“The Curmudgeous One”?

August 30, 2004

Some Monday morning quid pro quo: Rebecca at Rebecca Writes apparently liked my entry on the Church of the Holy Horseshoe, about those KJV-only extremists who get all fired up when they see something spelled differently in their Bibles.

Meanwhile I’ve been working my way through her series on the attributes of God. The most recent, on God’s immutability, was particularly excellent.


I’m pathetic

August 30, 2004

That’s it.

I just took a look at my “on the nightstand” reading list, and discovered much to my chagrin that I have been feeding my brain nothing but science fiction (and not necessarily very good science fiction, at that) for the last month.

So, for the month of September, I am declaring a moratorium on all SF, excepting any book that I have on reserve that happens to become available. Next on deck: Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Right after I finish my re-read of Ringworld’s Children . . .


Fleece, peace, and the “still small voice”

August 28, 2004

In this installment of my series on God’s will, I will examine three of the most common, Biblically based methods used by some to determine what God’s will is for their life at a given moment.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am limiting myself to three. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other methods other people use, based on the Bible. It just means I have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise these posts will be impossibly long. (In fact, if someone wants to drop me a line saying “Have you considered such-and-such verse so-and-so,” along with a brief rationale why it teaches that God’s will is sought through fleeces, circumstantial signs, inward promptings, or whatever, then I’ll be glad to take a look at it.)

Second, I don’t intend to discuss any of the really off-the-wall ideas, such as opening a Bible at random and applying the first verse their eyes happen to fall upon. Treating the Bible as a tarot deck or Magic 8-Ball is, frankly, beneath any sort of serious discussion.

“Laying out a fleece”

We all know this one. Heck, we’ve probably all done this one in some way or another. When we “lay out a fleece” before God, what we are doing, essentially, is seeking to know God’s will in a matter by asking him to arrange circumstances to indicate his answer to our question. In his book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen uses the humourous example of the “phone fleece”: Suppose you want to ask Gladys out, but you don’t know whether it is God’s will that you do so. You decide that you will call her up. If the phone rings and someone answers (and you hope it’s Gladys), then God is telling you to ask her out. On the other hand, if you get a busy signal, God is telling you that Gladys is not for you. (She might be accepting a date from someone else.) If there is no answer, then you will try again later. Now, be honest: This is silly. Yet you’ve tried something like this in the past, haven’t you? I have.

The idea of a “fleece” comes from the story of Gideon, which involved a literal fleece:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judg. 6:36-40)

And so, we are told, once Gideon received the sign from God that he and his army would surely save Israel, he went out and did so. We too display Gideon’s exemplary faith when we follow his example. It sounds so pious, so spiritual, so faithful. But is it? Is this story about Gideon intended to authorize the practice of laying out fleeces to determine God’s will? I think not. Here is why the context of this story militates against the practice of laying out fleeces:

  1. Gideon already knew what God’s will was. In fact, God had even sent an angel to tell him that he was God’s chosen instrument to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 56:13-16). In fact, when Gideon requested the sign of the fleece, he acknowledged this: “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said . . .” (Judg. 6:36, emphasis added). He wasn’t trying to find God’s will, he was trying to find a way out of it.
  2. Gideon’s fleece was motivated by doubt, not faith. Already knowing what God expected of him, Gideon apparently didn’t believe it though the message came directly from an angel. So he requested a sign. Then he requested a second sign (Judg. 6:39), perhaps realizing that the first sign was rather stupid (there is nothing remotely miraculous about wool remaining wet after the ground has dried, after all).
  3. Gideon must have realized he was trying God’s patience. He pleads with the Lord not to be angry with him for making yet another request for confirmation (Judg. 6:39).
  4. Gideon still wasn’t convinced. In fact, after explicit instructions from an angel and two confirming signs, Gideon still needed to hear from the mouths of the Midianites themselves that they feared him (Judg. 7:9-15). Spying in the bushes accomplished what three supernatural events couldn’t.

