The Christian Life

Book Review – Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament

Rage, misery, sorrow, distress, suffering, lamention. These are not the sorts of experiences that one would think would engender confidence in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ nor even deem it attractive to the skeptic. Yet these are the experiences that well-known Christian apologist experiences when his wife goes through the cruel horrors of dementia.

What is clear from Groothius’ experience is that no-one is immune from the ravages of living in creation that has turned against itself, of living in a world that is chaotically sinful and sinfully chaotic . As Groothius himself writes:

“Dementia…can be eerie. When creation turns against itself at is highest level, the incremental and insidious chaos can rattle the most stable soul”[1].

We were all made for the Garden, yet we all live on the other side of Genesis 3. We all live outside the Garden now.  This is primary issue that Groothius’s book raises, in fact, this issue is the backdrop of his entire book.

The Scriptures are very clear as to why we are the way we are, why the world is the way it is and it is equally clear that the way we are and the way the world is not what was originally intended.

In Genesis 1 and 2, we read that what God created the world in six days, and it was very good. It was perfect, in its seasons and its functions; all that lived within it lived perfectly within the world. The created world was perfect. So no magma displacement, no tsunamis, no crop failures, no droughts, no floods, no disease, no death. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were in a perfect relationship with God, they were in a perfect relationship with each other, and in a perfect relationship with the creation. God established a perfect created order, is one of vocation, permission and prohibition.And it was given for the good of Adam and Eve, for the good of all future human beings, and would lead to blessing[2]. No chaos. No creation turning against itself.

But the fall in Genesis 3 changed, or rather distorted the order, and with that distortion what was born chaos, and with it, came the ultimate consequence, death. Not instant death, but death via the process of dying, the process of a plethora of disease. The body of human persons will do what it was never meant to do, return to the ground from whence it came[3].

This is the curse that unites all humanity, the militant atheist, to the sceptical agnostic, to the Christian apologist. For the latter, yes, he was redeemed, right with God, adopted by grace, yet in this life there was no removal of the physical curse of death nor its process. He and his wife are outside the garden. His book in many ways is a longing and a lament for what was lost, but also an acceptance.

Groothius writes: “I prayed and faster. We sought out those gifted in healing and spiritual deliverance. We read all the books on healing and laboured to implement their admonitions. Yet futility stalked us relentlessly”[4]. In his book Groothius comes to the realisation that although we should “fight against the evils of this world since they flow from the fall…there is no virtue in prolonging defeat. He appropriate points to Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. There is a time for everything. Quoting Ecc. 3:1-6 he points out the fact that the Qoheleth is “not a nihilist, rather, he is realist[5]”. For the reader, what is highlighted is that the Christian faith is raw, existential, timely and “in –time” and part of living in time is that we have a God who is transcendent yet immanent and is sovereign over our time[6]. The challenge for a Christian apologist of the theological depth and acumen of Groothius is the acknowledgment that God knows what he does not know, and that included God’s timing. His knowledge of God, of the truth of God does not cancel out his emotional wrestling with God[7], nor his rage against God. Yet he comes to the conclusion that when it comes to following God, “there is no other alternative”. God is omniscient, we are not[8].  The Apostle Paul writes:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13:9-12)

Groothius, it is clear from his work, vocation and academic credentials has a deep well in which to draw answers, the right answers to difficult questions, answers that are profound and what one would hope for from an apologist, philosopher and ethicist. But until the face to face comes, Groothius, like the rest of redeemed humanity have to live in that now/not yet tension, of living by faith and Groothius does us a great service in pointing us to the most seminal moment in life outside the Garden – pointing to the one who made the Garden, the one who was nailed to a cross, who died and was buried and three days later rose again, the one who is coming back to lift the curse. In a sense, take his people back to the Garden, only a garden that is better than the first. . Which Groothius writes “are my only hope in life”. What great hope it is. A Groothius writes, “When I look at Becky’s face, happy or sad, I see what has been taken away, and I see what no earthly cure can touch. But I know that God’s favor has not been taken away from this child, that her awareness and intelligence will be restored. But we are still walking through twilight and into a night when no one can work. And God is working still”[9].  He certainly is.

Footnotes:

[1] Chapter 4, p.31

[2] God created human beings to work, they were given a vocation, (Gen 2:15), to work the Garden of Eden and keep it (to care for it). They were given permission – they have absolute freedom, and the example given of this freedom is in regards to food. Gen 2:16. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…BUT…and here is the third part of that order, prohibition…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

That is the order.

[3] Groothius writes profoundly, “God is before all, he transcends us as Creator, he brought forth nature and humanity to dwell in him – but as dust…By command we exist; by command we return to dust. At some point all of us lose our youth and sense the dustiness of ourselves”. Chapter 9, p.70.

