K is for King

    In the Divine Alphabet, K is for King. God is our king, and it’s no metaphor. That is to say, he’s not “like” a king, but he really is one. 
    The kingship of God is manifest in his authority over his people. The other nations had their human kings. By unique contrast, Israel was to have no king, because her king was the Lord. He was hers, and she belonged to him.
    There are three elements to this.
    First, the Lord saves his people. He goes to battle for them and wins them victory over their enemies. Which is to say, the Lord has real power, effective power that is capable of protection.
    Second, the Lord judges his people. This is present tense, on-going, something that happens every day. That marvelous verse from Psalm 7 speaks of this: “God is a righteous Judge, strong, and patient; and God is provoked every day.” That’s the traditional Prayer Book version; the 1979 clarifies it: “God is a righteous judge; God sits in judgment every day.” But we must not forget that injustice does indeed “provoke” God!
    Third, the Lord gives an identity to his people. This is, first in the Scriptures, the promise of land. But it is also the Law, which forms Israel’s identity after she, through her unrighteousness, has been punished and removed from the land. Most deeply, the Lord is himself the identity of his people.
    Kingship—or political rule more broadly—is important to us. Jesus’ work was the work of a king. He saves his people. He provides true judgment. He gives us our identity. The feast of Christ the King, added to the Christian calendar only in the 20th century, is not an abstraction or a diversion, but is true to the heart of the gospel.
    As Paul and others work it out in the New Testament, it means that we live in a state of dual citizenship. We belong to God, but we are also, say, Americans (or Texans or Canadians, etc.), and that is an important, indeed eternal, part of our identity. (Nations are to be redeemed as well as individuals, and at the end nations are to come in humility before the throne of the Lamb.) But we are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom. 
    Oliver O’Donovan points out that the second element of political authority—the execution of judgment—is what God has given to the political powers of this world. They are to execute judgment in humble acknowledgment of God’s higher and full political authority. The political powers of this world are not in the end to be the guarantors of our safety nor the source of our ultimate identity. Our safety, and our identity, is secured in God in Christ, and that is true whether we speak of individuals such as Victor or Maria, or political realities such as Navaho or Britain.

---. On the Web. I am to preach at the traditional online service this Sunday, June 28, at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. The 11:15 a.m. service will be live-streamed and also on the website for later viewing/listening at incarnation.org.
    Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who caught an error in last week’s column. I spoke of Isaac wrestling all night with God. It was of course Isaac’s son, Jacob, who did that. I imagine that Isaac, whose name means “he laughs,” is bemused by this mix-up.
    Finally, in the Shameless Commerce Department: Friendship: The Heart of Being Human by yours truly is to be released mid-July. The usual on-line monoliths seem to be offering a pre-publication discount for electronic versions (e.g. Kindle). And christianbook.com, the website of a company formerly known as CBD (before those letters became famous for something else), has the paperback at a discount.
    I’ve been waiting for years to refer to “a company formerly known as CBD.” Christian Book Distributors was around before the Internet. Their newsprint catalogues were frequent arrivals in all our mailboxes at seminary. I’m glad they’re still around, even if they no longer promote themselves as cbd.com.



J is for Jesus

Not that there is much choice; in the Divine Alphabet, what else might “J” stand for? “Jehovah,” I suppose, although that’s an odd word made by putting the vowels of Adonai (Lord) into the unpronounceable Yhwh. “Just” would be true and is highly fitting. “Jolly” would be comfortable, evoking images of Saint Nick and perhaps C. S. Lewis.
    But nothing beats a personal name.
    You’re on a crowded sidewalk, and you hear someone say “Hey, you!” You ignore it, as you should. The speaker is probably not talking to you, and if he is, you probably shouldn’t talk back. But if your name is Victor, and you hear someone say “Hey, Victor!”—then you will stop, and turn, and look.
    Someone who knows your name is someone who has a relationship to you. Of course, it might not be much of a relationship—it could be nothing more than that your name has been retrieved from a computer database. Do you remember? Before there were computer databases and cheap ways of making impersonal letters look personal, we would get mail addressed to “Occupant” or “Resident,” with letters inside addressed to “Dear Neighbor” or even “Dear Sir or Madam.” The sender did not pretend to have a relationship with us; our letter was but one of hundreds or thousands identical pieces of mail; and it would have conveyed phoney-ness to suggest the sender knew us by name. (Here is one more way that technology pretends to create a real human connection that is, in fact, more insidious than the impersonal formality it has replaced.)
    But set aside the misuse of someone’s name. Misuse points to what remains true: to know a person’s name is to have a claim to access to that person, a claim to a relationship.
    “God” is not a personal name, not, in fact, a name at all. It is like an algebraic “x” that stands for whatever it is that is responsible for the being of the world. And there is no more reason for us in the world to think about God than there is reason for the characters in a novel to think about their author.
    What we have learned about God, however, is that he has spoken to his human creatures, from time to time, in many and various ways, over many centuries. In particular, he spoke to certain individuals who became the founders of a new people, a nation that was especially his.
    Which is why “A is for Accessible” and “I is for Israel.” God has always wanted to have a relationship with us. When Israel was formed, God told Moses his name—a name he had withheld prior to that time, withheld famously from Isaac in his wrestling-match through the night. That name, Yhwh, is not to be pronounced, and is special to his special people.
    But in the fullness of time, God became a man, human just like us, one creature amongst others. When that happened, God took on a new name. This new name is one that is special to all people everywhere. And it is to be pronounced by anyone who wants to call upon God.
    Michael Ossorgin, one of my tutors at St. John’s College and a Russian priest, used to smile at a rather common thing. You swing a hammer but miss the nail and hit your thumb. The first word that escapes from your lips, although it sounds like swearing, could be, might be (I remember his smile): a prayer!
    “Jesus!”—the name of God that is available for anyone who wants to call upon him.
    On the Web. In Coronatide, one catches up a bit on journals. In last summer’s issue of The New Atlantis, Ian Marcus Corbin writes of the improbable success of Moleskine notebooks. That success is related to something about us that cannot be replicated on the Web (and thus it resonates with our unhappiness with online replacements of personal meetings). “Hands and faces, pen and paper, particularity—these things are perennially germane for flux-treading, body-having, mark-making creatures like us.” Corbin, writing a year before the Virus, presciently goes on: “Those of us who recognize that we and our neighbors need these things should be thinking intentionally and concretely about how we can turn back toward each other.” The article is not long, and is, like much of The New Atlantis, a thoughtful refuge from high-decibel polemics. https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/analog-anchors-for-the-online-adrift



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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."