In short, this idea that Judges teaches us to lay out fleeces before God to know his will turns the meaning of the text around 180°. This is a classic example of misappropriation. The point is not that we should seek God’s will by praying for signs. It is that God, in his grace, can use even his weakest people to accomplish his plan. Laying out fleeces in fact comes dangerously close to the pagan practice of augury – telling the future through signs and omens – which Scripture forbids.

Give peace a chance

You meet your friend Henry at church one Sunday at evening service. Henry has been house-hunting for a few months, and you decide to touch base with him and see where he’s at.

“I’ve looked at about a dozen houses in the last few weeks,” Henry says, “but none of them really seem right. They’re too small, too large, too old, too run-down, or, if they’re just right, too expensive.”

“That’s rough,” you agree. “So there are no likely prospects on the horizon?”

“There is this one place,” Henry replies. “It’s in a nice neighbourhood, the size is about right, and because it’s been on the market for some time, the owner is willing to consider a lower price than the one she’s been asking. As far as I can tell, it’s nearly perfect for me.”

“It sounds great. What’s stopping you from making an offer?”

“The problem is, I just don’t know if this is the place God wants me to have. I don’t want to settle for his second best. So I’m going to pray over it this week and seek his will before I do anything stupid.”

Next week, you meet Henry again.

“So how’s the house-hunting going? Did you decide on that one place yet?” you ask.

“Yes!” Henry replies, enthusiastically. “When I got home from church last week, I sat down and I prayed about whether that was the place God would have me buy, and when I was done, I had an incredible peace about it. So I called up the realtor the next morning and made an offer.”

Peace, we are told, is one of those “signposts” God uses to confirm that we are in his will. The Scriptural rationale for this practice comes from a verse in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col. 3:15). The word translated “rule” means “to govern” or “to arbitrate.” It’s supposedly the same word that would be used for an umpire’s job in a ball game (or whatever the first-century Greek equivalent was). When we make good decisions, God gives us peace. When we make bad decisions, we lose our peace.

But, again, we have to ask whether this passage is actually teaching that our decision making ought to be governed by the presence or absence of inner peace. Here is the verse again, in its wider context:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col. 3:5-17, emphasis added)

Look how often the words “one another” appear in the passage. Paul is teaching about how relationships within the Christian community ought to be. Christians are to be honest with one another; patient with one another; forgiving with one another; teaching one another. It is in the midst of this teaching that Paul writes to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”

In other words, the “peace” that Paul is talking about is not some sort of inward peace that we experience when we do the will of God. It is an outward peace between fellow believers that we are to strive for by obeying the revealed will of God. There is a lesson about decision making and the will of God here, but it is not that if we make the right choices, God will give us peace. Rather, it is that we are to conduct ourselves in such a way that we promote peace between the brethren. Our choices must reflect this ethic.

Finding that still small voice

What do you think of when you hear the words “still small voice”? No doubt it brings to mind the “inner witness” that all Christians have, those quiet inward promptings by which we are guided by the Holy Spirit. I found it interesting, therefore, that the only commentaries on 1 Kings where I found the “still small voice” described as the internal, rather than the external, voice of God were literature that was influenced by either Quakerism or liberalism.

Picture the scene. The prophet Elijah has just scored a spectacular victory in a showdown with the false prophets of the false god Baal, forcing them to acknowledge that “YHWH, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39) before destroying them. Queen Jezebel, getting word of this, sends word to Elijah that he is a dead man. Despite seeing God’s power manifested in a mighty way at Mt. Carmel, the very frightened Elijah runs for his life, eventually ending up cowering in a cave atop Mt. Horeb. Here he pours out his complaint to God: “I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).

