Wednesday, January 25, 2006

South Park on Communion:



Have any of you seen this double episode: "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?/Probably"? In the end, Satan learns to love himself after leaving his "90s man" boyfriend for Sadam Hussein. God turns out to be a Buddhist (see picture for their hilarious picture of what God, the Buddhist, looks like), and, as far as heaven is concerned: "The answer was: Mormon." Only Mormons in heaven.

(Cut to Sunday School. All the kids are sitting around a table. Sister Anne is their instructor.)

Sister Anne: Hello, children! I'm Sister Anne and I'll be teaching you so that you can all receive your first communion!

Stan: ARE WE GONNA GO TO HELL?!

Sister Anne: Well, hopefully not! That's why you're gonna need to receive communion!

Cartman: A'and as long as we get this communion thing, we're safe?!

Stan: What if we haven't really done anything that horribly bad in our lives?!

Cartman: Yeah! What if we hadn't!

Sister Anne: It doesn't matter, because we are all born with original sin! Now, let me explain how communion works! (takes out a plate of communion waffers. picks one up.) The priest will give you this round cracker and he will say "The body of Christ.", and then you eat it!

Cartman: Jesus was made of crackers?!

Sister Anne: No!

Stan: But crackers are his body!

Sister Anne: Yes!

Kenny: {What?!}

Sister Anne: In the book of Mark, Jesus distributed bread and said, "Eat this, for it is my body"!

Cartman: So, we won't go to Hell as long as we eat crackers!

Sister Anne: No, no, no, no!

Butters: W'well, what're we eatin' then?!

Sister Anne: The body of Christ!

Stan: Nononono! I get it! Jesus wanted us to eat him, but he didn't want us to be cannibals, so he turned himself into crackers, and then told people to eat'im!

Sister Anne: No!

Stan: No?!

Butters: Uh, I can't whistle if I eat too many crackers!

Sister Anne: Look, all you have to know is that when the priest give you the cracker, you eat it! Okay?!

Kenny, Stan, & Cartman: (a little confused.) Okay!

Sister Anne: And then, you will drink a very small amount of wine, for that is the Blood of Christ!

Cartman: Aw, come on, now! This is just getting silly!

40 comments:

Eric Cadin said...

Stan: ARE WE GONNA GO TO HELL?!

Sister Anne: Well, hopefully not! That's why you're gonna need to receive communion!

Cartman: A'and as long as we get this communion thing, we're safe?!

Well...short answer, yes, longer answer yes and no.

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (jn 6:53)

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him

Tom Becker said...

The Bible or Trey Parker/Matt Stone on communion? Hmmm? I do think this speaks to the challenges of dealing with mystery which I alluded to in my comments on the Colin Buchanon post. In our modern western post-enlightenment mindset the idea of mystery is taken as absurd. I would assume these guys (who I think are hilarious, but who are certainly not theologians) - would have real trouble with the mystery of the resurrection and the workings of the Holy Spirit as well which is why I believe our teaching needs to be rooted in the Word. Christians have historically been viewed as ‘alien’ on this one – particularly in the early days of the church. In the words of Paul - -

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."[c]

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 2

2Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Art said...

Tom-
Word, Parker and Stone are “certainly not theologians”. But they can be really funny. Communion, right? Mystery and almost magic, right? Communion is serious, and it seems to almost break my heart sometimes to take it. It reminds me of what is going on with the Lord and us. How powerful, he died for us, and he wants us to take him in, to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It is a humbling experience to take it, I often break down somewhere inside when I do it because it reminds me of the reality. How heavy our sin is, how high his grace is, the cost of our salvation, the height and depth of his grace. Why does he love us so much? How could he? But he does. And then I screw up again, I sin, I falter, I miss the mark. And then he brings me back to the table, there he is, welcoming me, breaking bread, loving me still. He wants us, he loves us, he died for us so that we may live. The gospel is so penetrating, it seems at times the simpler it is the more powerful it becomes. I love the finer points, but the thing that blows me away the most is the simple message, that must sound like foolishness to those who do not know the Lord.
So, Paul goes on, and I love this:
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness", and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
-Art

Zadok said...

Dear Eric

I'm a big fan of the Gospel of John. In fact chapter 6 is one of the most amazing chapters. The WHOLE chapter. So I think it would do us good to consider the whole chapter whilst making great claims based on metaphorical language, with which Jesus so brilliantly speaks.

You well highlighted the flesh-eating bits, but you cannot ignore the feeding the 5000 and then Jesus' claim (vs 35) that he is 'the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'

vs 40 'this is indeed the will of the Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life...'

vs 44 'No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me...'
vs 47 'Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. [48] I am the bread of life.'

Then comes the flesh-eating bit.
Then:

vs 63 'It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is USELESS [my caps - he didn't say it in capitals (though there is one school of thought that he did)]. The WORDS [ibid.] I have spoken to you are spirit and life.'

Ba doom boom bish! thank you Jesus!

Dylan Potter said...

John you are not far from the Kingdom. I think that was also the episode where Cartman turned into a street-preaching evangelist complete with the proverbially overdone accent. I believe that South Park is a medium through which to view popular culture's understanding of Christianity.

Eric Cadin said...

Before I respond to Zadok's concerns, let us reflect a moment upon the Holy Eucharist.

For really present is not a representation, an idea, a feeling, but a man, the Logos, Jesus Christ.

