Eden

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the Garden.”  Genesis 3:8

We hear the sound of him walking in the cool of the day. He is searching for us, wanting to walk and talk. Wanting us to be near him and know that he is God, to know that he is for us. To show us there is none like him. But we stay hidden. We hide because I am ashamed in front of you and you are ashamed to be seen by me. What’s more terrifying is the thought of him seeing us.

Why do we hide? Of course he knows about us, knows what we’ve done. He has known the whole time, and now you know about me and I know about you. We found out that both of us have power to destroy what is supposed to be good. With two quick bites, innocence is dead. Guilt and distrust now live in its place.  Yesterday we walked with him in the garden, the two of us in perfect unity with him. We sang for him and he sang over us while we all laughed and danced. Didn’t it feel good? Wasn’t it perfect? Why won’t we come out from these bushes?

I didn’t know then what I know about me now. Or what I know about you. He is calling to us, looking for that communion again. Maybe it is best to hide here, stay in these shadows, close to you but somehow still far away.  I can’t go out there because he will see me, and see you. If we walk out into that light he won’t love me anymore, and if you really see me, neither will you. I don’t want to be alone, don’t want to lose these last little pieces of what he made that was so good. The terror of losing it all keeps my feet planted behind these scrubby shrubs.

I want to look at you, to feel what we felt this morning, to feel the world whirl when I look into your eyes. But I can’t lift my eyes to meet your gaze. I’m scared of what is there now, scared of the blame, the hurt, and the pain. I’m afraid you will see it in my eyes too. How do we get there? Back to when it was good, back when this tangled mess was Eden. Let’s just hide here and maybe he will go and we can work it out later. I can hide this hurt inside, I can fix Eden, and next week when he comes back he will be happy with us.  He is still out there calling my name; why doesn’t he leave?

There is something in his voice that wasn’t there yesterday, something new I haven’t heard before. His voice is permeated with notes of hurt and anger, and hints of longing and love. Like your voice a few minutes ago. It sounds like he really wants us to come out of the dark and into the light. Every time we slither back a little further into the weeds he seems a little closer. Each thorn-prick induced gasp, every stone-bruised muffled curse is echoed with another step from our Father. He is gaining ground and his voice is more insistent than ever.

I pull back a limb so we can see more clearly, and there he is. Nose to nose, eye to eye, tear to tear. God himself, looking into my soul through my eyes, and asking questions that I don’t want to answer. I can blame you, you can blame me, maybe we can blame the devil. This shame won’t hide from him anymore though. It’s right out front, easy for him to see. Why does he look at us like that? Can’t he see what we have done? We ruined it all. Why won’t he just leave us alone?

His anger seemed to melt as soon as our eyes met, but that love and longing is still there. It’s mingled with tears and something else. He knows. I can see it in those eyes. He knows it all but he still loves. We can walk out now. Out of the dark and into the marvelous light. I can lay down my shame, you can lay down yours. The breeze is blowing and I catch the scent of the tree of life’s tantalizing blossoms, overpowering the aftertaste of the knowledge of good and evil. Come on baby, let’s go out there. He is waiting, calling us by name, and we’ve got nothing left to lose.

Bonhoeffer on Confession

dietrich-bonhoeffer3Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, and an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as are we, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God- whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from the real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Togetheremphasis mine.

Pagan Virtue, Continued.

51W5H+JR4DL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an introductory post to present the issue of morality, Christianity, and other religions raised by sections of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I suppose I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’d like to think of my attempt to explore the question of pagan virtue as the musings of an enthusiastic inquirer rather than the sophomoric ramblings of yet another blogger. I’ll leave the decision of how I’m doing to you.

