October 31, 2003

Rear Wheel Drive

Category: Automobiles :: Permalink

In a radical departure from my usual blogging, I am now going to blog about cars. I happen to own a Chrysler Cirrus and, since I bought it new, I receive Chrysler’s Strada magazine. The latest issue contains an article on the new Chrysler 300C which comes with an interesting new (old?) feature: rear-wheel drive.

“Rear-wheel drive?” you say. “But I thought rear-wheel drive turned out to be a bad idea, not nearly as safe on roads as front-wheel drive, especially in slippery conditions!”

Well, Strada expected that response and included a little apologia for rear-wheel drive. True, they say, front-wheel drive does make things more compact and leave more room for occupants. But that’s only an obvious advantage in a compact car, and the 300C is a “well designed full-size car.”

True, having the weight of the engine and transmission over the driving wheels does mean that you get improved traction, especially in snow. But if you drive and steer with the same wheels, your car has a “front weight bias” (up to 60% of the vehicle’s weight is in the front). Furthermore, you get “torque steer, the sensation that the steering wheel is being jerked out of your hands when applying the throttle while the wheels are not in a straight ahead position.”

With rear-wheel drive, there is no torque steer, since the front wheels just steer. What you get with rear-wheel drive, then, is “more precise handling.” As for traction with the weight on the rear wheels instead of the front, “innovations like improved tire technology, electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes have virtually eliminated the problem. The innovations, more than anything else, have paved the way of rear-wheel drive’s return with the stunning 300C.”

Posted by John Barach @ 5:52 pm | Discuss (0)


Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

I’ve decided to dress up as a minister today. Oh, wait! That’s how I dress every day.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:40 am | Discuss (0)
October 29, 2003

Typological Catechism

Category: Bible,Catechism :: Permalink

I was interested to notice in Danielou’s From Shadows to Reality that the early church’s catechesis was heavily typological (e.g., pp. 182-183). I suppose that may have been due, at least in part, to the context. As Danielou points out, typology “brought out, as against the Gnostics, the unity of the two Testaments, and the superiority of the New, against the Jews” (p. 1).

It is interesting that the early church saw biblical typology as an important part of its instruction of new converts (and, no doubt, of its children).

Our own catechesis, in contrast, does little with typology. Though the Bible is full of symbolism — take, for example, the amount of space Scripture devotes to describing the tabernacle and the details of sacrifices — and though much of the Bible consists of stories rich in typology, we usually leave the stories to the little children, as if they aren’t so important for grown-ups, and we spend little if any on the symbolism. (When was the last time you even heard a sermon or a lecture on the details of the sacrifices in Leviticus or on the structure of the tabernacle?).

As I thought about typology in connection with catechesis, I was reminded of Peter Leithart‘s “catechetical” question and answer in Blessed Are the Hungry:

What happens in holy communion? I wish to say: “We, as children of Adam, are offered the trees of the garden; as sons of Abraham, we celebrate a victory feast in the King’s Valley; as holy ones, we receive holy food; as the true Israel, we feed on the land of milk and honey; as exiles returned to Zion, we eat marrow and fat, and drink wine on the lees; we who are many are made one loaf, and commune with the body and blood of Christ; we are the bride celebrating the marriage supper of the Lamb, and we are also the bride undergoing the test of jealousy; at the Lord’s table we commit ourselves to shun the table of demons” (pp. 12-13).

That answer is certainly not the kind of definition we usually require catechism students to memorize. It doesn’t give us the kind of theological analysis we might be used to. At least at first it doesn’t seem to answer the kinds of questions we might want to ask (and there’s certainly a place for asking and answering these questions).

But it’s packed with biblical imagery and grounded on the stories and symbols of Scripture. It opens all kinds of Scriptural paths for us to travel as we meditate on the Lord’s Supper. It certainly helps us the understand the Supper better. As Leithart says, in its own way, it’s just as rich as our more philosophically worded answers.