Why is this so important? Love. For though he is present in myriad ways, e.g. in Scripture and when two or three are gathered in HIs name, my beloved really is present in the bread and wine, as body blood soul and divinity.

See, the Exemplarism of the 1800s infected both protestant and Catholic hymnals, and consequently theology, with Jesus as the projection of human idea. WWJD exemplifies the persistence and comprehensive nature of this problem. Read some of the songs, they have little to do with praising God and much to do a gross sentimentality that robs Jesus of His dignity and identity. Consequently we personalize even Communion, stressing the unitive, among men, aspect which has a place, at the expense of its sacrificial, and hence, loving, aspect.

Quoting Abbot Anscar Vonier, "This idea then of the participatio sacrificii of making His own sacrifice to the Church,not only in results, but as an act of sacrificial oblation, is what we mean by Christ;s great gift to His Church. It is thus we must understand that all that is said of the Eucharist as being a participation in CHrist's sacrifice: it is the sacrifice itself communicated. The highest need of man, if we understand an's need in their true unchangable nature--that of offering up to God a perfect thing in sacrifice--finds its satisfaction and realization in a sacrament ."

That is to say my beloved humbles himself that I may participate in his most perfect sacrifice, act of love and praise.

Further I am but a man, and as such I know and love others. Jesus, in as Athenasius (sp?) described as a move from idol to icon, becomes flesh and pitches his tent among us. Suddenly, through the incarnation, I can love my God.

more to come I have to go

bonnie zahl said...

I love what Art said. And what Jesus said about how we should be like children if we are to enter the kingdom of God.

When I lived in Kosovo we led like, 15 kids to Christ. It was amazing to hear them pray to Jesus, with their little heads bowed and little hands clasped together. Their parents were all Muslims so they were only allowed at church for "activities" but not for "worship service". I can hardly imagine their parents letting them be baptized! What if another bomb was dropped in the city and those little kids were killed - does that mean they wouldn't enter the kingdom of heaven?

John Zahl said...

I too completely agree with Art. He describes perfectly the understanding of Communion as it relates to (re-)remembrance of the cross of Christ, and is identical to the Gospel, the "Visible Word". Art, your experience describes exactly that which Cranmer intended with his liturgy.

bonnie said...

Hi Eric, it's so cool to see you here!

"See, the Exemplarism of the 1800s infected both protestant and Catholic hymnals, and consequently theology, with Jesus as the projection of human idea. WWJD exemplifies the persistence and comprehensive nature of this problem. Read some of the songs, they have little to do with praising God and much to do a gross sentimentality that robs Jesus of His dignity and identity. Consequently we personalize even Communion, stressing the unitive, among men, aspect which has a place, at the expense of its sacrificial, and hence, loving, aspect."

The mystery of what communion means "outside of ourselves" (i.e. on its own terms) is abstraction. We can't really make sense of what Jesus meant when he said "eat my flesh, drink my blood". The Bible doesn't say much more than that, so in our cognitive schema we try to find some other way of making it meaningful. Jesus may have spoken symbolically/metaphorically, or he may have really meant that the wafer becomes his body and the wine becomes his blood. He may have meant that we metaphorically have his essence inside of us, or he may have meant that we actually eat his flesh. We don't know, and the Bible doesn't make it clear. (I read an article in which a Christian actually says Jesus overrides the taboo of cannibalism and makes it a good thing because of the Eucharist.)

What the Bible makes crystal clear is that Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me." Unlike the somewhat abstract speculation of what the Communion does, what it becomes, what its function it is, we are told very explicitly that it for the sake of REMEMBERING Christ. WE remember HIM. It is experienced physically, as something that is done, and psychologically, as we retrieve our short and long-term memory of Jesus. He said "remember", not "re-enact". What I don't understand is why we would take Communion again and again if it really is indeed the real body of Christ. I understand setting aside time every few weeks to partake in Communion, and remembering the Last Supper, the Cross, etc. But what I don't understand is, if Jesus is indeed present _in_ the wafer, why do we have to keep taking it if his spirit is in us and with us always?

Furthermore, what you said earlier implies we can somehow know God in his pure form (in that the bread is one pure form of Jesus' body), in a way that is objective. As I had said earlier, God made us to be psychological beings, so these hard-wirings are what he uses to communicate with us. Those hard-wirings affect every input, whether it is a hymn, a passage from Scripture, taking Communion, prayer, etc.

I guess I have a low view of sacraments in and of themselves, but I have a high view of what the effects associated with the sacraments (i.e. a context and a place to remember Christ, a community to share in the continuity of the last supper, a time of remembrance and thanksgiving, etc.). I just can't understand why a Catholic wafer is superior to matzos or saltine crackers.

Lastly, about the alcohol issue. To me, the primary thing that Jesus did was to come to US (Philippians 2). He came to us first, and He _always_ comes to us first and meets us where _we_ are. If that is one characteristic of the gospel, then the cup meets the girl where she is. It does not need her to sober in order to partake in Communion. Thus it could be sweet tea, diet coke, apple cider, or water.

Eric Cadin said...

To quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

. "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit." ccc1325

Thank you Bonnie for your remarks. I would have to say, though, that I disagree, and perhaps we too will disagree on this point, with your assertation “We don't know, and the Bible doesn't make it clear.” For precisely to this point sola scriptura is NOT sufficient and hear we find Sacred Tradition as revealed by the authentic and authoritative Magisterium on the Catholic Church. ON this point neither the Church, nor I for that matter, can see room for compromise. For the Revelation of God leaves us with a deposit of faith, comprised of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. That is not to say the Magisterium makes things up, rather all is weighed against and authenticated by the depositum fidei. Further as the Church and St Thomas hold the understanding of Sacra Doctrina. Stated simply: God knows it all and he shares it with us, i.e. 1. God is and 2. God speaks. So when jesus said to eat, well we eat. Not only does scripture reveal this but so too does the earliest Christian writings. See Ignatius of Antioch. Why is the Catholic wafer important, precisely because it is not rice cakes, naan, or anything else, but IS JESUS CHRIST. The priest, by virtue of his ontological configuration to Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, acts in person of Christ to re-present His sacrifice thereby drawing us into participation in this most divine mystery.

The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. ccc 1366

bonnie said...

P.S. So what I mean is that we don't know, and we can't know, who is really objectively "right". We always look at what is "objective" subjectively. We don't, and can't, know what is the *right* approach to Communion, except to take it (because Jesus instructed us), to do it in remembrance of Him (because Paul told us to). Only the gospel of John explicitly says "eat my flesh and drink my blood," and since John seems to be use the most symbolism out of all four gospels, I find it a more compelling case to see it as representational, and definitely see it as an experience of remembering. I can't say that a more literal way of seeing it is "wrong", but I certainly have a hard time with telling Christians that they can't partake in Communion if they aren't a part of the church!

Joshua Corrigan said...

Art is my hero and my Co-Husslah!
Rock on!

mattie said...

Hey Bonnie -

Yes, Art is quite marvelous.

Eric covered the Eucharist thing from the Catholic perspective, but I was really struck by your thoughts on baptism. Perhaps this needs to be a new thread (hint, john), but I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

You wrote:

When I lived in Kosovo we led like, 15 kids to Christ. It was amazing to hear them pray to Jesus, with their little heads bowed and little hands clasped together. Their parents were all Muslims so they were only allowed at church for "activities" but not for "worship service". I can hardly imagine their parents letting them be baptized! What if another bomb was dropped in the city and those little kids were killed - does that mean they wouldn't enter the kingdom of heaven?

That is the age-old dilemma, huh!? Jesus says in John 3:5 that "no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit." That's pretty scary stuff.

The Roman Catholic church has a great answer: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but God himself is not bound by his sacraments." (CCC, para. 1257) How true! In other words, if those children were reborn in the spirit, then God rejoiced and welcomed them into his kingdom. As we know, our God is not a God of law, but of grace.

We shouldn't think of baptism as some "requirement" that unless we follow to the letter God won't save us. Like all other gifts from God it is meant to give us hope, not angst. I really like St. Gregory of Nazianzus (one of my favorite church fathers who lived from 325-389) on this subject: "Baptism is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; baptism because sin is buried in the water."

Moreover, baptism is rightly considered a "sacrament of initiation." Not only does it give us grace in the sacrament itself, but it visibly and invisibly welcomes us into the body of Christ, the church, opening us to manifest opportunities to be re-graced day after day. For that I am thankful rather than fearful.

The other thing I want to add is that I am leery to give psychology the import that you give it for three reasons:

One, I have personally experienced mental illness. In the throes of my worst depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts I felt that God was absent. He was not. He was present, so while today I respect my psychological impressions and feelings, I cannot and must not grant my perceptions power over the truth - which is that God loves me and is with me always.

Second, one of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen who, as you may know, left a teaching post at Yale to work with developmentally disabled adults in the L'Arche community. Most of the people he worked with had no psychological capacity to "commemorate" God or "experience God" and yet he tells some profound stories of how God was and is present to people who cannot psychologically connect. For example, in one of his books he writes about Adam, a man at L'Arche who couldn't speak, couldn't dress himself, and had violent seizures. Nouwen became so aware of his own lack of receptivity of God by caring for someone who had no choice but to be receptive. I think that's what it means that Jesus comes for "the least of these."

Finally, on a more theological/philosophical point: how, if we are "totally depraved" as you assert, can we ever trust our "cognitive schemas"? Aren't they also completely imbued with our sinfulness?

Love you!

Mattie

bonnie said...

Hi Mattie!

You raise really good points, some of which I will have to think more about, and some of which I'll address here.

Thanks for the clarifications about sacraments. But I still don't get how this works in PRACTICE:
"...grace since it is given even to the guilty; baptism because sin is buried in the water." What does this mean in practice? Like, would you tell someone they have to be baptized in order to enter the kingdom, since their sin is not properly buried until they have been buried in water? What would you tell them?

As for the psychology, again I want to talk about it in terms of practice, not just theoretically. You said: "In the throes of my worst depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts I felt that God was absent. He was not. He was present, so while today I respect my psychological impressions and feelings, I cannot and must not grant my perceptions power over the truth - which is that God loves me and is with me always." Mattie, I was with you during those times, and I knew God was present. But if I were to say, "Oh Mattie, stop being such a silly goose; God is present in your life right now even if you don't feel him!" how would you have felt? How would you have felt if I said that to you for the 50th time? What I am trying to say that in theory we ought to know that God is near and present; but in practice, we often _can't_. Just as I still feel like I can't really trust God, I can't make myself trust him just because objectively, he is trustworthy. When my subjective experience is that he has screwed me over, when my obedience has led to nothing but coming to a lonely place, having very few friends, and being given another job that I don't like, it's hard to trust that God is good. It's not that I won't believe it; it's that I can't. Not right now, anyway. Maybe when I'm more sanctified ;)

(Isn't it ironic that I have witnessed a blind person regaining eyesight and a lame person being able to walk again, but now I can't really believe that God is trustworthy?!)

