Call and Response
In God’s image
In the first articles of this series, we observed that the image of God means that we are created to be God’s representatives, regents, and stewards on earth; that this position is the foundation for human dignity and rights; that it applies equally to men and women; and that it is expressed most directly in the family, as the fundamental unit in society and therefore the place where our dominion over creation is first exercised.
The tools God has given humanity to carry out this work of stewardship—creativity, reason, the ability to make choices, the will, emotions, morality—all of these share one important characteristic: they are all expressions of the non-physical side of human nature – that is, the fact that in addition to having physical bodies, we are spiritual beings as well.
Challenges to spirituality
Contemporary culture poses several challenges to the Biblical idea of spirituality. First, one common worldview, known as materialism or naturalism, says that the physical world of matter and energy is all that exists, and thus that people have no non-physical side. This view is most common within the scientific community, particularly among those who believe that the natural sciences provide the only reliable approach to knowledge about any and everything, an idea known as scientism.
To believe this, however, runs counter to our own experience of life. First, it argues that our consciousness is nothing more than a result of chemistry in our brains; free will is an illusion, since everything we do is the result of physics and chemistry; love, hate, self-consciousness, our awareness of ourselves, all are just chemical reactions. Good and evil and right and wrong do not exist since they are neither matter nor energy; you cannot even call them cultural preferences since a preference is neither matter nor energy either.
In fact, even the thoughts you are having right now as you read this aren’t thoughts in the way you think they are—they’re just neurons firing as a result of electrical impulses from your optic nerves. And if you want to argue with these conclusions, you can no more help yourself from doing that or from holding your views than the moon can stop orbiting the earth. You are nothing more than a kind of robot carrying out the necessary and inevitable results of physics, chemistry, and biology.
While some people argue this, it is extremely doubtful that they really believe it deep down. And it is certain that they do not and cannot live as if it were true.
A second problem revolves around the word “spiritual” itself. People frequently describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” or talk about someone being “very spiritual.” The problem is, if you ask what they mean by the word, “spiritual,” they typically cannot define it. It seems to mean something like an interest in metaphysical issues, or a sense of connection to some kind of non-physical “higher being” or “beings.”
Even though a “spiritual” person’s spiritual practices (i.e. exercises done to get in touch with the higher beings or to attain metaphysical experiences or knowledge) may be done as part of a group, spirituality is rarely seen in corporate terms—it tends to be highly individual, which is in part what separates it in people’s minds from religion. This emphasis on intuition and experience makes it very close to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which believed that salvation is attained through acquiring secret knowledge (or discovering it within you).
While this idea of spirituality has some positive elements, particularly its recognition of the existence of the non-physical dimensions of reality, it rarely reflects the Biblical concept of what it means that human beings are spiritual creatures. It often leans toward a form of dualism, another element of ancient Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the spiritual world was far superior to the physical world, so much so that the physical is irrelevant at best or completely evil at worst. This idea shows up in Christian Science, many Eastern religions, and New Age systems, and ironically in some of the more extreme forms of Christian fundamentalism.
Yet Scripture tells us that God pronounced the physical world that He created very good—including our bodies. In fact, our bodies are essential for us to carry out our mandate to be God’s stewards over the physical world: we have to be in it to take care of it. How, then, can the body be evil?
Even humanity’s fall into sin doesn’t change the essential goodness of the body, especially since sin comes from our inner, non-physical being, not our bodies (Mark 7:14-23). We will return to the effects of Fall in a later article.
An integrated whole
Instead of dividing body and spirit, the Bible teaches that the human being is an integrated whole, simultaneously physical and spiritual, with both created good. This unity is reflected in the word for “spirit” in both Hebrew (ruah) and Greek (pneuma), which refers not just to spirit, but to breath. While it is possible to take this too far, the connection of spirit and breath points to the fact that it is the union of spirit and body that gives us life (e.g. Gen. 2:7).
To put it differently, we cannot separate our understanding of what it means for us to be spiritual creatures from our bodies. Neither the materialist who ignores the reality of the spirit, nor the Gnostic who rejects the significance of the body, are correct. The spirit and the body are united in us, and must be understood together.
Of course, even animals have “the breath of life” (Gen. 7:21-22). The human spirit goes well beyond simply giving us biological life. As medieval theologians and Renaissance thinkers pointed out, humanity is unique as a microcosm of the creation: we are both physical and spiritual creatures; we are both sensual and rational; we participate in both time and eternity. What creature is thus in a better position to act as God’s regent (or, in ancient near eastern terms, His image) on earth?
So what is the Biblical concept of spirituality? Jesus tells us that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:24 ESV) Our ability to worship God, to connect with Him, even to have a personal relationship with Him, hinges on the fact that we have within us a spirit that is in some measure a reflection, an image, of God’s Spirit. Without the ability of our spirit to connect with God as spirit, worship cannot happen.
This is the nature of true spirituality: worshipping God who is Spirit. Even this, however, cannot be separated from our bodies. Rom. 12:1 tells us that true worship occurs as we present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. The Greek word translated as “body” is soma, which points to the person as an integrated whole – bodies, minds, emotions and will. This echoes Jesus’ restatement of the shema, the foundation of Judaism, which tells us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—the whole being (Mark 12:29).
