People we should know
Elon Musk and visions of the future
“These human space flight missions were a beacon of hope to me and to millions over the past two years as our world has been going through one of the most difficult periods in recent human history. We see the rise of division, fear, cynicism, and the loss of common humanity, right when it is needed most. So, first, Elon, let me say thank you for giving the world hope and reason to be excited about the future.”
– Lex Fridman speaking about SpaceX to Elon Musk, on his podcast released December 28, 2021
Where are the dreams of previous decades, of flying cars and paperless offices and TV phones? Not only have these dreams turned out to be rather bleak (Zoom as a sort of TV phone has not sparked joy in anyone), but no new visions of the future have sprung up to replace them. Young people – those supposedly optimistic young people – fill social media feeds with anxiety-soaked visions of climate catastrophe, plague and economic collapse. Our world dreams of catastrophe, not progress.
And yet some young people do turn to one figure as a beacon of hope in the negativity all around them. They turn to a public figure who frequently and publicly describes a future where humanity overcomes its challenges, and continues to seek out the meaning of existence. This is the vision of the future provided by Elon Musk – a controversial figure whose “true fans” love him for his insistence that human ingenuity can create a future that will be better.
Christians, of all people, have reason to be excited about the future. We live in hope, even in the midst of darkness and despair. Or so we say. And yet it is not Christianity that many turn to, to escape the bleak future. It is not Christianity that provides these young fans with a new vision of the future, and an optimism to be hopeful again.
When we see the success of visionary dreams of the future, when we see Elon Musk inspiring millions, it pushes us as Christians to work out what we mean by hope. It pushes us to define what we expect from the future. And it urges us to consider whether we are “visionary,” and whether we should be.
The profound hopefulness of Elon Musk
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great—and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” – Elon Musk, SpaceX website
What is Elon Musk’s vision? Musk has many critics, including many who doubt he sincerely means to benefit common humanity with his companies and inventions. Despite this, fans continue to flock to him. Whether or not his vision of the future is sincere or a marketing tactic, the simple fact is that there is something in his vision that fulfills something his fans are looking for. They draw hopefulness from his vision. Why is that?
First of all, Musk has the ability to drag unlikely concepts, like reusable rockets, into the realm of reality. For a young generation struggling with anxiety, just getting out of bed in the morning can feel superhuman. A person who can come up with an idea, and then make sure that idea gets done, confronts our feelings of helplessness and comforts us that maybe solving our problems is as simple as just doing it. “When something is important enough, you do it, even if the odds are not in your favor,” as Musk says in his interview with Lex Fridman.
On one level, Musk is not that revolutionary. Electric cars, space flights to Mars, satellite internet – all of these are ideas that have been dreamed up before Musk came along. But because Musk has done more than dream, Musk has become a source of inspiration.
But Musk doesn’t simply get things done – he frames his activities as the stuff that fires imaginations. “You need to have things that when you wake up in the morning, you're excited about the future,” Musk argues in another interview with the Babylon Bee. “Why live? If it's all about solving problems of being miserable, like, why live? So they've got to be things that...you know, get you in the heart. And I think space is one of those things.”
God created a world with much more than the bare necessities. He also created a people with a capacity for enthusiasm – an enthusiasm to explore, an enthusiasm to see what is possible. We can be full of curiosity about creation, just as scientists before us reached out to God through their discoveries of the natural world. Haven’t Christians who have come before have been eager to explore and create? From Johannes Kepler to David Livingstone, the world has opened up to us through the enthusiasm of those who have come before us.
The Bible itself illustrates this too. The overall arc of the Bible moves from its beginnings in the garden to its ending in the city. The story of creation is a story that includes the development and unfolding of what God made. This is why we need dreamers and visionaries, to bring out the possibilities inherent in creation.
Elon Musk hits on some important things. Building real things in the real world matters, even if it isn’t easy to bring things together and make them work together. In fact, building real things can contribute to a feeling of fulfillment in us, a feeling of doing what we were meant to do. No wonder some find inspiration in this.
But Musk himself is used as the example to follow for those looking for a hopeful outlook on the future. As a man who presents himself as someone who dreams and builds his dreams, he is viewed as an inspiration. This means the vision he presents should be examined in more depth. Before we fully jump on board with Elon Musk’s future, we should consider what future, exactly, he presents.
