Category Archives: Thoughts on God

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)

 

 

Who Was Ussher, and What Did He Usher In?

Have you ever heard of James Ussher? He was the Archbishop of Armagh for the Church of Ireland and Primate of All Ireland from 1625-1656. He was a brilliant theologian, Chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and eventually the Vice-Provost at Trinity College. I’ve visited these places and am very impressed, because I can’t think any higher honors for someone living in that time and place!  However, what really made him famous was his scholarly work in attempting to figure out the age of the earth from studying biblical genealogies in the Masoretic text and cross-referencing them with various events in history such as the deaths of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. According to his calculations, Adam and Eve were created by God around 4004 BC, King Solomon’s temple was built 3000 years from creation, and Jesus was born 1000 years later. Even the Bible I use today has Ussher’s calculations of time included at the top of each page, so I think his work is still considered the gold standard for most English-speaking students of the Bible who believe in interpreting the scriptures literally.

Many people today think of the Bible as simply a book of legends and myths, but I do not. I believe it is true and is the inspired Word of God. As the Apostle Paul wrote, the scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (1 Timothy 3:15-17).

Does this mean I believe that all we need to study is the Bible? Not at all! God has given us a vast world to explore and understand. However, I do believe the Bible is our textbook for how to live (and how to gain eternal life), and that it is accurate in what it says. I also resonate with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God has given us tiny windows into the universe—like a father explaining something vastly complex to his children—but what he says is true, albeit put in simple language that we can understand. And, this is enough for us. We can delve into the mysteries of the universe all we want and will never exhaust knowledge, but in the Bible, we have all we need to live lives filled with love, joy, peace, and goodness. It is enough. God is enough. Jesus is enough!

But, what about the age of the world? Is it really 6,021 years old? I’m not sure. I do believe that I’ve descended from Adam and Eve, whether or not I can “prove” it through genealogical research. I also believe in the Genesis account of creation, including “the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Sounds like a 24-hour day to me, and therefore I tend to hold with the “early creation” point of view. Tomorrow I want to share more on that subject, but for today, may I just end with the last words of James Ussher? “O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” Ussher ushered in an age of believing the world was nearing 6 thousand years of age and that the millennial reign of Christ would begin at the beginning of the 7th thousand (roughly AD 2000). Was he right, or did he omit something accidentally that made his calculations off?

When we get to heaven, we’ll know the truth about so many things, but in the meantime, can we humbly hold to our opinions without letting them break our fellowship? There are some things worth arguing, but I don’t personally believe that genealogies or how many days the earth has existed are among them. The only thing we’re exhorted to contend for in the scripture is true faith: “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). God want us to believe and testify to true faith, and that faith is explained in the Bible.

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).

As I besought thee…that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:3-5, emphasis mine).

 

DNA: Do You Know Where You Come From? …A Nation of Kings and Priests…

Have you ever gotten your DNA tested or done genealogical research? Alan and I never seemed to have time or enough interest to pursue such until our kids got interested, so we figured if we had our DNA tested, our seven kids would know without having to pay. As far as either Alan or I knew, we were 100% British Isles, with Alan mostly Scottish and I mostly English. Our DNA tests mostly confirmed that, although we both had a couple of surprises. I am 100% European, and the largest single percent is from the British Isles, although I had a significant amount of Norwegian in me. (Oops, I thought…some Viking must have come ashore and caused trouble.) The other surprise was that I was nearly 50% “Western European,” although on consideration, the circle included lower England, which was in fact the area where I had been told my family originally lived. All well and good. Case closed.

…Until my daughter-in-law came to visit a few weeks ago! Carleen has done a lot of research, and she’d traced our family line back way back! She showed me how to search on line…and I was hooked. Through following genealogical pathways, Carleen pointed out that I wasn’t always English!  Well, I was related to King James (no wonder I’ve always clung to 1611 “Authorized” version of the King James Version of the Bible!),  but further into the past, I discovered that 21 generations ago I was the offspring of John Plantagenet (whose mother was from Belgium) as well as 22 generations ago from Edward III of England. (The plot thickens.)                   I was also related to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland,             and William the Conqueror (King of England, but from France). Twenty-five generations back I descended from Carlo II, King of Naples, Italy, and Princess Maria from Budapest, Hungary.  I also descended from Ivar, son of Halfdan and Harold the Redbeard from Norway, Olaff II from Denmark, King Dag of Vestmarar, King Eystein from Sweden, King Waldemar from Russia, Robert Capet I, King of the Franks, Duchess Théodrade Svatana Duc de Saxe (born CAROLINGIEN) from Germany,          Roi Vandalar d’Ostrogothie from Romania, and 40 generations ago:                                                                       Charlemagne!
I also have lots of Irish and Welsh blood, and even strains from Spain and Portugal, Austria and Prussia! As Americas often say, I’m one of the “Heinz 57” varieties (origins from everywhere)! (I took notes but failed to take photos of everything, because—fascinating as this is, it’s also pretty time consuming!)

