When Shame Swirls

Bwūsh. Sounds like a toilet flushing, doesn’t it? That’s an apt word-picture. It’s the Hebrew word for shame. Feeling or being human sewage.

Shame is a peculiar thing. It entered the world through Adam’s sin as guilt’s twin brother. I’ve heard attempts to parse the difference between guilt and shame. I’ve heard some say, “Ashamed is what you feel; guilty is what you are.” I’m not convinced by that. Guilt is both a legal status and a feeling about that legal status. I can be guilty and feel guilty, be guilty and not feel guilty, or not be guilty and feel guilty. The same goes for being shameful and feeling ashamed as I see it.

Shame is an experience correlated with the condition of nakedness and humiliation. It’s about feeling existentially threatened or exposed in the midst of vulnerability. It’s about feeling a crippling sense of worthlessness. A sense of being human garbage. It’s meant to correlate with behaving like human garbage. And as sinful creatures, it goes hand in hand with exposure to a Holy God.

Not so long ago, a friend recommended a sermon by a guest pastor hoping to encourage me. The topic of the sermon was the grace of shame. After hearing the title, my emotional state bounced between apoplexy and despondency. I may have been more receptive to the notion if a life lived had not already conditioned me against it. And the biggest turnoff to me was the particular pastor and church culture that promoted it.

It’s taken me a while to appreciate the idea of the grace of shame. I also realize it’s playing with fire. It sounds wrong. And it should on its face. If we speak of the grace of shame, we should also speak of the grace of guilt, of suffering, of death, and of sin. And actually, we can do that in the same way.

But let’s be clear. Shame, guilt, suffering, death, and sin are not good things. They’re not good in themselves. They’re bad things. The only way in which these bad things are grace to us is when our loving Heavenly Father turns the bad occasion for our good. Otherwise, they’re no different than the worldly sorrow that produces death.

A sense of shame about that which is shameful which prevents shameful deeds is a harsh mercy. Better the restraint of shame than the practice of shameful things without shame.

Shame is for the shameful who lack the knowledge of it. Shame is for the lawless outside Christ. It would be the saving grace of God for them to experience their shamefulness and turn in repentance to find mercy.

Shame is not for those who are in Christ. Not for those who look to Christ to deliver them from shame, because they know shame. A believer may still do a shameful thing, and the grace of God in that moment will call that believer to repentance through recognition of the shame of that deed.

But if believers are living under a cloud of shame, then something is wrong. And it’s not necessarily something wrong with them. Addressing such shame is as delicate and skilled as addressing doubt, despair, and sorrow. Thickheadedness will not suffice. Telling fellow Christians racked with shame that they could use more in their lives is additional torture. And shaming a brother or sister in Christ with a shame complex is shameful.

If a Christian wishes to encourage a fellow Christian about the grace of shame, he or she must be graceful and gracious. Or grace is no longer grace.

When fellow saints feel trapped in life’s toilet, don’t flush.

A Profane Stench in Holy Nostrils

A few thoughts on abominations in Scripture and selective appeals to them.

The word “abomination” (Hebrew: tōēvah) refers to a stench in the nostrils or the cause of the gag reflex. This is the so-called Yuck Factor in modern culture. And thus the biblical references to the land “vomiting out” its inhabitants. An abomination to God is a generic or common object or practice that evokes moral disgust. A related idea is a “detestable thing” (Hebrew: sheqetz). It refers to a consecrated object or space that becomes defiled and evokes moral disgust. (Unfortunately, the words tōēvah and sheqetz are not translated consistently in English Bibles.)

The Yuck Factor is analogous to the stench in God’s nostrils. But sin has marred our humanity. So, for us, the Yuck Factor is often a matter of our prejudicial fears more than actual convictions. This is why the Yuck Factor is losing its cogency in arguments about sexual ethics. Insofar as the Yuck Factor is an expression of personal prejudice, good riddance. Its dwindling traction in public moral debate is a beneficial and welcome loss.

Traditional Christians regard deviant sexual acts as abominations. This has merit in Scripture. Focusing on sexual tōēvah, there are some acts called abominations to Yahweh in Leviticus 18. The infamous one is sexual relations between two men (18:22 cf. 20:13). In a similar manner, sexual relations between humans and animals are “confusion” or “perversion”. But the bookend of this section (18:24-30) reveals all listed sexual sins to be abominations. So, sexual tōēvah includes:

  • incestuous sexual relations
  • sexual relations during a women’s menstruation
  • adulterous sexual relations
  • dedication or sacrifice of offspring to false gods
  • same-sex sexual relations
  • bestial sexual relations

The common logic to these sins is their status as violations of the created order and the mandate in Genesis 1-2.

Abomination in Levitical Scripture is complex. It includes things Christians do not regard as abominations under the New Covenant. For instance, it is a Levitical abomination to eat unclean animals (Deut. 14:3-21). There are pedagogical reasons for this in the logic of the ceremonial holiness code. It will not suffice to wave a dismissive hand and say, “Since shellfish is fair game, sexual sin must be on the menu as well.” This theological revisionist tactic doesn’t respect the integrity of Scripture.

It’s not in my intended scope to sort out the ceremonial and ethical threads in the warp and woof of the Old Covenant. But regulations about sexual immorality carry over into the life of the church (Acts 15:28-29). And specific behaviors such as adulterous and homosexual acts are named. This is ample justification to understand Levitical sexual ethics as relevant and binding.

Professing Christians in recent generations have been partial in their condemnations. While generally giving adultery a pass, we have fixated on homosexuality. And more so, we have shifted from condemning the act to condemning the person as an abomination. And many Christians have become lackadaisical about the meaning of marriage and sexuality. Along with the culture, many Christians lack an understanding of natural (creationistic) marriage.

Many Christians have an exaggerated sensitivity to homosexuality. And it’s shaped and nurtured by the underlying thought-forms of the surrounding culture. The result is Christians taking a position at the opposite pole on a misguided axis of thought. This misguided thinking is post-Freudian psychology about sexuality. It defines various humans as species according to sexual desire with pleasure as its end. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are Freudian ideas, not biblical ones. Christians have adopted a baptized version of fulfilling heterosexuality within revisionist marriage.

The church must recover her understanding of the institution of natural marriage. She must recover her understanding of male and female. She must be a shrewd and tempered prophetic voice in defense of these things. Marriage is not a casual, private, and sterile-by-default arrangement for emotional fulfillment. Male and female are procreative teleological descriptions and liturgical functions with everyday consequences.

But enough about the distorting hypersexualization of the church in our post-Freudian culture. Suffice it to say that many Christians have a distorted fixation on the sinfulness of gay people. And those who will deploy the Yuck Factor will also frequently overlook other abominations worthy of contempt. Christians need to show more evenhandedness and clarity in our prophetic ministry. We need to be sound students of Scripture and labor to correct our distortions.

For starters, here’s a list of abominations worthy of consideration:

  • Civic apostasy (Deut. 13:12-18), i.e. public worship of false gods, as well as individual apostasy (Deut. 17:2-5)
  • Occult practices (Deut. 18:9-12), i.e. forbidden means of discerning the will of God
  • Sex-role confusion (Deut. 22:5), e.g. women in combat are a violation of taking up a man’s ‘military gear’
  • Dishonest weights and measures, i.e. currency and commodity units (Deut. 25:13-16; Prov. 11:1; 20:10; 20:23)
  • Idols (Deut. 27:15; 32:16; etc.)
  • Devious people (Prov. 3:32)
  • “There are six things Yahweh despises; more so, seven that are an abomination to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Prov. 6:16-19)
  • Sacrifices performed by unrighteous people (Prov. 15:8; 21:27), as well as their ways (Prov. 15:9) and their thoughts (Prov. 15:26)
  • One who justifies the wicked and condemns the righteous (Prov. 17:15)
  • Prayers of one who turns his ear away from the law of God (Prov. 28:9)

Most of the abominations on this list are everyday occurrences in our culture. Many have been institutionalized. All are immoral in Scripture from beginning to end. To be fair, faithful Christians still speak out against many of these abominations. But these don’t get the special attention that selective sexual abominations do.

Consider dishonest weights and measures. How often are these used in daily commerce? Are entire monetary systems built on them? Does anyone apart from staunch libertarians advocating for the gold standard even care to ask?

If not literal weights and measures, how about figurative ones? Double-standards in our judgments are likewise dishonest. As far as double-standards, there’s a lot of grumbling about them from all sides. This is a widespread abomination.

Are there any false gods getting public service?

Has anyone been stirring up strife between brothers?

Do we care about this stuff as much as who is sleeping with whom?

We should.

One could response by arguing:

  1. Not all sins are equal in their ramifications.
  2. Sexual sins are of a sort that is far more grievous than those offered in the preceding list of abominations.

On the first point about variability in the resulting repercussions, I agree. Paul writes,

Flee from sexual immorality; every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins toward his own body.

– 1 Corinthians 6:18

Note the italicized correction of the otherwise common rendering “against” in this passage. The text could be evidence of the unique heightened ethical severity of sexual immorality. But, it indicates the heightened consequential severity of sexual immorality. Sexual sins misuse the body, the dwelling place of our personal presence and of the Holy Spirit. It’s the form of sin which strikes closest to home in our bodies; it causes the most severe disturbance. And that deserves special pastoral consideration.

But on the second point, is there a categorical special ethical severity to sexual sins? Are they unique hyper-abominations? No, that’s not the case.

By using ‘abomination’, Scripture already indicates they are worse than other sins. There’s nothing in Scripture to elevate sexual abominations into a special ethical status. It would be healthier to see the other abominations as equally repugnant in the eyes of the Lord our God. Or at least as far more repugnant and alarming than we regard them. And that the church has neglected to acknowledge them as such. Our Freudian hypersexualization has trained us to read the Scriptures with this hypersensitivity. We need retraining (re-formation) according to the word of God.

An aging generation of reactionary and insecure Christian fundamentalists needs to stop it. We need to stop being selectively fixated and disgusted by gay people. To stop thinking of gay persons as abominations while not compromising our sexual ethics. And we need to stop pretending the Yuck Factor is an ethical conviction we’ve been upholding. And we need to start being serious about a variety of overlooked abominations. Abominations which fill the land with violence and offend God Almighty.

And a younger generation of skittish and burnt Christians with no Yuck Factor need to learn. We need to learn to understand human sexuality and ethics from Scripture and not give up on them. And we need to renounce the unnatural forms of marriage and sexuality offered in our culture.

The Grace of Obligations

Many of us have picked up the contemporary Western allergy toward obligations, and as a result, we have experienced a loss in our understanding and acceptance of self-denial as a virtue, which we need functioning in many significant areas of our lives.

When we don’t resist bearing our loads, …

  • Obligations reveal the past and the future to us.
  • Obligations forge and harden character in us.
  • Obligations form bonds of familiar affection in us.

When we stop kicking against the goads, …

  • Obligations reveal our inescapable dependency.
  • Obligations keep our sinful derangement in check.
  • Obligations save our lives from our hearts and hands.

Accepting the responsibilities to which we’re obliged day after day is the arch nemesis of contemporary “authenticity” hype, and it’s a far more solid and objective guide to our identity and character than our feelings about ourselves—however important those may be and need attention.

Embrace the grace of your obligations in life.

My Childhood Dream-Job

As a little kid (oh, who am I kidding! and as a teenager, and as a young adult, and once or twice last week), I aspired to be an evil supervillain. Of course, that was fashioned after the cartoonishly comedic variety (rather than the sadistically horrific variety) I grew up watching on television. The key feature of cartoonish villainy is world domination as a vague abstraction, which itself is my symbolic value-placeholder for seeking honorific notoriety (i.e. hungering for respect) and bringing about change (i.e. escaping boredom and exercising dominion). And ultimately, isn’t the desire and the pursuit of respect and accomplishment really just a universal male craving? In truth, my youthful aspirations of amateurish comedic supervillainy are in every man’s heart.

My personal conflict with my wild and wily desires for worldwide domination was that I couldn’t decide between being an evil military dictator, an evil mad scientist, or an evil dark magician. The evil military dictator motif (e.g. Cobra Commander of G.I. Joe or Miles Mayhem of M.A.S.K.) features all the fun of rockin’ all that sweet regalia and interrupting primetime programming to dispense televised demands. The evil mad scientist motif (e.g. Brain the lab mouse of Pinky and the Brain or Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget) astounds with an arsenal of deadly doomsday devices and exotic colorful substances glowing, bubbling, and/or fuming in elaborate glassware configurations. The evil dark magician motif (e.g. the Archmage of Disney’s Gargoyles or Lord Zedd of The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) wields all the wondrous whimsy of doing virtually anything with the aid of the proper spell or mystical artifact and without the silly constraints of physics that limit scientific technology. I suspected I’d just have to rotate roles seasonally or do crossovers in good TV style.

The important thing about having this grandiose comedic supervillainy in the heart is all of the love and delight is found in the desiring, the pursuing, and the accomplishing but never in the having and the sustaining once the dark deed is done and domination is daily drudgery. That’s the irony of overthrowing the humdrum status quo purely for the thrill of it: then you’re stuck overseeing the subsequent new irksome status quo with its tiresome macroeconomics and its nagging demands for employment with sustainable wages and decent medical coverage and daycare. Give me the thrill of the quest or the hunt; don’t waste my time with the dullness that comes when the journey’s at an end. Don’t bother me with the practicalities of management in the aftermath of my ascent to power. I think there’s something to learn from that impulse; it’s possibly something about immaturity, the craving for newness, and the indulgence of the vice of curiosity. The mature man gets his hands dirty with mundane life and knows contentment. Or maybe that’s not it at all, and I really am on to something.

And curiously enough through my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, my daydreams of a life as a supervillain bent on global (or cosmic) domination served as the imaginative format most conducive to wanting or envisioning a wife by my side, a cunningly evil consort and partner in crime and conquest. Say what you will, but evil supervillainous marital duos appear to have some of the most stable and committed relationships I’ve ever observed. I’ve never seen married villains get divorced! It may be due to the fundamentally outwardly directed nature of their marriage as a public good, er evil. Perhaps it’s due to their realistic expectations of one another’s character and abilities for conspiring and backstabbing, their healthy sense of self-differentiated individuality and personal interests as they hatch mutual independent side-plots, extensive experience overcoming bickering, blamestorming, and disappointment under stress when major schemes are foiled, regular adaptation to changing circumstances fleeing protagonists and moving from shadowy mountaintop fortress to desert stronghold to underwater base to active hollowed-out volcano ICBM complex to orbital weapons platform. The married villain and villainess have their eyes and hearts fixed on a vision and mission greater than themselves. They know the Good Life, er, the Bad Life when they see it. They know what commitment is!

When I think about it, there’s something subtly yet profoundly creationistic about all of this, about being made in the image of God and given dominion over the creation. The original vocation and attributes are there while sin is also present trying to curve that calling and those talents to self-centered, unethical ends. And in reality, the Lord Christ and his Bride the Church are the good and healthy fulfillment of this grandiose struggle for world domination with sin’s corruption peeled away from what humanity was called to do. Although I don’t get the job of being Grand Exalted Cosmic Overlord, I do enjoy the privilege of serving as a trusted lieutenant to the guy who does have the job. And I look forward to the day when all of his enemies have finally become his ottoman and the spoils get divided out to all of us faithful minions, lackeys, and henchmen. My Grand Exalted Cosmic Overlord wears flashy clothes and sits on an ornate throne in a mountaintop fortress in heaven. And that’s cool enough for me.

All hail Lord Jesus!

Sacraments vs Worldview III

I previously pondered how the presence and the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and its citizenry are to be known. They’re known by their Sacraments more than their Worldview Warfare. And I considered how Christianity-as-Worldview has a Gnostic attitude toward the corporate body of the Church.

So, am I saying this is an either/or situation? That there is only peace and no war? That the Faith is to have a sort of spiritual pacifism toward the world? No. I’m not denying the need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Nor the need to fight principalities and powers who have the world in their clutches. I make a distinction between the weapons of our spiritual warfare and the carnal weapons of this world (cf. 2 Cor. 10:4-6). But the irony is Worldview™ Warfare, which praises that passage as a mission statement, wields carnal and worldly weaponry.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My (edited) thoughts from elsewhere on cultural, spiritual, and liturgical warfare:

1. If I’m in a culture war, then who’s my enemy? Is my neighbor with a face and a name my enemy? Well, I remember a little something King Jesus said about that. Love of neighbors is the disposition of the Kingdom that saints are to have.

2. For the saints in Christ, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood”, and “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly”. The sooner we get our minds back on that simple fact, the better off we’ll be. Demons and the deceit in which they traffic are the real enemy. And our neighbors are their captives.

3. Israel of old waged war on fearsome giants inhabiting the Promised Land. That was a typological precursor to the church going to war in the heavenly realm. Against demonic world-graspers in the darkness of this age and spiritual wickedness. Know your enemy; name him and his center of gravity.

4. The church has been seduced by this culture. She’s embarrassed in this culture to name Satan and his minions. Embarrassed to denounce them as the enemy. This is why she has joined in with the culture of demonizing human rivals in the absence of real demons.

5. Yes, it’s true; the church in the contemporary West is plagued by niceness. It lives under the structures and values of the surrounding corporatistic-consumeristic culture. And the church could generally use a good shot in the arm of the Stalwart vaccine.

6. Yet some of the most vociferous internal critics of this epidemic (with syringe in hand) are a wee bit too eager and enthusiastic. In their disagreeable polemical apologetics, they need to take a Chill Pill for their fervor fever.

7. The warfare of the church militant is liturgical in its character and practice. It’s done in public worship. We ascend by faith into heaven, and we call on God to bring his kingdom upon the earth. We worship in the heavens, and God acts in judgment upon the earth. He vindicates and glorifies his Name and his saints who bear that Name.

8. The church brings heavenly kingdom politics into the earthly political realm. This is the “heavenization” of the world. Assembled worship of the body and nurture of its individual members is the starting point of that transformation. But if Christians circumvent those means, it doesn’t work. It’ll be a futile and worldly undertaking.

9. God’s people are to assemble to praise his Name, seek his Face, hear his Word, and feed at his Table in the Day of the Lord (i.e. the Lord’s Day) every week. That is the greatest, the most central, the most countercultural public display of the Kingdom of Heaven there is.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The faithful ministry of the Word and the Sacraments is (among many other things) the church engaged in effectual warfare in the world. Liturgical warfare waged from heaven. The classical marks of the church are the marks of a church engaged in spiritual warfare:

  1. Word rightly proclaimed
  2. Sacraments rightly administered
  3. Body rightly nurtured and disciplined

It’s not that we don’t know, defend, and teach what the Faith believes. And it’s not that we don’t pursue wisdom and engage in polemicism. To be sure, much theological precision is owed to polemical apologetics. It’s the furnace in which it was forged as a tool and refined as precious treasure. It’s only that we must resist the urge to supplant the classical marks of the church with this alternative scheme.

  1. Worldview™ rigorously weaponized
  2. Culture rigorously combated and countered
  3. Partnerships rigorously promoted and policed

This alternative scheme is a fiery furnace that consumes but does little else.

Worshipful Sadomasochism

As every good little Reformed boy and girl knows, progressive sanctification comes in two flavors, mortification (deadening) to works of sin and vivification (enlivening) to works of righteousness, both of which happen to us (i.e. are wrought within us) by our union with and participation in Christ. But can we permit ourselves to become a little livelier about the deadening aspect of the process? Is it possible, even beneficial, to be passionate about the ongoing mortification of our sin?

I was driving to work and listening to some vintage Skillet music, i.e. Invincible (2000), and it stirred my recollection of this article from Homeschoolers Anonymous, which I bumped into earlier this year. I’ve noted much of contemporary Christian worship music is anonymously indistinguishable from the soft-rock love ballads of the 1990’s (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but bear it in mind). Now, I’m noting some CCM of the metal and hard-rock varieties seems anonymously indistinguishable from a soundtrack for something somewhere between 50 Shades of Gray and Hellraiser: Inferno. It’s not a matter of the sexualization but rather the romanticization or eroticization of divinely inflicted pain on the sons of God.

My studied intuition, reflection, and observation tells me this is probably an experience and habit of the mind (and body) that’s most prominent or distinctive of males in their adolescent and young-adult years. I certainly know that’s how I’ve processed this in the past as I constructed a fictional character off John Cooper of Skillet and his music.

The imagined or envisioned results of a life lived in union with “God the Most Violent” (which is a perfectly valid translation of El Shaddai) who’ll inflict calculated pains and injuries upon us comes to be seen as the Good Life. Often, we merely endure it and hold fast in hope of the outcome. But can some people see and savor the promised beautiful end enough to confront mortification head-on with passionately courageous eagerness? Can a few fired-up souls believe the promise of what their afflictions are accomplishing and discover anticipation of the result in the very moment they anticipate and enter into the agony? And as they find those things together, can they revel in the pain and chaos that’s being heaped upon them in God’s mysterious crushing providence?

Let me stick with some classic Skillet to illustrate. Consider listening to the songs at the links provided. The music adds a lot to the “violence” of the lyrics.

Here’s “You’re Powerful” from the Invincible album:

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

You wreck me; you rule me. You turn me upside down.
Your glory pervades me. You conquer without a sound.

You wreck me; you rule me. You turn me upside down.
Your glory pervades me. You conquer without a sound.

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

You shake me; you break me. You make me whole again.
Your nature, unchanging. All fails, but you remain.

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

And when the ground begins to shake,
And when my courage starts to fade,
I let my fears go.

When you breathe, the lifeless rise up.
Invade me with violence and heal me.
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re mighty. You’re the ultimate powerful.

There’s definitely a desirous submission to ferocious domination in there. You can hear the fervent confession of God’s adamantine yet vibrant immutability along with the will and power to destroy and rebuild anything he wishes in his wisdom and glory.

This is from “Kill Me, Heal Me” on the Alien Youth (2001) album:

Break my bones and reset me. Piece by piece, you break me.
Pick up the cross ‘cause it’s killing time.
How can I scream when the pain is such a release?
I get the courage to pick up the nails ‘cause it’s killing time.

Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!
Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!

Breathing your love, you’re ferocious. You’re in my lungs.
Resuscitate. Craving your electricity.
Feet to my pain! You give wings to my fear!
Your peace inhabits my blood! Your love is thick!

Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!
Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!

Um, for lack of a better option, maybe we can vote this the interim anthem of ardor for our own mortification. It doesn’t get more emphatically violent against one’s own self than that. It’s a thrilling yearning for a painful death to bring about greater life.

And this is from “Earth Invasion” also on the Alien Youth album, proclaiming the power of the heavenly invasion of the kingdom of God upon the earth:

Without sound, without fear
It attacks the heart and soul
To rule all life and display his government.

Sounds pretty cunningly, ruthlessly, and militaristically tyrannical … and I want it.

Is sadomasochism (an anticipatory thrill at pain that bring power and purification) a fit euphemism for this sort of passion or zeal for one’s own progressive mortification? I’m trying to find the right words that capture this way of thinking and desiring.

I was also reminded when recently watching Jeremiah (1998) there’s a passage from that prophet which has made some scholars question if this sort of thing is there. These words were uttered after Jeremiah was persecuted by Passhur (a priest and officer in the temple):

O Yahweh, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of Yahweh has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.”

But Yahweh is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

O Yahweh of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to Yahweh; praise Yahweh! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

– Jeremiah 20:7-13

The intrigue in this passage is the matter of Yahweh “deceiving” Jeremiah. The Hebrew verb pathah literally means: to be or make spacious, open, or wide. In its figurative use, it means to entice, deceive, persuade, or seduce someone or to expose them as gullible or simple-minded. So, hear it in those ways and grasp the center of semantic range:

O Yahweh, you have deceived me, and I was deceived.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have persuaded me, and I was persuaded.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have seduced me, and I was seduced.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have revealed me to be naive, and I was exposed as naive.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

Jeremiah starts with what Yahweh has done to him and what it shows about Yahweh. He mentions all the chaos surrounding him and his ministry. And he concludes with praise to Yahweh for it all.

Are all those nut-job liberal commentators who think there’s some sort of S&M or B&D role-play going on between Yahweh and his prophet Jeremiah perhaps ever-so-slightly onto something? Maybe God’s not all rainbows and Precious Moments in real life and in some of our individual lives. Maybe in addition to being altogether good, our God’s also unpredictably wild and dangerous.

Adam: Alone or Lonely?

A dual example of Scripture as Rorschach Test and discerning Adam’s position

After years of exposure to premarital counseling materials in contemporary Evangelical circles, I get the distinct impression that lots of American Christians hear God’s words in Genesis 2:18 that says “it is not good for the man to be alone” and think it has something to do with the Creator God recognizing and addressing the inevitable loneliness in the frail psychological constitution of the man he made. In other words, we instinctively read the narrative of the first marriage through the cultural lenses of the contemporary American pursuit of and purpose for marriage. We see loneliness, the loneliness is identified as not a good thing, and the solution to the loneliness is a spouse.

Let me first suggest loneliness as a passion or suffering in humanity is largely a product of the Fall rather than the original creation (or is at least greatly exacerbated by the former). It’s a particular expression of the alienation that we feel in the world if we give ourselves five minutes of quiet to hear the sound of our restless and empty souls.

The passage is simply, straightforwardly telling us God made Adam, and then he made an assessment of the situation like many other decrees about goodness in the creation. Given the context of God’s charge to fill and subdue the earth and the unfolding of the narrative in Genesis and beyond in Scripture, I’d assert the woman as the man’s wife is not the end God had in mind when he judged Adam’s aloneness. Eve is not the ultimate rectification of Adam’s aloneness. She is Adam’s suitable helper or well-matched ally in their pursuit of the answer to the problem of aloneness. The ultimate answer to the problem of aloneness, the grand purpose that God had in mind, is not that the man has a wife but that the world has a civilization.

I’m grateful to Jeremy Erickson for his article at Spiritual Friendship that finally made this issue clear up and ‘click’ for me.