The bleakness of Elon’s future
Elon Musk claims to want to build the future so humans can continue to seek the meaning of life.
“I don't know when I'll die, but I won't live forever. But I would like to know that we are on a path to understanding the nature of the universe and the meaning of life and what questions to ask about the answer that is the universe.”
Musk wants to save humanity so humanity can continue to struggle with the meaning of existence. Well and good! Humans are meant to seek out the purpose of their existence, and not give up on their existence as meaningless. But Musk himself holds back from offering an answer to the question of meaning, only vaguely hinting that humanity might figure it out in some far-off someday. And in this way, Musk’s future does not fully alleviate the temptation to nihilism.
After all, what does he really think the nature of the universe is?
He is building physical technologies that will greatly impact the real world we live in. But he is deeply ambivalent about whether the world we live in is a real world after all. “The odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions,” he explained at Code Conference in 2016. It’s a fun idea that tech entrepreneurs and philosophers like to play with – the idea we might be living in a video game that is a copy of some deeper reality. Except this idea of “what’s really going on” is cold comfort to the apathetic and despairing.
And Musk is, famously, all-in on artificial intelligence, as well as linking our brains to computers (see his company Neuralink). This does indicate a belief that reality may really not consist of anything more than ones and zeros after all.
If we are living in a simulation, a cosmic simulation where something is jerking us around like puppets – well, some of us might be eager to know the truth of this. But this truth is not the kind of truth that sets us free from apathy. Musk does not know what the meaning of life is. He only wants to buy more time for humanity to figure it out.
The answer to the meaning of existence that many people arrive at today, when looking at the failures of humanity, is simply that humanity does not deserve to exist. This is what feeds into our current culture’s apathy. And no journeys among the stars are fantastic enough to change their minds.
In some sense, Elon Musk is right. What makes life worth living is working on problems, seeking the meaning of existence, and exploring every cranny of creation. Only Christians can fight with those problems before the face of a God Who has answers.
Saving us from the future?
Do Musk’s fans really turn to him because of his musings about reality being a simulation, or because of his goal of preserving human consciousness in order to seek out the meaning of life? It is possible they turn to him for a far simpler reason than this. For some of them, it may be less about finding positive inspiration in his message, and excitement for the future – and more of a response to fear of the future.
Fear of the future is behind so much of human activity. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a sermon in 1933, “What else is all the razzle-dazzle and drunkenness of New Year’s Eve, other than our great fear of a new era, of the future? Fear is breathing down our necks.”
Elon Musk’s vision is a relief because it offers a positive vision of the future, in contrast to the terrible ones on the news every day. It acknowledges terrible consequences that may occur, but it encourages us that humanity can overcome them. By being hopeful, it helps others to hang onto hope. And this relief from fear brings devotion along with it.
After all, is it really self-evident that space travel is inspiring, and is that truly what his fans latch onto when they admire Musk? Going to Mars is presented with the enthusiasm that the age of exploration brought, when voyages to unknown lands brought home wonders. Except in our case, Mars is not exactly unknown or unexplored. The magic of going there is to just say we can go there, to say humans have set foot on a place we already know all about – more like a family vacation to Paris than a voyage of discovery to the South Seas.
To make it even more prosaic, the reason to go there is “a life insurance policy.” Musk presents his technology as supplying a reason to get up in the morning and feel optimistic about the future, but he simultaneously does not shy away from arguing his work will preserve humanity in case something really bad happens to earth. He says, “We should basically think of this, being a multi-planet species, just like taking out insurance for life itself – like, life insurance for life.” (“This turned into an infomercial real quick,” says his interviewer, Lex Fridman).
His focus on using technology to avoid potentially devasting problems, such as climate change, helps explain why he is so often viewed as a savior by the devoted.
To explore out of a love of exploration, out of a joy of living, is quite different than to explore and build to avoid a negative outcome. To the extent Elon Musk’s vision is driven by a joy of discovery, it is admirable. To the extent it reveals humanity’s underlying fears and insecurities, it reveals a drive to control and secure our own futures.