All we think, say, and do is thus to be done for the love of God, as part of presenting our whole selves as living sacrifices to Him, which is true worship and true spirituality. This is another way of expressing our calling as God’s stewards on earth: all that we do here, we are to do in His name, for His sake, to express our love for Him and to glorify Him.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, True Spirituality, by Francis Schaeffer, from our online store. Or read the article, “Spirituality, Religion and Christian Faith,” by S. M. Hutchens.
 Scripture divides humans up in a variety of ways: body, soul and spirit; body and soul; heart, soul, mind and strength; etc. For our purposes here, we are not looking at a precise distinction between the different aspects of human nature, but simply using “spirit” to describe all of humanity’s non-physical traits.
 Paul’s use of the term “flesh” as the opposite of “spirit” (e.g. Rom. 8:5) does not refer to the physical body. In context, it refers to an attitude of rebellion against the Holy Spirit’s leading of our lives in obedience to God.
 One implication of this is that taking proper care of our bodies is an aspect of true spirituality. While we do not worship the body, we must take care of it and develop it just as we do our minds and our “spiritual life” as part of our stewardship of ourselves before God.
The Wisdom of the Coen Brothers, Part Two
In Part One, I suggested that the Coen brothers might best be compared not to Old Testament “priests” (Hebrew, cohen; alternate spelling – coen), but rather to sages – wisdom writers dealing with life’s meaning. Their movies are not explicitly religious, certainly not pastoral. Rather, like the Biblical wisdom literature, they set before us two possibilities, life or death, and “ask” their viewers to choose life (cf., Proverbs 8:32-36).
Situated a distance from Hollywood, both metaphorically and actually (Minnesota is home) and rooted in the Jewish tradition, the Coens have wrestled with life’s enigmas in most of their work. Having considered their breakout film, Fargo, we now turn to two other of their movies – The Big Lebowski (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007). These films are very different in tone and feel: one is a comedy that highlights the lead character’s “goodness,” which results in life; the other, through one of the most chilling portrayals of a character ever rendered on film, focuses on “badness,” which results in death. Although the tone and themes of these movies thus fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum, they nonetheless share the distinction of presenting viewers two of the most memorable Coen brothers’ characters: Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski and Anton Chigurh. They together also challenge our culture’s regnant assumption that meaning can somehow be produced by our own efforts.
The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski (1998) is a cult classic with a large, loyal fan base that has even created the website www.dudeism.com – the online home of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude! Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a slacker living alone in a small apartment in Venice, California, is the classic antihero. An aging countercultural hippy, he is perpetually mellow. Though his context might value individualism, materialism, and success, and though those he meets are often self-serving and aggressive, “The Dude” remains a kindly, accepting soul.
The movie’s story takes place “just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies.” The Stranger, who narrates Lebowski’s story, says, “…sometimes there’s a man…the man for his time ‘n place…Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man, and The Dude was certainly that – quite possible the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for the laziest worldwide – but sometimes there’s a man, sometimes there’s a man.” And thus the tone of the movie is set. Like other Coen movies, the plot has many surprising twists. In a case of mistaken identity, The Dude becomes involved in the fake kidnapping of the wife of another Jeffrey Lebowski, a rich wheel-chair bound philanthropist who lives in Pasadena with his trophy wife, Bunny. When thugs come to his apartment to rough up The Dude, they destroy his rug. Seeking justice, Lebowski and his hapless companions ultimately uncover the scheme of the other Lebowski to steal inheritance money. As the story unfolds, there are mistaken identities, dream sequences, violence, simple-minded characters – and always, the uncommon goodness of The Dude.
Despite the decadence of his surroundings, he lives above it, seeking to respond with kindness and generosity of spirit. He attends his landlord’s one man dance performance; he understands the psychological problems of one of his bowling colleagues; he hugs and forgives his friend Walter when he messes up. Even when Lebowski is time and again beaten up, doped, hit on the head, and verbally berated because of his sense of right(eous)-ness, The Dude rolls with the punches, remaining true to himself and others. As the movie ends, The Dude is again bowling. His last words to The Stranger who has narrated his story: “Well, you know, The Dude abides.”
In a voiceover as the movie ends, The Stranger praises The Dude, saying, “It’s good knowin’ he’s out there, The Dude, takin’ her easy for all us sinners. Shoosh.” Rather than seek gain at all cost, rather than give in to the materialism, selfishness, and decadence of his California surroundings, rather than join the rat race, The Dude chooses instead to simply enjoy life. Anything else is futility! As another wise sage, the writer of Ecclesiastes, advises his readers after surveying our futile attempts to squeeze meaning out of life by our work, wisdom, or wealth: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil…. For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.” (Eccles. 3:12-13, 5:20)
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men (2007). If The Dude embodies someone whose moral center makes him resistant to becoming one of those who would seek futilely to manipulate life for their own gain, encouraging viewers in the process simply to choose life’s gift in its fullness, Anton Chigurh embodies the opposite extreme – one whose total lack of morality causes viewers to similarly question any attempt to squeeze out life’s meaning by their own efforts. Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is amoral, a man without moral scruples, heartless, pitiless, random, relentless – the very embodiment of evil.