Now, I’m not sure how accurate all the history is, but I did remember studying about the kings and queens of various European countries and how they often had arranged marriages for political reasons. After tracing my lineage, I realized that sooner or later over the millennium, my blood line had been transfused with blood from almost all the Western European nations.

So what? Really, nothing. Genealogy studies are fun, but they’re only about our physical heritage. Did you know that we can have a spiritual lineage as well, which is eternal? God created each of us in his likeness and to be an image-bearer of his character. He invites us to be his children through faith in his Son, Jesus. Speaking of Jesus, John taught us: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 14:11-13). Through faith in Christ, God makes us a part of his universal kingdom, and not simply as servants, but as an entire nation of kings and priests. Talk about a wonderful lineage! That exceeds any heritage of any person on earth, even the Queen of England today!!  🙂

Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6, KJV, emphasis mine)

(Besides the photos of my family tree, the first photo is from a book by Captain John Smith published in 1624, and the last is a coin with the imprint of Charlemange, both from Wiki.)

Rise Up, My Love (245): The Joy of Being Desired

Song of Solomon 7:10 “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” This is the third declaration of belonging that the bride has uttered, and there is a beautiful progression in the development of her love. In 2:16, after a time of dealing with all the insidious problems that could have destroyed the tender vine of their love, the young wife declared, “My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.” Here, in the springtime of their love, the bride states her first confidence that the one she so ardently longed for has indeed become her own possession, and she his.

The second declaration comes after a season of separation and struggle…after she has learned to appreciate his beauties in a deeper way and their fellowship has been restored. Song 6:3 states, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.” Here the emphasis has changed. She is not predominately interested in her own acquisition of him, but rather in belonging to him. It is now more a delight to her to be possessed than to possess! Do you sense the difference? She is more interested in his feelings and needs than in her own. Whereas the first declaration was “I…and also you,” the second one was “you, and also I.”

Then, after the husband reveals the depths of his love through his magnificent praises from 6:4—7:9, the wife’s focus changes again. In the security of his amazing love, she loses all awareness of self interest and she sees only him. She no longer cares about what is hers; she cares only that she belongs to him and that he desires her: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.”

I wonder, where are our hearts? Is my only concern that I belong to Christ and he passionately desires me? How about you?

“I am my beloved’s.” I couldn’t help but notice the dark connotation in some of the meanings given for dabab from the previous verse. The bride’s praises aroused the sleeping ones to “plot; plan; tell tales.” As we go about sharing the wonderful news of Christ, many are aroused…some to search and find Christ, but others to envy…to plot and plan against him. We are not only a “savor of life unto life” to those who desire God, but to those who reject him, we are a savor of “death unto death” (2 Corinthians 2:16), and we find that while some love us and are drawn to our message, others hate our Lord and therefore us as well.

Perhaps this dark aspect of our pilgrim walk through this world was not troubling the bride at this particular moment, but perhaps there was some awareness of it in her exclamation: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” I belong to him…the world’s most powerful sovereign (and indeed—in Christ—we belong to the universe’s most powerful sovereign!), and he desires me, so I know he will protect me from all those who may “plot” or “plan” or “tell tales” against me! I belong to him…why should I fear what man may do to me?

“…and his desire is toward me.” Since he desires me…us…, why should we not find our perfect contentment in him? Do we find ourselves searching desperately for the love or approval of anyone else? Why should we care if those of this world either love or hate us? If we could truly enter into the wonder of belonging to him and his incredible desire for us, it would give us great peace in facing aloneness and perfect courage in our witness to the world about us. “Perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18).

