More classic essentials


Rachel McMillan, frequent BreakPoint contributor, adds to the collection of classics every Christian should read with her own list, over at Novel Crossing. So far, I've read only six of her 10 picks. How about you?

Comments:

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You're Right, Jason
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I was thinking Third World for some reason.
"At the same time, this man is apparently quite bothered by the problem of evil-- such as Ivan describes to Alyosha-- and so I'm having to think and pray some more about how to address this, in a way that doesn't seem canned or too pat. (Last week, he brought up an issue I've never heard or thought of before, that in the book of Job, Job's children got a raw deal, because unlike Job, they all died at the start.)"

The Problem of Evil is mentioned often enough. What is not mentioned is what might be called the Metaproblem of Evil; that Christianity is the only religion that makes an attempt however inscrutable to solve it. Zoroastrianism is the easiest solution but it is simply to easy; the arguments against dualism seem pretty much fatal.

Judaism takes evil seriously but it looks to suspiciously like an embryo of Christianity. And others either posit a God "beyond good and evil", a good God who doesn't do anything about evil, or something undefinable-or simply don't deal with it, like Confucianism which is primarily an orthopraxy of gentlemanliness rather then a metaphysics and therefore can't be expected to deal with such things. Christian doctrine is hard to understand, but no one else seems to make any real attempt at solving the problem of evil.
Actually I didn't raise a point about first world backwardness because I think WE are the first world. The second is the communists and obsolete. Third World originally meant non-alligned. To be honest now it is a euphemism for "natives".

I was referring to the implication that the First World was "given over". The quote was referring to Israel specifically. The First World is composed of a ragtag cluster of barbarian tribes, and Mediterranean city-states who by one historical accident or providence became friendly to Christianity and by another coincidence or providence discovered how to sail around the world. The West is not the Chosen People; Israel is. The Church is not a "People". It is more like a guild then anything else.

Because of this, it does not follow that declarations meant specifically for Israel apply to the "First World." Certainly lack of righteousness is not in itself a sign of future decline. Or vice-versa. Otherwise we would have to assume that Armenians were less righteous then Ottomans, or more absurdly that Kievans were less righteous then Tartars.
I Know I'm Jumping Threads Here
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But . . . but . . .

Lee's link.

That was indeed a duck too far.
KP, I would assert to your colleague that Job actually got the worse end of the deal, since in Asian societies the young are expected to care for the old. (That should resonate with your colleague better than it does with Westerners.) The children die and go to their eternal reward - and remember that Job gave sacrifices to God regularly to insure a good reward for them - while Job is left to run his huge estate all by himself in his old age.

Also, it's relevant to note the other end of the book, where Job has the same number of children. I've never read a definitive commentary on whether or not these were new children, or the original children being resurrected from the dead. I tend to favor the latter interpretation since in Job chapter 1 the children were already old enough to have their own homes, so it's less likely (though hardly impossible) that Job would have a whole new batch of children and have the exact same number and genders. (Besides, I do believe that a "Mrs. Job" would be required to produce new children, and the original wife seems to not have been too thrilled with the situation, so maybe she left. Or maybe she stuck around but was never in a romantically receptive mood ever again. Etc., etc.)

But as long as we're talking about the classics (and I feel I'm straying too far from topic anyway), I'll note that it was from Larry Wall's first edition of _Programming Perl_, the original "Camel Book", that I learned the meanings of the names of Job's daughters: "The first daughter was named Dove, the second Cinnamon and the third Eyeshadow Kit." (Job 42:14) And please note that the 4th edition of _Programming Perl_, published February 2012, weighs in at 1184 pages - longer than _The Brothers Karamazov_. I thought that by finishing college I'd be done with humongous books; bwahahaha.

Finally, it is indeed notable that Kostya made the comments section at this website rather more lively than usual, even for me. Sin in haste, continue to repent even two full years later, alas. I'm still sorry, Gina. But I do like the grammar Kostya used in the comment at the top of Rolley's link, where "The only one" is the *two* of us. I felt like my status was vastly improved, having been melded with a superior mind.

. . . That being, of course, the best-case scenario; there are certainly others:

http://www.worth1000.com/entries/113152/duckirrel
As Jason alluded to, worldly success and failure cannot necessarily be interpreted as reflecting God's favor or disfavor. When we try to make such a claim about a given case, we're left with a lot more that we can't explain.

