Friday, September 19, 2014

9-11 and God's Judgment - Revisited

I am having an interesting discussion on one of my FaceBook groups regarding the question of national sin and if God does judge nations for their collective sin. This post comes in the middle of my discussion with the other writer, so it might seem at first disjointed. I believe you will quickly be able to understand his point, and my point.

First, let me clarify what I am about to post. I do not presume to know what God is doing at any given time, or in any given situation. However, we can know some things about God and how He responds to humanity based on the Biblical text. For as long as I have been a Christian I have followed this axiom: “When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.”

Perhaps the clearest examples in Scripture of God’s eventual response to national sin (or, in the case of Revelation, global sin), is found in the Passover account in Exodus. The ten plagues, culminating with the death of the first born in Egypt, fell upon all Egyptians, men, women, children, babies, we are told, because of Pharaoh’s arrogance, his sin and rebellion (e.g. his derisive comment, “Who is the Lord that I should let the people go?” (see Exodus 5:2). Certainly the entire nation was not 100% guilty and worthy of such devastation (likely there were many who did not want to lose their free labor), but the judgment of God fell upon the entire nation, and so all suffered as a result.

Then there are Israel’s two captivities: The northern kingdom in 722 BC to Assyria and the southern kingdom to Babylon in 605 BC, 597 BC, and 586 (my dates may be a little off here. I am typing from memory). The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Habakkuk, and Joel (to name only five of the nearly dozen others) warned the nation would happen because of their national sins (e.g. Isaiah 5:3-13ff; chapters 28-29; Jeremiah 7-8, 15-17 (actually, chapters 2-38 is one long mournful plea and warning from God about their impending judgment); Ezekiel chapters 4-24 . . . I could go on to cite chapters in Amos, etc, but I think you get the point. God has always meted out judgment on Nations for continual national sins.  (Psalm 106:6-43 is a pretty good synopsis of how the Biblical writer viewed God’s response to Israel’s sin)

And then there are those passages in the NT which also warn nations (and the globe) about God’s judgment of arrogant sin. For example, Luke 10:10-15, Romans 11:1-23, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, and Jude 5-15.  And then, of course, there is the entire book of Revelation. The Lord’s warning to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 speak specifically to Christian churches who lose their first love, or become lukewarm, or tolerate sin, and so on through the two chapters.  And then beginning with chapter 4 of Revelation until the 18th chapter, the seals, trumpets, and bowls unleash enormous disasters on the world and those who would not “repent of their murders, nor their sorceries, nor their thefts” (9:21).

I skipped over God’s judgment on personal sin, but I might as well mention only two examples here: Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is one. The text says it was the Holy Spirit who took their lives. Herod (Agrippa I) in Acts 12:23 is another. Then there are the multiple warnings in the epistles such as 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9; Galatians 6:7-8; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Roman 3:23, and 6:23, and dozens of similar NT passages.

St. Paul, in referencing the Old Testament writings, said this in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 - Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

The evidence, to me at least, in the OT (as well as the NT) is overwhelming in its demonstration that God does judge personal and national sin.

Human nature being as it is, history has proven too many times that we typically refuse to do right unless there is fear of punishment. How many times have drivers on the highway slowed down when a patrol car was traveling in the next lane? That’s a simple example, but the principle is I think valid. Deuteronomy 28 is a good example of how God threatens judgment to ensure obedience. And then we read a few chapters later (chapter 30): This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Would to God! that the Church would accept even the possibility that the massive destructions we are slowly witnessing across our land might be the hand of God sent to warn us in the Church, as well as those outside the Church, that we better mend our ways or worse will happen to us.  Would to God! that our leadership might be as Daniel and Nehemiah, who believed the earlier prophets (e.g. Daniel 9:23 with Jeremiah 25:11) and recognized God’s hand in Babylon’s invasion of Israel and subsequent pillaging of the land and the people. They then set about to pray, to confess their national sin to God, and seek His deliverance. You can read the prayers of both men in Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 9. The prayers would make a good template for America. I have to wonder what would happen to America if our Church and national leaders fell on their faces before God, as those two men did, and confessed likewise.

