THE LAW

Romans 10:4

‘Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.’

Maybe this is all very basic, but it’s exciting to me. To the best of my understanding, Romans 10 releases Christians to do exactly what they were doing before. Before the Law was replaced by Christ, those who followed God were obligated to do his will by following his express commands. After Christ became the fulfillment of the Law, everything changed. God created an atmosphere which, to this Arminian, appears to be centered around choice.

God’s will did not change. The only thing that changed was how we go about accomplishing it. Before Christ, it was very systematic. There were rules, given by rulers and prophets; and if you wanted to be close to God, you followed them. Post-resurrection Christians have a slightly different dynamic. For us, if we want to be close to God, we find out his desires (what he wants us to do and not to do- i.e. “rules” or “the Law”). He wants more of a back-and-forth, more intimacy involved. I believe this deepens the relationship; when we choose him and find out his will, it makes the Law our own.

For the politicians, I’ll put it this way: God wants a Libertarian system instead of a Fascist one. (This in no way makes God a Libertarian. This is simply to illustrate a point. Even though he might possibly be a Libertarian. Just kidding. But really.) God wants us all to choose him and find out on our own that we want to do what is right. He doesn’t want to have to force us. He wants us to carry our weight. He wants us connected to his Spirit.

For the artists, I’ll put it this way: God wants you to paint on a blank canvas, not a coloring book. God doesn’t want you to paint by numbers, die, and turn in your painting, saying, “Look, God, I did everything according to the book, just like you asked.” Surely, we should follow God’s Word, but I’m talking about the attitude here. God wants us to start with a blank canvas and yet be so connected to him that we paint exactly what he wants us to paint. He wants the relationship, the pursuit. He desires love, not simply sacrifice. This happens through his Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to teach our spirits how to be like God’s. Notice that the Holy Spirit was given after Jesus resurrected and fulfilled the Law. This is because the Holy Spirit did not belong under the Old Covenant. Essentially, the Holy Spirit replaces the Law, yet is the Law exactly. It’s a bit of an abstract point that I’ve been trying to grasp for years. Let me now interject a disclaimer: I say what I say with the best heart; yet I may be wrong in areas. It’s a nuanced concept, I believe, and I’m sure I don’t understand it in its entirety.

For the parents, I’ll put it this way: the point of parenting is so that your children adopt your rules. Parenting is futile if it simply establishes rules that the child must follow, but never encourages them to adopt the rules as their own. I believe Christ fulfilling the Law was God’s way of pushing us out of the spiritual nest. He is saying, “Go. Figure me out.” He’s done revealing himself on a mass scale, through prophets, to whole nations. That is what the Holy Spirit is for, and he does it on an individual basis.

The Law can give us glimpses of God’s expectations and character, but it cannot reveal fully to the reader what God has for that specific person. In Romans 10:5-8, Paul explains how followers of God used to listen to the prophets to hear God’s Law, but now, ‘“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and heart.”’

The words God has to tell to his children are personalized. Reading the Law without the guidance of the Holy Spirit- even following the Law without truly desiring it- is simply painting by numbers. Simply being a member of a Fascist regime. Simply being a well-behaved child with a rebellious heart. God wants you to desire him, to learn from him, not simply to follow the Law. If the Law did not exist, those who truly know God would not be acting any differently. That is the Law fulfilled through Christ.

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The War Prayer

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched fire-crackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies, a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came–next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the colunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams–visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, falling, to die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,

Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword.”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and begnignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them; shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory–

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside–which the startled minister did–and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne–bearing a message from Almighty God.” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import–that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of–except he pause and think. God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two–one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this–keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer–the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it–that part which the pastor–and also in your hearts–fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You have heard those words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God.’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle–be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of the patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of their guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their offending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it–

“For our sakes who adore thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him who is the Source of Love, and Who is the Ever-Faithful Refuge and Friends of all who are sore beset and seeking His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

(The old man paused). “Ye have prayed it; if you still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High awaits.”

* * * * *

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

–Mark Twain.

(Twain, after attempting to get his prose published, wrote to a friend, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” He was correct–the short story was published posthumously, only 5 months before WWI.)

How, then, shall we live?

“The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret; every year, without making a sound, three Hiroshima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth. This systematic violence is not apparent but is real and constantly increasing: its holocausts are not made known in the sensational press but in Food and Agricultural Organization statistics.”

-Open Veins of Latin America (Eduardo Galeano)

How, then, shall we live? Are we, the privileged (or, if you’re evangelical, “blessed”), responsible for the oppressed?

It seems the attitude of the majority of contemporary Western Christians is one that praises one’s self when he is generous with what he does not need.

(I will use the pronoun “we” to describe Western evangelical Christians so as not to distance myself from my own upbringing–as disgusted as I may be with the implications of Western theology/philosophy at times, I will not succumb to the temptation to disown my culture, but rather to own it and challenge it and progress it.)