“Wait for me on the mountain,” comes God’s reply. So Elijah does. Standing there in his cave, he is about to see a powerful object lesson. First a great wind rushes through the mountains, powerful enough to smash boulders. Then there is an earthquake. Then there is fire. Mt. Horeb is Sinai, the same mountain where Moses met with God and received the Old Covenant. No doubt the author of Kings is trying to recall that previous meeting to mind between the prophet and the Lord, where the presence of God was announced by fire and earthquake.

But this time, God was not in the wind. Nor was he in the earthquake, or the fire.

Rather, these spectacular displays of God’s power are followed by a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), or as some translations render it, a “gentle breeze” or a “gentle whisper.” And although the text does not say how Elijah knows this, evidently he realizes that God has finally come, and he leaves his cave to speak with him. The text says nothing about the “still small voice” being an inner voice; rather, I think we are left with the impression that it is outside. The contrast does not appear to be “inward” vs. “outward,” so much as “huge, crashing, loud displays of divine power” vs. “hardly any sound at all.” The lesson for Elijah is that that God is more complex than just earthquakes and fire and smashing rocks.

Again, Elijah voices his complaint. We might expect God’s retort to be something along the lines of, “Look, buddy, I just shot fire from heaven. What more do you want from me?” But his actual response is a lot more surprising:

Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:15-18)

In other words, “Go and appoint a new king and your own replacement, and by the way, you’re not really the only one left, you know.” The point? God has already delivered a decisive blow against the false gods with the spectacular face-off on Mt. Carmel. Now it’s time for the “still small voice”: the quiet, subtle, yet no less devastating workings of Providence. Yes, sometimes God smashes the rocks, but more often he puts the right man in the right place at the right time.

But if the “still small voice” has nothing to do with inner nudgings from God’s Spirit, is there any lesson at all from this passage about knowing and doing God’s will? Yes, there is. Don’t expect God to answer all your prayers in the most spectacular way possible. When you make choices, submit to the outcome of Providence. And trust that God has your best interests in mind, even if it is not immediately apparent.

Some concluding remarks

If my past experience is any guide, people have an unfortunate tendency to draw the worst possible conclusions they can from the premises I provide. “You’re saying that God doesn’t lead,” comes the retort. Or, “You’re saying that God doesn’t give us peace.” “You’re claiming that God never speaks through circumstances.” “You’re saying that God never speaks to our hearts.”

I respond: Read carefully. That is not what I am saying. I am willing to state, categorically, for the record, that I believe laying out fleeces to determine God’s will is unbiblical and should not be done. But regarding the inward peace and the “still small voice,” I am saying this, and no more than this:

These things are not taught where we are told they are taught.

But if the classic proof-text for a position, and the one place where certain traditional words are used, do not say what it is claimed they say, then where do these ideas come from?

Anyway, after four weeks of negative apologetics, I think it’s about time to turn to some positive teaching, and so next time I’ll turn my attention to what the Bible does say about the will of God.

References

Friesen, Garry L. Decision Making and the Will of God. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1980.

Provan, Iain W. 1 and 2 Kings. New International Bible Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.

See also

First in the series: Finding and doing the will of God: Prolegomena

Previous entry: God’s “perfect will” and Romans 12

Next entry: God’s guidance and “open doors”


Oh, not again

August 28, 2004

The honourable member for Mississauga and Erindale has put her foot in it again:

Canadian Member of Parliament Carolyn Parrish had said she hated “damned Americans” and called them bastards in the run-up to the Iraq war. She found a new moniker, idiots, on Wednesday in discussing the planned U.S. missile defense system.

“We are not joining the coalition of the idiots. We are joining the coalition of the wise,” the Liberal legislator told a small group of demonstrators.

Parrish, who had to apologize for her “bastards” remarks last year, at first denied using the term idiots, and when reporters pointed out they had her remarks on tape, she said: “I don’t mean Americans are idiots.” . . .

Parrish then begged reporters not to use the remarks: “Please guys don’t put that on tape,” she said. “I already got into trouble once…. Really, please, I’ve had enough trouble.”

