Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Chreia Progymnasmata

I thought I'd post this because I'm particularly proud of it. Those of you who have to do the assignment, NO COPYING! ;)

Omnibus Primary, Session IV Writing: Progymnasmata Chreia

Writing a book about the holiness of God would be a test for any man's talents. However, R.C. Sproul manages the task admirably. With stark honesty, wit, and self-deprecating humor, Sproul gives the vast subject of God's holiness his characteristic blend of reverence and lightheartedness. Of course, humans in our sin and limitations can't comprehend the vastness of God's holiness, but kudos to Sproul for making us see that, if nothing else. All in all, he is a perfect candidate to write such a book. His reverence and his theory that God's holiness explains some of the infamous passages in the Bible that unbelievers have raised time and time again as evidence that God is not love: Uzzah, Ananias and Saphira particularly stand out. To the shaky believer, these are awkward, primitive things to be explained away. To the unbeliever, they are weapons against the Christian faith. To Sproul, however, they are instances of God's holiness. In fact, on pg. 110, “[God] killed Uzzah. He did the same thing to Ananias and Saphira in the New Testament. These were righteous acts of God's judgment.”

On the face of it, this seems like a glib, attention-grabbing sentence. It's an old literary ploy: make an outrageous claim and then proceed to back it up, either well or poorly. However, in this case it is not sensationalistic journalism, but a true, deep-rooted belief. What Sproul is saying is really getting at is this: “Sure, there were some incidents in the Old and indeed in the New Testaments which make our cushy Western sensibilities cringe: how could a loving God do these things? However, these were not instances where God's love took the back seat, and irrational vengeance took over, but legitimate and righteous acts of holy judgment.” That's a much longer way to state what is in fact a simple idea. God's judgment and his love are not antithetical. However, since God is a just God, he cannot simply ignore sin with love. Sins must be atoned for. Sins must be repented for. This, in fact, is why Christ died: to ransom us from our sins, and from what they entailed: God's wrathful judgment.

R.C. Sproul is one of the giants of modern, Reformed theology. He has been compared to a latter-day, Reformed, Lewis—whose works Sproul quotes often. His language does not quite reach Lewis' soaring heights of logic or prose, but it does an excellent job of convincing the reader of his subject. Sproul's books are full of reverent talk of God. To Sproul, God is not the entirely benevolent, soft-edged, but quite decaffeinated God of modern mainstream Christianity, but an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and judging God, to whom we are fully accountable. His judgment is not a function of His love, to be sure, or at least any more than they are two of His defining qualities. Too often we ignore God's judgment, in fear of being labeled “radical” or worse, “fire-and-brimstone,” remarkably stigmatized terms in this age. Sproul, however, does not ignore God's judgment, and this passage of his book dwells firmly upon it. Sproul realizes, as many modern Christians do not, that an accurate picture of God is impossible without His judgment; like a two-sided triangle. So, it is from this perspective—and the motive of bringing God's judgment back once again into the cultural currency—that Sproul writes.

God is a loving God. But he is also a judging God. God is a compassionate God, but he is also a jealous God. Over the centuries, this seeming paradox between the facets of God has perplexed many a believer, and satisfied many an unbeliever. The questions that arise are pressing: how can a loving God judge? How can a judging God love? The list goes on. Sproul answers these questions in his statement, which is at once, as discussed earlier, glib and profound. Uzzah, Ananias, and Saphira all deserved to die, but no more than we do today. Every human being is guilty and sentenced to death. If we confess, Christ will intercede for us, and our guilt will be washed clean with His blood. If we do not, we face the same fate as those three Biblical reprobates. If this were not the case, than the Christian faith would be a mere shell: without a loving but judging God, the Christian faith is only two-dimensional. We can see this mere shell of faith in modern liberal Christianity.

Since the beginning of the Christian faith, there have always been people who have gone astray. Even as early as Acts, the apostles fought against prejudice between the Jewish and Gentile sects of the faith, and this sad story has repeated itself through the years. Augustine, for example, opposed Pelagian on original sin and the holiness of God. Luther opposed the Catholic church on, well, just about everything, which led both to the Protestant faith and the Catholic Reformation. In more modern times, C.S. Lewis set the story straight on such issues as love, or more specifically the “four loves,” as well as many other issues. Sproul, following in Jonathan Edwards' footsteps, is opposing the semi-Pelagianism in the Christian faith today: the doctrine that accepts most Christian tenets but not his holy judgment. I have termed these men Sanctus in Contradictio; Saints in Contradiction. Like superheroes, they fight against whatever evil faces Christianity during their time. It is in these hallowed halls that R.C. Sproul treads, with this particular statement and throughout the book.

It is altogether simple to find examples of God's judgment. They appear throughout the Bible and throughout human history. One particular example that demonstrates the truth of this saying is the sad, sordid tale of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Christ. It's safe, I think, to say that he is one of the most reviled humans in history, and not without good reason. When he hung himself in a field, it was righteous—meaning “in the right”—judgment. His actions, like those of Uzzah, Ananias, and Saphira, called for death. And death he received. When Uzzah touched the Ark, he was trying to keep a holy artifact from touching the ground. However, if he had been carrying the Ark properly, this never would have happened. Uzzah, if he were here today, would no doubt protest his self-righteous innocence. However, he has no one to blame but his sinful nature. He was unrepentant, and God struck him down. Ananias and Saphira, likewise, thought they would do something beneficial to God and His church: they decided to sell their house and entrust the money to the church. However, they kept some money back, even though they said they were giving the full sum. They were trying to appear holier than they were, and as Peter pointed out when he confronted them, the money was theirs to do with as the pleased after they sold the house, but they chose to lie about it. They, too, were killed. The same thing happened to Judas, to Saul, and to many, many others throughout the history of the world.

The judgment of God, and thus the truth of this saying, has been heralded and condemned by man a fallible human writer. However, it is the Biblical authors, whose writing was inspired by God, who provide the best evidence in favor of this statement. The author of Hebrews says, in 10:31, that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I assume this verse is where Jonathan Edwards took the title for his famous sermon--”Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”--from. God's judgment, the author says, is “dreadful.” It was certainly dreadful for Uzzah, for Judas, for Ananias and Saphira, and our unrepentance will lead to the same dreadful fate.

Christians have, in various times, denied all three of God's chief qualities: his love, his justice, and his holiness. R.C. Sproul is making a passionate case that none of them can be denied without denying God, and in this instance he is discussing justice. The enthymeme underlining this essay is this: God is holy. God is loving. God is just. God is not just like a judge, or loving like a mother, because He is not fallible or incomplete, so these virtues are represented in Him in perfect, pure form. Human beings pervert His justice, betray His Love, and make a mockery of His judgment. For this, they all deserve to die. God exerted this justice in the cases mentioned by Sproul, and many others. However, His love for us drove him to offer us a way out. He let His Son, Jesus Christ, die on the cross for our sins and the sins of the world (1st John 2:1.) When we repent of our sins, Christ's blood purifies us and wipes the slate clean; God's justice is satisfied, so is His love, and we begin the long journey to joining Him in holiness. R.C. Sproul sees this clearly, and that is why his quote is so illuminating and indeed, so wise.


sweetggirl said...

That's GREAT Mos! Really encourging! So it's called Chreia?

Susan R. said...

SHOW OFF! lol, just kidding