As our praises flow like a fountain of water, we have no need to fear the response of men. Look to him and remember only this: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” One last thought on the fact that our Lord’s desire is “toward” us. This is an amazingly strong statement. In James 4:5, what is translated in the KJV as “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” has been alternately translated “desires us enviously,” i.e.: the Lord has a tremendously intense, jealous desire for us to be his, and his alone. His desire for us is so much more passionate than ours for him! The Hebrew word for desire is only used one other time in the Old Testament, in Genesis 3:16. The word is teshuka and carries with it the meaning of “strong desire that impels to action”* or that “seeks loving approval and adoration.”**

Marvel with me for a while over the power of God’s love for us. After Eve sinned by doing the only thing her beloved Creator told her not to do, God pronounced this solemn judgment: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). Three millennia later (or perhaps even more), the power of God’s passion reverses this judgment, so that the lover takes on the “punishment” (if you will) for the woman’s sin. The wife’s understanding that “his desire is toward me” marks the end of the effects of the curse from Genesis 3:16 on the marriage love relationship.

Instead of the woman longing for her husband to love her and desperately seeking for his approval…instead of finding that her husband takes advantage of his superior strength by oppressing and enslaving her…instead of experiencing all the heartbreaking results of her own sin, the bride is enraptured with the security of knowing that her beloved husband passionately loves and desires her! She is not his slave, she is his queen. She is truly bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She is his, but praise God, she can entrust herself freely to him because he loves her so utterly that he will not “lord” his lordship over her. What an astonishing proclamation of love’s triumph over sin!

*G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984), 164.

**Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 110.

(The wedding dance is from the recent live-action Beauty and the Beast, which we enjoyed together this past month.)

Out of Joint

There’s no end of excitement when you have little ones running about, and this week has been no exception…except it was unique in that poor Sophie (age three) ended up with a dislocated elbow! My first experience was forty-one years ago when Alan was playing with our first-born son and made the mistake of trying to lift him off the floor by his hands. Aaron screamed in pain, and we had no idea what was wrong, but we quickly learned (at the emergency room) that children (probably of all ages) should be lifted under their arms with a firm hold on their chests, since all their joints are weak and shouldn’t be stressed by pulling.

Gerlinde and I guessed what was wrong, but even though Alan talked us through what to do (he was at work) and we watched a youtube video on how to pop the joint back into place, we couldn’t seem to do the trick. After two unsuccessful attempts, we flew off to the closest emergency room. There an understanding pediatrician deftly popped it back into place in about five seconds, leaving Sophie all smiles again through her tears. WHEW!!

Scary times! Even as adults, sometimes something happens—and it can be an accidental injury—yet we’re so out of joint that we’re debilitated by the pain. Even if we know what we’re “supposed” to do, there are times when we can’t seem to fix the problem. Ever happen to you? I’m thankful for a merciful heavenly Father, to whom I can run with my pain. He can straighten things out (at least in my attitudes, if not in my circumstances) and pop me back into shape in the twinkling of an eye if I’ll let him. It’s all in the know-how, and He knows how!

The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.
(Psalm 25:17-18)

Fireflies

Our woods and meadow are filled with fireflies right now, much to the delight of our grandchildren (…and children, and myself!). They look a little like “bright, shiny diamonds” as one of our children’s records used to say. Just as twilight makes taking photos difficult, tiny glowing lamps twinkle and beckon us to follow them. Because we have poison ivy around the edges of the wooded areas, we can’t really chase them with abandon, but I’ve been able to detain a few to light up the lives of our little ones, if only for a few seconds. Thankfully, Amélie is extremely gentle, so she doesn’t hurt them, and little Sophie is too timid to hold them, because they tend to crawl up our hands and fly off in the most scary way!  I’ve tried so hard to capture the magic, but my camera can’t translate such low light and tiny twinkles into the fairy dust feeling we experience. So much of life is like that! Tiny moments of joy and light in the twilight…but don’t blink, or you’ll miss the light, and don’t try too hard, or you’ll ruin the gift. Just allow that breathless wonder to create a magical memory in your soul.  It’s like the love of God. We can talk about it, and we can try to explain it to people, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

The Love of God
—Frederick M. Lehman, one hundred years ago, back in 1917!

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

 

Keeping It Down to a Dull Roar

I am the youngest in a family of five children, and when we were growing up—in the spirit of Cheaper By the Dozen—my father used to remind us fairly often that we needed to “keep it down to a dull roar.” If he can see what’s going on down here from his heavenly porch swing, I suspect he’s shaking his head every once in a while, wondering what all the hubbub’s about around our house.Elanor is the youngest of our 16 grand children, and things can get very chaotic when we have a quorum together for the holidays! However, I’ve noticed that when she’s sitting on her mother’s lap, staring into her mother’s eyes, she is usually the picture of contentment!

Oh, to be like that with my heavenly Father—oblivious of everything around me and able to take delight in Him, simply resting in His love and care!

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child (Psalm 131:1-2).