[Full Story]

Dear Ms. Parrish:

On behalf of Canada, our international respect, and the common good of all mankind: Shut your pie-hole.

Sincerely,

The People


Nope, no media bias here (yet more bad abortion rights rhetoric)

August 28, 2004

From yesterday’s Corner at National Review Online:

AH, REUTERS [Ramesh Ponnuru]

Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, sent out a press release on the latest partial-birth ruling. Here’s an email he got in response from Todd Eastham, the North American news editor for Reuters: “What’s your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?”

“Mr. Eastham,” I respond, “here is my two-year-old daughter. Even though I was responsible for bringing her into this world, I now feel that my responsibility has ended.” From somewhere within the folds of my clothing, I produce a Glock .45 handgun and point it at her temple. “Unless you agree within the next thirty seconds to adopt her and raise her, I am going to blow her brains out.”

“But . . . but -” Eastham sputters, “that’s different.”

“How so?” I ask. I finger the safety on my handgun, and Eastham visibly turns another shade of green.

“She’s . . . a person,” he stammers.

“Aha! So we finally get to the real issue, don’t we?” I put the gun away, pointing out to Eastham that it was, in fact, unloaded all along. “It’s not about poverty or crime. Those issues serve as distractions from the real issue. It’s about the identity of the unborn. That question trumps all others. Is an unborn child a human person, or not? If she isn’t, then what’s the problem? If she is, then my reluctance to adopt her doesn’t justify the abortionist’s willingness to kill her.”


Welcome to the Church of the Holy Horseshoe

August 28, 2004

A recent post on the BaptistBoard reminded me of some of the absurd lengths that some KJV-onlyists go to in their zeal to “defend” God’s Pure And Inerrant Word in the English LanguageTM from the scourge of “per-versions” translated into contemporary English. A poster remarked that he had been reading 2 Timothy 3:17 aloud from the King James Version:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added)

Someone apparently took umbrage at the fact that when he reached the word throughly, he pronounced it thoroughly – a word with precisely the same meaning, only without the archaic spelling (which, as a matter of fact, some KJV editions update).

There is indeed a faction of KJV-onlyists who believe that even alterations of the spelling of KJV words are “corruptions” of the so-called pure Bible. It doesn’t matter whether these differences are due to changes in usage over time (substituting sneezes for neesings, for example), pronunciation (substituting the article an for a sometimes indicates a change away from silent H’s) or regional differences (the U in words like colour, Saviour, etc.). I have even encountered Web pages that claim these changes are Satanically inspired. Get a load of this article by KJV-onlyist Nick Kizziah:

Beside [sic] all this, Cambridge [University Press] has also taken the liberty of making doctrinal changes [in its edition of the KJV]. Notice the following: The capital S in the word Spirit has been changed to a lower case s in numerous passages. The capital S refers to the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, whereas the lower case s in the word spirit could have multiple definitions such as simply referring to a mood or emotion. Its primary definition means to breath [sic]. All living self moving [sic] creatures have a spirit within them. So many definitions could apply to the word spirit when it is not capitalized.

To change the capital S in the word Spirit to a lower case s is an attack against the Godhead, the most powerful threefold cord in heaven and earth: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (emphasis in original)

Well, OK, even though I’ve never been confused by the difference between a capital-S and a small-s “spirit,” I’ll grant Kizziah this one. But here’s his next point:

Here is another change that has been made in this particular edition: the word twoedged has become two-edged. They added a hyphen. . . .Why? Was this a mistake or did they mean to do it that way? Why tamper with it in the first place? Don’t say you were trying to help us Cambridge. If that’s the case then please don’t try to help us any more. All we want you to do is to publish the same standard text of the King James Bible as you have done so very well for hundreds of years. Don’t publish something that is not the standard and call it the standard. Once you modernize spelling, change capital letters to lower case letters and add hyphens, you are changing the standard text in order to please modern society.

