What becomes of an unrepentant priest? The sad story of Eli

Hannah prays as Eli watches

Hannah’s Prayer in the Temple / Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (mid 19th century)

Jonah is the story of a disobedient prophet who repented. Eli is the story of a disobedient priest who did not. Jonah comes across as petulant even when he finally did God’s bidding. Eli seems in nearly all of his dealings as a very godly man. Jonah’s story is familiar enough that I won’t summarize it here, but I suppose many fewer readers even know who Eli was.

We first encounter Eli in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, where he is a bit player. Hannah, a barren woman taunted by her husband’s other wife, prayed silently, but in great anguish, at the tabernacle.… Read the rest

Jesus’ humility, Satan’s pride: whom do we follow?

Jesus' humility

Ecce Homo (Behold! The Man) / Antonio Ciseri, 1871. “The humble king they named a fraud, and sacrificed the Lamb of God.”

God is all-powerful, but when he chose to use his power to become a man, he also chose not to use power like other men. It is Satan who turns power into something coercive and egocentric.

It would be nice if we could say that Christians understand the situation and exercise power as Jesus did. Unfortunately, we can truthfully say no more than that some do, and they successfully imitate Christ maybe only some of the time.

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A blessing for the Gentiles

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

In Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi’s son asked if there were a proper blessing for the tsar. “A blessing for the tsar? Of course. ‘May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us.”

I imagine someone asked one of the ancient temple singers if there were a proper blessing for the Gentiles. The answer was almost as short, but profoundly different:

“Oh praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud him all you peoples! For his merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.” – Psalm 117 (NKJV)

Gentiles

Who are Gentiles?… Read the rest

Hills? Help comes from God

Distant mountains

This picture was also taken from eastern Colorado, but we traveled for hours before the mountains looked this close.

When I was in high school, my dad went on sabbatical and obtained a visiting professorship in California. He decided to buy a trailer and camp across the country with the family to get there from northwestern Ohio. It turned out to be a great idea, but the trip got off to a terrible start.

The absolute worst night came in eastern Colorado, where the official state map had shown a camping place. The state highway to get there turned out to have been abandoned.… Read the rest

Universal brotherhood?

Interfaith unity?

Interfaith unity?

Many people in the church today simply assume that all humanity is one large family, with God as its Father. They take offense at the thought that maybe some people are not God’s children.

Do they realize that they are taking offense at Jesus himself? Oh well. Religious people have always found Jesus offensive.

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False religion and the God-shaped vacuum

God shaped vacuum“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

That familiar quotation is falsely attributed to Blaise Pascal, but it’s a reasonable paraphrase of what he actually wrote.

It’s true, no matter who put it in those words.  Trouble is, sinful man has tried to fill it with something else—anything else—besides God since time immemorial.

What “spiritual” atheists think about God

I recently came across an article that talks about a remarkably high percentage of atheists who nonetheless consider themselves somehow “religious” or “spiritual.”

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The Kingdom of God has come. Now what?

Christ enthroned

Christ Enthroned: West Portal, St. Colman’s Cathedral, (Cobh, Ireland)

The kingdom of God is not like other kingdoms or nations. Since time immemorial, when one nation has invaded another, the invaded nation knows. Eventually so does everyone else who cares at all.

Most of you can probably name the years for the last two or three times Germany invaded France. It doesn’t have to be an invasion with armies, either. Regardless of where you stand on immigration, you have to know that a lot of Latin America has taken residence in the US.

Has there ever been any kind of invasion on earth where it was not clear just who was invading?… Read the rest

God’s promise of shalom in a crisis

Shalom

“Shalom” in Hebrew

Jeremiah 29:11 ranks high on the list of favorite Old Testament scriptures. As much as we love it, do we really understand how much it promises? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

“Prosper” translates the Hebrew word shalom, a word (a noun, by the way) so rich it has no good English equivalent. It usually appears in English translations as “peace.” In fact, many English translations of Jeremiah 29:11 say, “plans for peace” or something similar.… Read the rest

Prophecy and the reality of the supernatural

Cyrus and the Hebrews

The clemency of Cyrus / Jean Fouquet, ca. 1470-1475.

For the past 150 years or so, some so-called biblical scholars have assumed that everything has a natural explanation, that the supernatural cannot be real, and that therefore the prophets of old could not possibly have predicted the future. In a recent post, Idolatry and redemption today, I mentioned a temporary redemption that came through the Persian emperor Cyrus, as predicted in Isaiah 44.

He reversed the long-standing Assyrian/Babylonian policy of removing conquered peoples from their homeland. He ordered the restoration not only of Jerusalem, but every other identifiable ethnic group in his empire.… Read the rest

The coming judgment

Every once in a while, someone will make the news by declaring that some event is God’s judgment on, well, fill in the blank. The immediate reaction in the media is outrage, often well deserved. Unfortunately, such dustups obscure an important fact: God’s judgment must come upon America.  Let me approach the subject with three stories that, at first, will seem wholly unrelated.

Car troubles

It's all about me

The attitude, which we all have, that causes divine judgment

Tom, a friend of mine, once told me about the first car he ever owned. To make a long story short, he never thought to change the oil.… Read the rest