Range and Reality of Christian Truth -- Part 3

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In recent days, we all heard about the  horrendous news of the murder of the old French priest by ISIS. We are dealing here with the demonic, and I am consoled that Another has dealt with him, once and for all and long ago.

This series has sought to present the range of claims which our faith offers simultaneously. The great reformer Martin Luther once said that God has a right hand, and a left. In His right is the gospel of peace and of forgiveness. We need to hear Jesus' voice in the Sermon on the Mount calling us to turn the cheek and going the extra mile. He calls us to witness to the intrusion of God's kingdom.

But for now we also live in the old aeon, the 'not yet.'  God's left hand is also at work. St. Augustine offered the parameters of a 'just war' which is defensive, proportionate, authoritative, and necessary.  Thomas Aquinas discussed just war under the category of 'defending widows and orphans.'  Surely fighting back against terror fits such definitions classically.  

At the same time Christian theology has a long history of seeking to understand the nature and role in God's purposes of other religions, especially Islam. Our history of mission, including among Muslims, has included service as well as witness.

Finally we as Christians hear the 'distant triumph song.'  We believe that on the last day Christ himself will mete out judgment  and mercy beyond our human understanding. Here once again the gospel offers a fugue with notes of deep realism and hope.



Range and Reality of Christian Truth 2

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How are you spending your summer vacation?  Often we seek out some beautiful place that seems closer to nature than our usual round of 'buying and spending.'  I, for my part, and after dutifully reviewing my Spanish verbs, have been watching the political conventions and passing a day in a rain national park in Costa Rica.  Hearing both promises about 'winners' and fears for survival in the first, and worries about ecological crisis in the second, and watching an intense neighborhood of contending fauna and flora in the third, together raise the question of a christian understanding of the natural order, one of the most perplexing theological questions of the modern age.

In a more positive mood, we can affirm the sense of beauty and order found in nature.  This sense has been related to an intimation of the existence of the Creator throughout Christian thought. Part of that order, the differentiation of male and female and the resulting fecundity, are declared 'good' by God for the human.  These are not left behind in the stewardship bestowed on us in Genesis 1.  

What hasn't been traditionally found in our faith is a yearning for unification with that force, either as order or as chaos. To be sure such yearning is indeed a deep human sense, but it is called 'paganism.'  We moderns have been characterized by both the intimation and the yearning, and the trouble we have telling one from the others.

Even a single morning's guided tour through the jungle reminds us that nature is one long protein chain of ingesting and being ingested. We know this to be true, but have a hard time assessing it. Konrad Lorenz once said the lion stalking his prey has the same relation to it which we have to our corn flakes.  He is not angry, not even aggressive in a human sense.

We have, as I say, a hard time making sense of this. We are part of this order, we ingestors of protein. We alternately are repelled by it, or celebrate this fact, as we imagine ourselves as spirits or lions.  Neither is helpful or accurate. We can neither climb to angelhood nor descend to an animalhood devoid of conscience, Plato and Ayn Rand notwithstanding. The conundrum all this puts us in is itself a sign of original sin, as is the kind of extended cruelty to our own species others rarely show. Even trying to be 'animal' proves we aren't simply that, creatures though we be.

My point is simply this:  being ensouled mammals, at once answerable to and alienated from God, is complicated. As such we cannot make sense of ourselves with a single one of the claims I have here listed. We need them all together, and in their own kind of 'ecology,' held together by the master story of the bible, summed-up for us in the creed. Trying to make sense of ourselves without all this will end up as a distortion, whether it makes of us creators or angels or predators or furies, for on our own we lapse into our own false optimisms and pessimisms.

...and enjoy that sunset over the water!



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.