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Assorted

On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.”

Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days!

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call!

Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend!

Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r.

To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore!

My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were:

God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king!

The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes:

"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness.

Assorted

Mental illness: responsibility and response

Back in Grade 6 my twin daughters came home talking about that day’s lesson in Health class. They were learning about something called “the blame game,” and why it’s not an appropriate response to the difficult situations in which we find ourselves. THE BLAME GAME Probably we all know how to play the blame game. We are criticized by our supervisor at work, and we’re quick to point to the circumstances that led to our poor performance. Or I’m in a tough conversation with my wife, and she’s making some accusations, but I’m throwing them back with some of my own. Sometimes the blame game is played in the church too. A person blames his lazy attitude on the way that he was raised as a child. Someone blames his lack of church contributions on his high load of debt. I suspect that we don’t usually have patience with this kind of blame-shifting, and we want to hold people to account. But what about some other scenarios? Can we excuse certain sinful behaviors because of the presence of a mental illness? Should we make allowances and exceptions because of how a person is afflicted in his or her mind? What is the balance of a person’s responsibility and their illness? As fellow members in Christ, how can we respond in a way that will not only help the person, but also honor the holy God? TWO SCENARIOS Ponder a couple of scenarios so that you can understand what I mean, and so that you can also appreciate the challenge of sorting out a fitting response. There is a sister in your congregation who is only very rarely in church on Sundays – maybe once per month, sometimes less. It comes to light that she has an intense anxiety about coming to church. She fears almost everything about it: being surrounded by other people, having to speak with other people, being in an enclosed space for more than an hour. She agrees that God wants her to gather with his people, and that it’s important for her faith, but she can’t do it. Is she is breaking the fourth commandment, and should she be under discipline? Or does her illness – this extreme phobia – excuse her lack of attendance? There is a brother who is struggling with addiction to pornography. He has admitted that for the last five years he has viewed pornography on an almost daily basis. Some accountability has helped, but the brother admits that he still finds ways to access sexually explicit material. As the months go by, he seems to be growing more entrenched in his sin, and he is less open to the guidance of fellow members. He recently said that the fault for his sin is in his brain, that his addiction to sex means that he is incapable of resisting. Is this a clear cut case of unrepentant sin against the seventh commandment? Many more scenarios can be described. But the critical question is this: Are there times when, because of my brain, I am not responsible for my behavior before the Lord? ENCOUNTERING MENTAL ILLNESS We’re speaking about mental illness, but it’s good to back up for a moment and offer a definition and then list a few examples. First, a loose definition: A mental illness is a clinically significant health problem that affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Second, in our life together as believers, what mental illnesses are we likely to encounter? There is depression, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit disorder, anorexia, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various extreme phobias. We might also encounter mental health difficulties that arise because of addictions to drugs and alcohol. BLAME THE BRAIN? [caption id="attachment_9605" align="alignright" width="355"] 1998 / 204 pages[/caption] So here’s the question: How much can we blame the brain? Now, if you’re hoping for black-and-white, binary approach, you won’t read it here. If you’re looking for a formula or equation that you can use in these kinds of situations, you’ll have to look elsewhere. And there surely isn’t one! As already noted, this is a complex area to navigate. No two situations are the same because of the individuals involved, their predispositions to developing mental illness, the particular illness, and the history and context of each situation. Still, we can take into account some important considerations. I want to acknowledge that I’m relying on many of the insights from the book called Blame it on the Brain? by Ed Welch. Welch explains that there is a view today that almost everything begins in the brain. All our behaviors are caused by brain chemistry and physics: “My brain made me do it.” As a consequence of viewing the problem as strictly physical, the answer is often strictly physical too, as in: “I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, so how can I level that out?” Or, “My child is being hyperactive at school and disrupting the class, so what medication