Is it possible that there are some who simply are evil? Who lack an inner moral compass in any sense? My psychologist colleagues at Fuller Seminary where I teach say it is rare, but there are such persons. What does their presence mean for those who are trying to produce some meaning in life by their own efforts? Such is the question that the Coen brothers’ Academy Award winning picture raises for its viewers. Nominated for eight Oscars and the winner for best picture, director, best supporting actor (Bardem), and best screenplay adaptation, the movie puts viewers consistently on the edge of their seats. If The Big Lebowski was played for laughs; No Country for Old Men is played for chills. The terror viewers viscerally feel forces them to consider life’s meaning, or lack of it, not just for the movies’ characters, but for themselves.
Trying to capture Anton Chigurh is the righteous sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), someone increasingly disillusioned with the brutality and violence he sees in the world. As the movie opens, the sheriff narrates the story of a teenage killer who told Bell that contrary to what the papers printed, his was not a crime of passion. He had simply been “fixin’ to kill someone for as long as he could remember…Said he was goin’ to hell. Reckoned he’d be there in about 15 minutes.” Jones’ narrative sets the tone for what is to follow. For though you would think Chigurh would have a conscience at some point, he doesn’t. As you see him mercilessly making his more-or-less innocent victims squirm, you squirm. Intent on tracking down Llewelyn Moss, a poor man (everyman!) who has stumbled across a drug deal gone sour and finds (and wants to keep) a suitcase with two million dollars in it, Chigurh carries with him a compressed air tank attached to a cattle stun gun. The results are brutal. As if the physical brutality isn’t enough, Chigurh also toys with his victims, asking them to flip a coin to see if they will live or die. The suspense this sinister slaughterer creates for the audience is palpable. The blip of the transponder, like the sound of footsteps on the floor, brings shudders. The pacing is relentless, and the open-endedness of the movie’s conclusion, much like life itself, only adds to one’s discomfort.
We might wish for justice, whether reel or real, but it doesn’t always happen. Human depravity reigns. “Mercy” and “compassion” are simply not part of Anton’s vocabulary. God seems absent, or at least silent. Or perhaps, God is present in His silence, in the questions that the presence of raw evil ask. Upon seeing the movie, the Biblical words of the Preacher again come to mind: “…I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well…. So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?” (Eccles. 3:16, 22). Life is a gift; not a task. It is to be received with joy from our Creator…. and Redeemer.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Dude Abides, by Cathleen Falsani, at our online store. Or read the article, "The Good Life," by Charles Colson.
This means something!
The movies of the Coen brothers are some of the most thoughtful and creative currently being screened. Rooted not in Hollywood or Beverly Hills, but in the Jewish diaspora of Minnesota, they reflect the sensitivities of a family of university educators whose children grew up attending synagogue and Hebrew school. Both brothers excelled in university – Joel (b. 1954) completing the film program at NYU and Ethan (b. 1957) studying philosophy at Princeton. With all of their fourteen feature length movies, the brothers have shared fully as co-writers, directors, editors, and producers. And they have done this outside the studio system. Along with a handful of other current filmmakers, they are truly film auteurs – those whose creativity and perspective extend to all aspects of the movies they create. When the credits say, “A Coen Brothers’ Film,” this means something.
Although their name is a variant spelling of the Hebrew word for “priest” (cohen), the Coens might better be thought of as sages. Like the Old Testament wisdom writers of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, these Jewish filmmakers explore life’s ethical and spiritual questions. And like the Biblical sages, these artists choose not to harken back to God’s redemptive history, rather being content to observe creation carefully in all its complexity. But unlike the Biblical sages, the Coens remain secular theologians through and though. Their movies are rarely explicitly religious. Nevertheless, they invite, even demand, the very best of our theological responses.
The mystery of life
Visually stunning, varied in their genre, rich in dialogue, at times filled with memorable music, and always populated with remarkable characters, their movies invite multiple viewings. Themes of evil, sin, violence, betrayal, pride, doubt, murder, and fear are interlaced throughout; but so too, family, love, dreams, compassion, faith, and kindness. Their subject matter is the mystery of life itself. One critic has said, using the lyrics of a Bruce Cockburn song, the Coens “kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” Absolutely, though at times that daylight is perhaps only hinted at by its painful absence.
Though often characterized by wacky plots, anti-heroes, mistaken identities, double-crossings, dim-witted characters, plot twists that surprise, and violence that startles, the Coens’ movies are anything but frivolous. When viewers laugh, it is most often to highlight life’s absurdity – not only for the characters, but for ourselves. What these filmmakers write most often are cautionary tales – dark, intelligent, morality plays, where humor nevertheless abounds. Here are “art house” movies at their best.