It strikes me that such a typological approach might benefit our catechesis, not least by making us spend time with what the Bible spends the most time on: story, symbol, and song. It may enrich our theological definitions, showing us God’s truth in a fuller light. And it may be especially helpful for children — and for all who haven’t lost their childlike love of story.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:52 am | Discuss (0)
October 27, 2003

From Shadows to Reality

Category: Bible :: Permalink

Yesterday, I finished reading Jean Danielou’s From Shadows to Reality, a very helpful study of the biblical typology of the early church Fathers.

In my early biblical studies, I was under the impression that the Fathers were all given to a methodology called “allegorization.” Danielou, however, shows that there is a difference between allegory, which involves using the Bible to express philosophical ideas, and typology, and that, while some of the Fathers blend the two, they were aware of the difference between them. As Danielou writes:

It would be an entire abuse of language to include moral allegory with typology under the one heading of the spiritual sense, as opposed to the literal sense: typology is a legitimate extension of the literal sense, while moral allegory is something entirely alien: the former is in truth exegesis, the latter is not (64).

Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that typology is included in what Danielou and others call “the literal sense.”

But what appears to have happened in some more modern exegesis is that, instead of asking about typology in a text, exegetes settle for “the grammatical-historical method.” That is to say, they endeavour to understand a passage of Scripture by looking at the meaning of words, the grammar of the passage, and the historical and cultural background of the passage.

Grammatical-historical exegesis may give an impression of scientific accuracy, especially when compared to some of the fanciful interpretations that the Fathers give (though some of them aren’t nearly as fanciful as they first appear). If you’re reading about Herod, you can look up Herod in your encyclopedia and learn which Herod you’re reading about and what he did. If you discover that a certain verb is in the present tense, you can say, “Aha! The biblical writer is talking about something which was is taking place even as he writes.” One may get the impression that if we apply the correct methodology in reading the Bible, we will be able to prove our interpretations of it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

That impression of scientific accuracy, however, is an impression. Interpreting a text is never a matter of “scientific accuracy.” (Indeed, one might also queston whether science is a matter of “scientific accuracy,” in this sense.)

For instance, learning some things about Herod doesn’t yet tell you what the text is saying about Herod, why he’s mentioned in this particular place, and so forth. Nor is grammar a matter of strict and unbendable rules. That a verb is in the present tense doesn’t mean that the action of the verb is taking place in the writer’s own time. Many of the verbs in Mark (like the verbs in my “Aha!” sentence above) are present tense, but they are describing events prior to the time when Mark wrote his Gospel. Interpreting a text involves more than analyzing the possible meanings of words, examining the grammar, and taking the historical context into account.

Furthermore, given that there is such a thing as symbolism, is it possible to come up with an interpretive methodology that guarantees you’ll be able to know (and prove) exactly what the author is doing with his symbolism? We read about a man who has been separated from the woman he loves and at that point in the story it’s winter. Everything is icy, cold, bleak. Later, when he finds his love again, it’s spring. I would like to say that the symbolism is obvious, that the winter reflects the bleakness and barrenness of his own life and that the spring fits with his new life, reunited with his love. And maybe it is obvious. But could you ever prove that the writer is using winter and spring symbolically?

But even more significantly, interpreting a text in Scripture involves reading it typologically. In particular, understanding Scripture entails understanding how Scripture speaks of Christ. That’s what Jesus taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). Origen, commenting on that passage, says,

Jesus it is who reads the Law, when he reveals the secrets of the Law. We, who belong to the Catholic Church, do not reject the Law of Moses, but receive it if and when it is Jesus who reads it to us. For it is only if Jesus reads the Law in such wise that through his reading we grasp its spiritual significance, that we correctly understand the Law (cited in Danielou 283).