can he take to help him behave?” SOLUTIONS IN SCIENCE? Sometimes it’s very tempting to conclude that it is“all upstairs,” a matter of the brain. For example, when someone is in the darkness of depression, we can talk to them at length; we pray with them; we read Scripture to them. There are months of intensive spiritual effort, and nothing seems to work. Despite our best efforts, the person’s faith is struggling mightily. They say that they feel “dead” inside, and miles away from God. Then they go to a psychiatrist... he prescribes some medication, and in weeks the depression starts to lift! The person begins to talk about church in a more positive way, and to read the Bible again, even enthusiastically. So was it all in the brain? Did a dose of medication really solve it? Does the brain – a biological entity – really have so much influence on our spiritual life? The same thinking is applied to other areas of behavior. Some people argue for a biological basis of homosexuality. They also argue for a biological basis for anger, and disobedience to parents, and worry, drug abuse, and stealing. These are all brain problems, they say, not sin problems. Sometimes they can even point to evidence which suggests, for example, that the brains of pathological liars are actually physically different from the brains of “normal people,” people who are wired to (usually) tell the truth. As Christians, we have to sort through this. We acknowledge that science can help by teaching us something about how the brain works. Yet science is not just raw data. It is data that has been interpreted by fallible humans, people who have their own worldviews and weaknesses. Science too must be made subject to the Bible. WHO WE ARE So to help us, we need to consider what the Bible says about who we are. The LORD created us as complex beings, as a natural organism that is at the same time being indwelled by a supernatural spirit. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, for instance, Paul describes us as spiritual beings who are clothed in an earthly tent. This two-fold composition is seen throughout the Bible, and we notice it particularly at death, when the soul or spirit goes to the Lord and the body stays behind and is buried in the ground. Despite the separation that happens at death, when we’re living we are one person, an intimate unity of spirit and body. So how do spirit and body relate? How do these two substances function together? At a minimum, we can say that they are mutually interdependent. We know this from experience: the way that your body feels very much affects your spirit; the activities that your spirit chooses are worked out in the body, both good and bad. Ultimately, though, the spirit or the heart is the moral captain, the “wellspring” of our life (Prov 4:23). It’s the heart that empowers, initiates and directs. And the problem is that our heart is inclined to evil. DIRECTED BY THE DOCTRINE OF SIN So when it comes to questions of responsibility and response, the Bible’s teaching about sin is essential. Our position on this doctrine will affect everything that follows, and it will shape the answers that we give to these tough questions. I understand that mentioning sin in the context of mental illness can make people uneasy. You’ve probably heard the horror stories about people telling those who are struggling with depression, “You just have to pray more. Try to read the Bible more.” That’s a response which essentially says, “You’re feeling so miserable because you haven’t done something that you need to – it’s because you’ve sinned.” I certainly don’t advise that approach, in general. Yet it’s true that sin is a reality, and it’s our deepest problem, one that affects absolutely every aspect of our life. The Scriptures teach that all human beings are born as sons and daughters of Adam. Without the Holy Spirit’s intervention, we are dead in trespasses and sins, without any inclination to seek God or do what is good. It’s not that we don’t understand right and wrong, it’s that we choose not to live according to God’s truth. So if sin is a deeply rooted problem, if it’s as deep as our very nature as human beings, we need to conclude that the brain itself is unable to make a person sin or to prevent a person from following Christ. The Scriptures teach us to say that any behavior which does not conform to God’s commands or any thought which transgresses his prohibitions, is something that proceeds from the sinful heart. And it is sin. CREATED AS RESPONSIBLE That’s not how God made us, of course. When God created us in the beginning, He made us in his image. Part of that means that we were created with the ability to make moral decisions. Consequently, as God’s creatures we are responsible for our behavior – whatever that behavior is, and whatever the circumstances. This idea of our responsibility before the LORD is seen, for example, in the laws of Leviticus. There it says that even if a person sinned unintentionally, without meaning to, they needed to present a sacrifice of atonement (Lev 5:17). They weren’t excused because of a lack of intent, but they were held to account. Upholding this sense of responsibility actually shows respect for a person. Holding them to account is something that recognizes their dignity as human beings, made in the image of God. As an example, say you have a son who continually breaks your household rules. Because you’re a nice person, you always excuse him, and you find reasons not to punish him: he’s young, he’s immature, he