Looking to technology to solve all our problems and absolve us of our fears quickly becomes placing our faith in technology – in other words, placing our faith in humankind. Ideally, we recognize the capabilities God has given to humanity, while simultaneously recognizing their source in God. Otherwise the failures of humanity can feel overwhelming, as demonstrated by our current culture’s reaction to the optimism of the 1950s. Nihilism and apathy are much more common, despite the technological progress of the twentieth century.
Christians and the hope that we have
Christianity should also inspire us to live, and not just a grit-your-teeth-and-get-through-life kind of living. There is a superficial similarity with Elon Musk here. But what is Christianity’s vision of the future?
One critique of Christianity is that it directs all hope to life after death. It neglects the world we live in for some fairy tale future. It maintains the status quo by promising if Christians are meek and humble they will be rewarded in the life to come.
Christian visions of the future that have been presented have at times been bleak as well – that the physical world doesn’t deserve improvement, as it will be enveloped in fire anyway. Or that humanity can never progress, because we’re deeply stained by sin. Or history will just continue to get worse and worse (“wars and rumors of wars”) until Jesus comes again.
But let’s turn from what some Christians have thought about the future and look towards what the Bible presents as the future.
What is the clearest, most concrete vision of the future that Christianity offers? It is actually quite simple and clear: the return of Christ. “e wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). The return of Christ is our future.
Notably, this future that the Bible describes is a future that Elon Musk does not find comforting at all: “We could have a chapter past Revelation,” he says when asked what book he’d add to the Bible. “Like, is there a happy ending here? Revelation Part 2: The Happy Ending.” He does not elaborate on what he finds so depressing about the new earth and the Bible’s vision of the future, but it could be that he does not see the continuation and culmination of our work in this world into the next. Perhaps “the apocalypse” really sounds like a final end to him.
Christians live with their lives pointing towards the kingdom of heaven. Yes, this means living for the world to come. But at the same time, this means recognizing the kingdom of heaven exists already in the world today, like “yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matt. 13:33). It is about doing our work in this world in the light of eternity, not as if our work right now doesn’t matter because there will be another world, but because what we do now does matter for our eternal future.
Perhaps it is Herman Bavinck who explains this best, in his article, “The Kingdom of God, The Highest Good”:
“We are, finally, the totality of what we have ever willed, thought, felt, and done. The profit that we yield for ourselves in this way is profit for the Kingdom of God. Even a cup of cold water given to a disciple of Jesus receives a reward. God calls us to work in such a way that, amid all that we do, we should envision the eternal work that God desires to bring about through people… even if our work space be ever so small and our occupation ever so nondescript. This is truly and essentially working for the Kingdom of God.”
It is mysterious how God promises to bring everything to fulfillment, but the new world will not be “starting over.” Even in Revelation 21, the kings of the earth bring their splendor into the new Jerusalem, indicating that in some fashion the glories of this world, once redeemed, will crown the new heavens and new earth. It will not make God’s work in history now into something meaningless.
We’re allowed to be visionary. We’ve been given a vision that equips us to work. And so we’re called to hope. To hope in a way that encourages us to try, to build and invent, to strive for a concrete idea of what could be better, and to fight to understand what we’re here on earth for.
For Christians the future is inevitable. Our consciousness will not be snuffed out. Humanity will go on for eternity, to live and love and build, and learn about what we can do, before the face of our God.
People we should know
Elon Musk’s highs and lows
Elon Musk might be best known for a brilliant bit of marketing he did back in 2018 for two of his companies: he launched his own Tesla electric roadst...