Origen is correct: we understand the Old Testament only if we read it the way Jesus read it to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that is, only if we see it as speaking of Christ (which is what Origen has in mind, primarily, when he speaks of the “spiritual significance” of the Old Testament). As Peter Leithart has written, “Interpretation of the Old Testament must be grounded in grammar and history, but if it does not move to typology, it is not Christian interpretation” (A House For My Name 27).

Reading about the typology of the Fathers is helpful, then, for showing us how our forefathers understood Scripture and how they struggled to see all of Scripture as speaking of Christ. Their interpretations were not always correct. Sometimes they blended allegory with typology. Sometimes, even when their typological connections were correct, they missed key elements which would have helped to put their interpretations on a more solid basis. Nevertheless, they have a lot to teach us and their meditations on Scripture are useful for sparking our own meditations and for pushing us to a better approach to Scripture, one which isn’t characterized by their mistakes and abuses, but one which also seeks to avoid our own.

For that reason, I’m thankful for Danielou’s study. I just wish he’d covered more than the first six books of the Bible!

Posted by John Barach @ 4:37 pm | Discuss (0)
October 24, 2003

There Are No Idioms

Category: Bible :: Permalink

I was thinking, in connection with my last post, about why translators sometimes mistranslate certain phrases in the Bible. Part of what promotes mistranslation, it seems to me, is the push for readability.

Virtually every translation has, as one of its goals, to produce a readable version of the Bible. In translations such as the NASB and NKJV, that goal is balanced by the goal of trying to come as close as possible to a word-for-word translation. In other translations, such as the NIV, the goal of readability is much more dominant. Sometimes, translators even claim that they are translating the ideas, and not so much the words. After all, they might say, the words are but the vehicles for the idea, and the goal is to get the ideas of Scripture across to people. And what’s more, we do want people to be able to read the Bible, don’t we?

But readability cannot be our chief goal in translation. For one thing, we don’t simply want to get the ideas across. We want people to hear what God actually says, and that involves trying as much as possible to reproduce the words He uses in the way He uses them. Ideally, if a passage is chiastic in structure, we should want our translation to be chiastic, too.

Besides, if our goal were to produce a completely readable Bible, we’d certainly trim down a lot of the repetition in the Bible. We’d probably eliminate most of Numbers 7 (“one silver plate, the weight of which was one hundred and thirty shekels…”).

“Does all that repetition really matter?” I can imagine someone asking. After all, the ancient world may have loved lists (just look at all the lists in medieval literature), but we don’t, so why not translate the Bible into our own style, the style readers today are accustomed to? Lists aren’t part of that style, so lists must go. We can say the same thing — get the same idea across — in fewer words.

Now most translators don’t go to that extent. But in the push for readability, certain other sacrifices are made.

Take the matter of idioms. When you’re translating from another language, you often run into idioms which aren’t found in English. Sometimes a metaphor might make sense even when it’s translated literally, but often the translator struggles to find an equivalent English idiom to get the same point across.

Once when I was translating something from the Dutch, I discovered that instead of saying “Putting the cart before the horse,” the Dutch writer had “Putting the horse behind the cart.” It’s the same idiom from a different perspective. When I translated that passage, it was easy to switch the Dutch idiom for our version of it.

But can we do that to a phrase in the Bible without losing something? Here’s a thesis for consideration: There are no idioms in the Bible.  Put another way, the Bible’s idioms are normative.

The Bible does not simply adopt pithy idiomatic sayings from its surrounding culture, and its short, often metaphorical, sayings cannot be switched for other sayings in English that “make the same point.” Rather, the Bible says what it wants to say in the way that it wants to say it. The Holy Spirit chooses his words carefully. If we switch phrases in the Bible for what we think their English equivalents would be, we lose something of what the Spirit is saying. In particular, it seems to me, we lose a sense of the Bible’s symbolism.