The Coen’s status as film makers (they have each won four Oscars and numerous other awards), as well as their consistently thoughtful scripts exploring life’s meaning and significance, have combined to attract to their movies an A-list of talent: Tim Robbins, William H. Macy, Frances McDormand (who is married to Joel and has appeared in seven of their movies), John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, George Clooney, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Billy Bob Thornton, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Hanks, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Alan Rickman, and on and on.
Many of the Coen brothers’ movies have attracted a cult following. Three of their most humorous movies, Raising Arizona (1987), Barton Fink (1991), and The Hudsucker Proxy (1993) all have their ardent fans. But in what follows here and in the next two columns, let me highlight six of my favorites: Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007), O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), and A Serious Man (2009) (If you are interested in reading more, I recommend Cathleen Falsani’s book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel according to the Coen Brothers [Zondervan]. A journalist by profession and a graduate of Wheaton College, she provides readers an engaging and readable overview to their work.)
Fargo (1996) is largely responsible for extending the Coens’ early cult following to a larger public, garnering two Oscars for its script and for its leading actress, Frances McDormand. Based on a supposedly true story, the film’s opening credits advise tongue-in-cheek that the story has been told “factually out of respect for the dead.” This together with the stark bleakness of the opening all-white images of the barren, winter landscape of Minnesota/North Dakota set the tone for this snowbound, ironic film noir. The cold inhumanity of evil will be the background for the simple, even simplistic, goodness of smalltown Mid-America, represented by Marge Gunderson, the female cop who investigates, and her husband. This is a movie whose perspective is black and white.
The movie’s tagline, “a homespun murder story,” states well the film’s overarching plot. Its story revolves around Jerry Lundegaard (wonderfully played by William H. Macy), a car salesman in desperate need of money, who cooks up the plan and hires two inept low-lifers to kidnap his wife so that his rich father-in-law will pay the ransom which the conspirators will then share. The crime, as one might expect from such a schema, goes wrong in every conceivable way (and some inconceivable!). When, for example, the kidnapping becomes unnecessary, Jerry can’t call it off for he doesn’t have the phone number of his henchmen. The unplanned, senseless murders that eventuate (violence is unflinchingly, yet appropriately portrayed in the film) are investigated by the city of Brainard’s chief of police, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDermand), a folksy, very pregnant, representative of all that is common and good. She too is not always the most intelligent or incisive, but her pragmatism and decency eventually prevail as justice is served.
The fundamental tension in Fargo is between all that Jerry and all that Marge represent. Both have a common, homespun approach to life “typical” of the rural Midwest, albeit caricatured for effect. Both are all too human, common folk who are often inept. Yet there is a fundamental difference. One seeks to live out life’s wisdom; the other does not. One values relationships; the other does not. The inhumanity of the criminals and the greedy self-centeredness of Jerry contrast with the quiet centeredness and common humanity of Marge – a humanity that extends pity not only to the victims in this crime caper, but even to the undeserving culprits. The stark contrast of good and evil that is portrayed suggest that this movie is best viewed as an unconventional morality play. Marge and Jerry are archetypes of humanity’s basic option regarding life. As Dame Wisdom counsels in Proverbs 8:34-36: “Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.”
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Dude Abides, by Cathleen Falsani, at our online store. Or read the article, “Is Anyone Out There?” by Charles Colson.
Male and female together
As we have seen in the previous article, Genesis 1:28 states that the image of God is contained in both males and females equally. At the same time, however, given the overall context of the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, we can take this one step further to see the image of God as not simply enshrined in us as individuals, but especially in the union of male and female together in marriage.
To understand why this is the case, we need to look at the story of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2 and its implications elsewhere in Scripture.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.”… So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:18, 21-24 ESV)
Commentators noticed early on the difference between this description of the creation of Eve and Genesis 1:28, which has been taken to mean that man and woman were created together. One suggested resolution comes from the Midrash Rabbah, which states that man was originally created as a hermaphrodite and then God separated the sexes. While we don’t need to go that far to find an explanation for the differences in the two chapters, there is an important element of truth here: in a very real sense, the “man” as created in the image of God includes male and female together as a unit.
A partnership in love
Let’s take a closer look at what’s being said in Genesis 2. First, we should note that this is the only place in the creation accounts in which God pronounces something not good. It is not good for man to be alone, because he was made to be a social being. Animals were not adequate as his companions, so God created Eve from Adam’s side (a better translation than “rib”). Eve was thus part of him and so could not be considered either inferior or a part of the creation over which Adam was to have dominion.
For all the misogyny that creeps into medieval theologians, many of the most important ones got it right on this point. To take just one example, Peter Lombard’s Sentences, which was the basic textbook for theology in the Middle Ages, cites St. Augustine when he addressed the question of why God used one of Adam’s ribs to make Eve:
Moreover from these causes “woman was made from man, not from any part of the man’s body, but she was formed from his side, so that there might be shown, that she was created in a partnership of love, lest perchance, if she had been made from [his] head, she might seem to be preferred to man for [his] domination, or if from [his] feet, to be subjected [to him] for [his] service. Therefore because for man there was prepared neither a lady nor a handmade, but a companion, she was to be produced neither from [his] head nor from [his] feet, but from [his] side, so that she might recognize that she [was] to be placed alongside him, she whom he had learned to recognize as the one taken from his side.”