So, in that sense psychology is important because it is us JUST AS WE ARE. It is where God would and could meet us even if we don't think he will.

I don't think I would disagree with you here about not letting the perceptions have power over the truth. But how often can we will our perceptions? If I could will my perception, then I wouldn't have gotten depressed either. If women could will their perception to align with the truth, then why are there so many Christian women with eating disorders? If men could will their perception to align with the truth, then why are so many Christian men still struggling with pornography?

In that vein, we are totally eschatological beings. We have the Spirit, which communicates truth to us, but we are not yet fully there to dwell in truth always and in every way.

About cognitive schemas: our cognitive schemas were made by God. We were made to categorize input, to make sense of our world and to maintain a sense of stability through them. Some people have way wacky schemas, like someone who was abused as a child would have a terrible schema about father figures. Can she trust them? How would or could she even conceive of God being a good father when her experiences of men (which have shaped her schema) have been totally abusive? The only way that can be "fixed" is if God intervenes: if he himself shows her, somehow, that he _is_ a loving father. A church cannot _tell_ a person this; a person must be personally loved by God in order to know it. Until then, their schemas are still messed up.

When I say we are "totally depraved", I don't mean that everything is 100% depraved. I mean that 100% of the different aspects of us is depraved. (like if a loaf of bread is 100% mouldy and a bakery's bread is 100% mouldy is different; the latter could mean that every loaf of bread has a tiny bit of mould on it.) So yes, we can't trust our schemas: not 100%. But I trust the Spirit of God to renew those schemas all the time by providing the experiences and the contexts for such change to occur. I cannot make those changes happen.

Sorry that went on for a while! Love you too, Mattie!

Gretchen from Bham said...

Dear fellow John Zahl fans,
I feel like I need to comment regarding the Gospel of John text. As it happens, I am up next to teach our small group and John 6:22-70 is my charge. In my studying, I found this from our friend, Martin Luther:

"16. In this light I now remind you that these words are not to be misconstrued and made to refer to the Sacrament of the Altar; whoever so interprets them does violence to this Gospel text. There is not a letter in it that refers to the Lord's Supper. Why should Christ here have in mind that Sacrament when it was not yet instituted? The whole chapter from which this Gospel is taken speaks of nothing but the spiritual food, namely, faith. When the people followed the Lord merely hoping again to eat and drink, as the Lord himself charges them with doing, he took the figure from the temporal food they sought, and speaks throughout the entire chapter of a spiritual food. He says: "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life." Thereby he shows that he feeds them with the object of inducing them to be-
lieve on him, and that as they partook of the temporal food, so should they also partake of the spiritual. On this subject we will say more at some other time."


In my mind, Jesus was teaching about faith and faith alone. He had not yet begun to hone in on the sacrifice that he would make on the cross.

Just a thought from a busy mother of three who is old enough to be you all's ...
parents' younger sister!

(Hi John!)

mattie said...

Bonnie -

I don't know if I would tell someone that they "MUST" be baptized to be saved. For an adult, I would tell them how amazing it is and how it is a gift of God they'd be graced to recieve. For my children (God willing), you can bet your ass they're getting baptized way before they have any say whatsoever about it :)

Again, God is a self-gifting God of grace, not law. I think God can save whoever God wants to save and has done so through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I think the bible and the early church felt emphatically that the gift is given in a special and unique way though the act of baptism.

Alternatively, would you tell someone that they "MUST" have faith to be saved? If so, then you're sending the pagan babies to hell too :) Children have such a minimal capacity to believe, particularly in something as profound as God made flesh. What is the age of assent? 8? 16? 21?

That ties into what has always my difficulty with Luther's position. Luther insists our will is bonded, but then requires us to "have faith." I have read a fair amount of Luther and have always struggled with how his position seems to necessarily resolve into either double predestination (which he denies) or a sort of psychological/spiritual/mental Pelagianism. It just seems that the center doesn't hold.

As for psychology, I know you know what it is like to be depressed, and I know that there isn't magic formula (though perhaps a pill? :)) to see God in the depths.

Did I feel like I could trust God? No. Did it piss me off to no end when people like you told me how God was present? Yes.

I think that, in both theory and practice, there is a complicated and tenuous relationship between grace and works. The theory we've covered. The practice, at least in my life, looks like this: Many of you know me. I have been depressed, I have struggled with numerous addictions, I have done things to you and to myself that many of you should hate me for. Can I "fix" myself? Hell no. Do I need God's grace and forgiveness? Every single minute. However, in the healing and growth do MY repentance and MY will play a part? Absolutely.

I am a poor, miserable, sinner completely in need of God's grace. But, that fact is not the end of my identity in Christ, but the beginning. In that place of freedom, Jesus is teaching me to be a woman of both grace AND discipline. It's hard. When I feel down, my first inclination is to cry in my room with bottle of wine and listen to Songs:Ohia. Praying to God to take away that "feeling" can help, but it doesn't always. Instead, I have to have people to hold me accountable and I have to fight hard against those tendencies. I'll leave the house and go to a coffee shop or I'll make myself dance around to M.I.A. so that I don't exacerbate or perpetuate my misguided psychological perception of God being absent and my life being shitty. I think that's why cognitive therapy has better clinical results for depression than drugs or talk therapy alone - cognitive therapy teaches people that they do have some control (albeit limited) and they can learn to break their destructive thought patterns.

Again, I have no illusions that I am in control or that I can "save myself." I just think God wants and empowers me to do something about my tendency towards sinfulness, through, with, and in the grace offered by Jesus.

God definately meets us where we are, but he doesn't want us to remain enslaved there.

I want you to know that I'm not just pulling this out of the air. Here are a few scriptural referents for my assertions: Romans 12-15 (mentioned by me in a previous post), 1 Cor 6 (esp. v. 9-20), Galatians 5, Ephesians 2:8-10 (Luther tends to emphasize v. 8&9 and forget 10), Hebrews 12:7-15, 1 Pet 1 (esp. v. 8-9 & 13-16), etc.

Never does it sound like the writers think that we have NO POWER over what we do or how we act. Through Christ we can and must behave as children of the light.

Mattie

Jeff Dean said...

Mattie,

Your comments are always so helpful to me, since we share a similar mental health outlook.

I would say, though, that one of the most profound breakthroughs in my existence occurred when I was in Germany and a kindly professor of Hebrew explained to me precisely what "faith" is.

Not an action, nor a motivation. Not an exertion, nor a power, nor even a desire. Rather, a belief that all will be well in spite of insurmountable evidence to the contrary, simply because God has said so.

All the efforts I might exert to improve my condition are free to cease. In ceasing them, I ascribe to God glory, for I shift every ounce of my hope away from any claims of my own and lay them solidly upon his reliability as a promise-keeper.

Now, that being said, this will sound horribly un-Protestant of me. I fear "faith" is more than an individual can sustain--especially when he or she needs to have faith the most!

No one can take communion alone; no one can be "the Church" alone. Our identity in Christ is and always has been essentially corporal. That is, someone (my parents, Mark Jackson, Tim Miller, Shane Segers, Simeon Zahl, Russ Schlecht, Pete Emmet) had faith in Christ for me when I couldn't have it for myself (because of my youth, my chemical imbalance, my girlfriend dumping me, my failing my Chinese History exam).

As a result, I will have my children baptized as infants, and I will have faith in Christ for them until such time as they have it for themselves. Then one day when I am drooling on myself in an "assisted-living facility," making vulgar remarks to the nurses, they can have faith in God's mercy for me.

This lesson was taught to me by John Zahl, and I think it is a much more profound understanding of "sharing my faith with someone" than the "four spiritual laws."

Jeff Dean said...

Eric,

Thank you so much for your dedication to explain the Roman position on these questions. I benefit so much from your willingness to sacrifice your time and teach me ideas that would otherwise remain unfamiliar to me!

Eric Cadin said...

Bonnie, I would like to share a bit, to be
psychological, as to why I could NEVER leave the
sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, and why I am
sincerely saddened that others choose to ignore,
abuse, or reject His love.

During my Christmas break, I visited Cancun with my
family. The area being devastated by Hurricane Wilma,
my resort was no exception, with the result that the
Catholic Chapel was destroyed. Additionally there
were no shuttles to town, there being no place to go,
I couldn’t get to a proper Church (read Tabernacle
wherein resides Jesus sacramentally) for the entire
week. Since coming to seminary I hadn’t been away
from Him for any significant period of time.
Suddenly, and quite surprising and delightful in its
own way, I found myself, my soul, yearning for him
“like a dry weary land without water.” Now keep in
mind I prayed regularly and read my Bible, both very
real ways to “experience” Him, but I was absent my
Beloved. Think of being separated from Simeon, of
course you can talk on the phone, look at pictures,
watch videos, even pray for and with Him, but does
that fill that deep human longing to be WITH him? Why
is it that in a marriage, which is the most perfect
human union of love we express the most blessed and
wonderful unitive expression of that love physically
and in sexual intercourse cooperate in God’s creation
of life. (As an aside herein lies the opposition to
birth control for how can I love, i.e. join myself
whole to the other, when I withhold such a significant
part of myself. More, much more can and should be
said on this. See, John Paul II Evangelium Vitae and
the Theology of the Body) Is there something sensual,
something about our person as composite of body and
soul that needs/requires/yearns for physicality? Why
then is it such a fantastically ridiculous idea that
God understands this and gives us Jesus INCARNATE and
continues the incarnation through sacraments which are
real signs which we can see, feel, smell, taste, and
hear. My desire for HIM is not because of some Hume
or perhaps Mill understanding of habituation, but is a
most intense desire to be near the one I love. As the
week went on I found myself urgently craving Mass,
which was still held, albeit only once a week, wherein
I could participate in the sacrifice of the Mass and,
more importantly, commune with my Savior, my Lord,
Jesus, my Love. Again, going back to all these other
communions being about the self, the catholic Mass
makes really present sacramentally JESUS himself.
Speaking even psychologically, and perhaps
objectively, I go to Him daily, and regardless of how
I am “feeling” he is always there both figuratively
and LITERALLY. See, its really not always about me
and my subjectivity, he Loves me and waits ever
patiently for me always.