[4] Chapter 5, p.33.

[5] Ibid.

[6] In chapter 7, Groothius helpfully writes about time and about the importance of knowing the signs of the times – see pp.54-55.

[7] See Chapter 6, 41-44.

[8] “Even though mortals can known many things about God’s existence, and nature from the Bible, rational intuition, and sound reasoning, much that we would like to know is obscured from us…we know in part, God knows in full. (Chapter 6, p.48).

[9] Chapter 9, Moses and Our Sadness, p. 78

A Plea For Real Masculinity

Today I read an article  written by fellow Anglican Priest, Rev Michael Jensen, and I found it very moving and so true. In the West we have masculinity problem – actually not a masculinity problem, but a masculinity crisis. In short: authentic masculinity has become distorted and warped by an ugly evil doppelgänger of sexualised machismo that is fed on a diet of pornography and false entitlement with the assumption that men are God’s gift to women that they must receive. This can be seen more and more in how men are treating women. No doubt we have all seen the news of an American Movie mogul who has been exposed for harassing women. And now we have an Australian former TV presenter being exposed for the same.

I have four children: a son who is almost a man, and three daughters, two of whom are becoming beautiful young women and the youngest who misses nothing. So this issue is close to the bone for me. I want my son to treat women rightly, to treat them with dignity and respect, as equals. I want him to have the sort of masculine traits that if he were to marry, his wife not only know she is loved and safe and cherished, but that she will feel loved, safe, cherished and think she can fly! If my daughters are to marry, I want them to marry men who will do the same for them.

I know this beautiful quote, but sadly, I think has been forgotten in our culture. In fact I don’t know if it was ever remembered:

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as true strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales

Our culture must own this quote! Real strength is not found in how many beers one can sink, how many hours one spends watching and talking about sport, how many kilos you can bench, nor how many abdominal muscles you can see in the mirror. It is not found in treating women as conduits for your own sexual gratification, it is not found in assuming that you are God’s gift to women, nor it is found in driving around in a car yelling out crude comments to girls.

Men, as a gender, we need to repent. We need to repent of replacing masculinity with machismo, repent of oscillating  between being passive boofheads who won’t stand to give up their seat for a woman, who don’t protect women when they are in trouble, who don’t show women the respect, dignity and manners that they are entitled to; and being tyrants who intimidate women by our misuse of distorted strength (be it of muscle, voice or personality) when they don’t show interest in us we think they should.

Men – we need to show strength in our gentleness and gentleness in our strength. Our strength has been given to us by God, and when it comes to the women in our lives, cherish them, love them, and show them the wings that they have.

And finally, men, as a gender, we need to humble ourselves before the ultimate real man, the only man in history who is perfect, the only man in history who treated all people perfectly, the only man who loved God perfectly, the only man in history who offers and can actually give us the masculinity that our sin has abandoned, that our culture has warped, and ironically, the masculinity that all men long to have. And that man is none other than Jesus Christ. For he is the one who at the cross died not only to remove the guilt of sin, but also to remove the effects of sin. He is the only one who can give us the identity that us men have lost, the masculinity us men have distorted, the self-control that us men have forgotten. He is the one who will complete us as men. He is the one who can restore our manhood again.

So, men – please… please… ditch the machismo. Ditch the false entitlement. Ditch the false bravado that tries to convince ourselves and other men that we are ok. We are not ok. God wants us to be real men, strong yet gentle men, gentle yet strong men. So men, be real men, be God’s men, be Jesus’ men. For he is the ultimate source of real masculinity, of gentleness in strength and strength in gentleness.

 

Australia Votes Yes

 

With the cake above, we now add the numbers 1 and 17. Australia has voted and over 61% of Australians have voted to change the marriage act so that same sex couples can legally marry in Australia. It is not law of the land yet, but it is almost certain that it will become law by Christmas.

Here are my thoughts in light of the above

  1. Marriage is, in God’s plan, between a man and a woman and that God’s intention for marriage has not changed in any way.
  2. Marriage as God defines it, is still the best structure for society and for the procreation and raising of children in the secure nurturing wedlock of a mother and a father, regardless of what the marriage act says.
  3. The Lord Jesus Christ is still and always be our model for what we believe and how we are to live.  The Lord Jesus is very clear about what marriage is and what marriage is not. In the Gospel of St Matthew chapter 19:1-7, the Lord Jesus reinforces to his disciples that marriage originates with God, that the essence of marriage is in the union of a man and a woman. 
  4. God and His Word does not change, even though our culture does. Thus our mandate as to critique our culture through the lens of God’s Word and not the other way around does not change and we are to do this  graciously and lovingly but also authentically and faithfully.