These comments, of course, reinforce the point that since the image of God is shared between men and women, they are intrinsically equal before God. But they also point ahead to Adam’s reaction to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 2:23, Adam recognizes Eve as part of himself, and so names her Woman (Hebrew ishshah) because she was taken out of Man (Hebrew ish). Since in Hebrew thought, a being’s name was supposed to reflect its nature, the derivation of the word for woman indicates the deep, intimate connection woman has with man.
Woman’s origin from Man, leads directly to the next verse: Man is to leave his parents and be joined to Woman—in other words, he is to marry and form a new family unit. And this is accomplished by the two “becoming one flesh” through sexual relations, in essence providing wholeness by reuniting Adam with his Rib.
So the image of God in Genesis 1:28 is encompassed equally by men and women, but most fully by man and woman together, as a family. The family is the fundamental unit within society, and is thus the place at which human dominion/stewardship over the world is primarily exercised.
Scripture on marriage
There are several points that follow from the nature of marriage in Scripture. The first, as Jesus affirmed, is that marriage is meant to be permanent: God joins men and women together into one flesh, and so we should not try to undo what God has done (Mk. 10:2-9). Even from an anthropological perspective this makes sense: all cultures have marriage as a privileged institution, even though it might take a variety of forms, because it provides a stable environment to bring children into the world and to provide for them. Allowing marriages to dissolve easily disrupts its role in child-rearing. And for Christians, our understanding of the unity of the two into one flesh should make us do everything we can to insure the permanence of marriage.
Second, the deep, intimate unity within marriage points to the depth of the Church’s relationship and unity with Jesus. In the Old Testament, God often describes Israel as His wife, particularly by identifying idolatry with adultery (e.g. Hos. 1:2). In the New Testament, the Church is described as the Body of Christ, and He is united with it in the same way that husbands and wives are one flesh (Eph. 6:31-32). The love that is to characterize marriage, the intimate fellowship, and the unity we are to experience are a picture to the Apostle Paul of our relationship with Christ. These ideas led the Church early on to move away from the polygamy practiced in the pagan world and ancient Israel and to insist on monogamy as the proper form for marriage: one man, one woman, one lifetime.
The Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage and its emphasis on monogamy had an enormous effect on improving women’s place in society. No longer could a woman be divorced because she had no sons or was past childbearing age. No longer could wealthy men take multiple wives, diminishing their role in the household and depriving poorer men of spouses. As Vishal Mangalwadi points out, monogamy in particular led to social structures in the West that had a tremendously positive effect on society, so much so that in India even Hindus pushed to mandate monogamy as an essential prerequisite for modernization. Given that this is God’s design for humanity, it should come as no surprise that it produces better results than the alternatives.
Third, marriage is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. Just as a cube with a width of one foot, a height of one foot, and a depth of one foot, has a volume of one cubic foot, so the three persons of the Trinity complement each other, each participating in all the attributes of deity, but the Godhead only fully defined by the interrelationships of the three together. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. Thus humanity made in His image is, as we have seen, relational. And the two becoming one flesh in marriage provides us with a two dimensional picture of our three dimensional God.
Foundation for sexual ethics
Lastly, Genesis 2:24 is the foundation for sexual ethics. Sexual activity is designed to unite a man and a woman together in a permanent bond. Even our biology points to this, as the hormonal response to sexual activity increases emotional attachment to your partner. This is why sexual activity is restricted to marriage—the potential to cause devastating emotional damage to ourselves and each other is so great, it requires the protection of a permanent, committed, loving relationship. Our society’s experience today with “sexual liberation” demonstrates the wisdom of the Biblical view.
Although it is rarely seen in this light, marriage is the place where the full image of God found in male and female together is best seen and expressed. This is all the more reason for us to work to restore our commitment to and advocacy for a Biblical vision of sexuality and marriage in our churches and society.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Marriage Builder, by Larry Crabb. Or read the article, “Marriage in Counterpoint and Harmony,” by Gilbert Meilaender.
 Sentences, book 2, distinction 18, question 2; see http://www.franciscan-archive.org/lombardus/opera/ls2-18.html, citing Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis 9.13.23. see also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1, q. 92, 3; see http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1092.htm#article3.
 Must the Sun Set on the West, audio CD series, From Luther’s Vicarage to Hefner’s Harem: Turning Men into (Play)boys and Women into “Desperate Housewives.”
[And] he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:2
The aftermath: Helping the Haitians
On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. More than 300,000 people perished; 300,000 were injured; and more than 1.5 million were left homeless. Now, five months later, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are working hard to keep the international community focused on ways to help Haiti through investments and tangible forms of aid; and disaster relief teams from many churches are still swarming into Haiti in an effort to help the Haitian people rebuild. Though it is inevitable that such attention will one day be redirected by the next, big disaster in another part of the world, until then – and at least for now – the world has not forgotten the people of Haiti.