And so to refer back to my last post, “uncover his father’s corner” or “his father’s wing” is not simply an idiomatic way of saying “commit adultery with his father’s wife.” The Spirit could have said “commit adultery with his father’s wife” if He had wanted to. He didn’t. He chose to refer to the wing of the garment for a reason, even though “commit adultery with his father’s wife” would seem to be much clearer — much more readable — for modern readers, and even though modern readers might find the reference to the father’s wing baffling. That puzzling reference to a wing is normative: it is part of what the Spirit is telling us about man, about clothing, about marriage, about holiness, and so forth. It isn’t a Hebrew idiom which can be traded for something clearer for English readers. There are no such idioms in Scripture.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:56 am | Discuss (0)
October 21, 2003


Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Deuteronomy :: Permalink

On Sunday afternoon, my Scripture reading (as background for the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 41, dealing with the Seventh Commandment) was Deuteronomy 22:9-30. In preparing for that sermon, I noticed two major translation problems.

In Deuteronomy 22:9, the NKJV reads, “You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled.” The KJV, NASB, and NIV all have the same thing: “be defiled.”

But the word in Hebrew is a form of the verb qadash, and everywhere else that word appears it means “to be or become holy.” A quick glance through my Hebrew concordance reveals that nowhere else in the whole Old Testament does the word refer to something defiled, and my lexicons do not give “defiled” as an option for qadash.

Later on in that same passage, the NKJV has this: “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor uncover his father’s bed” (Deut. 22:30). The NIV gives up translating completely and settles for a paraphrase: “he must not dishonor his father’s bed.” The KJV has “… nor discover [i.e., uncover] his father’s skirt,” which is much closer. The NASB is similar: “he shall not uncover his father’s skirt.”

The word rendered “bed” by the NKJV and “skirt” by the NASB and KJV is the word kanaf, and it’s the word for a bird’s wing. By extension, it applies to the wings or corners of a garment, which is how it is used earlier in the passage: “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself” (Deut. 22:12, NKJV).

By translating kanaf as “bed” as the NKJV does or by paraphrasing as the NIV does, the connection between Deuteronomy 22:12 and 30 is lost. The reader can no longer see that all the laws in Deuteronomy 22:13-30, which deal with fornication, adultery, rape, and seduction, are bounded by laws about the corners or wings of a man’s garments. But those corners or wings have everything to do with the laws about sexual morality which they surround.

In the Bible, taking a bride is spreading one’s wing (or the corner of one’s garment) over a woman. That’s what Ruth asks Boaz to do for her (Ruth 3:9). That’s what God did for Israel (Ezek. 16:8; cf. Ruth 2:12). The husband-to-be would symbolically take his wife-to-be into his cloak so that she is covered by his garment’s corner, that is, by his wing.

The corners of Israel’s garments had tassels on them, which represented and reminded Israel of her holiness (Num. 15:38-41). To uncover someone’s corner or wing, then, is to violate the holiness of their marriage bond. And that’s what Deuteronomy 22:13-30 is all about. But you’d never know it if you read most translations.

Furthermore, you’d never know from most translations that mixtures become holy. If you sowed field seed in your vineyard, both the produce of the seed and the produce of the vineyard become holy, which would mean that you couldn’t eat it. (The Berkeley Version takes this stab at a paraphrase: the produce will “be confiscated to the sanctuary.”) As Jim Jordan points out in his essay, “The Law of Forbidden Mixtures,” there are mixtures in God’s sanctuary, the most notable of which is that the priests wore linen garments embroidered with coloured wool (all coloured cloth in the Bible is wool: they couldn’t dye linen). Ordinary Israelites were forbidden to wear mixtures, but the priests wore mixtures. Mixtures in the Old Covenant become holy.

And the tassels that the Israelites wore on their garments had a blue (and therefore woolen) thread in them. Each Israelite had a little mixture, a little bit of holiness, on the four corners of his garment. So the corner or wing that a man spreads over his wife has a tassel symbolizing holiness.

