Tiger, Tiger burning bright…the audacity of evangelism

There are actually two background stories to this post. The original story is the Tiger Woods saga. No expansion necessary I presume. The secondary story is Brit Hume, the Fox News Analyst and former anchor. Mr. Hume had audacity to publicly practice Christian evangelism. Here is a great round-up of that background from getreligion.org, a blog dedicated to looking at the coverage of religion in the press.

The net is that Mr. Hume on live television gave the advice to Tiger Woods to look into Christianity because it is a religion of forgiveness, it is a religion of sinners. Mr. Woods is thought to be Buddhist, which Mr. Hume correctly noted does not have a concept of personal sin nor of personal redemption.

The central teaching of Buddhism is “you suffer because you desire.” The central prescription of Buddhism is “purge yourself of all desire so that you won’t suffer.” It is fascinating that in Tiger’s case this is true. (No “great religion” would be that if it wasn’t a true description of a large part of the human experience.) Tiger desired many different women (all of them apparently who look like Barbie). Tiger also desired a pretty wife, kids and family core. Tiger’s desires led to his suffering. But here is the rub. To avoid suffering, the Buddhist teaching is not just to avoid letting your lust run but also to let go of the desire for the nice stable family life. It is your desire that causes suffering. There is no judgment made on the goodness or badness of the desire.

The Christian teaching is not that desire in itself is bad. The Christian teaching is that mis-ordered desire acted upon, otherwise know as sin, is what leads to suffering and eventually death. God created the cosmos to function in certain ways. Roman Catholics would call that natural law. In the Lutheran tradition is is all part of the Kingdom of the Left which is governed by the law. It is when we make choices that operate outside of that law that we sin and bear the punishment for that sin. The orthodox christian teaching goes further than that. It says that our desires after the first sin known as the fall are by their very nature mis-ordered. Natural man, if not constrained by some other force, would every time choose to exercise his desire contrary to God’s law. Without the grace of God we could not choose correct desires or restrain bad desires.

That horrible condition known as original sin is man’s predicament. As St. Paul would cry out, who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:24) Under no obligation to do anything, it was man who chose to sin, God chose grace. And that grace was something very specific. It came through a specific people – the Children of Abraham, the Jews. It comes in a form that our natural man would despise – a powerless peasant tortured and killed. God out of His grace sent His son Jesus who atoned, made restitution, payed in full our sin. He experienced in full all of our due suffering. And he did that while never making a choice that went against the desires of God. Jesus suffered without a mis-ordered desire. And the Father would not let that be the final judgment and raised him from the dead and placed him on the throne.

Buddhism, if all you know is the law, is attractive. Under the law, the best you can do is minimize suffering. One break with the law and you bear its full penalty. But the law is only half the story. The law is only a teacher. It points us toward the one who by grace has restored us. It points us to the one who desired a people and actively came to call one out of the wreckage.

Christians, that people called by God, are sinners who have been made saints by the grace of God. Brit Hume was right in what he said. If Tiger wants to have hope of something beyond the suffering produced from his desire, He needs the gospel. Natural man doesn’t desire grace. He wants to save himself, even is all he can do is avoid more suffering. God through his Word and Spirit offers grace and forgiveness. And only in that Spirit can we be saved from this body of suffering and death.

Knowledge and Love – Grace Alone

Text: Romans 10:1-13

The prayer book that I follow has the 2 year daily lectionary texts (OT, Epistle and Gospel) and it also includes a 4th readings from a wide variety of saints from accross time. The philosopher Pascal (Pascal’s wager, Pascal’s triangle) was the writer of today’s fourth reading. Pascal was for much of his life a Jansenist. A Jansenist might be considered the Roman Catholic version of Calvinism. They consistently claimed they were just Augustinian, which by the way is what Martin Luther was, an Augustinian brother. If you read Bondage of the Will you could be forgiven for not find much difference between Luther, Calvin, Jansen or maybe Pascal. All of them rationally collapse into Grace Alone.

The line that caught my eye was this – “The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.” Paul, the original Augustinian, has very similar arguments in Romans. Earlier, Romans 1:21, Paul ascribes to the gentiles knowledge, but not love. In Romans 10:11 he seems to ascribe love but not knowledge to his fellow Jews. Both lackings lead to bondage. Bondage of the intellect to futility and darkness. Bondage of the will to the treadmill of work’s righteousness. Freedom is found in the grace of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the law has been fulfilled, and on Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, reason can find a solid foundation. We come to this blessed spot by grace. And because it is grace, all glory is given to the Father from which it came.

Context – Arguing from the lesser to the greater

Text: Romans 1:16-25 (also Jeremiah 2:11-13)

Between being sick and what seemed like a random bunch of texts the last couple of weeks in devotion have not been very fruitful. It looks like the daily readings are bringing a couple of heavyweights out for a little while. Jeremiah will be the OT reading and Romans the Epistle all the way until Holy Week. Prayfully this will be more fruitful.

Arguments or apologies for God while good things are by necessity secondary. Nobody has ever come to belief because of the perfect argument. Faith itself is a miracle. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God. Think Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed. What they are good for is a calling back to faith. They speak to Spirit within us. Our baptisms are not in vain.

Aquinas classically outlined five arguments. These arguments have been restated and retold and refuted over and over. Of the five the one that always made the most sense to me is the argument from degree. Stated simply – we make judgements every day on the qualities of objects. That woman is evil/good. That sermon was heretical/truthful. That woman is ugly/beautiful. Those judgements assume a standard of perfection; There is standard of good/true/beautiful. Therefore there must be an ultimate good/true/beautiful. We call that ultimate God.

That is what Paul says. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, his power and diety, has been clearly perceived. We should, by just looking around us, understand that there is something greater. To deny that is to make our thinking futile. To deny that is to exchange the creator (the highest) for the created (things of lesser quality). In a way, God Himself makes that argument through Jeremiah. Even though they are false, does a nation change its gods? – rhetorical question with assumed answer of no. But Israel has given up the God who saves, who made them a people and brought them out of slavery, for things that do not profit. They have given up the living water for broken cisterns that can’t even hold water.

The first call of Jesus is to repent. Turn from the broken cisterns and futile thinking toward the one. The one incarnated for us and revealed for us on the cross.