As for Job's children, they were ultimately used for God's purposes, even though that's not what Satan had in mind. All we can really say for sure about such things is that God's reasons are sometimes far beyond our grasp, as His motives and logic are magnitudes beyond our comprehension unless He dumbs it down for us.
More Digression, but Hey “All Things are Lawful”
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(And in those few words, my Karamazov on-topic-ness begins and ends).

“This man is apparently quite bothered by the problem of evil.” Would that more of us were, Kevin; and though I'll concede it is not an essential to faith, it sure is a huge factor in the saints' doubts and the sinners' distrust of Biblical Christianity. I've seen some anecdotal surveys indicating the number one reason ostensible believers defect is “because Christianity cannot adequately account for the problem of evil in its more senseless manifestations.”

“The Book of Job”. A couple of perspectives that have helped me: 1) when enduring horrific trials Christians usually search (rightly) to understand “what lesson God is trying to teach me by this.” But in Job 1 and 2, God isn't so much concerned with teaching Job a lesson as He is with teaching Satan a lesson; namely, that whereas angels may have served God “skin for skin”, there are some “lower than angels” cough cough cough people who serve Him simply b/c He really and truly is worthy to be loved/served. These folks don't use inexplicable, senseless suffering as an excuse to accuse God of being unworthy. They have concluded that “there'll be an answer by and by”. At the risk of oversimplification, that seems to be the crux of what this life is all about. 2) Early, tragic death does seem a tragedy, but the operative word here, from the celestial perspective, is “seem”. If the one dying goes to glory, his death is “gain” (Philippians 1); and I know of no reason to believe differently of Job's household. It gets stickier if a person's death is horrific (as death usually is), but if the death of the righteous was always a tidy affair and that of sinners otherwise, guess what the effect would be? “Let's become ostensible 'believers' simply so we can escape a nasty exit from this life.” And voila, Satan proves his “skin for skin” point.

“Injustice in the world.” Let's admit it: there is injustice in the world; loads of it. But you are right, God is not guilty on any account. Not because (as some allege), that nothing God does could ever be called “unjust”. Yes, it could; if He were to do something unjust. That's just the point: He would never do anything unjust. “Shall not the God of all the earth do what is right?” etc. Here, IMHO, is partly how to cut this Gordian knot: Note that even Scripture describes the curse, the righteous curse, as the imposition of “futility” on the sons of men (Romans 8:20). Now a synonym for “futility” is “vanity” or “senselessness”. God would agree (I believe) that Hamlet was right:

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I.e., But for the grace of God. But for the redeeming grace of God who causes all things, even senseless tragedy, to work together, ultimately, for good for those who, even oftentimes by dint of the tutelary agency of otherwise senseless suffering, take refuge in Jesus. God causes even injustice, the “weapons formed against us” by our Ancient Foe (a la Isaiah 54) to “not prosper.” Ultimately (as you note), it will all resolve (this is the sense of “reconcile all things unto Himself” in Colossians 1:20); but most of us won't be allowed to put it all together until the Final Battle lest our “loose lips sink ships”; e.g. give the Devil advance insight into what Jehovah is plotting against him to bring him down.

In truth, God hates our suffering more than we do. “In all their afflictions He was afflicted.” “He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the sons of men.” In 1 Cor 15 He calls death “an enemy.” He hates suffering/death so much He took it on Himself that one day we might, in retrospect, be able to look back and honestly call what the worst of us endured, “momentary and light affliction.” And He sincerely intends this deliverance for EVERYONE; He honestly is not willing that ANY should perish; and if the cup of suffering, too, could here and now be taken out of our hands, it would be. But, as with Jesus, so for most of us, that cup, the cup of physical suffering, may not pass w/o being drunk to the dregs; for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”. But the day is coming when “everything sad will come untrue” (hallelujah).