People we should know
How the ruling princes of Liechtenstein defeated the abortion activists
As our rental car groaned up the steep mountain slope, I strained to see the landmark we were hunting for: Vaduz Castle, the permanent residence of the ruling princes of Liechtenstein. As we rounded a bend, it suddenly loomed up before us, a massive, sturdy structure, built to last centuries and the inevitable evils that history would bring. The ancient keep surged skyward, topped by a steeple. First built in the 12th century, it was buttressed by an enormous circular tower topped by battlements and a more recently constructed roof. The first mention of this fortress was in documents in 1322, and it was partially destroyed in 1499 during the Swabian War. Since 1938, however, the 130-room castle has been closed to the public, and only the royals walk its halls. A country like few others Liechtenstein, a tiny German-speaking country landlocked between Switzerland and Austria, is both the world’s sixth smallest country and one of the wealthiest, a constitutional monarchy with one of the highest standards of living in Europe. The small city of Vaduz, which is nestled in a valley between gorgeous blue Alpine peaks capped with pure white snow, serves as the capital. When we arrived at the castle, we gazed down at the valley, a patchwork of sunlight and shadow cast by the billowing white clouds passing overhead. The fields were gleaming green, and the brown trees were just about to bud. (“The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said,” as Philip Larkin once put it.) A handful of trees near the base of the castle were just beginning to bashfully display their white blossoms. Driving from a meeting with ProLife Europe in Austria and heading to another with Human Life International in Switzerland, stopping in Liechtenstein had been one of my goals. Very few pro-life activists know that the tiny nation of Liechtenstein also prohibits abortion – it is illegal in almost all circumstances, with the possibility of prison terms for those who decide to perform them. To get abortions, women must drive, in total secrecy, to either Austria or Switzerland. Perhaps it is Liechtenstein’s size – 160 square kilometers with a population of only 36,000 people – but abortion activists rarely seem to bother mentioning this pro-life country. Attacked but unbowed Perhaps that is because the royal residents of Vaduz Castle have thus far fended off all attempts to bring feticide to their nation. In 2012, Hereditary Prince Alois, a devout Roman Catholic, responded to a proposed referendum on abortion several weeks before it was scheduled to be held by announcing that he would exercise his royal prerogative to veto any change in law that relaxed restrictions on abortion. The referendum would have legalized abortion up until 12 weeks, as well as in cases of fetal deformity. Abortion activists, who had been confident that a referendum could produce the result they desired, were furious – it was the prince’s intervention, they claimed, which resulted in a vote of 51.5% to 48.5% to keep abortion illegal. In response to the prince’s stand for the pre-born children of Liechtenstein, abortion activists launched a second campaign to target the 900-year-old dynasty, which has ruled the country ever since the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. In 2012, a citizen’s initiative to curtail the power of the ruling princes was put forward, proposing that their power to veto future referendums be limited or removed. Prince Alois was unapologetic, noting through his spokeswoman Silvia Hassler-De Vos that his statement had been a “clear signal that abortion isn’t an acceptable solution for an unwanted pregnancy.” If the citizens of Liechtenstein voted to limit his royal veto, he said, he would step down from his royal duties entirely. The follow-up campaign resulted in a second bruising defeat for abortion activists. A full 76% of Liechtensteiners voted to uphold the prince’s right to a royal veto, thus reaffirming the previous referendum on abortion yet again and confirming that the status quo banning abortion in their country would remain in place. The Royal Family had stood firm in defense of the smallest and weakest citizens of their tiny country, and they had prevailed. In fact, they had prevailed so totally that the end result of the campaign by abortion activists had actually been a rousing endorsement of their right to veto any attempts to legalize abortion by a huge majority of Liechtensteiners. An example to the world The story of Liechtenstein’s royal princes and its pro-life laws is always one I have found very encouraging. I wonder how much bloodshed could have been prevented across the Western world if more courageous and principled leaders had simply stood up when the mob began baying for blood and firmly, with the strength of faith and conviction, told them no – and exercised the full extent of their power and authority to protect those they were obligated by oath to defend. The royal princes of Liechtenstein have shown the world what genuine leadership looks like, and I hope that their story will enter the annals of pro-life heroism. Jonathon Van Maren is the author of "The Culture War" and blogs at The theBridgehead.ca where this post first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....
Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction
Edith Cavell: a brave guide
Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory. *** December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.” *** Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.” *** After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one....