We think that when we give we are doing good, do we not? But could it be that we are not only doing good, but doing what we are supposed to be doing? If this is true, by not giving, which I would venture is our default, we are doing evil. If giving is good and progressive, not giving is evil and destructive.

Before I advance farther down this road, allow me to define “giving.” I of course do not simply mean releasing monetary funds to another individual or organization, although that is a very visible and challenging symptom of a giving heart. I do mean compassion, authentic care, and a desire to help with time, mental energy, physical work, prayer, concern, as well as money. All these works stem out of a giving heart (although many can be duplicated by a guilty heart).

I in no way mean to guilt anyone into action. It is my belief that action is only valuable to Christ if done for Christ primarily and secondarily for the person receiving the action (not for personal gain or relief from conscience).

That being said, I do believe we are culpable and implicit when we do not take care of those who are oppressed. We are undeniably privileged. Again, this is not something to feel guilty over–unless you’re oppressing others directly for personal gain. It’s not our fault. However, we must acknowledge that the reason we are privileged is not because God loves us more than, for instance, Latin Americans.

We must reject the all-inclusive traditional American (I hate using that word only to describe those who were born in the United States of America, as nearly all of the Western Hemisphere is the Americas, but I will use it for clarity and brevity) narrative that claims Americans are more economically prosperous than 95% of the world because God has blessed us.

We must contrarily realize that the reality is we are more prosperous because we got here first, eliminated the native population, refused to share, and dominated without fear of God or man. That is true history and unless we approach our history with intellectual honesty, we will never deal with modern problems.

America is not wealthy because God has blessed us; we’re wealthy because we know how to make money better than anyone else and at any cost.

Commonly, I hear this response, or one similar: “Sure, we did some bad things in the past with the Indians and the blacks and such, but I didn’t personally do them, and they were a long time ago. We should live and let die, and keep going forward without favoring one person over another.”

That is similar to cutting off a man’s legs, getting a 100 meter head start, then yelling back, “hey, if you can’t keep up, that’s not my fault!”

Europeans, and more modernly, Americans, have historically plundered the Americas and relocated much of the wealth and resources to Europe, and more modernly, the United States. Then they have left Latin America on its own two nubs to attempt to stand on its own.

At this point, charity is necessary to atone and renew; not to get ahead spiritually. I use Latin America as a for-instance, but the economic impact of American greed and the “manifest destiny” principle has been felt worldwide.

This is why I think that donating a pair of legs to the man who had his legs chopped off by your ancestors is a necessity. If you do not, you are participating in and promulgating the very philosophy that led your ancestors to chop off the man’s legs: Aristotle’s evil concept of “natural slaves.”

“For those who see history as a competition, Latin America’s backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failure. We lost; others won. But the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing; the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is an integral part of the history of world capitalism’s development. Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others.” (Eduardo Galeano)

Surely, God is sufficient to permit or influence one people group to prosper without negatively impacting another, no?

Good question. One I ask myself frequently. While I certainly believe the previous statement to be true, I in the same manner believe that God has delegated many tasks to humanity. While God could create a world in which our actions do not affect others, the simple truth is that he has not. All I know for sure is that my greed (and often, my ignorance) will impact others. No man is an island.

Ever played Monopoly? Ever notice how you can’t win unless you ruin someone else’s chances?

If everyone had the enough to survive, no one would ever “win.” It is a game that forces you to put winning over another’s “existence”, and in this manner capitalism can become wildly oppressive.

Now, in Monopoly, there is a limited amount of resources whereas in the real world, with human ingenuity, resources and commodities can be created, so it is not a perfect analogy. However, it illustrates the point that when two people or businesses or countries go after one object (say, Europe versus the natives, with the object being land and resources), only one person will win.

We mustn’t fall into the coaxing trap of neo-conservative Christianity (in that order) that says that a free market is fair and that oppression does not exist simply because we do not see or understand it. I used to believe a free market regulated itself. That’s like saying government regulates itself. Sure, it does, eventually; but it also can commit many oppressive atrocities before self-regulation occurs. Also, the only way it can “self-regulate” is if you and I are participating in that regulation. “Laissez-faire” capitalism means the government does not intervene, but it does not mean that no one intervenes. If we don’t want a corrupt system (government) attempting to fix another corrupt system, the individual and the non-profits and the churches must recognize the problems and must involve themselves.

If you’re still with me, hopefully you realize there is a problem. Now what?

Do I have any solutions as of now? Not any that I could succinctly and practically translate into text.

Does it bother me every day? Yes.

Does that mean I’m doing good, simply because I’m bothered? No, and I don’t presume to be better than others due to my conscience. But I do believe recognition of a problem is the first step.

How, then, shall we live? I cannot answer that question in its entirety, but I can tell you the first steps: turn not a blind eye or a deaf ear to the pleas of the oppressed and refuse the cultural temptation to justify oppression.

Finally, let not your Heaven be built on another’s Hell.

Que vayas con Dios y su misericordia,

Greg Taylor Tanis