But you’d never spot any of this symbolism if you just read the standard English translations. Instead of reproducing what the text of Scripture actually says, the translators have attempted to give their own interpretations. They read that the produce of mixed seed is holy and they say to themselves, “Nope. That can’t be right. Mixtures are bad, so … let’s make that defiled instead.” They read about uncovering a father’s corner and they assume that readers won’t be able to figure it out. It’s an obscure idiom, they think, and so they simplify things by speaking about uncovering the father’s bed or they simply paraphrase to try to “get the meaning across.” But the ironic result is that in so doing they fail to get the meaning across, because the meaning is bound up with the words God uses.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:34 pm | Discuss (0)
October 20, 2003

Response to Christian Renewal Interview

Category: Updates :: Permalink

Because some people who read this blog also read Christian Renewal and may have read a recent interview in that magazine, I thought it might be wise to post a response to that interview here. This letter will be appearing in the Nov. 10 issue of Christian Renewal.

Dear Editor: We read with sadness the interview with Messrs Godfrey, Venema, McDade and Johnson (CR, 10/13/03). While we want to honor the editor’s desire to close this discussion in CR, we do wish to point out that the interview does not represent our views or our statements accurately.For instance, Mr. McDade attributes a statement concerning Esau to Mr. Barach, when in fact the statement was made by the magisterial Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Nor is Mr. McDade’s summary of it correct. Those interested in researching what Zwingli actually said may find the quotation in Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God, p. 105.

Nor were our doctrinal views represented accurately. We subscribe to and teach from the Three Forms of Unity (Barach and Schlissel) and/or the Westminster Standards (Wilkins and Wilson).

We affirm that God has predestined a fixed number of people for eternal glory with Christ and that none of them will fall away. We affirm that not everyone in God’s covenant and church in history is foreordained to inherit eternal glory with Christ.

We also affirm that we can never merit justification (or anything good) from God. We affirm with the Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2 that while “Faith … is the alone instrument of justification…yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

We appreciate CR‘s willingness to publish these clarifications.

John Barach
Grande Prairie, AB

Steve Schlissel
Brooklyn, NY

Steve Wilkins
Monroe, LA

Douglas Wilson
Moscow, ID

Posted by John Barach @ 5:14 pm | Discuss (0)
October 16, 2003

The City

Category: Theology,Theology - Trinity :: Permalink

Toward the end of his introduction to Charles William’s novels, Thomas Howard deals with Williams’ view of the City as a complex system of order involving a mutual exchange of gifts:

Williams derives his picture of the City from Saint John the Divine and from Saint Augustine. In its perfection of order and architecture it supplies us with a pattern (or what Williams also liked to call the “web” or “diagram”) of glory. Things must be intricately worked out and interwoven. In any earthly city there are one-way signs, yellow lines in the streets, traffic lights, bus schedules, commerce, taxes, laws, police, a council, a mayor, and so forth. Every item forms part of the pattern without which everything would tangle, break down, and grind to a halt. If one car ignores the yellow line you have a shouting, hooting traffic jam backed up for blocks. The life of any city depends entirely on its obedience to the imposed pattern. The paradox, of course, is that this imposed pattern is the guarantee of everyone’s liberty. The attempt to break free of the pattern results in chaos.The difficulty is that all earthly cities are imperfect patterns. Corruption, sloth, inefficiency, stupidity, cynicism, and violence mar the pattern. But this only throws the thing itself into starker relief. There is no life that does not depend on this pattern of “co-inherence” — of you and me mutually submitting to the rules — for its sustenance, and where this is flouted you find anger, sorrow, and ruin, which is what you find eventually in hell (pp. 37-38).

That may be worth thinking about the next time I’m sitting at a red light waiting, perhaps impatiently, for it to change. Impatience while driving is a species of pride: “Why doesn’t everyone submit to me and get out of my way?” But at a red light, what are we doing? We’re regarding others — the people with the green light — as more important than ourselves. And then we discover that they also are compelled to stop and we get to go because the traffic light imposes a system of mutual deference, mutual courtesy.

