Thursday, April 17, 2008


What hope is there?

Many people lament the removal of God from our public life. We've all heard about battles over the Ten Commandments, graduation invocations, and creches. Perhaps there's even been a battle in your town, when someone was offended by some mention of God in a public place and took to litigation. Older folks among us feel that their way of life is under assault, that we are in danger of losing our awareness that God is among and watching us. And it's even worse than that- we've declared open war on God.

The easiest place to see this, of course, is in the squabbles over public prayer and the mottoes on coins. But the battle is joined on many more fronts, fronts with much higher stakes. The war is not just over the name of God, but His image as well.

The Bible says that God made men and women at the beginning, and that He put His image in us when He did. And modern men and women want nothing to do with that image. We can see this in how we disfigure ourselves with tattoos and piercings- some people want to look nothing like anything that God would make. Pornographers hate the way God made women's bodies, and so we force our sisters and daughters to starve in the name of beauty. And it's come to actual slaughter where the image of God is perhaps clearest- in our children. We dismember them in the womb, and neglect and abandon those who are lucky enough to escape.

We hate the image of God in us so much that we would kill ourselves to get rid of it. If abortion doesn't make us extinct, low birth rates and inner-city crime might finish the job. We hate the image of a pregnant woman, and have taken our fruitlessness to the utter extreme in gay marriages. Truly the Bible says that those who hate wisdom (and God) love death, and we can't get enough of it. Slow, drug-induced, dark death. It fascinates us.

And I believe there's a reason for our love of death: we hate the image of God because we want to kill Him. We get rid of His name because we hate Him, and we kill ourselves and our children because it's the closest to killing God we can come. If we could, we would kill Him. "Leave me alone", we cry. "I hate you", we tell our Father.

I hope I've made it sound as bleak as possible. Of course it's not all bleak and bad- God's Spirit is still at work in the world. But I've been dire for one reason- because the Light is all that much brighter when it's dark. The good news is so much sweeter when the bad is overwhelming. It is very dark, but there is great light:

We already killed God.

The Bible says that He came once. His name was Jesus. He put on human arms and legs, skin and bones. He walked among us, showing us Himself through mighty works. He cast out demons, healed the sick, read people's minds, and even raised the dead. He taught with power, revealing the depths of people's hearts with shrewd insight while offering mercy and forgiveness to the lowest of the low.

And we responded in the same way that modern men would have us: we put Him to death. We convicted Him in a kangaroo court in which we couldn't even get two liars to agree on false charges. We beat Him publicly, mocking His grace, mercy and authority. We gambled for His clothes and pulled out His beard. We hung Him up naked on a tree to suffocate, nails in each of His hands and feet. And we left Him there until He died, after six hours of agony.

And it was the moment of victory for every secularist, atheist, and scoffing post-modernist that ever lived. Every crooked politician in the history of the world mocked Him- "This is the King of the Jews". Every abortionist took delight in snuffing out that perfect, innocent life-- the One that our infants remind us so much of. Every pornographer stared in glee at His naked body. Every wicked man, every sinner ever among us, had a hand at the hammer, driving the nails in to kill Him forever, finally to be left to ourselves.

Saint Paul described all this in a remarkable way. Hear 1st Corinthians: "If they had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory." Indeed.

Because it wasn't just man's wrath and hatred that Jesus bore on the Cross. It was God's, as well. All of God's anger towards our pettiness, our thieveries, our murders, our hatreds and lusts, all of it. God heard our blasphemies and answered them there. He saw the murders we committed in the dark, and He paid them back there. The cries of our slaughtered babies reached Him, and He punished them there, on His Son. The war between God and man reached the pivotal point there on Golgotha, outside of the city. Man took God in His hands to kill Him, and God gave Him over.

I'm laughing as I write this, because it's so good. Do you see? The plot twist is so perfect, so masterfully conceived. Both sides spent all their wrath on Jesus. Wicked men killed Him. God killed Him. The message was snuffed out. His friends and followers were scattered, each to their own home alone. It was so bad that the sun went dark for hours.

And it didn't work. He got up.

I think it's deeply ironic that the first people to see the Resurrection were public servants, paid by the corrupt officials to make sure that Jesus' followers couldn't steal the body and make any claims. Can you imagine? You've got the God you didn't believe in (and hated) killed and laid in the tomb, and now angels are rolling the stone away. And He's coming out in glory. On the third day. There would be no spinning this, no scientific explanations. They did the only thing they could, which is run away and take a bribe to be quiet about it. Those officials knew right away what was happening, and took the last measure available to them- "Make sure no one knows!" Somethings never change, it seems.

But they do change, and they changed that Sunday morning. Everything, and forever. How could wicked men ever get rid of God, if killing Him didn't work? How could corrupt governments use death and torture to enslave- who would be afraid anymore? How could we ever get rid of the image of God, if killing it only purified and brought it back with power? What if God took all our hatred and murder, and used it to save the world? What could the evil do? This is hopelessness- hopelessness for the mission of wicked men. God is here to stay.

And God used it to save the world. For He did not send His son to condemn the world (we tried that ourselves), but to save the world. And He did, and is busy in finishing it. Jesus died with all the world's misery and darkness, and came bursting out of the tomb again. He took it all and laid there, stone dead in the tomb, and still shook it off and came out. The grave couldn't hold Him, and nothing else could either. He was seen by hundreds who spread the news all over the world. And He was taken up to God's hand and given a Kingdom with no end- all the nations of men.

So there's hope. There is no end of hope for those who love God. They can't get rid of God's name, because it comes back. They can't erase His image, because it gets clearer the more they try. And they can't kill Him anymore, because He's already died, and come back again.

There's so much hope.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Boots of Spanish Leather

Nanci Griffith, from the Transatlantic Sessions Part 2. Featuring Jerry Douglas.