has a lot of pressures at school. It feels like you’re being merciful. But ultimately, you’re not treating your son with respect for his dignity as one created in God’s image. You’re implying that he’s too weak to handle the consequences, or too dumb to figure out a better alternative. You’re not helping him to grow in his sense of responsibility, while the loving thing would be to let him experience consequences. In the same way, we are responsible before God our Father. He doesn’t give us a free pass for any sin, because He made us to serve and obey him in all things. Next we’ll see how this truth relates to the way that we try to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling with mental illness. THE LIMITS OF THE BRAIN To this point, we’ve said that the brain itself is unable to prevent a person from following Christ. The Scriptures teach that any behavior that does not conform to God’s commands, any thought that transgresses his prohibitions, is something that proceeds from the sinful heart. God created us as responsible beings but through our own fault we have been deeply affected by sin. Yet there is more that must be said. An over-simplified answer doesn’t help us. In his book Blame it on the Brain? Ed Welch speaks about three categories: When the brain can be blamed: There can be mental illness that affects brain functioning in a way that leads to sin. For example, people who are suffering from dementia might say and do very hurtful things. A person with dementia might make sexually suggestive comments to women, or she might be sinfully demanding toward family members. We are right to be immensely patient in these cases because of the obvious illness and impairment of the brain.Having said that, we know that brain problems can expose heart problems. The damaged brain is not generating sin. It’s simply taking the cover off things that were previously hidden in the heart, like a poor attitude toward women, or a demanding spirit. When the brain might be blamed: A physical change in the chemical levels of our brain can lead to certain conditions, such as depression or ADD. This is why medications that address the imbalance can have such an effect on behavior.Even so, while psychiatric problems can have this physical cause, there can be a spiritual element too. Most mental illnesses are hybrids, a combination of physical and spiritual problems. For instance, an anxiety disorder can arise from factors that are outside a person, such as living in a world that is fallen and under the curse, or dealing with a very difficult work situation and many demands at home. Combine that with a biological predisposition to anxiety, and you’d say a person is almost destined to suffer with it.Conversely, a depressive disorder can also be a consequence of sinful choices that the person has made. A person might be living in the misery of unconfessed sin, living far from God. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised that they have no rest (see Psalm 32 or 38). This is a heart problem that is manifesting itself in the brain. When the brain cannot be blamed: There are behaviors that are physical, and they definitely have a mental component, but they cannot be blamed on the brain. Take homosexuality as an example, which some will say is biologically determined. This is unclear, but even if there was evidence for the gay gene, we must respond in a biblical way. And that is to say that homosexual activity is forbidden by the Lord. We can be influenced by our genes, but that’s much different than being determined by them. At most, our biology is like a friend who tempts us into sin. Such a friend might be bothersome, but he can be resisted. We don’t have to go along with him.Alcoholism is another example. It’s called a disease, and in the secular setting it’s often spoken of in those terms. Sometimes an alcoholic will say, “That’s the disease talking.” There could even be a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism, yet the Bible states that drunkenness is a sin, and in the end we also have to treat it as such. WHAT ABOUT ADDICTIONS? “Addictions” is a much-used term today. The difficulty is that it is a very elastic and ambiguous category, and it covers everything from frivolous activities (being addicted to certain shows on Netflix) to far more serious (being addicted to drugs). While the term is misused, it is true that an addict can feel that he is trapped and out of control. While the Bible doesn’t directly mention addictions, it does talk about our motivations and desires. It recognizes that there are forces so powerful they can overtake our lives. Yet our addictions are more than self-destructive behaviors; they are violations of God’s law. An addiction is about our relationship with God much more than about our biology. When we see the spiritual realities that are behind our addictive behaviors, we find that all people serve what they love: either our idols, or God. As for the question of responsibility, we must be clear that an addiction begins with a choice. Idols exist in our lives because we invite them in and love them. Once they find a home in us, they resist leaving. They change from being servants of our desires, to being masters. Like James writes in his first chapter, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1:14-15). When we repeatedly choose to do evil, these decisions can also be accompanied by changes in brain activity. It doesn’t mean that the brain has caused the decision, but the brain renders the desires