Eric Cadin said...

Just a quick note on Baptism. And in particular why
it is so important. A Baptized Christian IS changed
ontologically. No longer bound and enslaved to sin,
he dies with Christ and is born anew with and in Him.
For you see it is not merely a sign or a human action,
but something, grace, really happens.

Also, as far as faith is concerned. I think it is
important to understand exactly what we mean by the
terms. How is it that it is called a gift. Faith is
primarily intellectual. For faith is a gift, a
theological virtue to be precise, wherein two
propositions which do not reasonable contract each
other but do not rationally connect, do connect so
that the mind may assent to supernatural truth.
Additionally faith unites us directly and personally
to HIM. As the Vatican II document Dei Verbum notes:
by faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.”
Thus it is not primarily our act, or, it is not
anything we can do at all to merit, earn, or work for
faith.

Eric Cadin said...

Thank you jeff. Though I must admit that fear grave inadequacies in expressing the fullness, that is to say the deposit of faith, of the Roman Catholic Church. I am, to be honest, giving it my best shot.

simeon said...

hi everyone! just an aside: dad wrote about his time in the hospital on his blog today, and if you haven't seen it, it's really powerful. check it out! there is a link from jz's main page. it was a truly dark time for him, but Jesus answered our prayers, and his.

eve said...

Mattie--I really appreciated your most recent post here because I can relate to much of your story., I think the biggest divide we may have is that of the concept of power v. powerlessness. My only healing came (and comes) when I am able to admit I am completely & utterly powerless, helpless, desperate, sending out an SOS. To think that I have even some power is to deny his omnipotence. I do believe that "there is One who has all power..."
Sort of in a nutshell, even if I think I am doing "good", "better", "improving" in some way, the second I think this way, my supposed improvement is ruined. I really think it is true for all of our "good works". The only acts that could truly be considered good would be service which is done purely out of love without the giver even realizing or reflecting on the work as "good," a narrow category indeed.
It may sound like semantics or just hair-splitting, but the difference is, to me, critical. And it's also what makes me free.
Anyway, after completely reading through this great blog, I realize this is an old discussion, defended many better minds, much more soundly and elegantly. And I also realize that you are a "regular" and I am overly eager to get in the discussion with all of these very smart hristians. I think I will just read for awhile. (P.S. am also a big Nouwen fan, and his little book about L'Arche was one of the most memorable to me, and comes to mind often when I think about these very issues---of love and service to our fellows, of our motives and our ability/inability to give unselfishly.)

David said...

I'm going to dodge the theological issue and just say that episode is hilarious.

Tom Becker said...

Did you know presbyterian in an anagram for britney spears?

Colton said...

Utterly speechless, Tom. You can't make this stuff up!!!

Back to the discussion on faith.

Mattie says:
"Alternatively, would you tell someone that they "MUST" have faith to be saved? If so, then you're sending the pagan babies to hell too :) Children have such a minimal capacity to believe, particularly in something as profound as God made flesh. What is the age of assent? 8? 16? 21?"

Eric says:
"Faith is primarily intellectual."

Jeff says:
"[Faith is] Not an action, nor a motivation. Not an exertion, nor a power, nor even a desire. Rather, a belief that all will be well in spite of insurmountable evidence to the contrary, simply because God has said so."

What do we make of Jesus' command that we have faith like a child? I have been thinking a lot lately about this idea that we are like children before God. (Specifically, that He sees us as immature, helpless, and incapable of grapsing what is really going on, which I believe is true.) Comments by Mattie and Eric seem to imply that faith, by its definition, is not something children are able to have. The argument seems to me that they are not mentally advanced enough to posses faith (if I am not misinterpreting what Mattie and Eric say.)

However, Jesus not only asserts that children have faith, but He specifically points to a childlike faith as the ideal or most pure form. Does this mean that faith is anti-intellectual? No, but faith is clearly something that does not occur on the intellectual plane. It simply _cannot_ be intellectual. Perhaps we, "the smart folks," use our intellect to understand how faith exists and works, but faith itself is not an intellectual exercise.

Take this example. A newborn baby has little to no intellectual capacity, agreed? However, that baby learns to recognize certain individuals, knows that crying will help him get what he needs, and quickly understands that the way to get fed is to suck on the nipple (sorry for the kind of gross analogy.) Now when I say "understand," I obviously do not mean it in the intellectual sense, in the way that we understand how an engine works, for example, or how we understand which shape should come next in a pattern. But the baby understands nonetheless, doesn't he? He has faith that each time he goes to suck on the nipple, he will get fed. Is this not true?

Though it is not a perfect analogy by any means, I like this picture of faith for a few reasons: First, it illustrates our state of complete dependence on God. Second, it takes the intellectualism out of faith. Third, we are doing nothing to earn our salvation, nor are we making a choice to accept the free gift. Yes, the baby does open its lips and suck, but can we say that the baby is making a conscious decision to do so? Is it a matter of the child's will? I would say no.

Anyway, I don't have much experience breast feeding, so I might not know what I'm talking about here. Anyone else have thoughts on what it means to have faith like a child?

Eric Cadin said...

Colton, I need to clarify what I mean by faith being an intellectual act and in so doing will hopefully elucidate a bit what “faith like a child” means.

