Monday, July 2, 2018

Quotes of Note

Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking,  or all of the above.


A friend recently asked me about How to Think by Alan Jacobs. I finished it last year, and it's one of the best books I've read on how thinking, or its lack, is intertwined with how we treat people. If you want examples, just observe how well people respond when someone disagrees with them on social media. Usually not so well, which is one of the main reasons Jacobs wrote this book.
Why would people ever think, when thinking deprives them of "the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved" - especially in an online environment where the social approval of one's attitudes is so much easier to acquire, in the currency of likes, faves, followers and friends? And to acquire instantaneously? (pg. 21)
People invested in not knowing, not thinking about, certain things in order to have "the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved" will be ecstatic when their consensus is gratified - and wrathful when it is thwarted. (Social bonding is cemented by shared emotion, shared emotion generates social bonding, It's a feedback loop from which reflection is excluded.)...  Anyone who claims not to be shaped by such forces is almost self-deceived. Human beings are not built to be indifferent to the waves and pulses of their social world. For most of us the question is whether we have even the slightest reluctance to drift along with the flow. The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures, confronting the pull of the ingroup and disgust for the outgroup. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear. (pg. 23)

J.I. Packer is not only an astute theologian, he is a great writer. In this passage from Concise Theology, he describes beautifully the importance of Christ's resurrection:
Jesus' resurrection, which was a divine act involving all three Persons of the Godhead (John 10:17-18; Acts 13:30-35; Rom 1:4), was not just a resuscitation of the ruined physical frame that was taken down from the cross for burial. It was, rather, a transformation of Jesus' humanity that enabled him to appear, vanish, and move unseen from one location to another (Luke 24:31, 36). It was the creative renewing of his original body, the body that is now fully glorified and deathless (Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:16, 24). The Son of God in heaven still lives in and through that body, and will do so forever. In I Corinthians 15:50-54, Paul envisages that Christians who are alive on earth at the moment of Christ's return will undergo a similar transformation, though in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 he shows himself aware that Christians who die before the Second Coming will be "clothed" with their new body (the "eternal house in heaven") as a distinct event, at or after the time of the body's return to dust (Gen. 3:19).

Last Friday I linked to a 5 Minutes in Church History piece on William Cowper. Cowper was a British poet and hymn writer who suffered from some kind of mental illness. In his melancholy episodes, which were long-lasting, he was convinced that he had been forsaken by God. Although he was a believer, he was sure that ultimately he would be what he called a “castaway”; that is, in the end, Christ would say to him, “I never knew you.” These compulsive thoughts were, I'm certain, symptoms of his mental illness. After all, he truly believed that all those who trust in Christ are surely saved, and he knew that he was trusting in Christ. Yet he couldn’t rid himself of the idea that he was the one and only exception to the rule, the only person who ever lived who would trust in Christ and still be rejected.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a beautiful poem called Cowper's Grave that reflects on William Cowper's sad life and the peace that he found only in the afterlife when he saw Jesus face to face—when he "felt those eyes alone, and knew—'My Saviour! not deserted!'"

Cowper's Grave 
It is a place where poets crowned may feel the heart’s decaying;
It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying;
Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence languish:
Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish. 
O poets, from a maniac’s tongue was poured the deathless singing!
O Christians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!
O men, this man in brotherhood your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling! 
And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story,
How discord on the music fell and darkness on the glory,
And how when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted, 
He shall be strong to sanctify the poet’s high vocation,
And bow the meekest Christian down in meeker adoration;
Nor ever shall he be, in praise, by wise or good forsaken,
Named softly as the household name of one whom God hath taken. 
With quiet sadness and no gloom I learn to think upon him,
With meekness that is gratefulness to God whose heaven hath won him,
Who suffered once the madness-cloud to His own love to blind him,
But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could find him; 
And wrought within his shattered brain such quick poetic senses
As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences:
The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his within its number,
And silent shadows from the trees refreshed him like a slumber. 
Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
Uplooking to his human eyes with sylvan tendernesses:
The very world, by God’s constraint, from falsehood’s ways removing,
Its women and its men became, beside him, true and loving. 
And though, in blindness, he remained unconscious of that guiding,
And things provided came without the sweet sense of providing,
He testified this solemn truth, while phrenzy desolated,
—Nor man nor nature satisfies whom only God created. 
Like a sick child that knoweth not his mother while she blesses
And drops upon his burning brow the coolness of her kisses,—
That turns his fevered eyes around—“My mother! where’s my mother?”—
As if such tender words and deeds could come from any other!— 
The fever gone, with leaps of heart he sees her bending o’er him,
Her face all pale from watchful love, the unweary love she bore him!
Thus woke the poet from the dream his life’s long fever gave him,
Beneath those deep pathetic Eyes which closed in death to save him. 
Thus? oh, not thus! no type of earth can image that awaking,
Wherein he scarcely heard the chant of seraphs, round him breaking,
Or felt the new immortal throb of soul from body parted,
But felt those eyes alone, and knew—“My Saviour! not deserted!” 
Deserted! Who hath dreamt that when the cross in darkness rested,
Upon the Victim’s hidden face no love was manifested?
What frantic hands outstretched have e’er the atoning drops averted?
What tears have washed them from the soul, that one should be deserted? 
Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam’s sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father:
Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry His universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!” 
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid His lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
That earth’s worst phrenzies, marring hope, should mar not hope’s fruition,
And I, on Cowper’s grave, should see his rapture in a vision.


In my research and studies I keep bumping up against theories that tend to dichotomize reason over against experience, truth verses imagination, and modernism against postmodernism. To that end, I recalled how much I previously enjoyed our church Sunday School a couple of summers ago in which we studied Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness. He wrote:
Creative persuasion is a matter of being biblical, not of being either modern or postmodern. In today’s climate, anyone who prizes reason and truth and makes use of them in the defense of the faith is apt to be dismissed as a modernist. Equally, anyone who uses imagination and stories is apt to be either praised or dismissed as postmodern, depending on the speaker’s view of postmodernism. But the fact is that the Bible itself is the grandest of grand stories, yet it prizes truth and reason without being modernist, and it prizes countless stories within its overall story without being postmodern either. In short, the Bible is both rational and experiential, propositional as well as relational, so that genuinely biblical arguments work in any age and with any person (pp. 33-34).  

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