This is getting a bit picayune. How does adding a hyphen to the word “twoedged” (following modern orthographic practices) either result in “making doctrinal changes”? How does it “please modern society”?

At this point, someone must have handed Kizziah an X-Acto Knife, because his ability to split hairs suddenly becomes the sort of thing epic poetry is written about:

Here are some other ploys that some of these other worldly publishing companies are pulling on an unaware publick [sic]. One thing a lot of them do is change the spelling of words that end with the letters o-u-r to the more modern American spelling of o-r. For example armour becomes armor. Behaviour becomes behavior. [Examples ad nauseam eliminated by me for brevity. – the Curmudgeon] . . . Well Brother Nic what’s wrong with that? . . .

Now the very worst of this battle of o-u-r vs. o-r comes when dealing with the only begotten Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The modern day counterfeiters have changed Saviour to Savior. They have given us a six-letter Savior in place of a seven-letter Saviour. In Bible numerics seven is the number of completeness, purity, and spiritual perfection. On the other hand six is the number of man which is earthly not heavenly. Every one has heard of 666. It has a bad connotation and is not highly esteemed in Bible numerics.

The seven-letter Saviour is the only begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The six-letter Savior is the son of perdition, the anti christ [sic]. He wants to be like the most High (Isaiah 14:14,) but not in a good way, but in an evil way. He is not a follower. He’s a counterfeiter. Therefore his final destination is the lake of fire. The new versions, along with the new age movement, and some of the King James Bible counterfeits are preparing the way for this six-letter so called [sic] Savior. That’s the way he will spell his name, S-a-v-i-o-r not S-a-v-i-o-u-r. No thank you Satan. I’m sticking with the seven-letter Saviour as portrayed in the old black Book that I inherited from my forefathers. (emphasis in original)

In case you aren’t sure if you read what you read: Yes, Kizziah is arguing that spelling “Savior” in the American fashion is a deliberate deception intended to prepare the world for the Antichrist. Millions of people are being enticed to worship the Beast . . . by reading their Bibles!

This kind of foolishness goes beyond mere KJV-onlyism or even Ruckmanism. I’m going to start calling these people the “Church of the Holy Horseshoe,” because this is about as close as you can get to worshipping the letter U. At the very least it treats the title “Saviour” as some sort of magic word that is good if spelled correctly, but is used for evil if spelled incorrectly.

Ironically, many organizations and people that promote KJV-onlyism also promote the use of the original edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary published in 1828. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if, some years from now, some extremists start claiming that this dictionary is divinely inspired in some way. The Mormons claim the Constitution is inspired; what’s stopping a few psycho-fundies, who believe that the KJV was providentially translated at the time when English was supposedly at its apex, from claiming the same for their favourite dictionary (which often reflects the Biblical definitions of words anyway)? Webster had an overtly political purpose for his dictionary: to produce a distinctly American version of the English language. Most of the differences between British and American spelling can be traced to Webster. (Noah Webster also produced his own revision of the KJV in 1833, but you don’t hear too many KJV-onlyists praising it. I wonder why?)

There is an electronic version of the 1828 dictionary available on the Web. Just for laughs, I looked up the offending word. If you guessed that Webster spelled it savior, you’re right. Saviour, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found. How will the Church of the Holy Horseshoe resolve this apparent conflict?

There is an appropriate response to anyone who confronts you over such ridiculous trivialities as the spellings of words. Look the drama queen in the eye. Smile. Say something like “Thank you for sharing your insights.” Continue with what you were doing. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” (Prov. 26:4).


Christian Carnival XXXII

August 25, 2004

The Christian Carnival is up at Patriot Paradox. This month I have made my first submission (and hopefully not my last), my recent article on God’s will and Romans 12. (And welcome to anyone who followed one of the CC links to get here! Feel free to look around.) Kudos to Nick for throwing everything together on such short notice.

My personal favourites: