How many times did Jesus say to forgive? 70 X 7. That doesn’t mean we count to 449 and start to hold a grudge at 450. We must always forgive each other. Will God do less? Will he look at the brother or sister in hell calling out to him and turn a deaf ear? Will he be guilty of the same unforgiveness he condemns in his creatures who bear his image? No. God will not be outdone in forgiveness by his creatures. He will not be outdone in generosity and compassion by the mother who sees her son in hell and pleads that the Lord listen to his cries. Will he reply that her son had 449 chances to repent on earth and at 450 he is empty of mercy? No. God will always forgive.
I want to discuss Sia’s Chandelier. My feelings are mixed and many. Watching the video, I was filled with an unexplained wonder and what I can only describe as slight horror. Young Maddie Zeigler danced quite well, and obviously has great creativity that she put into her performance. But, there was something about it that bothered me. And up until now, I haven’t really talked about it. I couldn’t make sense of her dance in light of the song. Don’t get me wrong, She did well. But, her performance was a child’s understanding of what is a very mature and painful experience put into words. In my head, I kept trying to connect the dance to the song, but they seemed worlds apart. Maddie did her best to reach for something leagues beyond her grasp as a child but failed. As well she should have failed. I would not wish her to reach it. To do so would be to destroy her childishness. Many of our young girls have been driven, unfortunately, to shake off the dust of childhood too early. It is a tragedy. Innocence is worth the keeping, and childishness is the great flower that blooms in the beginning of our lives which we revisit as adults time and again to drink in its bouquet and remember what joy is. The length of children’s bloom is treasured by all including the adult the child eventually grows into. At least, it is treasured by those in their right minds. Children today are leaving childhood too fast and some with contempt, ready to enjoy the fruits of adulthood with all its benefits. I fear that the only fruit being enjoyed is not by the one who has grown but by all those vampires who want to suck the innocence dry from the young blossoms who make the jump to adulthood in their naivety. Childhood should be cherished, not touched. Once touched, it spoils.
Now that the video is out of the way, let’s discuss the song. I connect with this song on a deep level. How many times in my life have I awoke to shame and guilt from the things I did the night before? Too many. It’s a torture self inflicted. No one is to blame but me. Frustration and anger lead the charge in my assignment of guilt, and a vow to “Never do it again” quickly follows. Then a great fear comes upon me that have no choice in the matter. I do what I do. I will always do it, and I will always despise it. I wish for the day I will be free of it. A scream reverberates from the pain deep inside me. I have never heard it, until now. Sia’s scream at the beginning of the chorus is simultaneously beautiful and the most terrible thing that can ever be experienced. It is the scream of all those who bear within them silent secret pain. It is borne by those who have been abused, all who have been damaged, hurt, all those whose most precious things have been taken, thrust into dark pits of evil and spoiled in every way conceivable. I feel it. In a way, I always feel it, as my dark shadow that never leaves me except when it can vanish unseen into the night. Yet, Sia says she wants to fly like a bird through the night and feel her tears as they dry. It’s a way of dealing with the pain, to fly like a dove having no safe place to alight, to cry through the pain just to reach the end where one is finally numb if only for a moment. To hold on for the night, to hold on for dear life. To just get through it, wishing there was no tomorrow that remembers what you did. No tomorrow to house the shame a guilt just waiting for you. Time marches ever closer to tomorrow. Tomorrow begins the anger, the vows, but for now, I am numb, just holding on.
Sia’s scream is the incarnation of all of this, the bringing into space, time, and matter of a cry that is otherwise spiritual. To borrow from Tennyson, “But what am I, an infant crying in the night, an infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry.” I am repulsed by her cry and drawn to it. It is beautiful and full of anguish. It is the very instance of pain, but formed in such a way so that others may say “Sing it again, it is beautiful.” Kierkegaard described it as poetry. He said, “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but his lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s Bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.”
I enjoyed Kierkegaard’s imagery until I saw one of Phalaris’ Bulls accurately portrayed. I was disgusted. It is a fate worse than death. Death would be a welcome visitor to the inhabitants of the bull. But, life and suffering is prolonged for the joy of the beautiful sound it makes. Such is poetry. Such is this song; a crying in the night, a crying for the light. O God, let there be light. Let my cry reach unto something real. I don’t want this pain and this fire that I experience to be for nothing. If I were to cease existing upon death; that is, to sleep the sleep of oblivion, I would not be satisfied. I cry not for oblivion. I cry for light. O God, let there be light.