Pagan Virtue: A Tough Sell

The case for ‘pagan virtue’ looks bleak with the backdrop of the New Testament. Paul has no problem describing humanity as unrighteous and hostile to its creator. He also adds that mankind suppresses the knowledge of God that he’s been given. Quoting the psalmist, Paul adds that none do righteously, none seek after God. The case can easily be built further- the righteousness of man falls anemically short of the righteousness of God (Rom. 3) and, in one place Paul actually juxtaposes the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, not human effort (Gal.5). I could exhaust you with a list of additional passages that affirm:

  1. Mankind resists obedience to God
  2. Mankind is unable to keep covenant with God
  3. Mankind (in his natural state) is unable to understand God

So, you might reasonably ask, why did I think it worthwhile to bring up the topic of pagan virtue at all? As I stated in my initial post, this question is foundational to any worldview and there are several pastoral considerations that warrant a thoughtful, prayerful, and humble wrestling with Scripture. I’ll consider those in the next post. For now, here are some reasons why I think the Bible sheds more light on the question than what I’ve presented above.

How wicked are we?

First, it’s important to note that no biblical author seemed to suggest that we are as wicked as we can be at all times. This point isn’t particularly hard to defend, especially when Scripture provides us with examples of what such a society might have looked like (cf. Gen. 6). I think that the theologians would have attributed this fact to the goodness of God- to a ‘common grace’ that we all experience. Man is depraved, but his depravity is not without its limits.

Justification by Moral Ability?

Secondly, we can build an interestingly un-Pauline train of thought when arguing against the possibility of pagan virtue. Some evangelicals sense that if it is granted that the Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or whomever is capable of choosing to consistently make morally correct choices, then that person must be in some sense exempted from God’s universal call to repentance. However, it can be argued that our virtue plays no role at all in our justification before God. It’s one thing to say that a pagan can be a decent sort of chap. It’s quite another to say that he has a righteousness he couldn’t provide -one that comes through faith in Christ.

A positive case can be made that people outside the Christian community understand and practice virtue. This will be more easily seen when we work out the practical extensions of our theology in the lives of people we know- not just the abstract pagan. I’d like to propose some of these threads of conversation in a final post. I think this area can and does affect our parenting, counseling, teaching, politics, apologetics, and more.

Pagan Virtue

C.S. Lewis is superb at generating thoughtful conversation on important matters. Though he died, he still speaks. A friend of mine has been teaching through sections of Mere Christianity in our church, and we’ve been discussing our way through the sections on virtue.  The first day, we bumped into a subject that seems to be continually asserting itself in my reading about virtue. Can a non-Christian be truly virtuous? The question can be controversial in some Christian communities, less so in others. Critics of Christianity also want to have a say. The question might be formed: Just how tightly is virtue linked to Christian faith?

51W5H+JR4DL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_These sorts of seemingly abstract questions need to be framed in the context of a constructive, action oriented conversation. ‘True virtue’ should be defined and explained. What could be more useless than a discussion of ethics in which we had no intention of commiserate action?

This leads me to the point that the discussion of how people become virtuous is foundational to any worldview. Our view of the nature of man will shape the way we vote, parent, and educate. It will inform the way we live with our spouses. It will influence the trust we place in our institutions.

So, for this initial post, I hope to explain that the problem under discussion is both practical and important. Ultimately, the question of natural man’s (to borrow an expression from Paul) ability to make morally correct choices is a matter of consistency in our worldview. What does the Christian faith have to say about Aristotle’s foundational work in virtue ethics? How about champions of the virtuous life from Socrates and Cicero to Benjamin Franklin?

The question obviously becomes theological quickly. In Pauline terms, what role does virtue play in our justification? How about afterwards? Is mankind fallen? If so, how is our morality affected? Finally, I hope that we will eventually be thinking less of an abstract problem and more about specific people making specific choices. The specifics will hopefully illustrate the pastoral implications of these views on our counseling, apologetics, and parenting.

I’ll probably link together my posts on this particular subject in a ‘series’ of sorts. In addition, below are a couple of links to previous interactions on the subject, including material on C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject as well. Our discussions at church have been fruitful and interesting. If you’d like to receive updates to this blog, simply subscribe by selecting the ‘Follow’ button.

Character Versus Habit? Introducing Lewis’ thinking on virtue as it relates to Christians.

Virtue and the Question of Your Hypocrisy Introducing N.T. Wright and the problem of learning virtue.