In early June, my daughter, Allison, and I made our first trip to Haiti as part of a medical mission team which included a doctor, a dentist, a dental hygienist, two nurses, two people trained to fit eyeglasses, plus five others who assisted them in a variety of capacities. Working with several full-time missionaries and four translators, we treated nearly 1000 men, women, and children – providing basic medical and dental care, prescription medicines, and eyeglasses, while offering spiritual comfort and hope as best we could.
Because Haiti is still experiencing aftershocks (and because the people have been told to expect an even larger earthquake), the most common medical complaints we treated were stress-related: the inability to sleep or eat, general fatigue and body aches, acid indigestion, and high blood pressure. Malaria is common and we also saw a few cases of typhoid fever. Experts predict a rise in diseases like typhoid and cholera as a result of seasonal rains and flooding which will affect the already precarious sanitary conditions.
Worse, as the hurricane season begins, one million people living in more than 1200 tent cities scattered across the landscape will have little protection from the elements. In other words, the situation will most likely grow more dire in the months ahead.
My team’s greatest frustration was that we had to turn so many people away: we only had so much time, so much energy, and so many resources. But as our team leader reminded us, we were not there to heal everyone we came into contact with, no more than Jesus did. At best, we could only alleviate their physical suffering for a short time. The healing ministry, though important, was merely a stepping stone to a far more significant and lasting end: to encourage our fellow Christians and to preach the good news of the kingdom to non-Christians.
The physical damage: As bad as you imagined
Remember all those dramatic photos of the destruction in Port-au-Prince taken just days after the earthquake? Sadly, months later, little has changed. As in many earthquakes, some buildings were virtually undamaged, while neighboring buildings crumbled. Though the main streets in Port-au-Prince have been cleared of rubble, piles of debris and trash remain, and most side streets are only open to foot and bicycle traffic. Officials estimate that there are nearly 300,000 severely damaged buildings which need to be demolished and rebuilt; yet the nation lacks adequate equipment and resources to accomplish the task, or even a place to put all the rubble once it is cleared away. Even with massive help from the international community, it will take years to erase the physical scars upon the country.
The Haitian people: Resourceful and resilient
Yet despite the enormous loss of life and property, life in Haiti goes on. In front of their destroyed homes and businesses, the Haitians put up colorful umbrellas and spread their wares for shoppers. Regardless of the hour, the sidewalks and streets are teeming with people and tap-taps (the brightly painted trucks that serve as public transportation). Uniformed school children walk to school as UN vehicles filled with blue-helmeted soldiers patrol the streets. And wherever disaster relief teams are at work, the Haitians pitch in to help without being asked and without expecting payment.
Thus, day-by-day, in the midst of all the destruction and with so many reasons to be discouraged and defeated, the Haitian people are getting on with their lives. If I learned nothing else, I learned that they are a resourceful, resilient people who have shown greater strength and courage than anyone has a right to expect.
They are also, in my experience at least, a grateful people. More than once, people at our hotel, in the shops, or in the airport would stop and thank us for coming. They might not have benefitted directly from the medical help we provided, but they were glad to know other Haitians were so blessed.
The downside: Graft and corruption
Not everyone in Haiti, however, had the best motives for wanting us there. Even before the earthquake, Haiti ranked as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, with endemic political corruption. Not surprisingly, then, the world has been wary of sending massive amounts of aid to the government, fearing that the funds will end up in the hands of a privileged few rather than going to help the country rebuild.
We’re right to be cautious, and not just where the government is concerned. The missionaries we worked with – including several who have been in Haiti for decades – acknowledge that graft and corruption are widespread at every level: such a huge amount of free, post-quake money has occasionally proven to be too great a temptation.
One missionary reported on how some Haitians have stopped working entirely, preferring to live off money and goods provided by foreign relief organizations. Another told of a man who supposedly runs an orphanage: he actually lives in Florida and only flies down to Haiti when the orphanage’s American sponsors are due to arrive. He rounds up street children, puts them on display, and collects the donors’ money. Once the sponsors are gone, he pays the children a pittance and sends them back to the streets.
Such stories are a warning for anyone who wants to help the Haitians by sending money: do some checking before you give to ensure that the organization is legitimate. In my mind, the best option is to give through mission organizations which were operating in Haiti before the quake. Most, like the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund, use 100% of the money to help the people directly. They work with missionaries already in the country who are familiar with the language and culture, and who know local leaders who can help decide how to fairly allocate resources to people in their community. 
The good news: A powerful testimony
We flew into Haiti on Friday; and on the following Sunday, we joined several hundred Haitian Christians for worship an open-air shelter cobbled together out of scrap materials after their building was destroyed. Sitting on wooden planks propped up by cinder-blocks, we crowded into their church to listen to a sermon by one of their women lay leaders. Fortunately, I was sitting next to a missionary who spoke Creole, so she quietly translated the message on Philippians 4:11-13: Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I must admit, I was impressed, and more than a little ashamed. Over the years, I’ve heard similar messages – all of them while I was sitting in a comfortable church building, knowing that I’d soon be getting into my late-model car to drive to a nice restaurant for a delicious Sunday dinner. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to parrot Paul’s words about contentment. But here was a woman speaking to people who had all lost family and friends in the earthquake, as well as most if not all of their material possessions: furthermore, they now live in tents and have only limited opportunities to support themselves. Under those conditions, echoing Paul’s words about being content in every circumstance represented an act of faith that I fear I might not be capable of. Her faith put my faith to shame.
