Scattered Thoughts on Forming and Filling

The following are things I’ve picked up from others, mostly from Alistair. I’m spitting this out here to hopefully help myself and others connect some dots. (Forgive my liberal capitalization; I’m learning German.)

God’s Work in Creation

At the beginning of Genesis 1, the earth is without form and void. It has no shape and is empty. God creates in seven days. This solves the problem of formlessness and emptiness.

Days 1-3 are days where God “forms” a particular realm, or sphere. He does this by dividing and distinguishing things. Light from darkness. Waters above from the water below. Waters from the dry land. He also named things on these days. “And God called…Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, Seas…” On these days, as I said, He is forming the creation. He is giving it structure, rigidity, making it a definite arena in which things can take place. He has established hierarchies in the very structure of the cosmos. Heaven is above Earth is above Sea.

Days 4-6 are days of “filling.” The realms which He has made, He now fills with living, breathing, communing creatures. The greater and lesser lights, along with the stars, inhabit the sphere of Heaven and govern Day and Night. The sea creatures dwell in the Sea, the waters below, and the birds dwell in the expanse of Heaven. The livestock, beasts of the earth, and Man himself walk upon Earth. Again, filling is the primary activity of the latter three days. He is imparting life and bringing communion into the cosmos. Here again, He establishes hierarchies: Man is to rule, to subdue and dominate, the other creatures.

There is then Day 7, on which God rests from His labor and hallows the seventh day.

Days 1-3 correspond individually to Days 4-6. That is:

  • Day 1 > Day 4: Day and Night are formed, then filled by Sun, Moon, and Stars
  • Day 2 > Day 5: Waters and Expanse are formed, then filled by sea creatures and birds
  • Day 3 > Day 6: Dry land formed, then is filled by livestock, beasts, and Man

Additionally, the first, fourth, and seventh days are all concerned with Time. On the first day, the rhythm of Day, Night, Day, Night, is begun. On the fourth, the Day and Night are regulated by the Sun, Moon, and Stars. A pattern of seasons, days, and years is established. On the seventh, the weekly holy day is established as a day of rest and contemplation of the Lord’s work. So the first set of “forming” days begins with a focus on Time, the second set of “filling” days begins with a focus on Time, and the final day focuses on Time.

Man’s Mandate in Creation

In chapter 1, when Man is created, they are commanded to be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and dominate the earth. This follows the forming and filling pattern. They are created in the image of God. They are created male and female. The fundamental unit of mankind is the male-female pair. Sexual dimorphism is the one differentiating factor between types of humans highlighted at creation. That means it’s very important. No other difference is noted in the creation accounts.

Chapter 2 zooms in on the Man and the Woman, so to speak. Here, the distinctions are set forth.

The Man is created from the earth. He is the man of dust from the ground. God breathes the breath of life into him, and he comes alive. He is formed outside the Garden. There was yet no bush or small plant of the field, and no man tending it. God then plants the Garden and places the Man in it to work it and keep it. God also delivered His Law to the Man there: “Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

God saw that it wasn’t good for the Man to be alone, for the Man could not fulfill the Creation Mandate alone. The Man could tend and enlarge the structure area of the Garden, but he could not fill it by himself. God brought all the animals to the Man, partly to demonstrate this, and he named them. The Man is associated with God’s activity of Days 1-3. He copies his Father in forming the Garden and naming its inhabitants (including the yet to be introduced Woman). He provides structure and rigidity to his domain and makes authoritative pronouncements over it on God’s behalf.

The Woman is created from the Man. She is the rib, the one who comes from the Man’s side. She is formed inside the Garden. It was already planted and being cared for. The Man had already received the Law from God, and delivers it to the Woman, who does not hear it from God.

The Woman is created for the Man. She is fit for him, she corresponds, complements, and glorifies him. She is united with him to become one flesh. Her creation allows the “filling” part of the Creation Mandate to be fulfilled, and so she is associated with God’s activity of Days 4-6. She copies her Father in filling the Garden. Her gifts allow her to bring forth new life and establish communion in the Garden. Now there can be new worshippers.

