|There are basically two kinds of law: (l) law as the way things ought to be, and (2) law as the way things are. An example of the first is “No Trespassing.” An example of the second is the law of gravity.
God’s law has traditionally been spelled out in terms of category no. 1, a compendium of dos and don’ts. These dos and don’ts are the work of moralists and, when obeyed, serve the useful purpose of keeping us from each other’s throats. They can’t make us human, but they can help keep us honest.
God’s law in itself, however, comes under category no. 2 and is the work of God. It has been stated in seven words: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Like it or not, that’s how it is. If you don’t believe it, you can always put it to the test just the way if you don’t believe the law of gravity, you can always step out a tenth-story window.
- Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
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What offends my taste in fiction is when right is held up as wrong, or wrong as right. Fiction is the concrete expression of of mystery–mystery that is lived. Catholics believe that all creation is good and that evil is the wrong use of good and that without Grace we use it wrong most of the time. It’s almost impossible to write about supernatural Grace in fiction. We almost have to approach it negatively. As to natural Grace, we have to take that the way it comes–through nature. In any case, it operates surrounded by evil. ~ from the Habit of Being, pg. 144
The best fiction and the best preaching include a kind of ambush. Approaching the subject sidewise and seemingly accidental. Seeing the truth for what it isn’t is often the only place we can start. It’s usually the only believable one.
We’ve recently completed a series on the Apostles’ Creed. I was struck by how the Creed operates more as an aid to prayer and worship than as a simple statement of faith. It is intellectual, it can be academic, but it’s mostly a means of faith and a matter of prayer.
Ben Myers has a great reflection on the Creed and how it facilitates faith during the “dark” season of Lent. Take a look:
There is no avoiding the fact that the Old Testament is violent. Take this example from Genesis 4:23.
Lamech said to his wives:
‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’
Here are two more examples from the Psalms:
The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. ~ Ps. 58:10
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! ~ Ps. 137:9
Psalm 37 seems to read more like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian than it does the Bible. Some may find it hard to accept that words this are in the Bible at all. Reverend Jeremiah Wright found himself under a barrage of criticism for words he uttered in a sermon that were inspired by Psalm 137. Those words led to his disavowal by his former parishioner, President Obama.
The passage from Genesis above and the two Psalms cited along with it are reminders to us that our capacity for violence and our thirst for revenge lie just below the surface of our collective and personal lives. Events like 9/11 and the senseless deaths of innocent people stir up these feelings up. “We know we shouldn’t feel this way but what if we feel this way?”
Branson Parlor offers a suggestion for how we are to both read these texts and deal with our own violent and vengeful impulses. He suggests that we sing them. Read about it in: “Overcoming Lamech: Lament as an Antidote to Violence”.
This is from a recently published book of poems by Scott Cairns. Cairns is a poet and writing teacher at the University of Missouri. For your enjoyment and perhaps your prayer.
O God Belovéd if obliquely so,
dimly apprehended in the midst
of this, the fraught obscuring fog
of my insufficiently capacious ken,
Ostensible Lover of our kind—while
that I might glimpse once more
Your shadow in the land, avail
for me, a second time, the sense
of dire Presence in the pulsing
hollow near the heart.
Once more, O Lord, from Your Enormity incline
your Face to shine upon Your servant, shy
of immolation, if You will. ~ from Idiot Psalms, New Poems by Scott Cairns
Jayber Crow, barber and accidental spiritual director, finds the traditional path of a seminarian a difficult one with few allowances for those who are hanging on the fringes of faith.
“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.’
And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live perhaps.
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.’” – Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Thanks Josh Luton at the Apprentice Institute for this little gem from Wendell Berry. http://apprenticeinstitute.org/blog/