How effective was Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? Sure, love covers a multitude of sins but does it cover all sins? Christians say that the blood of Jesus is enough to wipe away even the worst of sins, but I don’t think even they really believe this. For these same Christians will later backtrack and say the only sin that is not forgiven is the rejection of Jesus as your savior. Apparently, Christ’s blood does not cover those who reject him. The situation is similar to that in the Garden of Eden; only, instead of “of all trees in the garden you may freely eat except for THIS one”, the commandment is “of all the commandments laid upon men, thou mayest freely violate, except for THIS one.” God can take a murderer, a rapist, even a genocidal maniac; but he cannot take those who reject him. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; or my Son’s sacrifice is ineffective.” Nothing is impossible for God, except forgiving rejection.
Is this your god, Christians? Is his grace really that impotent? God’s grace crashes through every barrier, breaks every chain, but must bow down as to an idol when it encounters the stubborn human heart. Is not a God who covers even the sin of rejection greater than one who must bow down to it? And if God is less than the greatest, he is not God.
“God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Universal salvation is God’s plan, his ultimate goal. The question is, does God’s plan ultimately end in failure. The loss of even one person is a failure for God. But, that is what you affirm — God’s ultimate failure — if you say, as I hear many Christians say, that most people in this world and even throughout history will end up in never ending conscious torture in hell. They will be separated from God forever. Christians site the verse, “straight is the gate and narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” Christians affirm not only God’s ultimate failure, but his utter failure in that he loses almost everybody. It is a colossal failure, a blunder of cosmic proportions.
The Reformed Tradition in Christianity is no better. They get around God’s failure by saying that universal salvation wasn’t his plan in the first place. Contrary to the verse cited above, God does not want all people to come to repentance. God determines who will be saved and who will not. And, most of humanity he damns for hell while a few of them he chooses to be with him. So, in the end, God does not fail. He just means to avoid the cosmic blunder by saying that he meant to do that in the first place.
So, we have two choices. Either God bows down to the idol of free will and utterly fails, or there is no free will and God planned from the beginning to damn most of humanity to hell. Both views of God are awful. Neither one is appealing.
A certain man had many children. He loved each and every one and had such a hard time raising them up properly. Many of them were unruly but a few of them were sweet and remained close to their father even when they disobeyed him. The father would constantly take his children out onto the mountain side nearby to play and enjoy the day. The only danger was a steep cliff a few hundred feet away. He knew it was possible that his children could fall off the cliff to their deaths. And, all the children were afraid of the horrible danger the cliff presented. However, the unruly and rowdy nature of most of his children took them close to the danger and some of them fell. Their broken bodies lay on the rocks below. The father still permitted his children to play wherever they wanted and kept a chosen few, the ones who stayed close to him, away from the danger while allowing the others to get as close to the cliffs and they desired.
The chosen ones pleaded with their father to prevent his other children from getting too close to danger, but he replied that his love was restricted by his children’s freedom. His children could not understand such a love and ran away from their father shouting, “We don’t want you to love us, if you do not love all your children!”
The early Church’s first heresy it encountered was Gnosticism; a belief that declared the material world evil and the spiritual world good. The body was seen as an obstacle to the earnest strivings of the soul. Also produced by the Gnostics were the “Gnostic Gospels” which were composed of the gospel of Judas, Thomas, Phillip, and Mary Magdalen.
How would the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” (The Bible Alone) have dealt with these Gnostic gospels? The New Testament, as authorized scripture, was not around. A few books of the New Testament were in use by the early Church, but they were not compiled authoritatively or binding to all. In fact, there were some real concerns about the book of Hebrews (Eusebius the Church historian mentioned this).
So, some books were fraudulent, some were in question, and some were accepted. If the early Christians had believed in Sola Scriptura, how would they have dealt with this problem? There was no formalized set of books for Christians to draw the line because the line had yet to be drawn. The Church leaders took upon themselves the authority to carefully determine which books were credible and authoritative and which were not. They had to consult the authorship, interpretation and meaning, and the truthfulness of each book’s substance. And, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the books they chose were established into the New Testament Canon.
How foolish therefore, to look back on such an authority and tradition and reject it in the name of Sola Scriptura; a doctrine which could never have produced the very thing it relies upon. “Sola Scriptura” declares “I accept your New Testament, but in the name of the New Testament I reject you.”
If Sola Scriptura would have failed the early church, why do we think it successfully reforms the modern church?
After the death of Christ but before the New Testament was written, any genuine Christian had to have his faith handed down to him either orally, as in an oral witness of the gospel or historical events, or through the teaching of proper worship, as in communion and baptism, All this we would classify as tradition.
Certainly, the person of genuine faith would only have other believers to look to for questions like, “what does this mean?” He would ask questions and get an oral answer, even an interpretation of that answer. And whether it was James at Jerusalem, Peter at Antioch, or another Apostle, the Apostle’s teachings would have been coveted the most by all Christians when looking for answers, guidance, and interpretations
Having begun in tradition, why at the end of modernity do we reject it?