Humans are by their very nature rational animals. It is important to note this essential definition because in its comprehension we come to see the human person as a body/soul composite. While these may seem like useless and overly “intellectual” terms they are vital in their teaching and truth and it is through these, for example, that one can argue against abortion on a purely philosophical plane and be very successful, provided of course people are reasonable, which despite their nature they tend not to be.

(N.B. For a much richer and eloquent explanation, as well as a spiritually transformative and evocative experience, see the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II.) Drawing from the beginning of this encyclical “Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: "Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord" (Ps 4:6).” Even though sin and error blind us to the light of truth, “In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it.” All of this is simply to say that man is created for and ordered to truth.

Our minds, with their capacity to reason, which distinguish us from all other creatures, save angels (though I’d rather not get into them in the present moment), by their nature, when they perceive the truth of a proposition, assent to that proposition. Of course this assent is perhaps more rightly called judgment, which is the second act of the mind. When we see 2 and 2 we judge, know, that they add to four. 2+2=4 represents in a way the mind’s assent to truth (I say “in a way” because some mathematicians could contend that the equation’s self-evidency is not as obvious as you or I may believe and therefore does not necessitate the mind, but I digress).

On a more anthropological level, we can see within the mind two faculties, namely the active and passive intellect which bring the exterior thing to an interior cognitive or intentional existence where one can properly be said to “know” the thing itself and not merely the image of the thing. This brings the knower into a, dare I say, intimate relationship with the thing known, though through the of a mode of existence different from the materially existent thing. The intellect as it processes the data of the senses and acquires all sorts of understanding regarding the nature of the being in things, suddenly finds itself face to face with the being, existence, itself. To quote Pierre-Marie Emonet, O.P. “In the sensible forms brought by the senses, the intelligence can ‘read’ the being of things. We have sought to show how the intellect feels attracted, so to speak, toward something deeper, but something found in the sensible qualities, shapes, and operations of the bodies of nature. The intellect ‘questions’ – that is seeks to grasp hold of an object that is for itself alone.” Citing Aristotle’s Metaphysics “Every person has by nature the desire to know.”

Why do I mention all this, precisely to restore to its proper place the word intellect freeing it from the very limiting and improper placement in either the “what Harvard student’s do forum” or the simple materialistic and perhaps reductionalist idea of the physical brain. A look back to Aristotle’s De Anima can do wonders for Christian and even human reconciliation.

Our reasoning then can tell us many things about ourselves and the world around us. However, about God we cannot know much if anything at all. Herein enters FAITH. For what reason cannot attain on its own, i.e. what the mind is by its limited capability unable to assent to, faith is the bridge. At one time is was referred to as supernatural intention. Thus when I wrote “wherein two propositions which do not reasonable contradict each
other but do not rationally connect, do connect so that the mind may assent to supernatural truth.” I meant precisely that, though I could have worded it better.

How does faith work? I will give you something to think about. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, did not have faith.

Faith fills the gap when “knowing is impossible,” He knows the father, or we could say has “clear knowledge” and thus doesn’t need the bridge, in fact He IS bridge. And here is what faith like a child means. Authority substitutes for objectivity. A child for example trusts his father, i.e. authority. Why is the sky blue. He asks his dad. He trusts the response. He hasn’t yet studied physics and learned about refraction, etc. so he goes to authority. (I do have to go soon so I will cut short a bit the explanation) Now the one True authority is God, Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit infuses the three theological virtues faith hope and love within us our mind can then assent to the Truth of God. And in so doing can enter into relationship, intimate relationship with Him. For Jesus is a man, the incarnate word, and IS God, and as such he IS Truth, hence is trustworthy and the proper authority. Thus faith has little to do with us in a very real sense and is very much related to the faith of child. For just as a child, who IS a rational animal, trusts as an essential act of the intellect authority so to must we trust Jesus.

In conclusion I just want to throw out this gratuitous quotation from VS regarding the Magisterium and its role as authority in regards to moral matters.
It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom "from" the truth but always and only freedom "in" the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it.

Eric Cadin said...

Sorry,I forgot to mention as a point of citation, parts of the fourth paragraph were inspired by/ drawn from Yves R. Simon's A General Theory of Authority

Tim Galebach said...

eric:
"It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom "from" the truth but always and only freedom "in" the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith." (emphasis added)

I am infinitely suspicious of statements like that one. Whenever someone tries to explain to me why non-freedom is actually freedom, my bullshit detector starts ringing. REALLY LOUDLY.

There's some sleight of hand going on between:
1. "God is the ultimate authority, and so we put our faith in him"
2. ???
3. "The magesterium is the judge on all things moral, and this morality is the starting point for faith."

I realize that you would say that the ??? is tradition, and the establishment of the Church by Christ. But I have to question a process remove all of the faith, replace it with law, and call it faith.

To offer a positive view of faith, I'll second Deaner's quote earlier on:
"Not an action, nor a motivation. Not an exertion, nor a power, nor even a desire. Rather, a belief that all will be well in spite of insurmountable evidence to the contrary, simply because God has said so."

bonnie said...

To tag onto what Tim just said:
Ephesians 2:8
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Faith is given us when God so desires.

mattie said...

bonnie -

yes, faith is a gift of God. amen, amen.

however, it seems to me that unless we believe that God is fickle and cruel, we must believe that we have some role in accepting or rejecting that gift, otherwise everyone would have faith.

i would affirm a sort of universalism before a sort of double predestination, and that's the direction the Roman Catholic Church is going too...

