The theme of this year’s VBS at my home church was EPIC: the most amazing, gargantuan, mind-blowing, ridiculous, unbelievable but totally believable story ever. (Yes, that was really the tagline.) The intention of the church was clear: present the story of Jesus in a way that would get the kids excited about the gospel. Throughout the week, the story built from creation (“God made you—that’s amazing!”) to the climax of Jesus’ death on the cross and the choice we have to follow or reject him. The church did a terrific job of laying out the good news so that elementary kids could understand and become enthusiastic about it.

While I had high hopes for the kids to learn and grow, I didn’t think I would do the same. I’m a college honors student at a Christian university. I have read pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and I have also read quite a bit of theology—Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure and Calvin, to name a few. My studies have taught me to ask good questions and seek the truth, but they have also pushed my already-analytical self toward reason and logic, and away from faith and emotions. It is difficult for me to get excited or emotional about God because I want to make sure I have all my facts and arguments lined up in a nice, neat row. Satan uses this tendency to trap me: I can think condescendingly about someone who does not have as much knowledge of theology as I have, even if they are seeking Christ with their entire soul.

Going into VBS, I expected to have fun and teach kids some basics about God along the way. I wasn’t expecting to have deep theological conversations, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to learn anything myself.

In past years, I’ve led 1st and 2nd graders  at VBS, but this was my first year with 5th graders. At the top of the elementary school food chain, they are a little bigger and smarter, and have a greater capacity for deep thinking. I wanted to help challenge them in their relationship with the Lord, and was amazed at the conversations that resulted. Here is a sampling of some of the questions they asked:

  • If someone never has the chance to hear about Jesus, will they go to heaven or to hell?
  • How can Jesus be God, and also a son?
  • Will we be able to see someone’s soul in heaven?
  • If Satan was an angel before he fell, why did God give him all those blessings, if he knew that Satan would use the blessings against him?
  • In heaven, will we be able to remember everything we’ve ever done? What about the bad things?

It was thrilling for me to help the kids think deeper, and to push some of them beyond their well-rehearsed “church answers.” It was also thrilling to have them hit upon questions I didn’t have the answer to.

The gospel is simple, but it’s also very complicated—a fact I felt keenly during vacation bible school. It can be boiled down and explained to 5th graders, but has also been debated for millennia among intellectuals. It is both wonderful and awful, in the true sense of the words. Amidst hand motions and water balloon relays, I rediscovered the awe of the basic gospel story through the kids’ thoughtful questions and the church’s enthusiastic teaching. The work of redemption that God has wrought for humanity is truly epic. Sometimes in debating the minute points of theological doctrine, I forget the power of the Almighty’s saving grace. It’s good to be reminded by 5th graders.

On being Protestant and thinking about the Sacraments (Part 3)

This is a third part in a series. Don’t miss Part 1 and Part 2 (This post will stand alone, but does draw heavily on the previous two).

As I’ve been thinking through Communion and Baptism, I considered the possibility that any action done by a believer in service of someone else is a sacrament. My reasoning was that they are gracious acts, and loving one’s neighbor was commanded by Jesus, so these acts seemed to fit the criteria of a sacrament upon an initial glance. However, I’m not convinced that each of these actions incites a necessary conferral of grace. In sacramental behavior one must be receiving, not acting, and there must be an element of faith in the receiving. Now, while the sacraments are conferred by someone, it is only the person receiving the sacramental symbol in faith that is considered a participant in the sacrament. No one can administer the sacrament to themselves; they must be served by someone else. Thus, not every action by a believer can be considered sacramental.

Upon further research, I discovered that there is a healthy discussion among Protestants concerning whether church can be considered a sacrament. Since this discussion sounded similar to my thoughts concerning Christian service as a sacrament, the fact that the church is legitimately considered as a possible a sacrament in some circles caused me to pause. Let’s consider this concept in more detail.

To begin, a definition is necessary: I say the “church is a sacrament,” the ‘church’ denotes the body of Christ in a corporate context, with emphasis on the preaching of God’s Word and ministry among the members.

The thinking of the church as a sacrament on first blush seems to fit the definition pretty squarely: the church is the body of Christ, the physical manifestation of Christ to the world today. In the words of theologian Eberhard Jungel, “The church is a sacramental sign corresponding to the sacramental being of Jesus Christ.”3 This statement is intriguing because it draws a parallel with the language that is also used for communion, and thereby pushes us towards the idea of the church being a sacrament. Moreover, the ministry of the body one to another moves us further towards such a conclusion. If your ministry to me is caring for me and loving me the way Christ would, then in a sense, you are conferring to me the grace that is given at the cross, thereby fulfilling one of the key elements of a sacrament.

