The Rhetoric of Repentence

I recently posted another one of my papers on Academia.edu:

Why does the author of 1 & 2 Samuel break off the account of the taking of Rabbah in 2 Samuel 11:1 to recount David’s adultery and murder, only to resume it in 2 Samuel 12:26-31?  From this inclusio and other literary features of the narrative, it is argued that the narrator carefully crafts the narrative of Nathan’s rebuke and David’s repentance in 2 Samuel 11:27-12:25 to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His promises and David’s true repentance, with the result that God would still provide David with a sure house and victory over his enemies.

You can download or read it here

Reflections on Scripture

A few years ago, I came across an article from a pastor in the States decrying evangelical Christians as bibliolaters, that is, he suggested that our talk of “inerrancy” and “authority” turned us away from God to the writings of man. For him, it was okay to speak of encountering God in the Bible, but to suggest that the Bible in any substantial way embodied God’s authority was idolatry! Today, in a book by a supposedly Evangelical author, I read that it is not necessary to believe that the Bible is inerrant, that what it records corresponds to reality and does not contain error; if we affirm that the resurrection happened, we are good. What is going on here? Is our doctrine of the Word of God really idolatrous? Is confessing the Scriptures as God’s authoritative revelation unnecessary for the Christian—really just damaging fundamentalism? I suspect—actually, on the authority of the God’s Word, I know—that there is some false teaching floating about.

The suggestion that confessing the Bible to be God’s errorless and authoritative words for us equals idolatry is ridiculous. Picture with me a feudal kingdom; a king rules over all the local villages and they owe him their allegiance. In a world before TV, the king’s orders would go out by heralds and letters; if the king’s subjects received a letter from their king and rejected it—claiming that because it wasn’t spoken by him in their presence it cannot be free from error nor authoritative—, how do you think the king would respond? He would surely slaughter them. In the Old Testament, God’s people—from the peasants to the kings—repeatedly rejected God’s word spoken by His messengers; what was His response? He brought upon them drought, famine, destruction, and exile. By any reckoning, we don’t give the Word of God the attention and pride of place that it deserves. If it is God’s very words, then it will, of course, be inerrant—for He is completely true (cf. Psalm 31:5, John 17:17, Psalm 119:160, 2 Sam. 7:28). If Scripture is breathed out from God’s mouth, i.e. spoken by Him (2 Tim. 3:16), then surely it carries authority—because my bosses words have left his mouth, should I disobey them, what if they come in an email? In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, a chapter dedicated to the Word of God, God speaks through the Psalmist about Scripture in a way that reveals how we fail to give Scripture the honor due it.

24Your testimonies are my delight,
They are my counselors
25My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!

37Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.

40Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!

43And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules

47For I find my delight in your commandments which I love
48I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.

57The LORD is my portion
I promise to keep your words

62At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous rules.

92If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

105Your word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light to my path.

143Trouble and anguish have found me out,
But your commandments are my delight.

160The sum of your word is truth,
And every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
161Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.

172Let my tongue sing of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.

174I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.

Then there is Psalm 56,

3When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

Far from idolatry, Evangelicals often neglect the weight God places on His own words; may it not be so for us.

Atrocities and Depravity: Heartbroken and Shocked…?

“She killed 38 old people because she found them annoying.” While on the bus, interspersed between minutes of gossip about who was taking whom to the prom, I overheard these words that broke my heart. Sure enough, looking at the news, I read a story about an Italian nurse who was being investigated for the deaths of 38 hospitalized seniors. As if that wasn’t enough to break my heart and drive me to pray for our world, I stumbled upon the story of a 10 year old boy being charged as an adult for murder after he beat a 90-year old woman to death for making him angry. She was annoyed, he was angry? That’s what it takes to drive someone to murder these days? Sitting on the bus truly heart broken and shocked by the utter disregard for those created in the image of the almighty God, I began to see the tendrils of a subtle heresy crawl their way along the edge of my sight. I read these articles and I was shocked; how could a person do such a thing? An innocent little kid killed a frail senior? People don’t act this way, we are supposed to be good; we are good people, aren’t we? Just as I was about to blame Call of Duty for desensitizing this young man to death and instituting a blood thirst in him, I realized the despicable, disgusting, wretched, grace-destroying heresy I was digesting.