While there is scant good news coming out of Haiti related to their physical recovery, there is considerable good news from a spiritual perspective. First are the many dramatic testimonies of Christians pulled from the rubble who gave God all the glory and praise for their deliverance. Then came an unprecedented call by the president of Haiti for three days of national prayer. Ordinary activities ceased while millions of Haitians piled into churches (at least, those that were still standing. Otherwise, people jammed into clearings in front of collapsed structures) to pray for their nation. Long-term missionaries said that they had never seen anything like it.
The good news: The seeds of revival
While I was there, I asked the missionaries this question: “What do you want the world to know about Haiti in the aftermath of the quake?” Their answer: They want the world to know that there is more openness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in Haiti than ever before. Though the mainstream media in the U.S. won’t report it, thousands of Haitians are coming to Christ – many coming out of voodoo or out of a pseudo-form of Christianity which mixes voodoo and Christian teachings. The missionaries are telling survivors that God has given them a second chance, and that they must not waste it – a message that many Haitians are evidently taking to heart.
Sometimes, the conversion stories border on the comical. One of our nurses, Gwen, asked all of her patients whether they were Christians and if they wanted a Creole Bible. One man who overheard her conversation with a previous patient sat down and said, “I want medical treatment, but I don’t want to have anything to do with that Christianity stuff.” Gwen calmly replied OK, examined him, and then winsomely said, “You do know that you’re dying, don’t you?” The man was all ears at that point, listening to the bad news about spiritual death and, more importantly, to the good news of the Gospel. By the time he left, he had become a Christian.
In light of this openness to the gospel, one missionary who has been in Haiti nearly 30 years shared his “impossible” vision – one that I hope all readers will be inclined to pray for. He sees a revival breaking out in Haiti and spreading to the rest of the world, especially the third world where Christianity is too often thought of as a religion for rich white people, or one associated with slavery. Who better to help the world’s poor and disenfranchised to find Christ than people who have come out of similar conditions? But this same man also cautioned that churches in America must find a better approach to doing missions in Haiti: not in ways that encourage their dependence on outsiders (as has been too often the case in the past), but in a manner that will build up Haitian Christians so they are equipped to carry on the good fight without our help.
One week in Haiti certainly did not make me an expert, but it did give me a heart for the Haitian people. If all goes as planned, Allison and I will return over Thanksgiving week for another medical mission. We’re hoping that we can encourage others in our churches to join us.
The world will soon forget Haiti; but God will not and, hopefully, Christians in America won’t either. Whatever your talent or ability, there’s work for you to do in Haiti – either directly by going or indirectly through prayers and through giving so others may go. Will you pray today for God to show you how you can further His kingdom in Haiti?
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Taking the High Places, by Terry Snow and Jemimah Wright, from our online store. Or read the article, “Grassroots Disaster Response,” by James Carafano.
 Unlike my daughter, who is fluent in French and thus able to speak to educated Haitians directly, I only learned the Creole phrase for “Jesus loves you” (phonetically pronounced Jay-zee ray may ou). Even that short phrase, however, brought lots of smiles from the patients I was helping.
 If you are interested, you can read about the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts here: http://www.namb.net/site/c.9qKILUOzEpH/b.224451/k.A400/Disaster_Relief.htm However, other denominations undoubtedly offer similar programs. Check with your church organization to find out what you can do to help the Haitians.
Where are the Kingdom visionaries?
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
--Romans 14:7, 18
A new vision
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, coupled with an unemployment rate that refuses, in spite of hundreds of billions in stimulus money, to budge very far from 10%, is beginning to cause some people to wonder whether President Obama’s near-utopian promises of “hope and change” are really just more political pie-in-the-sky.
It’s easy to potshot the President and his policies. Tea Partiers are building a movement on doing so.
But what the country needs is not just a smug “I told you so” opposition, or even an enervated and embarrassed majority party. What the country needs is a new vision and understanding of the proper role of government.
But even more than this, the country needs a new vision of what human society – our society – can be like, and of how – given the limitations of government – we may begin to realize that vision. It is precisely here that the Christian community has an opportunity to unfurl the banner of the Kingdom, and proclaim and embody a new vision of what the good society can be.
Where there is no vision…
When was the last time you heard a clear, compelling, comprehensive presentation of the power of God’s Kingdom to bring renewal and hope, not only to the Church, but to the nation?