of the heart in a physical medium. Welch says that “it’s as if the heart leaves its footprints on the brain.” That helps us to understand the research which suggests that the brain of an addict is different from the brain of a “normal” person. What has been going on in the heart, month after month, year after year, is being represented physically, with changes in the way the brain operates. This doesn’t prove that the brain caused the thoughts and actions; rather, brain changes can be caused by these behaviors. Once again, it started with sin. AN APPROACH FOR HELPING It’s time to draw some of this together in an approach to the question of responsibility and response. Bear in mind that every situation is different, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. But I hope that some of these guides can be helpful. Distinguish between symptoms: When there is mental illness, there can be a host of symptoms. And it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms and to consider whether the Bible commands or prohibits this behavior.For example, with depression, the spiritual symptoms are feelings of worthlessness, guilt, anger, unbelief, and thanklessness. These are heart issues which need to be addressed with Scripture and prayer. But depression also has physical symptoms, such as feelings of pain, sleep problems, weight changes, fatigue, problems with concentration. This set of difficulties requires a different response, but they do need a response. We are not our genes: There are genetic problems, and even genetic predispositions toward things that are sinful. But we are not our genes. The Scriptures teach that we are born as sinners, and that sin arises naturally in our heart. We enter the world as slaves of sin, but we are still blameworthy for surrendering to sin. So even if it were discovered that we are predisposed to certain sinful behaviors like alcoholism or homosexuality, this would not eliminate our responsibility for such sinful actions. Our individual makeup and background provide context for sin, and may fuel the craving for sin, but these things don’t take away the accountability for our sin. Don’t rush to medicate: We mentioned earlier that psychiatric disorders sometimes respond to medication. There can be a real benefit, so this becomes our reflex response: we assume a prescription will fix the situation, and we advise a visit to the local psychiatrist. Yet we shouldn’t rush to medicate. It can be effective with some people, not all. There can be adverse effects to almost every tablet, and there can be a danger of over-medication. More to the point, we have to remember that medication cannot change the heart; it cannot remove our tendency toward sin, revive our faith, or make us more obedient. Maintain a sense of responsibility: God created us as responsible beings, for we were made in his image. This means that He holds us to account for what we do. We diminish a person’s God-given dignity by looking at them and seeing only their infirmity, and not their responsibility. If we write people off because they have depression, it doesn’t help. The person concludes, “This is what the church thinks of me – I’m a screw-up, I’m damaged goods, and I’m not going to get better.”Scripture directs us to this principle of responsibility too. Think of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” We can almost always require of people that they give an account of their conduct. The same text teaches us that not everyone is the same. Some have received more blessing, others less. One person’s situation in life is far more difficult than another’s. It doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible, but it means we have to weigh their responsibility in the light of everything else we know about them. Be patient: Trying to help people with mental illness can be frustrating. If we haven’t experienced anything like it ourselves or among those who are close to us, it is hard to relate. We might get exasperated with their constant struggles, their ups and downs, and behaviors that seem inexplicable. Sometimes we want to give up, but we need to be patient.Think of what David says in Psalm 103:14. He says, “The LORD knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” That’s a mark of loving and attentive parents: they know their kids, “they will know their frame” – what they’re made of. Parents can see pretty quickly when their kids are tired, or when they’ve had a rough day at school. And so parents will try hard to fight against their own impatience, and try to cut the kids a little slack. God is a Father who sees the weaknesses of his children from a mile away. He knows our frame: the Father knows exactly where we’re come from in life, and He knows the good and the bad that we’ve gone through. The LORD also understands what we’re made of, and that no matter how we seem on the outside, we’re weak: physically, emotionally, spiritually weak. We don’t have it together, so He is patient with us.  CONCLUSION In conclusion, let’s be reminded of our goal as fellow members of the church: we want to care for each other in a Christ-like way (Phil 2:1-4). Our desire is to see our fellow members enjoy life in God’s grace and service. Helping them effectively requires us to take into account the full picture of who they are, including when there is the presence of mental illness. We don’t let them blame it, and we don’t ignore it, but we try to help them be faithful to the Lord even in the midst of their struggles of spirit and body.