 

Sitting on that bus, reflecting on the terrible effects that sin has wrought upon this world, I saw in my own heart the gospel of this world replacing the gospel of Jesus Christ. This “good news” that the world, and sometimes even churches today, preaches is a re-packaging of a heresy that has haunted man since the fall. Whether we call it Pelagianism, works-righteousness, paganism, animism, virtue, it is the supposedly good news that we are all good by nature.  We are born innocent and pure; it is this world system that corrupts us and because we are pure, we can work our way to God. At that moment, I was not buying in to the lie that something I could do could earn me a place before God, but this is not the only heresy with the power to eviscerate the Gospel. In buying, even for a moment, the propaganda of the world that evil is the rarity, the exception, to the common goodness of all mankind, I was cheapening grace and casting a shadow upon the pride shattering truth of the Gospel. The truth that though I was a sick and wicked wretch who despised the one who created me, He came into the dark cesspool that is this world and died in order that I might enjoy God forever. Though I deserved nothing but hell and could never endear myself to God, the truth that He still gave His life for me and wrought new life in me. Doing so in order that, by resting in His all-satisfying grace, I might glorify Him forever.

 

Believing that man is basically good, that we can come to God on our strength, that we can do something to please Him, is the worst form of heresy; it turns our eyes from Christ to ourselves and lets us forget the all-encompassing need we have for Christ and the Spirit. I was right to be heart broken, deeply saddened, by the atrocities I read, but shocked? If I truly believed what I read in the word of God, my shock would not be that two people killed 39 seniors for foolish reasons but that more people are not doing the same, that I am still breathing, that those I care about are not being ripped apart at the pleasure of depraved men and women. The picture Scripture paints is not of good people corrupted by a dark world, but of corrupt and despicable people ripping apart a good world over which they were to have dominion.

Like all good stories, it starts in the beginning. God created a good and beautiful world; the crowning piece of His creation was a man and a woman, the first of a species formed in His image and likeness to have dominion over all the earth. But this man and his wife, who were created good with the rest of creation, rebelled against their creator and took for themselves that which God had forbidden them.  As the representative of all creation before God, the man, in sinning, subjected the entirety of creation, and all his progeny, to devastating effects of sin (Rom. 5:12-15, 8:19-23). Not just in the mortality they now faced, but in the evil nature they now possessed. The first generation born into sin displayed this new nature by committing the first fratricide (Gen. 4:1-15).

The whole timeline of the world bears the marks off this cataclysmic event. The whole of human history bears the marks of man’s sinful nature; even in the outworking of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, we see again and again the sinfulness of humanity resurface. Mankind needed a perfect covenant keeper in their relationship with God, but time and time again these little Adam’s failed. God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, intended to usher in the Abrahamic blessing upon all nations, ran afoul of the hardened and sinful (uncircumcised hearts) of the people whom God had called his own (Deut. 29-31).[1] Until the coming of Christ, no man could uphold the requirements of relationship with his God, for his heart was sold out to sin.

 

Are we really that bad? In short, yes. God was so grieved by the depravity of His creation (Gen. 6:6) that He wiped out almost every living thing from the face of the earth (Gen. 6-8). He had looked at the hearts of man and seen their great wickedness, “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (NASB Gen. 6:5). All the earth was corrupt (Gen. 6:11-12). After the flood, all that remained was a one small family, led by Noah. Yet again, this new Adam failed as a covenant keeper (9:20-27) and mankind was in the same state that it had been before (8:21). All of humanity was still as bad as it had been before, all that kept and keeps it from being wiped out is God’s covenant promise not to wipe out the earth again (8:21-22).

This diagnosis is picked up as a resounding and dark chorus throughout the rest of Scripture. After Israel failed to as covenant keepers and God brought judgment upon them, Jeremiah wrote poetically of the state of man; “Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good Who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23, NASB). Then in 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (NASB)  The answer is, only God (v. 10). It is not just Moses and Jeremiah, the psalmists pick up the tune as well. In Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, David gives a scathing description of the blind and lost state of man. Not just content describe others, he looks at himself and, in poem of deep repentance, writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (51:5). From birth, this man after God’s own heart was mired in iniquity (cf. 58:3). Then in Ecclesiastes, “Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (NASB, 9:3, cf. 8:11). Maybe this is only the Old Testament; maybe Jesus paints a brighter picture….