Much that we rightly call “the judgment of God on sin” is simply the inevitable manifestation of the consequences of sin. For example, it is the Lord that giveth and that taketh away, true enough; and yet if I shoot myself in the head, though my death is the judgment of God on my sinful folly, it is also, at the same time, the logical consequence of my sinful folly – i.e. human irresponsibility. These things usually go together hand in hand. Thus, when Jason raises his point about First World backwardness appearing to some to be solely the judgment of God, he rightly insinutates that that view fails to do justice to the counterbalancing principle of human responsibility: i.e.,, those in First World conditions aren't there solely b/c of “the judgment of God”; they are also there b/c of the irresponsibility of their neighbors (and perhaps to some degree, themselves) to help them out of a less advantageous socio-geographical situation. And it's why it drives me to distraction to hear believers (?) say “there wouldn't have been 56 million abortions in America if God, in His sovereignty, had not willed or permitted it”. That's one of the most irresponsible attitudes one could possibly cop (despite it being incredibly commonly-held); and it reminds me of an immoral hypothetical that someone calling themselves Kostya posed here sometime back that made me even more apoplectic than usual ( http://www.breakpoint.org/tp-home/blog-archives/blog-archives/entry/4/18308/20 ).

But I digress (just as I promised). :)

Simplistic answers to suffering/evil are, like idle hands, the tools of the devil, one of the big reasons, I think, we see the indifference and hostility to the Gospel that you mention. Unbelievers aren't stupid; they know that many of our pat answers are inadequate at best and disingenuous at worst; and if we are willing to fudge about our faith on this point in order to win converts, why should they trust us or our narrative on other points? It is just one compelling reason why the church must never abandon the reverent quest to prove all things, to every fairminded person's satisfaction.

Yes, by all means pray, and never stop praying! “As I breathe I hope”; as long as anyone is breathing there is still hope for them. Indeed, it is often judgment falling that gives the potential convert one last chance to escape the fierceness of the impending fire he only then first begins to adequately comprehend.

Lastly, when every erstwhile unwilling knee finally bows, I tend to think it will not be at the crack of a divine whip compelling them; I rather tend to think it will be instead the rueful buckling of knees in unbearable sudden full realization that the doom awaiting them need never have been.

Well, I've gone on too long. Gotta run now; it's time for my favorite TV show, “Squires of Squirreldom”.
"Has the First World had its opportunity to embrace the Gospel and, having finally rejected it, been 'given over' (as Rom. 1 calls it) to the consequences of its rebellion and hostility?"

I think evangelicals to easily conflate national success with righteousness. That is simply a collectivization of the argument of Job's friends.
To Rolley
Sorry that I could not reply earlier, but one of my researchers is finishing up a grant proposal, and I was asked to help with some of the formatting matters for the references. (EndNote is pretty terrific, I must say!)

I'm meeting weekly with a Visiting Scholar from China, an Asst. Prof. of Literary Theory, to explain to him about the Gospel and Jesus. In our first meeting, I mentioned Dostoevski's "The Idiot" as an example of someone who tried to create a 'good' character, as a way of pointing out to him that the Jesus we see in the Gospels DOES come across as that good character, yet even more and better than merely good.
At the same time, this man is apparently quite bothered by the problem of evil-- such as Ivan describes to Alyosha-- and so I'm having to think and pray some more about how to address this, in a way that doesn't seem canned or too pat. (Last week, he brought up an issue I've never heard or thought of before, that in the book of Job, Job's children got a raw deal, because unlike Job, they all died at the start.)

There is a large issue that I'm struggling to understand, which is the way that so many 'innocent' people get caught up in the judgments of God-- and no, I will NEVER suggest that God is unjust. But He Himself seems, in the prophets, to acknowledge that many will suffer due to the apostasy of others, the leaders and priests, etc. And of course one can see this in the punishment meted to David at the end of II Samuel, when he takes the census.

The issue is significant in part because I work in Berkeley, which I think has been largely indifferent or hostile to the Gospel for perhaps 150 years-- is this attitude in part what C.S. Lewis calls 'penal blindness'? But in the larger picture, what is the relevance of God's actions in judgment to the current course of this nation, and of the West in general? Has the First World had its opportunity to embrace the Gospel and, having finally rejected it, been 'given over' (as Rom. 1 calls it) to the consequences of its rebellion and hostility?
If yes, shall we continue to pray? (I think so.) If yes, shall we weep as we witness the decline? Jeremiah did; and in Ezekiel's vision (ch. 9?) the servant of the Lord was instructed to mark those who groaned as they observed the apostasy and decline. Praying and weeping and groaning (my, my!)...

All of God's ways are right and good and excellent. And in the end, justice will be done, and will be seen to be done, and there will be no more accusations possible against God. (As I am fond of saying, "every knee shall bow, yet some of them will be with a loud cracking sound.")