Man:

  • Forming (And naming)
  • Works the ground
  • Created outside Garden
  • Made from earth
  • Given Law by God

Woman:

  • Filling
  • Bears children
  • Created inside Garden
  • Made from Man
  • Given Law from God by Man

Man’s Fall

The natural order is overturned in the Fall. Where God speaks His true Word to the Man, who speaks it to the Woman, who together rule over creation, the Serpent (identified with the beasts of the field, and so part of the creation) speaks falsely to the Woman, who speaks falsely to the Man, who then hides from God. The chain of authority is exactly reversed.

  • Natural order: God > Man > Woman > Creation
  • Sin-marred order: Creation (Serpent) > Woman > Man > God

In this, God curses all involved. The Woman, specifically, is cursed in her ability to fill the cosmos and is set to be tyrannized by her source, the Man. She was brought out of Man to receive the benefits of his labor and be a help to him. Now she will harry him and he will harry her. The Man is cursed in his ability to form the earth as he was taught and is set to be tyrannized by his source, the ground. He was brought out of the ground to receive its fruit by his work. Now the ground will turn against him.

Man and Woman are cursed in distinct ways. The Man’s task of forming the earth will be frustrated. Where he would have an orderly, beautiful, fruitful Garden, the ground will bring forth thistles and thorns. He will obtain bread, but only with great toil. The structure that he would bring to the earth will be disrupted at every turn. The Woman’s task of filling the earth will be similarly thwarted. Childbearing will be very painful. Where she would have many children in joy, there will be agony, sorrow, and death. Life in communion, her gift to creation, will be thrown into confusion and division.

God’s Work in Redemption

Christ forms the Church. He gives it structure, rigidity, boundaries, the Law. He purchases it for Himself. He subdues and dominates sinners, making them into His brothers. His work is as a king, a gardener, a shepherd, a priest, a prophet, a carpenter. He speaks God’s true Word.

The Holy Spirit fills the Church, indeed. His work is associated with the new birth, baptism, communion, nurture, peace, and unity. He brings new members into the household of God. He joins them to Christ. He imparts life to them.

The Temple is a symbolic Garden of Eden. The Church is God’s Temple. The Temple is God’s house and household. The Church is God’s house and household. (Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Pet. 2:5, Heb. 3:6, 1 Cor. 3:16) So there is a strong tie between God’s work in creation and His work in redemption. The symbols of one are just as useful in one context as the other. In redeeming mankind, He does not do away with the natural order. Rather, He puts the natural order back together again. Where before we were under the reign of sin and the curse, He frees us from that bondage so that we can walk as Man and Woman were originally intended.

Why?

All this tells us a few things, at least.

  1. God created us in such a way that our vocations as both Man and Woman parallel His work both in creation and redemption.
  2. There is in fact a natural order to which we should conform ourselves. Christianity, rather than doing away with such an idea, commits us to it all the more strongly.
  3. Since this natural order and our various vocations parallel God’s own work, we have no just cause to denigrate that order.

I think this background will be very helpful in studying what nature and Scripture have to tell us about questions of authority, submission, sexuality, household order, and so on. Pronouncements of how things ought to be will be more compelling and persuasive if we can explain the ‘why?’ of it. Knowing the cosmic significance of our work will hopefully aid us in our performance of it.

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Acedia

Aquinas writes about the sin of acedia, or sloth:

I answer that, Sloth, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 14) is an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man’s mind, that he wants to do nothing; thus acid things are also cold. Hence sloth implies a certain weariness of work, as appears from a gloss on Ps. 106:18, Their soul abhorred all manner of meat, and from the definition of some who say that sloth is a sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.

Now this sorrow is always evil, sometimes in itself, sometimes in its effect. For sorrow is evil in itself when it is about that which is apparently evil but good in reality, even as, on the other hand, pleasure is evil if it is about that which seems to be good but is, in truth, evil. Since, then, spiritual good is a good in very truth, sorrow about spiritual good is evil in itself. And yet that sorrow also which is about a real evil, is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds. Hence the Apostle (2 Cor 2:7) did not wish those who repented to be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (ST II-II Q.35)

This is one of the biggest sins with which I struggle. I too easily play the sluggard. Looking around, I see a lot wrong with the world, with my family, with my friends, the Church, myself. My people are in decline. My Southern homeland is disintegrating. My family is rife with sin, ignorance, and apathy. As I am. I see all this, and I am “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” I’ve let down my guard and allowed sin to take root in my melancholy heart. I’ve neglected to do the good I ought, which has led to being dishonest in an effort to save face. (Sin seems to multiply faster than Romanist rabbits.)