 

Though the OT may seem to speak harshly of man, it pales in comparison to the diatribe the New Testament launches. Jesus, knowing Himself the nature of man, what was in his heart, did not entrust Himself to them (John 2:23-25). Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus reveals that the state of man is so bad that only by a new birth from the Spirit will one even be able to see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it (John 3:1-9). If one thinks that this is not clear enough, that the references to the need for regeneration from Ezekiel is too subtle, Jesus makes it all the more clear in John 6:44; “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (NASB). Man is so lost in his hardness of heart that he needs the Father to draw him by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit if he is to come to Jesus in faith. Jesus skillfully weaves in the expectation of a New Covenant act whereby God will enable His people, who are unable to keep His statues, to be faithful through the circumcision of their hearts, the giving of a new heart by His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 54:13 in John 6:45, cf. Deut. 29-30, Ezekiel 36:24-27 [alluded to in John 3:5], Jeremiah 31:27-34). Lest someone think this is a work God has done in all humans, removing their intrinsic depravity, the following verses indicate that all who are drawn will be raised up to new life in eternity (6:44-45, cf. vv. 35-40).

 

Later in the New Testament, Paul explains not only what we are incapable of doing, but what we were before Christ came and the Spirit changed our hearts. In his proclamation of the Gospel, the entirety of the book of Romans, Paul lays a foundation of man’s utter need for God’s grace in the Gospel: all men face the wrath of God (Romans 1:18). They face God’s wrath because they have all sinned (3:23), though they have seen God clearly revealed in creation, every man, woman, and child has rejected God in their unrighteousness to pursue their own debased pleasures (1:18-32). There is no intrinsic superiority for the Jew, for all races and peoples are united in their complete depravity and guilt before God (3:9). Paul unleashes a barrage of OT quotes revealing the dark and writhing darkness that lies at the hearts of men;

“There is none righteous, not even one;

11 There is none who understands,

There is none who seeks for God;

12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;

There is none who does good,

There is not even one.”

13 “Their throat is an open grave,

With their tongues they keep deceiving,”

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,

16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,

17 And the path of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  (Rom. 3:10-18, NASB)

The predicament is dire, but just when you might think it couldn’t be any worse, Paul picks up this tune in the next part of the book.

Spitting in the face of fluffy pictures painted in our minds suggesting that Christ died for those who were worth dying for, Paul writes in Rom. 5, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6, NASB). So, those for whom Christ died were helpless and ungodly, but not only this, they were also sinners (v. 8) and the enemies of God (10). In 6:15-23, Paul speaks of life before regeneration and faith as life lived in slavery to sin, it was a master from we had to be released by the work of Christ. In chapter 8, vv. 1-13, Paul contrasts those of the flesh and the spirit, corresponding to those who are of the world and those who are in Christ. Of the mind set on the flesh, he echoes his early statements those in the flesh do not do good (vv. 5, 7), but he goes further and says that they are actually hostile towards God and are unable to obey Gods’ law (v. 7). Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (v. 8, cf. Heb. 11:6). In 1 Cor. 2:14, Paul echoes Jesus in John 3 and 6, writing that spiritual rebirth (here, being spiritual) is needed to accept the things of the Spirit of God. Lastly, in one of the most frequently cited verse in this regard, Paul writes,

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3, cf. Col. 2:13)

Before being made alive by God in Christ (Eph. 2:5), we were dead in sin. With the rest of humanity, we were children of wrath, sold out to sin and living in darkness. Apart from new life by the Spirit, we are dead; no wonder we are unable to come to God without His prior action (John 3, 6:44) or please him (Rom. 8:8, 11:6) without Him first acting in us.

 

This is the terribly bleak picture Scripture paints of man before being given new life in Christ. In light of all of the depravity that Scripture speaks of, my shock at men and women acting in a way that confirms Scripture’s diagnosis revealed my subtle acceptance of our word’s heresy. If Scripture is truly the Word of God and it says that every man, woman, and child is enslaved to their sinful desires, hostile towards a God they have willingly rejected, and unable to change themselves, if everything they do is tinged with the sin festering in their hearts; should not my surprise, our surprise, be that we don’t see more of these atrocities in our world? Though I was incredibly saddened by the events I read about, I was also driven to praise; thank you God for your common grace, that us depraved people do not do all the evil things we imagine or could possible do. We must not buy into this heresy of human goodness that our world pitches, the darkness of our world provides the only proper backdrop to magnify the glory of God in Christ through the Gospel. Only with this background do we truly grasp the breadth of what it means for Scripture to speak of the just, holy, and perfect God so loving the world “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

 


[1] Of course, God new all of this ahead of time; the whole of His redemptive works through His covenants with man was intended from the beginning to find its fulfillment in God’s ultimate self-revelation in His Son Jesus Christ.