The notion of the church as the body of Christ comes straight from the New Testament, albeit from Paul. If a sacrament must be originally instituted by Christ himself, then we may have already stepped too far. Of course, Christ both preached and ministered to others—so in that sense, he participated in these activities and gave significance to them the same way that he did to Communion and Baptism. He even commanded us to love our brothers, which is similar enough to his command to baptize that it bears closer examination.

One objection ought to be raised here: the contention that the meeting together of the body of Christ and it’s ministry among its members was not instituted by Christ as a means by which grace is conferred sacramentally. While acts of ministry among the members of the body of Christ may be gracious, they were not specific acts instituted as a means to recall our minds to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ, nor are they outward acts that confirm our covenant with God in Christ. Thus, we must be leery of the claim of the church being a sacrament.

There is more about the idea of the church as sacrament that gives it credence: the concept of reception, particularly in the receiving of the Word of God through preaching. The idea of conferral of grace is neatly demonstrated in the idea of the receiving the Word of God in faith. For example, in Communion, we remember the work of the Word of God (Jesus) on the Cross and believe that the salvation given there is presently being applied to our lives; in essence, we receive the Word of God in faith. It is reasonable to assert that the literal receiving of the Word of God in faith from other believers ought to have credence as a sacrament itself. Such an idea has a lot of merit if you have an ecclesiology that advocates for the necessity of the ministry of all believers and regular preaching from more than one individual. These elements are necessary because sacraments cannot be self-administered—and I have doubts about whether a Pastor who is the exclusive preacher and is rarely himself taught can be considered to be receiving teaching and exhortation. If he is not receiving from someone else, then he is not participating in an element of a sacrament, and it seems odd to count something as a sacrament that is not regularly participated in by all believers. Thus, outside of an ecclesiology that embraces the regular preaching of a number of elders on a regular basis, the element of pastoral ministry cannot be considered a sacrament.

The final objection–which I take to be enough to eliminate the suggestion-is that the margin for error in the sacrament is significantly widened in this practice. While you certainly can mishandle Communion and Baptism, there is a pretty large target to hit and it’s almost impossible to stray into error with nearly 2,000 years of tradition and fairly clear lines mapped out for the ceremonies. Preaching and ministry, on the other hand, allows much potential for error and it is easier to harm someone through their malpractice. This is a major problem for the ‘church is a sacrament’ concept because then the definition of when it is efficacious gets squishy fast, and it seems that sacramental definitions is hardly the place where you want a lack of rigidity.

In sum, the idea of the church as a sacrament is one that gives us many reasons to pause. While initially the idea seems to have some merit, upon closer examination, this notion does not stand the test of objections that are tossed at it.

Regardless, I think there are a lot of fruitful attitudes that come from thinking of the church as having sacramental properties, if not a sacrament proper. First, it gives gravitas to a practice that many Christians feel is supplementary and not vital (in a very real sense—see Hebrews 10:19-25). Second, it gives importance to our interactions with other believers. If your reception of my ministry to you is considered similar to, though not actual participation in a sacrament, then a number of interactions now have weight that perhaps we didn’t give them before. Finally, it would cause us to consider carefully how we minister to our brothers, because our ministries are a reflection of Christ. Ultimately, the church may not be a sacrament, but I do think it would do the body of Christ good to reflect on the ways that the church has sacramental elements.

1 Jungel, Eberhard. Theological Essays: The Church as Sacrament? (Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1989), 191.

2 Del Colle, Ralph. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology: The Church. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007), 262.

On being Protestant and thinking about the Sacraments (Part 2)

Part one of this series can be found here.

I was baptized twice. I cringe when I think about it. In brief, I was baptized when I was 8, because it was a public declaration of my decision to follow Jesus 3-4 years before. I was re-baptized at 18 because I had “made my faith my own” and I thought it necessary, since the point of baptism was to publicly declare faith.

I have found that this is a fairly common narrative for Protestants, though the majority decide against a second baptism. The problem is that we don’t understand what the sacraments do for us. Here are a few points we often assume:

1. Baptism is merely a declaration of my decision to follow Christ to the world.

Accompanying this line of thought are a couple of embedded thoughts that enable Christians to think in this direction. First, we believe that baptism is a declaration of a fact, our salvation. Thus it made sense to be re-baptized after one has been “actually” been saved. If baptism is merely a statement of fact with little import in the world, then one can be re-baptized without it having any real effect.

