Archive for September, 2014

In John 12, we find a curious incident where, just like at Jesus’s baptism, a thunderous voice speaks audibly and loudly from heaven. Why? It comes as answer to Jesus’s own question. A question that turns out to be rhetorical, as he explains afterwards.

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.
-John 12:27-30

“Father, glorify you name!”
“Son, I already have, and I’ll do it again.”
“Yeah, I know. But these folks around here don’t know, so thanks for saying something they could hear.”

The voice is not answering for the sake of the asker, but for the sake of others – the listeners in, the eavesdroppers, us. Divine revelation is of no use sealed up. What good is it to simply know there exists a locked briefcase filled with secrets? That the briefcase contains love letters is of far more interest.

So we find the same thing when Jesus speaks to John at the beginning of Revelation.

I [John] was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.
-John 1:10-11

John is seeing a vision. Nobody else can see it. So what does Jesus tell him to do from the get go? Write everything down. He is commanded to take notes, digest it, make copies, and mail it to a bunch of people. Why? For their sake, so they can share in the vision too.

Why did Jesus go through just John to deliver this particular (and very important) message? There are of course other ways he could have gone about it. He could have come to each of the local church leaders in turn, delivering them all the same message. He has plenty of time after all, being eternal. He could have also taken this to it’s logical end and had the holy spirit deliver the vision to every Christian on earth.

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
– Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17

OK great, so why not THIS dream then? I will take a stab at answering that. I think it was probably for consistency’s sake – so conflicting and muddled accounts were not produced. It was also for authority’s sake. Divine revelation involving locals would naturally come to the locals. Prophecy involving the fate of the whole earth and human race should come not to every local, but to a figure of authority capable of being taken seriously by all – the last living apostle.

And so we have John’s Revelation, well-preserved for us today, contemporary visions of heaven notwithstanding. It’s written down for our sake.

I think so much more is for our sake too. Flowers are beautiful and diverse primarily to relay information of his creative genius. The scripture is preserved for our sake – not because HE needs paper and ink, but because we do. We love things we can hold in our hands. He even gives us parents and lovers, that we might know something (however obscured) of his ways, and even enter into some temporary and tainted knockoff of his Trinitarian communion. He makes this possible too, for our sake.

About A.D. 360, Athanasius wrote an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert – one of the most influential monks of early Christianity. Though Anthony grew up in a “Christian home” as we would say today, it was an event that took place when he was a young man really woke him up:

He was left alone, after his parent’s death, with one quite young sister. He was about eighteen or even twenty years old, and he was responsible both for the home and his sister. Six months had not passed since the death of his parents when, going to the Lord’s house as usual and gathering his thoughts, he considered while he walked how the apostles, forsaking everything, followed the Savior, and how in Acts some sold what they possessed and took the proceeds and placed them at the feet of the apostles for distribution among those in need, and what great hope is stored up for such people in heaven.

He went into the church pondering these things, and just then it happened that the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It was as if by God’s design he held the saints in his recollection, and as if the passage were read on his account. Immediately Antony went out from the Lord’s house and gave to the townspeople the possessions he had from his forebears (three hundred fertile and very beautiful arourae [~200 acres]), so that they would not disturb him or his sister in the least. And selling all the rest that was portable, when he collected sufficient money, he donated it to the poor, keeping a few things for his sister.

-Athanasius, The Life of Antony, Translated by Robert C. Gregg

I think contemporary evangelicals would be shocked to find an account like this in such a “Catholic” source – from the fourth century no less. Antony just happened to walk into church when a certain bible passage was being read, and the words jumped off the page, “as if by God’s design… the passage were read on his account.” This sounds exactly like how evangelicals (myself included) are taught to read scripture – always ready for the moment when the words become immediately and intensely personal by the power of the holy spirit working directly in the individual.

Of course, we are not talking about Anthony’s conversion here, but still, this is not at all the kind of language one would find today in the writings of very catholic (small ‘c’ but likely Roman or Orthodox) minded or covenental (again, small ‘c’ but likely Reformed) minded theologians and pastors. The 2oth century of modern Evangelicism greatly OVER emphasized the individual by all wise accounts. A corrective to this is welcome and healthy. And yet let us not forget that here we find the seeds of this immediate individualization of scripture – plain as day – in the writings of one of the early church fathers. That the Word of God cuts one (and sometimes JUST one – you) to the heart is not something we should ever downplay.

This is the indication given for the psalm – number 67 in this case. “On stringed instruments”. The Lord gave us voices, and those are the most natural instruments of all. The Lord gave us arms and hands and that is why every nation and every tongue has always had drums of some sort, even if they just beat two rocks together, it was man’s glory to do so. But stringed instruments take time and care to build. They take special wood and resonators. Even a primitive one is more complicated that a piece of furniture. The strings themselves are now made of steel or nylon, but then it would have been the guts of animals – killed and carefully extracted, cut to length and precariously tuned. If there is anything the ancient stringed musician would have done differently than those of today, it is that he would have played carefully so as not to put his instrument drastically out of tune every two minutes. We can wail on our cryogenic poly-coated nickel wires. He could not. How would one achieve volume then? The same way an orchestra does – with many players. Witness the Ethiopian Christians marching here during Timkat (epiphany).

ethiopia-harps

A stringed instrument is a cultivated thing, an artifact requiring a lot of time to make and much skill to play well. If anyone has a high view of scripture and it’s inspired writing and preservation, he should marvel that this indication has been well-kept. You are supposed to sing this praise song to God WHILE playing a harp or lute. Seriously. That wasn’t added later by someone trying to spice things up. It was there at it’s conception and the first time it was sung in the temple of Mt. Zion while David still reigned as king.

When the Lion of Judah returns to earth, will he find a people who have been taught to despise guitars? I think he will find more than a few. Their love of the voice will likely more than make up for things I suppose, but what a shame. “Oh, but those darn stringed instruments have been used and abused for more twisted and terrible ends than you could imagine as of late! Did you watch the last music video awards show?” True, true. Now quit making excuses and get back to work. Find a way to redeem them! Is the Spirit of Life not up for the job? Figure it out! All you who are keen to reform worship, I give you a challenging but worthwhile task: find a place for the stringed instruments. Locking them out and keeping just the keyboard is punting. The Lord is worthy of praise with these things as well.