Dr. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Mount Nasura, Western Australia. This article first appeared in two parts in Una Sancta the denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books [editor’s note: “Great Books” is a term for the classics of Western Literature – for more see the endnote below]. Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task.

Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum. 

Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

Assorted

On being separated

"For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down my life in order that I may take it up again. No one has taken it away from Me; on the contrary, I lay it down of my own accord." - Jesus, in John 10:17-18a

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It is a sad thing to be separated from the ones you love. I distinctly remember being separated from my parents after my father had a serious car accident and my mother had to leave to be with him in the hospital. The separation introduced a number of difficult months. It was a time of loneliness and grief. I was thirteen years old and desperately missed both my mom and dad. But not as much, I suspect, as one little girl did back in the 1700s. Separated by revolution Charlotte Haines was born in 1773 in New York. She was the daughter of an extremely zealous American patriot. As a matter of fact, father Haines was so zealous that during the Revolutionary War, he strictly forbad his little daughter to see her cousins, all of whom were Loyalists. But for a ten-year-old child, such a prohibition is incomprehensible. When you have played with, laughed with, and eaten with friends all your born days, how can you suddenly ignore them? Consequently, when the Loyalists were evacuated from New York, it was in Charlotte's heart to bid her dear cousins farewell. Instead of going to school, she ran to her uncle's house and spent a wonderful day of fellowship with her cousins before heading back to her parents' home. Her father was waiting at the door. Demanding to know where she had been, she confessed that she had disobeyed his orders – that she had visited with her cousins for one last time. Enraged, and perhaps not thinking clearly, John Haines pointed his finger towards the door through which she had just come in. "Leave," he barked, "and don't come back." The child was devastated, and begged his forgiveness. But he would not listen to her words and insisted that she abide by his decision. There is no record, strangely enough, of Charlotte's mother interfering. Without anything except for the clothes on her back, the little girl returned to her uncle's house where she was received with love. Although David Haines, the uncle, used all his power of persuasion to reason with his brother, it was no use. Unreasonably and stubbornly, John Haines insisted that Charlotte was a traitor and that she was not welcome in his home any longer. Consequently, when the David Haines family sailed for what later became New Brunswick, Canada in May of 1783, they took with them a surrogate orphan of sorts. Little Charlotte Haines grew up in her uncle's household and at the tender age of seventeen, married a young fellow by the name of William Peters. They had fifteen children and eventually more than a hundred grandchildren. There is no historical data, to my knowledge, to indicate that Charlotte Haines was ever reconciled with her father and mother. Separated by conscience Sometimes stories relate that older people are exiled from beloved surroundings. In the year 1527, at Easter and during the Reformation, Elizabeth of Brandenburg, wife of Joachim I, Elector of Brandenburg, received communion in the Protestant manner. This was a strange matter, at least to some, as she had been a staunch Roman Catholic her entire life. Forty-two years old, she was of an age where she knew her own mind, where she was fully aware of what she was doing. How her conversion to the Protestant faith came about, is not known. Perhaps tracts written by Luther had fallen into her hand; perhaps her brother, King Christian II of Denmark had witnessed to her; perhaps evangelists disguised as merchants had sung Protestant hymns which had found their way into her heart; or perhaps, and this is the most logical conclusion of all, she had simply read Luther's translation of the Bible. After all, God's Word will not return to Him empty. Whatever the case, Elizabeth through some means, was moved by the Holy Spirit to become a Protestant believer. Her husband, Joachim I, and father of their five children, was not at home. When Elizabeth received the Lord's Supper for the first time, her teenage and married daughter, also named Elizabeth, was very much aware of what her mother was doing. Whether hiding in the background, or listening to servants' talk, she knew. And she did not at all approve. When her father came home, she immediately reported to him what her mother had done. Consequently, her mother's life began to manifest hardships. She was given a year to repent. Towards the end of that year, mother Elizabeth, aided by her brother, escaped from Brandenburg to Saxony, to the realm of her Protestant uncle John of Saxony. Her husband, who was and had been unfaithful to her, raged and ranted. He wanted her returned. She was indeed willing to return but only on her own conditions: that she be guaranteed safety of body and goods, that marital relations should be resumed, that she be allowed to have a preacher of her own choice; and that she be allowed to partake of the sacrament of communion in the Protestant manner. Her conditions were rejected by her husband and she did not return to him. Elizabeth of Brandenburg could forgive Joachim his adultery, although it pained her deeply, but she would not compromise on her faith. She therefore lived in exile for most of her remaining days. There were many years of poverty, worry and loneliness. Joachim refused to send her money. For a while she lived with the Luthers before traveling on to Lichtenberg. In the end, she turned into a crusty, and rather complaining elderly lady and was not easy to host. Her husband, Elector Joachim I of Branderburg, died in 1535. It was not until ten years later, in 1545, that Elizabeth finally returned to Brandenburg. Her son John brought her back, paid her debts, agreed to support a minister of her choice and granted full freedom of conscience to her and her household. She wrote to him:

I cannot conceal from you, out of motherly love, that the dear God, our heavenly Father, has laid upon me a heavy cross with sickness, poverty, misery, trouble and terror, more than I can tell. I would not have believed that such trials could be on earth and would comfort myself with the words of Job, "The Lord has given. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." You should know how long I have lived in misery and great sickness and have had to suffer such shameful poverty in my old age as not to have a penny on earth, nor a bit of sausage in my mouth. If God in His especial grace had not upheld me, it would have been no wonder if my heart had broken in two for sheer misery.