Mattie

Cate West said...

Mattie-

I think it important to stick to down-up theology as opposed to up-down theology. Meaning, often times we tend to presume exactly/quite specifically what God thinks, wants, does, etc. The truth: we are not God- very far from it. How can we ever claim to know exactly who and what He is? As the popular notion goes, as humans, we can't even begin to comprehend the Lord (and all of His goodness, justness, holiness, love, etc). That’s not to say that we don't know Him (we have been blessed with the word) or aren't in relationship with Him (we have been saved by the Son and blessed with the Holy Spirit). I guess my point is that I am much more comfortable drawing conclusions based on what I know and experience here on Earth, inside of my flesh as opposed to looking at things from "God's perspective". I don't think we should make a decision about the mystery of Faith based upon whether or not it matches up with God's supposed character. No, nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that God is “cruel and fickle”. I am not sure, however, how being in absolute control over our ability to have faith makes Him this. In other words, I don’t think we can make the leap that God requires a response when He gives one faith because if He didn’t, that implies that He is “cruel and fickle”. Do you mean that if He didn’t require a response, than this means that He just picks and chooses whom He wants to give Faith based on whatever he deems fit? That this could necessarily NOT be the case based on the fact that it would make Him possess a characteristic that contradicts other characteristics, presumes that we understand fully and completely God’s character. We don’t- we can’t!

What Bonnie is saying is a reflection of what she knows and what she has experienced: for the life of her, she can't muster up faith on her own merit, despite her attempts. This has been my experience as well. All I can do is pray, confess, and ask for forgiveness and redemption, repeat. When I have experienced faith, in fact, it specifically hasn’t been because I accepted it- if anything, I was more on the rejection side of things when a supernatural faith in the Lord (that was not of me) came out of left field- aka the Nazareth principle.

Know that I am not speaking as to whether Faith requires a response or not. I am speaking to the way in which we draw certain conclusions and the detriment caused when we presume to know more about God than we actually do. Your belief that we must respond to a gift of Faith in the form of either acceptance or rejection is valid- using the nature of God to argue this, however, is something that I would be wary of. Our Father is completely perfect, holy, just, and loving, etc...- we know this to be true and are grateful to know this. Think of all that we don't know, can't comprehend, will never understand... He's God, we are not. That is a cliché term, I know, but it is deeply true and quite profound when you think about it. We must ask ourselves whom we think we REALLY are to know how HE works.

I cling to this: He sent His son to die in our place so that we may experience eternal life with our Heavenly Father and escape the universally deserved consequence of everlasting separation from Him. amen, amen.

simeon said...

Mattie the only possible biblical answer to the "if predestination is true, then God must be a monster"-- in your terms, "fickle and cruel"-- problem is that Romans 9 addresses that objection directly, without flinching, and turns it back on us:

"You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?' But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?... Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of th same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?"

I know it doesn't make sense, or sound remotely fair, but the predestination position is defended at length by Paul, and against precisely the argument you raise. And the point cannot be contextualized away, as I argued earlier on this blog at more length (in response to Jordan Hylden, in the thread with 78 comments). The issue here can no longer be over what is reasonable. The Bible is too clear on this one.

Bible 1, Human Reason 0.

mattie said...

Simeon -

First, I'll admit that I know what a lame that argument is, but I had to throw it out there :) If I learned one thing at Harvard it was that predestination always gets 'em going (BTW, we need to get Litt on this blog)...

Short response: Paul is also clear that "just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL" (5:18).

Then, Paul goes on to say that those who are perishing are doing so because "they have not submitted to God's righteousness" (10:3).

All I am saying is that human rejection of the gift of Christ received in faith is what condemns some, not double predestination.

Mattie

mattie said...

BTW, Simeon -

I also am starting to get into Barth on this question. I'm just starting to familiarize myself with his position, so someone with more knowledge might want to correct me if I'm misreading it.

Barth writes (in Church Dogmatics) that Jesus "is himself the elect of God in whom all humanity are likewise elected… God chose Jesus Christ, and in so doing chose also all humanity and determined that he would be gracious to it…In God's eternal purpose it is God Himself who is rejected in His Son... He is rejected in order that we might not be rejected."

I think that sort of "universalism" is the only way the Reformed understanding of predestination can be salvaged.

Mattie

Tim Galebach said...

A common question that arises whenever predestination comes up is: "Is there any practical use for all the straw men that are being thrown around, or are they just dead weight?"

You can build really shitty tree-houses out of them. But the houses aren't very durable.

simeon said...

You mean, you think that sort of universalism is the only way PAUL's understanding of predestination could be salvaged... :)

bonnie said...

Hi Mattie,

God also hardened Pharoah's heart. On purpose.

Jeff Dean said...

Mattie,

An old Presbyterian minister once told me that I was more than welcome to hope for universal salvation, provided I preached choice and believed in predestination.

That's generally where I sit. Remind me someday to tell you how I got into a fight with Christoph Schwoebel about the existence of Hell.

Anonymous said...

“The sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and
set forth Christ to us… If the Spirit be lacking, the Sacraments can
accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining
upon blind eyes, or a voice shouting in deaf ears.” - John Calvin, The
Institutes