Um... is this a digression from discussion of The Bros. K, and that powerful chapter? :-)
Postscript
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The more I think about it, folks ought to read the whole chapter; it's not that long. If you start in the middle where I suggested, you'll miss the important backdrop.

Apologies for misleading you.
Calling Kevin Peet
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Well, I just finished The Brothers Karamazov, all 900+ pages. Whew. Some marathon. Chuck Colson may have gotten through it without breaking a sweat, but for a boy whose limit is more on the order of a Dorcas and Nimrod riff, I'm ready for the brain showers and a couple of tubes of Ben-Gay.

Back on October 28, Kevin, you asked me for feedback when I finished. Well, like you, I was utterly blown away by the chapter right before “The Grand Inquisitor” (titled, “Rebellion”). I enjoyed the whole book (“enjoyed” probably isn't the exact right word; more like “profited from”). But the noted chapter was one of the more powerful pieces I've read in a long time.

For those interested in reading only the part Kevin and I are referencing, it's over here ( http://www.online-literature.com/dostoevsky/brothers_karamazov/35/ ); begin at the phrase “Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming!” and read to the end (approx 1,000 words). In view is a ponderous subject that some of us have wrestled with here in years past (in lively fashion, I might add): http://www.breakpoint.org/tp-home/blog-archives/blog-archives/entry/4/4193/20

Suffice it for now to say, in summary, “Alyosha Peet” is hereby officially confirmed (once again) the true kindred spirit to a brother in the Southeastern USA (and I'm not alluding to Smerdyakov. There were others, but Dostoyevski was determined to keep the book under a thousand pages).

That's a хорошо thing!
Thanks, Kevin! I'm just about to brew a fresh cup. But it's of Lizzy's Fresh Coffee: http://www.lizzysfreshcoffee.com/
Locally owned and roasted. :)
Why sure, Ellen!
You get a gold star.
Which, combined with about $10, will also get you a pound of Peet's Coffee. Such a deal!
Kevin, do I get a gold star?

Jason, it's: GINA-YOD
CVS and EMACS sound like some weird military eccentricity in World War II. When they didn't have muskets and if they had wouldn't have turned them against squirrels.

LISP sounds like a difficulty a teacher I once knew had.

I don't know what GIMAY sounds like.
Gregorian vs. Julian calendars.
Jason, you of all people should know that Rolley and I are easily, and often, confused.

Heh.

It's an easy mistake due to the paradox that Rolley has read far more classics than I, so he is a member of the leeterati, but I am not.

On the other hand, I'm good with acronyms:

Confused Via Squirrels.
Every Musket Against Carolina Squirrels.
Leequod Inhibits Straightforward Pointification.

Git! I'm Now A-YODdin'!!
Oops. It wasn't Lee who committed the utter folly of getting one of those tools of the devil known as "textbooks" it was Rolley! I guess I have just inflicted coLEEteral damage. Sorry Lee.

Kevin, I didn't know that about Cervantes and Shakespeare. The main thing I remember about Cervantes aside from writing Don Quixote was that he was at Lepanto where alas there are no stories of Turkish coffee among the plunder.
The Rest of the Story
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Gina, you'd be surprised how quickly supplies of candy corn are depleted from local supermarkets around Halloween. In the past the dependable solution was to hit the corner CVS; a little pricier, perhaps, but they were never known to run out as soon as Wal-Mart.

Until this year.

It took him several hours, but LeeQuod finally figured out how to spring his trap (scroll down for the background, patient reader). By the time I realized he was on the loose, he'd already mustered a formidable army of bushytails, and I knew right away where they were headed: for the corner CVS (which Lee concluded --albeit wrongly-- stood for: “Corn Victual Store”).

I don't think I need to explain how I knew CVS was where I'd find Lee and his hordes of hoarders. He is nothing if not clever. (How many squirrels do you know can convincingly persuade the addled masses his motives are noble when, in pledging his intent to bequeath his personal atheneum to a duck, he cites, as the exemplar tome, a volume devoted to LISPing? Thufferin' thuccotash! Will ye all sleep through Armageddon?!?)

At any rate, I had no choice (now did I?) but to preemptively round up my own friends (whom you saw on the video) and make a stand at the local CVS before Lee and his marauding muskrats could sack the candy counter. Houston, we have touchdown.

The moral of the story is: if ducks are acting peculiarly, it is always, without exception, the squirrel's fault.

And now you know. Hmph.
Kevin, different calendars in Spain and England?
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