Just before she died, Elizabeth expressed the wish and recorded it in her will, to be buried without ceremonies in a grave beside the husband from whom she had been exiled twenty-seven years before for the sake of religion. Sacrifice of family, of being exiled, of being hurt, can do many things to a person. Loneliness, bitterness, weeping, tears of anger – all these can dominate lives to such an extent that everything else is secondary. Separated by war There is another story dating back to the First World War – a story which concerns a young French soldier who was badly hurt in battle. His arm was severely damaged and when he was brought in to surgery there was no choice but that it be amputated. The surgeon, a caring man, felt very badly that this young fellow would have to go through such a procedure and had a difficult time relaying this to the soldier. "I am so sorry," he began, "that after all you have gone through, you will have to lose your arm." "Doctor," the young patient replied, "I did not lose my arm – I gave it – for France." Separated from His Father This last story illustrates, to some small degree, what it actually meant when Jesus, the greatest Example of suffering and pain, voluntarily left His home in heaven to give His body as a sacrifice. Of His own accord, he lived a human life; of His own accord, He was despised and rejected; of His own accord, He suffered an excruciatingly painful crucifixion; and finally, of His own accord, He experienced the agonies of hell as He bore the Father's wrath for our sins before He died. He did that all – for us. "A new commandment I give you, that you keep on loving one another; just as I have loved you, that you also keep on loving one another," Jesus said in John 13:34. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to meditate. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to pattern our attitudes, actions and relationships towards one another. Of His own accord – for us.

This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition under the title "Of my own accord." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop.

AA
Internet
Tagged: featured, Jay Younts, Proverbs, social media, truth

Proverbs: 3,000 years ahead of its time

Solomon did not have a web page. He didn’t blog. He didn’t tweet. He wasn’t on on Snap Chat or Instagram. But he can still help you navigate the seas of social media.

Here are three important terms to know when using the internet: Verify, Verify, Verify!

In the world of social media, little is as it seems. You must verify that what you read and see is not just a half-truth or flat-out deception. Proverbs 18:17 says:

The first to present his case in a dispute seems right,
until his opponent comes and cross examines him.

It is easy to accept texts, tweets, posts, emails, etc., at face value. Don’t! This isn’t cynical, but just realizing that the Bible warns about the deception of the human heart.  The online chat can be with a predator. The text or email can sound like a real need, but it may well be only half of the truth. Someone who is struggling may be telling you only one side of the story.

Remember what is important about internet communication:

VERIFY what you hear or read by way of another source. Just because one person or source says something is true, doesn’t make it true. If verification is not possible then you must withhold judgement about the truth of what you read. Also verify the identity of whom you communicate with. Predators are a serious threat!

VERIFY that the person you are communicating with has nothing to gain from the information you receive. Is the person trying to gain your support in a dispute? Are you being asked for information that could compromise you in some way? Is someone else being put in a bad light by what you hear? Are you being intentionally or unintentionally misled?

VERIFY that the person you are communicating with has done their due diligence in verifying what you are being told. Simply asking “how do you know that” is a great way to avoid gossip.

Someone reading this might well ask, “Well this article is online, how can I trust what you are saying?”

That is exactly the right question to ask! In this case you know the source of the article, ShepherdPress.com. You can know who the author is by checking out the webpage. You have the ability to communicate and ask for verification either by comment or via email from the Shepherd Press web page. You have the ability to check out the background and beliefs of Shepherd Press by checking out that same page.  This is the sort of verification you should engage in with any information gained via social media. Protect yourself and your children by acting on the truth of Proverbs 18:17.

Solomon may not have had internet access. But his wisdom is timeless!

 

Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.


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