The inherent danger behind this line of thought is the loss of the spiritual aspect of baptism. By not acknowledging the full, rich symbolism of baptism we reduce it to a mere formal external action. While there is great theological richness to be mined from baptism, I will focus on only one aspect for the sake of space. We celebrate baptism largely because Christ was baptized, so this is a fitting place to discover its significance.

Jesus’ baptism is significant for two primary reasons: the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the declaration of Jesus’ sonship. Jesus’ baptism marks two physical actions that Christians participate in when we are baptized. Since Jesus has already died on the cross, our baptism with the Holy Spirit comes when we accept the Lordship of Christ over our lives. Thus when we are physically baptized we point to spiritual reality—the work of Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, and the subsequent anointing of believers with the Holy Spirit. The aspect of a declaration of sonship carries with it the language of adoption into the family of God, of being heirs of the kingdom of God, of a change of identity and a number of other resonant theological truths which are harkened back to with submission to baptism.

Reducing the baptismal ceremony to a statement of fact removes the conferral of grace from it entirely. While you are affirming your covenant with God publicly and in community (both important aspects of the sacraments) there is an aspect of intentional remembering that is lost in a mere declaration. Intentional remembering is part of conferral of grace because it presents Christ to our minds, and assists the attesting work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life (see discussion in first post). Baptism reminds us that behind the external actions there lies a true baptism, the shed blood of Christ for the remission of sins. Further, we must remember that behind the external action there is an inward operation of the Holy Spirit that moves the recipient to faith in Christ’s work and accomplishing regeneration in the life of Faith.1 Without these, baptism–and any sacrament–tends towards meaningless ceremony.

2. Communion is merely a point of remembrance.

Underlying this is the assumption that the sacraments are merely mental exercises, not spiritual conditioning. If this were the case, then re-reading the story of crucifixion or watching the Passion of the Christ might be a better way to remember Christ than eating bread and drinking wine. As we saw yesterday, mere remembrance is not the whole of the Lord’s Supper—conferral of grace is also integral to the process. The point of communion is that it is an external signifier of an internal reality, a sign of what has transpired in a person’s heart. So while its purpose is to remind us of Christ’s work on the cross, it also reminds us that something transpired in our hearts when we committed to Jesus. We accepted the work of the Cross as the covering and forgiveness for our own sins, and we were transferred into sonship with Christ. It is an external reminder that God is keeping his end of the bargain and we are freely accepting the grace that is given at the cross by participating in communion.

In conclusion, the sacraments bring together two spheres of participation, mental and physical and the two united together gives a deeper understanding of the grace that God has bestowed on us. Our tendency is to emphasize one sphere to the exclusion of the other, but both are necessary for full participation in the sacraments. While the sacraments are a mental exercise and a statement of fact, the presentation of them as physical signs and our participation in them as physical elements is also a necessary component. Physical actions reinforce ideas and present ideas to our minds in different ways than words, and thus, we are spiritually conditioned in different ways. Our participation in the sacraments confers grace because it affirms both our spiritual and physical decision to follow Christ, and opens us up to receive mercy for our souls.

In my next post, I want to consider in what sense the church is sacramental, to think through the work of some more recent theologians on the topic, and to reflect on how it is useful in the life of believers.

1The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology has a lot of thoughtful discussion of this and is well worth reading.

“What to me and to you?” Jesus Surprises the Demons

When Jesus encounters demons in his travels throughout Israel, there are a couple reactions that we would expect from demons. Fear. Shuddering. Apprehension.

But there’s one reaction we see multiple times that, on first thought, wouldn’t be expected: Surprise.

In Mark 1:24, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man–probably the first of his public career. In my NET Bible (viewable here), the demon’s first words are translated as “Leave us alone, Jesus of Nazareth!” The translators note, however, that the literal translation is actually, “What to us and to you?” It’s an idiom, effectively meaning, “We have nothing to do with one another: Why are you bothering us?” The demon seems more surprised than anything else.

We see this again in Matthew 8, with the famed demoniacs of the tombs. Again, their initial response to the coming of Jesus is surprise and puzzlement: “What to us and to you? Have you come to destroy us before the time?”

Now, there’s one more example of this phrase in the New Testament, but it has nothing to do with demons: Instead, we see it in John 2, when Mary tells Jesus that the wedding has run out of wine. She implies that he should somehow intervene, and his response? “What to me and to you?”