My sense is that this is a potential weakness of many who have a classically conservative and traditionalist disposition. Or perhaps it’s just me. Either way, it is truly a deadly vice. I’ve felt myself draw back, into myself, to avoid revealing my failures. It’s a vicious circle. You don’t do the good you ought. You try to conceal that. You pull away from those you love to hide it, which means you have less to spur your on to perform your duties. You withdraw from communion with God, wherein your only hope of salvation from this lies. And so you spiral down, down, down.

Our, my, only hope is Christ, the faithful worker who never shirks his duty, who always does the will of his Father. He bore the greatest weight of sorrow, yet did not turn to look back once he put his hand to the plow. His work goes on in his Church. He calls us to unite to his Body, where we find victory over sloth. Victory comes in the joy that his salvation brings. We can rest contentedly in the knowledge and hope of his coming Kingdom and renewal of all things. And it comes in the communion we have with the saints. We share our burdens with one another, and fight them as a united people. That’s why these sins cause us to desire isolation. The Enemy knows that we will overcome when we walk in the light, confess our sins to Christ and to one another, and fight with our King and countrymen. Alone, isolated, thinking of nothing but the evils of life, we have already been defeated.

All is not well in the world, but it will be.

Coke and the Bible

“Do you want a coke to drink?”

If you are asked this in the South and you answer in the affirmative, the response will undoubtedly be something like “What kind? Coca Cola? Dr. Pepper? Pepsi?” I’ve seen this confuse folk who haven’t been to the South before. “I said I wanted a Coke! If I wanted a Pepsi I would have said so,” is the usual reply. It is then explained that Southerners, recognizing the superiority of Coca Cola, have adopted the habit of referring to all soft drinks as “cokes.”

This sort of substitution1 is not unique to Southerners, not even to English speakers. We talk about someone’s “threads,” meaning their clothes. A person’s “bread and butter” is their livelihood. “Suits” are businessmen. “Strings” are stringed instruments. I’m sure you can think of plenty yourself. The idea is that some part of a thing can be used to refer to the whole. Threads make up clothes. Bread and butter are the products of a good job. Part of being a businessman is wearing a suit. Stringed instruments obviously have to have strings to make a sound. We are familiar enough with this that we don’t really think about it. We simply do it.

We use these figures of speech to make our communication interesting and bearable. And so do the authors of Holy Scripture. They do it so much that if we don’t consciously take it into account when we are interpreting the Bible, we risk missing most of what is being taught. Think about the commission of Matthew 28:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matt. 28:19-20a (ESV)

Jesus employs this same kind of part-for-whole substitution to describe the means of making disciples. He says to make disciples by “baptizing and teaching.” He doesn’t mean that baptism and teaching are strictly and simply the only things we have to do to make disciples. Rather, he is using two of the most important aspects of the ministry of the Church to represent the entire ministry of the Church: that of Word and Sacrament.

Or think about Genesis 3 and the curses laid upon the Man and the Woman. The Woman is cursed with pain in childbearing. The Man is cursed with pain in his work to till the field. Is the curse merely that it will hurt to give birth? Or that men will sweat and get hurt when we farm the ground? Or is God using short-hand expressions to represent a more comprehensive frustration of the natural order? It’s definitely the latter. And if we recognize that, we learn something about what it means to be a Man or a Woman.

God curses the Woman with pain in childbearing. Childbearing, though, represents the whole of the Woman’s calling as wife and mother. It stands in for bearing children, nurturing them, enlivening and keeping the home, making it a place full of life and communion. And if God curses the Woman in this way, it means that is what the Woman is for. The curse is a frustration of the way God meant for things to be. Therefore, her task is to keep the home and bear children, which is no small thing. This is her particular help in subduing and dominating the earth.

Likewise, God curses the Man in his labor in the field, outside the garden. His work to make bread is fraught with danger and failure and hard toil. Working in the field embodies the Man’s calling as the protector and provider for his family. He is to go out into the wild and tame it. He is bringing in the raw materials that his wife and family need. He goes out into the public realm on behalf of his household. Since this is the particular way God afflicts the Man, we can see that this is his natural goal.