It seemed to Williams that here was a principle. Everyone, all the time, owes his life to others. It is not only in war that this is true. We cannot eat breakfast without being nourished by some life that has been laid down. If our breakfast is cereal or toast, then it is the life of grains of wheat that have gone into the ground and died that we might have food. If it is bacon, then the blood of some pig has been shed for the sake of my nourishment. All day long I live on this basis: some farmer’s labor has produced this wheat, and someone else’s has brought it to market, and so on. These in turn receive the fruit of my work when I pay for the product. Money is the token and medium of the exchange that takes place: here is the fruit of my labor, which you need, and with this I purchase the fruit of yours, which I need. It becomes very difficult to keep all this very sharply in focus in a complex modern society where face-to-face transactions rarely occur. But the principle of exchange is at work in international commerce as well as in the village farmers’ market. It is just harder to see. Williams coupled this idea of exchange with two other ideas, namely, “substitution” and “co-inherence,” but they all come to the same thing. There is no such thing as life that does not owe itself to the life and labor of someone else. It is true all the way up and down the scale of life, from our conception, which owes itself to the self-giving of a man and a woman to each other; through my daily life, where I find courtesies such as a door held open if I have a package; and laws obliging me to wait at this red light while you go, and then you to wait at the next corner for the other fellow; and commerce, in which I buy what your labor has supplied; right on through nature, with its grains of wheat planted and harvested and animals slaughtered for my food; to the highest mystery of all in which a life was laid down so that we might all have eternal life.

The point for Williams was that all life functions in obedience to this principle of exchange and substitution and co-inherence whether I happen to observe it or not, or whether I happen to be pleased by it or not. It presides over all life, so that to resist or deny it is to have opted for a lie. For Williams, hell is the place where such a denial leads eventually. To refuse co-inherence will reward me with solitude, impotence, wrath, illusion, and inanity. I will have reaped the harvest I have sown in my selfishness and egotism. I will have got what I wanted. I will be a damned soul.

On the other hand, the City of God is the place where we see co-inherence brought to blissful fruition. What we encountered in this mortal life as mere genetics, say, in our conception, or as agriculture in the bread we eat, or as law with its traffic lights and yellow lines, or as courtesy with doors being held open, or as economics with its buying and selling, or as theology with Christ’s sacrifice — all this is unfurled in the dazzling light of the City of God (pp. 25-27).

What Howard doesn’t mention (perhaps because Williams hadn’t noticed it himself) is that all of this interaction, which Williams saw in all of life and which is encapsulated in the image of “the City,” is an image of the eternal fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom gives Himself to the others, seeking their glory. So, to ask the question again, what are we doing when we wait at a traffic light? We’re taking part in a complex system of rules and procedures which compel mutual deference and courtesy but in which we, as individuals and as a society, begin to image to some degree the mutual deference, courtesy, love, and humility –” putting others ahead of ourselves — of the Trinity.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:32 am | Discuss (0)
October 13, 2003


Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Later on in his handbook to Charles Williams’ novels, Thomas Howard writes (still summarizing Williams’ vision),

Saints experience as bliss the very same thing that damned souls hate. Vexing necessities like waiting at red lights or fetching cups of cold water turn out to have been early lessons in joy. For joy is the final fact. It is the way things are, whereas hell is the way things aren’t. If, for example, I can just try getting this cup of water in the middle of the night for my spouse, who is thirsty, even though God knows I am too sleepy to budge, I will have gone through a very small lesson in Charity…. I may of course refuse, in which case I will have missed one lesson. The difficulty here is that this refusal turns out to be more serious than my merely having missed a lesson. I have lost ground. I am not where I was. I am a step back. Or, put another way, I am now less prepared to pass the next lesson since I have contributed by my refusal to an inclination, already too strong, to pass up the lessons. It is so much easier just to stay in bed here. It is much, much nicer. How comfortable and warm it is here. Let my spouse fend for herself. I’ll just doze a bit more…

… and wake up in hell, says Williams. Not that he supposes I will be damned for a small thing like that. On that fierce accounting we are all lost. Rather, it is a matter of realizing that whatever I do is going to nourish either selfishness or charity in me. There is no third category.