In all cases, the translators note that this idiom can carry two different tones: Defensive hostility, or indifference and disengagement. The indifference and disengagement is obvious when Jesus is speaking to his mother, just as the defensive hostility is obvious in the case of the demons. One thing that remains the same, though, is the surprise at being involved in the first place.

“What to me and to you?” Why are you involving me? What do you have to do with me? What did I do to you, that you are doing this to me? That’s all wrapped up in it. Jesus was surprised at being involved with the wedding, as it had nothing to do with him or his mission. The demons, too, are surprised, but not that Jesus noticed them in the first place (after all, they couldn’t hope to hide from the Son of God). They’re surprised that he cared what they were doing.

“What to me and to you?” What are you doing here, Jesus? I am doing nothing to you: Why do you care?

This is because the demons fundamentally misunderstand Jesus’ motivation, his goals and desires. They fail to understand Love.

In his masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, Lewis hits this theme again and again. His demons are constantly trying to get at God’s true motivations: “Love,” to the demons, is just a meaningless word, a nonsensical idea that must serve to mask God’s true intentions. This misunderstanding, this incomprehension of love, is what we see in the demon’s plaintive cry to Jesus.

It is obvious to us, because we understand that Jesus loves his people. We understand that his purpose in coming here was not to conquer, but to serve: Not to hurt, but to heal. When Jesus sees a man (or a woman or child) possessed by a demon, he loves that person and wants to help them. The demons, however, lack this understanding:  they see no reason at all for Jesus to seek them out. The demons of the Gadarenes are a  prime example of this: Why would Jesus come to them “before the time”? What are they doing to Jesus, that he would find them and punish them when his eventual victory is already on its way?

What does he gain from it? That is what the demons struggle with, because the answer–nothing at all–is incomprehensible to them. Jesus gains neither wordly nor celestial power by casting demons out of people; He merely hastens a process which is already unfolding. He gains fickle followers and earns the wrath of the ruling class, and that’s just about it.

And that’s actually something we could all stand to remember, I think. Because the demons aren’t wrong. They do know our inherent value. From a standpoint of objective worth, in and of ourselves, our bodies and spirits are broken and twisted, no use to anyone but as a plaything, something to exercise control and power over, soon to be discarded and destroyed. There is no objective value, no worth. We are not useful to God.

And therein lies the wonder of his love for us. Humanity is valuable because of God’s love, and it doesn’t stand apart from that.  We are valueless to the demons, worthless on any scale that has to do with merit or usefulness: But to him, we are precious.

What if Spock Was Right: Gilad Shalit, the Many, and the One

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas announced yesterday that Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006, will be released.

In exchange for Shalit’s freedom, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds of them convicted terrorists, will also be released.

The lopsided nature of this one-for one thousand exchange has not gone unnoticed, especially since similar past exchanges have not worked out well for Israel. It’s generally agreed that Hamas is set to be the winner in this instance, and though many believe Israel ought to be commended for a renewed commitment to life and hope, it seems probable that the freeing of these hundreds of convicted terrorists will bring an end to many, many more lives in both Israel and Palestine.

Has Israel made the right decision? It’s hard to know.

Perhaps it’s trite, but I can’t help thinking here of two exchanges between Spock and Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies.

As Spock sacrifices himself at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he tells Kirk,

Spock:“Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk: “The needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

Later, when Kirk and Spock are reunited after Spock’s rescue, Spock is puzzled—why was he spared when so much was at stake?

Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.
Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
Spock: Why would you do this?
Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk found a way to save both the many and the one. Spock sacrificed himself for his shipmates, and they in turn sacrificed themselves for him. It makes for a good story—but real world struggles rarely end so neatly. In buying Gilad Shalit’s freedom at an almost impossibly high price, Israel may end up sacrificing its own people for the sake of a compelling national narrative.

It’s bold. It’s risky. It’s what the “good guys” in the movies would do. But is it wise? Perhaps not.

This tension between the needs of the one and needs of the many is, by the way, an old problem for Israel. In John 11, when the chief priests and Pharisees are discussing what to do about the man whose actions threaten their own power, Caiaphas convinces them to simply do away with Jesus:

“…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11:49-50)

In the past, when Israel acted out of fear and favored the “many” over the “one”, Jesus died. (Of course, Gilad Shalit is not Jesus, and both stories are complicated. This is not a perfect analogy!) This time, though it’s easy to criticize the country’s desperation, they are at least moving forward boldly, and without obvious fear.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s bad. I don’t know.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”—and pray for Gilad Shalit. That much, at least, is clear.