We would miss that, though, if we didn’t remember that God, the prophets, and the apostles often use a part of something to refer to the whole. Like we Southerners do when we order a coke.


[1] The technical term is synecdoche, if you’d like to study further.

 

Forgotten Protestant Teachings: The Eucharist

“Now, as it is certain and beyond all doubt, that, that Jesus Christ has not enjoined to us the use of his sacraments in vain, so he works in us all that he represents to us by these holy signs, though the manner surpasses our understanding, and cannot be comprehended by us, as the operations of the Holy Ghost are hidden and incomprehensible. In the meantime we err not, when we say, that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body, and the proper blood of Christ.”

From whence in Christendom do you think the above comes? From Rome, maybe? Or Constantinople?

How surprised would you be to hear that it comes out of Geneva?

It’s the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as summarized in chapter 35 of the Belgic Confession. Now, you should read the entire section on the Holy Supper to get the full picture of the teaching, but I’ve drawn out the above quote to highlight the fact that the Reformers didn’t jettison the doctrine of the Real Presence. They certainly corrected the error of transubstantiation taught by the papacy, but they didn’t swing into the opposite error of memorialism. I’ve included a video below of Dr. Michael Horton commenting on this:

It’s also worth checking out what the Westminster Confession and Heidelberg Catechism have to say about the Eucharist. In the Westminster Larger Catechism, the questions from about 150 to around 180 are pertinent.

UPDATE 10/29/16 10:45 PM
The catechism written by Calvin for the church in Geneva offers a nice summary, as well. (I love the title, which includes the phrase “being a form of instruction for children.” If only we taught our children as well as they!)

Of Proper Sowing

I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

So says Christ in a chorus from T.S. Eliot’s pageant play “The Rock.” This was brought to mind after a conversation with a friend a few days ago. We are both in the process of moving church membership and had been discussing the criteria we use to determine the health of a congregation.

I am moving across denominational lines to a tradition that, in terms of identifying a true church, places exclusive emphasis on “proper sowing.” That is, according to the Reformed confession, they are true churches that rightly preach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments, and execute churchly discipline. The confessions of the Reformed church then explain, in broad terms, what that means. This means I have an objective standard to guide my decision. The nearest church that fulfills these duties is the one I will attend.

I’ve talked to others, my friend among them, who inspect the harvest. They often let their judgment of a church’s effectiveness in evangelism and outreach become the controlling factor in their decision to join that church. I’ve seen this in relation to the relative size, organizational ability, and the demographics of the congregation. One person claimed that small churches wouldn’t be small if they evangelized as they ought. Some have left a church because they didn’t like the way small groups were organized. Another said,  “if there are not many young adults attending, then clearly this church is unwelcoming to them.” In these fellows’ eyes, the lack of what they judged to be a sufficiently sizable, vibrant, or diverse community indicates that a church is not a church worth joining. That isn’t to say they don’t care about the doctrine taught at all, but they do judge churches based on outcomes.

Unhappily, this is a common mindset in evangelicalism. “Ordinary,” “small,” and “gradual” are descriptions not welcomed with regard to the local church. Notions of church life tend to be grandiose and triumphant in terms of numbers and breadth of cultural influence.1 Why is that, though?

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.

The Church proclaims that we are fallen. The Church tells us we can do nothing to save ourselves. The Church insists that we must submit to her Lord. The Church declares that she guards the only path to eternal life. We want to hear none of that. The Church reminds us that, in this life, She is the Church Militant. For now, we bear our crosses. The Church Triumphant awaits us on the other side of the grave. There we will live in glory.

I think a better paradigm for church life, and life in general, is one taken from Tolkien and his idea of “the long defeat.” Consider the Elves of Middle Earth. Their history was suffused with contradiction. On the one hand, their past was stained by many tales of greed, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Tempted, tried, and often failing, they had done the worst of deeds. Sin was heaped upon sin, and the consequences of this were horrible. Yet, they had also fought uncounted years for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Noble warriors had won magnificent victories against the forces of the Dark Lord. Kings had risen and built glorious cities. They dwelt in relative peace, safety and prosperity. But their time ended, and they had always known it was going to end. Every victory, every new triumph, was not quite as great as the last. They were a dying people. Their final victory was not to be had on this earth. They had to set their hope on a better country, a far-off city, a garden beyond the walls of this world.