You will remember God’s promise to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” But I am reminded of God’s comment to the prophet Hosea about the religious leadership of his day (4:6): My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

I know I have written a lot in response, but I did so because I wanted to provide you the Scriptural context of my question regarding 9-11. I am sure we are still in disagreement, but since our Catholic faith is rooted and grounded in Scripture and Sacred Tradition, I like to look at things in that context.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nothing to Fear from God

While you did all this, I remained silent, and you thought I didn't care. But now I will rebuke you, listing all my charges against you. (Psalm 50:21, New Living Translation)

I posted a video to one of my online social network sites which suggested 9-11-01 was part of God’s judgment on America because of its many sins. One reader took great umbrage with that idea. He believes 9-11 was simply the sinful act of “misguided” men, and is unwilling to believe God would permit all those innocent people to die because of the nation’s sins. Of course, that reader is not alone in his belief. I have witnessed the same idea promoted for years from pulpits and in religious magazines and newspapers.

I suppose the idea that God does not personally mete out judgment against sin can be traced to the God is Dead movement that gained ascendency in America during the 1960s. “I’m OK, You’re Ok” became a popular mantra, followed by, “There are no absolutes: No absolute truth, no absolute right or wrong moral choices -- everything depends on the situation.” As that philosophy slowly permeated the culture through the universities and the media, it ultimately found its way into the Church where, in the last few decades, parishioners hear from the pulpit more often than not, “God is Love” without the equally true biblical injunction, “Be holy, for God is holy.”

The morning after my online exchange I sat in my recliner and began my usual time with the Lord. I opened the Bible to chapter 8 of 1 Kings to read Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple. The prayer extends from verses 12 through 53, but my attention focused on only a small section of the prayer. Beginning with verse 33, Solomon asked this of God:

“When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy, because they have sinned against You, if they turn to You again and confess Your name and pray and make supplication to You in this house, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants . . . .”

“If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper, if their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Your people Israel . . . then hear in heaven. . . that they may fear You.”

Solomon is not the only one in Biblical history to associate disasters – whether of nature or of man – with God’s judgment of sin. One cannot read Moses, or the prophets, or the epistles, or Revelation, and come away with a philosophy popular in much of today’s Church that God does not use nature or Man to judge sin – whether personal or national sin.

America has mercilessly killed more than 55 million babies in abortion clinics since 1973. Grasp the magnitude of that bloodshed. Fifty-five million. And in that time America has also elevated sexual perversions of all sorts to the place of protected legal status. We vote into political power men and women well-known for their deceit, thefts, murders, immoralities, treasons . . .  and we love it so.

If we choose to believe earthquakes, floods, droughts, and other ‘acts of God’ are simply random acts of nature, and not God’s ‘wake up’ call to repentance, then there is no need for a sinful nation to repent, to change, and beg God’s forgiveness. If we choose to believe the tragedies caused by planes crashing into buildings on 9-11 were simply the work of evil men acting on their own free will, then we will not be open to the possibility that God is removing His protective shield over America because of our national sins. Therefore, there is no need to gather on our knees in churches across the land and repent, and change, because we have nothing to fear from God. After all, God is Love.

Do we really think God does not see?  Or care? Or judge sin? In another of his writings, Solomon noted, Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.  (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

There is, of course, a better way to live, and that is in accordance with the historic teaching of the Church, and the historic teaching of Scripture, which can be summed up in this axiom: When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.

From one end of the Book to the other, Scripture tells us not only is God Love, but that He is also a Holy God. We say that sometimes too quickly and too easily. But let’s now say it slowly: God is Holy. Righteous. Sacred. Pure. Undefiled. And He demands of us the same. When we choose to live otherwise, then we have good reason to fear, as the historic Church and all the Biblical writers have warned.

God is not one to be mocked, wrote Saint Paul. Whatever we sow, we will reap (Galatians 6:7). The writer to the Hebrews added: “Our God is a consuming fire”, (Hebrews 12:29) and, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

God is not dead. And He is not asleep.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Next YouTube study in 1 Peter is online (Lesson 8)

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this about the Bible (paragraph 104): In Sacred Scripture  . . .  the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them." Log onto my YouTube study in 1 Peter, here:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Numbering Our Days

I published this in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey. I hope you find it meaningful.

Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. – The Psalmist (Psalm 90:11-12, NASB)

             I love dessert. That’s why I have to exercise regularly to control my weight. I jog three miles, three times a week. On non-run days, I lift weights. Sundays – well, Sundays I look forward to my nap on the couch after Nancy and I return from Mass.

           So there I was at work one Monday, about 15 minutes after showering away the effects of an unusually grueling lunchtime run in 90-degree heat. I ignored my exhaustion and decided to take the stairs from the ground floor to my office on the sixth. By the time I reached to the fourth floor, my legs felt like mush. I almost heard them whimper at me to take the elevator.

           I ignored their appeal and pushed on.

           A moment later, down the stairs trotted this bouncy young lady – all of twenty, I supposed. Her broad smile faded into an uncertain grin when she saw me. By now, I was holding onto either side of the rails and pulling myself up each step.

           "Are you okay?" She stopped a few steps above me. I heard in her tone the same concern I use when I meet elderly people who look as if they really need to sit down.

           "I'm . . . fine," I managed to gasp between breaths. "Thanks."

           "You sure?"

           I wanted to tell her I'm in great shape. I jog three miles and all of that – but thought better of it. When I nodded, she gave me one more cautious glance, and continued on her way. I toughed out the next two flights – grateful to finally reach the sixth floor.

           I thought about that incident later as I drove home. It seems like only yesterday I was the one bouncing down the stairs, full of twenty-year-old energy. So, when did yesterday wilt into today? When did energy morph into exhaustion? Before we realize it, we are the elderly person we once tried to help, and we understand why the Psalmist asked God to teach us to number our days, and why St. Paul wrote: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

           I’ve learned this lesson before, and I guess I needed to learn it again: When our yesterdays and todays terminate at the graveside, we won’t care how much money we've earned, how many awards we've won or how many miles we've jogged. What we will care about – at least, what I will care about – is, have I done all I could do for the King of Glory with the days that I had?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not Better, But Best

With [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord.  (Numbers 12:8)

I have in the past envied Moses. I can’t count the times I have thought how much better my life would be if God met me like He met Moses, if He would sit on my living room couch so I could ask Him for direction. Or why I – or some in the family – struggle with whatever it is we struggle with.

I have also wondered if it wouldn’t be better for the world if God showed Himself as He did in the past.  Maybe ‘rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at His presence”, as Isaiah prayed (64:1). Or open the ground as He did with Korah and company (Numbers 16). If He did those kinds of things today, people would know who is really in charge.

Yes, I sometimes think it would be better for all of us if God did things differently.

And then I have a momentary sense of clarity – which usually lasts only for a moment. No, it would not be better, because if it would be better, our heavenly Father would do it. If it would be better God would rend the heavens, or open the earth, or sit on my living room couch and tell me all I want to know. 

But our loving God does not do what is ‘better’ because He chooses to do for us what is ‘best.’  For me. For my family. For our world.

God reminds us through Isaiah, For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

I suppose, like all things related to God, it’s a matter of faith. When God is silent, it is not because He is unaware of what is happening in my life, or of my confusion, my pain, or my loss. No, He is silent because – even as He sits in the shadows – He is busy working out what is best for me, and not simply what is better. When evil sears across the globe and He is silent, it is not because He is impotent, but because somehow, in some supernatural way, He is working to cause all of it – even genocide – to produce the best for all of us.

I do not understand God. Sometimes He is a complete enigma to me. At other times He is an absolute mystery. But that does not stop me from pressing on toward the kind of faith that promises, despite the darkness, despite His seeming indifference, God wants not what is better for me, or for humanity.

He wants what is best. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Do We Still Not Get It?

I’ve read reports about microchip implants before, but this one is different. It makes the idea of an RFID chip under your skin seem to be the best idea since chocolate. Why would anyone refuse the chip?

But what concerns me most about the article is the number of Catholic and other Christians who still don’t get it. I think I know why. They’ve been taught for decades the events recorded in Revelation were all fulfilled in the first century. As a consequence, they remain unaware of the real and present danger facing us, danger of which Jesus warned us about in that prophetic book of Revelation .

It doesn’t take a lot of intuition to associate the linked article about the RFID chip with this prediction in Revelation 13:16-17: "And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name."

Nor does it take a lot of imagination – especially in these days – to correlate the rapidly increasing persecution of Christians and Jews around the world with the prophecies in Revelation concerning world-wide persecutions awaiting God’s people. (Indeed, Jesus also warned of persecutions, along with international, geographic, and cosmic upheavals in the gospels. Neither were some of the OT prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel silent on the subject. But I digress).

For those who teach, and for those who have been taught, that the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John refers exclusively to the first century, I suggest they take a more reasoned look at the world around us.

There is an important text in Acts 17:10-11 which is apropos to the point.  St. Paul visited Thessalonica and Berea during one of his missionary journeys.  Here is what the text tells us about those two cities:

"The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
Notice how the Holy Spirit refers to the Christians in those cities. The Bereans were “more noble-minded” than those in Thessalonica because the Bereans “examined the scriptures daily,” to see whether the things taught by St. Paul were true.

Should we in the 21st century do less than the Bereans? And if we decide Revelation does, in fact, speak to the impending dangers Christians today face, how then should we proceed?

That’s an easy question to answer. As Jesus said: "Be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’" (Mark 13:35-37)

An important part of being alert includes frequent confession, and frequent confirmation and reconfirmation, along with frequent dedication and rededication of our life to Jesus – for no one knows the day or the hour.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Here, Daddy. I Love You

I published this in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey. I hope you find it useful.  Although many years have passed since I first wrote this essay, I still have Nathan's marble hanging prominently on a wall in my office.

The world asks, “How much does he give?” Christ asks, “Why does he give?”– John Raleigh Mott

Visitors never seem to notice the small black marble on the shelf in our family room. They probably think it’s nothing more than a common piece of round glass, the kind you find in bags of fifty in toy stores. To me, though, it’s a treasure.

My son, Nathan, gave it to me when he was five. Until then he had kept it safe in a corner of his socks drawer. Whenever he left the house, he carried it in his front jeans pocket. One morning while I watched television, he marched into the living room clutching his treasure in his fist.

“Here, daddy.” He opened his hand.

“What’s this?”

“I love you,” he answered.

I switched off the television and stared at the marble. It wasn’t my birthday or any other special day, yet there he was, offering me his special treasure for no other reason than he loved me.

We’ve lived in eight different homes since that day, and in each one, I displayed the marble in a prominent place – not just because it is Nathan’s love-gift to me, but because the simple piece of glass reminds me of a great spiritual lesson: Sometimes I struggle with feelings of worthlessness, and I can’t help but wonder how often other Christians think of themselves in the same way. How many think they are just one of a million insignificant people scurrying to work, to school, to the supermarket? Outside of a small group of family, friends, and acquaintances, no one will ever know – or care – that we lived and died. What can anyone as unimportant as we, offer our Father in heaven?

There aren't any Biblical texts in which God says, "I will mount your love-offering on my shelf." But I am convinced our heavenly Father is greatly moved by our willingness to give Him ourselves, as I was when Nathan offered me his treasure. I believe God proudly displays to the angels our love-gifts of talents, time, finances, pleasures – the things some of us jealously hide in the corners of our drawers or carry close in our pockets.

And I do not doubt He is well pleased when we open our hands and say, "Here, daddy. I love you."

God is pleased with what we offer Him in love.