Williams might say that Lesson Two in this Cup-of-Water-in-the-Middle-of-the-Night section might be that I learn how to do it in such a way that my spouse will conclude that it is no trouble at all for me. A small self-deprecating jest goes a long way here. And of course the point for Williams would be that by my at least making the attempt to do it lightly and good-humoredly I will find that I have come upon one of the keys to joy. It may look rather small and doubtful right now, but it is a hint of what the City of God is made of. Selfishness and sloth, on the other hand, cannot even imagine, much less want, this joy.

Williams might go on to suggest that Lesson Three could very well be my learning to receive such a cup of water, or to allow my spouse to get up and get one for herself without a lot of fuss and protestation, if that seems the best and least troublesome thing for both of us. Charity is not bondage and fuss. The giving and receiving fall into place when done properly, like the advancing and retreating steps in a well-executed dance (pp. 27-28).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:48 pm | Discuss (0)

Far-Fetched Poetry

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Yesterday, I started reading Charles William’s second novel (well, second published, but first written), Shadows of Ecstasy. In connection with it, I’ve also been reading Thomas Howard’s wonderful The Novels of Charles Williams. Here’s something Howard says about Williams and about poetry:

What Williams is interested in is heaven or hell; or, to put the same thing another way, he is interested in human behavior. This looks like a conundrum. How can we say that heaven and hell are the same thing as human behavior? If Williams really thinks they are the same thing, his imagination must be very far-fetched indeed.

It is. It is “far-fetched” in the sense that any great poetic or prophetic imagination is, in that it is fetched from afar. The noblest poetic imaginations have persisted in seeing the commonplace routines of human experience against an immense backdrop. Eliot spoke of “the fear in a handful of dust,” referring to the enormous and alarming significance lying just under the surface of even the most ordinary things. Scientists see one aspect of this when they tell us about the subatomic activity raging and swirling about in the merest handkerchief. Prophets see another aspect of it when they tell us that modest items like casual oaths and cutting remarks and icy silences will damn us to hell. Poets see yet another aspect of it when they see the whole Fall of man in a fieldmouse’s scampering away from a farmer’s plough, or a world of hypocrisy in the fur trim on a monk’s cuffs.

The ordinary stuff of our experience seems both to cloak and to reveal more than itself. Everything nudges our elbow. Heaven and hell seem to lurk under every bush. The sarcastic lift of an eyebrow carries the seed of murder, since it bespeaks my wish to diminish someone else’s existence. To open a door for a man carrying luggage recalls the Cross, since it is a small case in point of putting the other person first. We live in the middle of all of this, but it is so routine that it is hard to stay alive to it. The prophets and poets have to pluck our sleeves or knock us on the head now and again, not to tell us anything new but simply to hail us with what has been there all along (pp. 17-18).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:45 pm | Discuss (0)


Category: Theology :: Permalink

In Romans 1, Paul describes man’s sin this way: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). From one perspective, man’s sin can be described as ingratitude.

And from that perspective, Jesus’ work can be described as restoring us to a life of thankfulness: “The Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is for you; do this as my memorial'” (1 Cor. 11:23-24).

Jesus is the grateful one, and He unites us to Himself by so that we become His one body, giving thanks to God with Him. And now we are able to enjoy God’s creation and feast on all kinds of food: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by John Barach @ 11:04 am | Discuss (0)
October 4, 2003

=) =O =)

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

While I know that our bodies are designed by God and that, strictly speaking, there are no design flaws … have you ever noticed that you can’t whistle and smile at the same time?

Posted by John Barach @ 1:35 pm | Discuss (0)