And so it was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Adam, Eve, and Noah, with Job, with Moses, with David, with all the Patriarchs and Prophets.

So, too, with us. Christ, in his first advent, inaugurated the ending of the ages. We live in “the last days.” These are the days of war, disaster, and famine. He came then as one of lowly stature. He was humble. He suffered. He had no place to rest his head. He set the example for how we will fare till he returns. Following him, we Christians live now as pilgrims in a foreign land. We have died to the world, which is itself dying. The community of pilgrims, Christ’s Church, is going to reflect that reality. There have certainly been periods when the Church has experienced great growth, and particular congregations may, from time to time, be particularly blessed in their harvest. Yet, we are told not to give thought to that. We are told that we should sow carefully and in accordance with the King’s edict. Paul planted, and planted well. Apollos watered, and watered well. But God gave, and gives, the growth.2

We often don’t see what growth God is giving in a church. Seeds take time to germinate and sprout. We can only judge what is a true church by the marks that He has revealed. He has promised to speak to us through His Word, wash us in Baptism, feed us in our Lord’s Supper, hear us in prayer, and guide us by the officers of His Church. This is proper sowing. Let us be content with the growth God is pleased to give.


All centered, italicized text is taken from T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses from ‘The Rock.'”

[1] But this is nearly always accompanied by a strikingly low ecclesiology, which I find odd.
[2] I would submit that the idea I’m considering in this post is a major theme of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow

I was recently reminded of this beautiful hymn. During those times when God lays us low and employs those inward trials, remember that He is setting us free to find our all in Him,  so that we are perfect and complete. When we who are called by Him mean to do evil, God means it for good, and He will accomplish His will.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
And he, I trust, has answered prayer:
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d grant me my request;
And, by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried;
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
To break thy schemes of worldly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in me.”

Analogy

In this post, I’d like to draw attention to the doctrine of analogy in relation to providence and soteriology. I’ve drawn from an article by Dr. Michael Horton in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. His piece is primarily directed towards delineating the distinctions between the theological methods used by Reformed and open theist theologians, but it is a good starting point for thinking about the classical, Western doctrine of God.

What is the doctrine of analogy? Horton:

“When we assert certain predicates of God, based on God’s own self-revelation, we use them in one of three senses: univocally, analogically or equivocally. If we say that the predicate “gracious” means exactly the same thing, whether in God or in a creature, we are using “gracious” univocally. At the other end of the spectrum, if we say that by using that predicate we are ascribing something to God whose appropriateness is unknown to us, we are using it equivocally. If, however, God is said to be “gracious” in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to creatures, we say it is analogical. For instance, when we acknowledge that God is a “person,” do we really mean to say that he is a person in exactly the same sense as we are? When we follow Scripture in using male pronouns to refer to God, do we really believe that he is male? Unless we are willing to ascribe to God (in a univocal sense) all attributes of human personhood, predications must be analogical.”

Important to note is that we aren’t simply saying, for instance, that God is more gracious than a creature. God’s graciousness is qualitatively different, not just quantitatively different.

What does this have to do with our understanding of salvation and providence? Well, in the conversations I have on the topic, one of the objections that my Arminian/Molinist interlocutors advance is that, on the Reformed view, God is the author of sin. Once the ambiguities of that statement are cleared away, what they mean is that God is the only real cause of everything that happens and is therefore culpable for all evil. Secondary causes, such as human actions, don’t have any moral standing.

To illustrate the objection, suppose a man uses a pole to push a rock. The pole bears no responsibility for moving the rock; the man does. The argument is that if God ordains all that happens, we’re not much different than the pole. We can’t resist. We can’t do otherwise. We have no responsibility for our actions.

This betrays a univocal understanding of God as cause. In human experience, it is generally (though even here, not always) the case that increasing the amount of control one person has over a situation decreases the responsibility of others. However, if we recall the doctrine of analogy, God is a cause in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to us. One of the dissimilarities is that God can cause things such that a) the event certainly happens and b) creaturely freedom is not violated. It should be no surprise that God can ordain that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, an obviously immoral act, while stilling holding Joseph’s brothers responsible for the sin. When God works providentially, He is operating on a totally different level from us.

It’s yet another mark against theologies built on a commitment to a libertarian account of free will that they lead one to adopt a heterodox view of God.