Late have I loved you

I have a love/hate relationship with writing papers for seminary classes. They can be time consuming. I may have a 20 page minimum and hit all the major points in 15. I can think of more entertaining ways to spend my weekend. I’m not sure I can think of too many more fulfilling ways, though. I find myself chasing tangents, small phrases or chapters that fall outside of the scope of my research, but fascinate me none the less. I love those moments. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, a couple hours have been spent soaking in the wonder that is an early church father’s revelation of the glory, grace, majesty, and splendor of the Most High King and His reckless love for us. I had one of those moments last night studying some of Saint Augustine’s writings. The following paragraph from Augustine’s Confessions stood out to me and seemed to speak to my soul:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours. (Book X)

I thank God for speaking to my soul through the haste of my work.

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Synoptic reflections

After spending the better part of last week pouring over books and old passages in an effort to wrap my head around the Synoptic problem, I came away with a few related, and maybe unrelated reflections. Barring the discovery of the elusive Q document, I doubt we’ll have a solution to the Synoptic problem until we’re in the sweet by and by. I can live with that. Not well, at times, but I can find some sort of peace. I like my theology neat. And theology isn’t always neat. It doesn’t always fit into a neat little box, and the Synoptic problem is my most recent encounter with that truth. I don’t have all the answers.

Another truth I came to realize, thanks to studying the Synoptic problem, is that some of what we obsess over in seminaries and Bible colleges doesn’t always translate well into the “real world.” I can’t claim much experience in the way of local church ministry, but I have enough to know that I’ve never been grilled on the specifics of Matthean priority or the two/four-source hypothesis, and I doubt I will be any time soon. In fact, the oldest and most widely held solution (by the average evangelical parishioner, not scholars) to the Synoptic problem, the Independence View, was barely more than a footnote in my research. Somehow, that doesn’t seem balanced to me.

I could go on, but let me summarize and clarify. First, theology isn’t always neat and isn’t always complete. We don’t always have the answers. Some of it we have to take on faith. Second, it’s sometimes hard to take theology out of the classroom and into the real world. Maybe you’ve concentrated your studies so much on obscure views Biblical scholars hold that you’ve completely neglected to notice what the majority of laity believe. Or maybe the lonely hurting soul doesn’t need your opinion on Markan priority as much as they need your love. The love our Bible keeps telling us to share with our fellow man sometimes feels more like a curse we’ve been afflicted with when we encounter unlovely people that we know, deep down, we are called to care for. Theology can be neat and systematized in the classroom, but sometimes it’s a messy business to apply it to our lives and make it practical. Sometimes it’s incomplete. But, it’s useless if it’s not taken out into the real world and displayed in our daily lives. If our systematic theology doesn’t naturally compliment our practical theology, we’re doing something wrong.

Book recommendation: The Bible Among the Myths

I’m reading a very interesting book for my Old Testament Introduction class, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature by John N. Oswalt. I read a lot. It goes with the gig of being a seminary student. I love to read, but sometimes with the reading load, I begin approaching books, even great ones, as raw pages to devour in order to pass a test or gather the appropriate information for a research paper. This book, however, has been a pleasure to read. As the name suggests, it compares the OT and the culture of Israel to other ANE writings and cultures, and really dives into what differentiates Israel’s religion and the OT from that of its neighbor’s myths.

I went through a similar class when I was an undergrad, but this one goes further. What captured my attention in particlular was Oswalt’s chapter on transcendence as the basis of Biblical thinking for Israel, and the basis of the Jewish religion. It was the concept that God was not simply a part of this world to be manipulated by the magics of men, or a force to be harnessed, or a god whose fortunes are mirrored by our reality by continuity. God revelaed Himself to be something completely other than the reality of this world, not tied to it, not a force of it, but the Creator of it. He is immanent in it in some ways, but He is also sitting on a throne above it. It is one of the basic principles of Israel’s monotheism, and it is woven into Israel’s culture and reality. Oswalt wrote, “Above everything else it is the principle of God’s relation to the cosmos. In mythical thinking God is the cosmos – or, to put it the other way around, the cosmos is God” (Oswalt, 81). But God is not the cosmos. He is the Creator of it, the Sustainer of it, He is sovereign over it, but He is not, as the mythical pagan gods of Israel’s neighbors, a force of it to be controlled.

God being something completely other than matter we can manipulate as the ancient’s attempted is awe inspiring, but on some primitive levels, it’s also a scary proposition. It’s easier to have a god you can control, a god connected to your rituals, your practices, such as magic, omens, and reading the entrails of court animals. It’s a much riskier proposition to accept God as other than the cosmos, something uncontrollable by human manipulation, yet sovereignly in control of creation. This is an aspect of Israel’s religion unique to the Hebrews. They would, of course, from time to time fall back into the notion that they could control the powers of this world and adopt the pagan practices of their neighbors. It is, after all, much easier to control the god sitting on your mantle rather than the One which spoke the mantle into being.

This is just a sneak peak of Oswalt’s book. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand why we hold the Bible as the Word of God as opposed to myth. It discusses issues of myth, history, continuity, transcendence, and so much more. It deserves a place your library.