People we should know
Getting to know J.I. Packer
J.I. Packer died on July 17, 2020, at the age of 93. In this profile, which first appeared in the May 2016 issue, Dr. Bredenhof explains what God gave us in this man. **** James Innell Packer is a rather well-known author in Reformed circles. In fact, many people assume that Packer himself must belong to a Reformed, or at least a Presbyterian, church. Instead, Packer has been an Anglican his entire life, first in England (the land of his birth) and then later in Canada. The son of working-class parents, Packer was born on July 22, 1926 in Gloucester, England. He became a Christian during his education at Oxford University. Through exposure to Puritan authors like John Owen, Packer also became a convinced Calvinist with regard to the doctrine of salvation. At several points in his life he was tempted away from the Church of England, but he has always remained a member. He was ordained in the Church of England, but only served in parish ministry for a short while before discovering his real vocation as a teacher of theology. In England, he taught at Tyndale Hall, Latimer House, and Trinity College. Finally, in 1979, he skipped over the pond to take up a professorship at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. WRITER AND EDITOR Packer has been well known as a conference speaker and writer, but probably less so as an editor. Notably, he’s been the general editor of the English Standard Version Bible, as well as the theological editor of the ESV Study Bible. He’s also served as an editor and advisor for Christianity Today. One of Packer’s most well-known books has been Knowing God, first published in 1973. By 2001, this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. It’s a book that puts the doctrine of God in simple language. Even when Packer tackles difficult subjects like propitiation (the turning away of God’s wrath through the cross), he communicates winsomely. It’s really not surprising that some Canadian Reformed pastors have even used Knowing God for their pre-confession instruction. It’s a solid book! BACK AND FORTH AND BACK AGAIN While there are many ways in which we can appreciate what God has done through this man, we also have to honestly acknowledge some of his weaknesses and failings. There was, for example, his involvement with a 1994 statement entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). This was an effort to unite Roman Catholics and evangelicals on a common theological basis with a view to taking a stand against societal evils like abortion. Unfortunately, this common basis resulted in the lowest-common-denominator form of essential doctrines like justification. Packer was a key player in the events leading to ECT and a signer. Subsequently, Packer teamed with up with URC pastor Michael Horton to produce another document, Resolutions for Roman Catholic and Evangelical Dialogue. Now this statement, also from 1994, was soundly orthodox on the issues highlighted by ECT. But then, what one hand gave, the other took away (again!). In 1998, Packer was involved with yet another ecumenical statement along with Roman Catholics, The Gift of Salvation. This statement again compromised on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It’s regrettable that Packer has been rather inconsistent on some key biblical teachings. As just mentioned, he claims in some places to maintain justification by faith alone as a foundational doctrine, yet he readily gives this up when working with Roman Catholics. As another example, he claims to hold to the ultimate authority of the Bible, yet is lenient when it comes to evolution. In his 2015 biography, Leland Ryken writes that he cannot understand why some people get so angry at Packer. It’s no mystery: it’s because of his inconsistency. STANDING ON SCRIPTURE However, one of Packer’s greatest controversies did see him taking a very bold stand. In 2008, Packer was pushed out of the Anglican Church of Canada because he refused to endorse same-sex marriage. This came at a great cost – he was defrocked as an Anglican clergyman. We can certainly commend him for his courage. Incidentally, soon afterwards, he was relicensed as clergy and admitted into the Anglican Church of North America. Thus, he continues to be an Anglican, though not in the “mainstream.” TWO MORE GREAT TITLES On a personal note, I’ve benefitted from especially two of Packer’s writings. The first I came across was his volume on the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness. This had a huge impact on shaping my attitude towards those saints of old. For many people, this book has been instrumental in overturning misconceptions of the Puritans. Later, when I pursued further studies in missiology, one of my required readings was one of Packer’s first books, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God. I loved it! This slender book powerfully argued that a Calvinistic belief in God’s sovereignty is anything but a death knell for outreach – quite the opposite. Armed with what I’ve said about some of his inconsistencies, I’d say that this is one author with whom Reformed Perspective readers should definitely get acquainted. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. THE QUOTABLE PACKER The Gospel in 3 words “ere I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” – Knowing God Real repentance “Repentance, as we know, is basically not moaning and remorse, but turning and change.” – on Twitter Human responsibility and God's sovereignty “God’s sovereignty is a reality, and man’s responsibility is a reality too.... To our finite minds, of course, the thing is inexplicable. It sounds like a contradiction, and our first reaction is to complain that it is absurd....We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.” – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God Wretched man that I am “A deepening sense of one’s sinfulness remains a touchstone of the genuine Christian life.” – Rediscovering Holiness Faith and works “Historical Exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation; application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.” – Engaging the Written Word of God...
Church history, People we should know
Rahab the whore...mother of Christ
"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow! Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....