It’s probably been a while, if you’ve ever heard or read such a presentation at all. For most of my forty years of Christian experience the vision we have been treated to of the life of faith has become increasingly narrow – it is a “shrunken vision,” as David Wells puts it. The focus of much preaching, writing, and other forms of Christian teaching today has been on realizing the maximum amount of individual personal wellbeing and peace. There are exceptions of course, and some of those are beginning to get serious traction in certain circles. But for most believers the vision that brings them out to church, or Bible study, or other Christian activities is one of knowing the benefits of forgiveness and eternal life in a satisfyingly subjective way. Whatever the Kingdom of God is, its primary purpose is to settle my soul and bring me the comfort of knowing, come what may, that Jesus will never fail me nor forsake me.
Those who have called for national renewal in the name of the Lord have done so from an adversarial, rather than a servant, posture. They have made almost no progress at all.
Meanwhile, the utopians are still at it.
So as the vacuum opens up for a new vision for this country, whom can we count on to fill it? Absent any reasoned and compelling input from the Christian community, probably one form or another of social and political utopians.
In a series of articles in the Spring, 2008, issue of The Hedgehog Review, a variety of scholars reflected on the state of utopian thinking in America today. When most people think of utopianism a series of related adjectives comes to mind: “fantastical,” “unlikely,” even “dangerous.” Utopians have not found much favor with Westerners, either because their visions of the ideal society were so idealized as to be unrealistic, if not trite, or their views promoted rigid hierarchical thinking, coupled with force, to remake society after the vision of a few.
Utopian writing has typically been accompanied by anti-utopian writing, warning against thinking that men, by reason alone, have the power to conceive and construct the ideal society. Think of Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, or The Matrix series of films. Our increasingly postmodern world is wary of all forms of utopian thinking, because postmodern philosophers deny the existence of overarching philosophical and social narratives and promote the freedom of every individual to make life after his or her own image.
But the writers in this collection are not entirely wary of utopian thinking. Indeed, they seem to regard it as the great need of the hour. As Krishan Kumar puts it, “The contemporary culture is one of skepticism, irony, playfulness, a rejection of history, and loss of faith in the future – hardly an inspiring climate for utopia.” He laments that “So far at least, nothing remotely resembling a comprehensive vision of an alternative world has appeared.”
Richard J. Bernstein echoes a similar hankering. He believes it is one of the great challenges of a truly democratic society to articulate clear, comprehensive, and compelling visions of future possibilities, then to translate those into action at the most basic levels. Setbacks and disappointments will follow, of course, but the true utopian thinker will press on, always revising his vision, re-engaging his friends and followers, and keeping the vision-casting/vision-seeking process alive.
Kumar believes we are living in times in which, increasingly, people are losing hope that their futures might be more satisfying than their present or past. It is the task of democratic utopians, he believes, to reinvigorate hope through the hard work of articulating new visions of the future in a democratic society.
No place like that
The problem with much utopian thinking, however, is that its primary resource for envisioning something new is the failed policies and programs of the past, re-processed through the machinations of finite human minds. In every case the vision that utopian thinkers describe is one of a society and culture never before observed – “no place” or “utopia” in the truest sense. And too often the selfish and opportunistic side of men, which is most efficiently satisfied by acquiring and wielding power, overrides the utopian vision and proves the fears of nay-sayers and nonconformists.
The Hedgehog Review considers the Christian contribution to utopian thinking but reserves its discussion of the subject to those millenarian and apocalyptic visions that have fueled so much controversy and division in the past. Surely there is a place in this void of vision for a more down-to-earth, Biblically-informed, and practical vision of what the good life can be?
A good place?
Readers will notice that the title of this piece uses the word, eutopia, and not utopia. Eutopia translates not to “no place” but to “a good place.” This is the vision that citizens of the Kingdom of God are uniquely qualified to articulate. As we contemplate the goodness of God, His original creation, His holy and righteous and good Law, the many examples of goodness set forth in the Scriptures, the One Who in Himself embodied all goodness and beauty and truth – our Lord Jesus Christ – and the achievements of goodness accomplished by Christians throughout the ages – surely with such resources to guide us we should be able to articulate a clear, comprehensive, and compelling vision of what a good society can look like, and to identify the means of achieving this through the grace and truth of God and the Christian worldview.
But this is not likely to happen until preachers and teachers get over their captivity to crowds and smiling faces and begin searching the Scriptures to discover the Kingdom purposes of the divine economy and the possibilities that await us there. Calling people to take up the hard work of self-denial, submission to God’s Law, seeking Him and His Spirit, and serving others with His love will not be nearly as popular or pleasing as the “I’m OK, you’re OK” therapeutic theology that presently seems to hold sway.
We need more courageous, expansive, “on the ground” preaching and teaching within the Christian community, that dares to encourage believers to envision a good society and then to devote their lives to achieving it. No, of course we will not attain a “utopia.” But we should not be striving to realize “no place,” but “a good place,” where grace abounds, truth lights our path, and love for God and neighbor flourish in every good work.
The field is vacant and the flag is exposed in the struggle to create new and compelling visions for what a good society can be. It remains to be seen, however, whether today’s keepers of God’s Word will have the courage to take up the challenge.
For more insight to this subject, get the book, The Good Life, by Charles Colson, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Christian and Society,” by Jerram Barrs.
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