Scripture

Notions of “Peace”

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.” – Jer 6:14

Recently, while volunteering at a local university with Christian campus ministry, I was caught up in a long conversation, speaking until my voice was nearly gone, fading in and out like spasmodic radio reception. While the conversation swam through a broad spectrum of topics, one specific conversation piece had my attention for the few days following. It centered around the basic theme of peace. What is peace, and how is it had? Is the peace of Christianity the same peace as the peace of, say, Buddah? I’d like to share how I answered, and then fill in the lines with a little color.

First, two pieces of background information.

1. Benjamin Warfield contends that the Bible is the “Book of mankind,” since through it many peoples have become literate, opening the way for greater learning and scientific inquiry. This historical verity is accountable for much of the literacy throughout the whole world, including the English speaking peoples (Side note: Cable & Baugh have a wonderful treatment on the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons in their book “The History of the English Language”).

2. On the evening of April 4th, 2013, a lecture titled “Why I’m Not An Atheist” was presented by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale at Princeton University. The entirety of it can be seen here:

For my purposes, I’ve typed out this important question asked by an atheist in the crowd, and its answer:

Student question:

“When you say that atheists have no basis for morals, it seems that you are ignoring the existence of mankind, in that we can look at the world and see that peace leads to prosperity and nations… we can look and see that, objectively, trust and safety in communities allow art and science and technology to prosper. You attack atheists like Hitler and the lonely rich, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to think that all atheists search for happiness in murder, power, and cutthroat business. So it seems like you are attacking the weak nihilist, who looks at the universe and sees that there is no ultimate moral authority and leaves it at that, but you are ignoring the strong nihilists, who look at the universe, see no moral authority, and say “this is an opportunity for us to use reason, to use our experiences, to create morals, to create the society that can further us, that can create the happiest society. So two questions – 1. Is it fair to ignore these strong nihilists, and 2. Isn’t it more noble to use our own reason and experiences to form morals than to put blind faith in an old out-dated text?

Ravi’s answer:

“The question is not whether an atheist can be a good person or not, the question is [if there is a] rationally reducible extension of reason to do that- except pragmatically that you want to live in peace, but that is assuming that peace is a good thing… There are people today in the world who want to eradicate it, and then the world will be a better place. What is the grounds for us reasoning with that kind of person? ‘Oh, yeah, we all need to get along.’ He says, ‘Yeah, well I get along better when you are not around.'”

Now, Ravi’s answer is a good jump off for understanding my discussion. The university student to whom I was talking had a similar question to the above Princeton student. I followed the same basic pattern of thought that Ravi did; however, they were not asking about nihilists or Muslims, but they were asking about Eastern philosophies. Shouldn’t that be more difficult? Sure, one might think, it is easy to defend an idea of peace against “radical” Muslims or a Hitler, but Buddah? Guy was probably just kicking back – comm’on!

Enter Warfield. Interestingly enough, the way the question was intially brought up was in the context of my contention that just as literacy spread throughout the earth because of Christianity, so real ideals of peace which now stay the nations are the resulting factor of Christian dogma. “But what about,” comes the response, “nations which had peace without Jesus? Like Buddah’s?”

This is roughly what I said: “Well, you might argue they both maintain or create peace, but then it must be asked, ‘What is peace?’ There are differing conceptions of what it means between Eastern and Christian philosophies. When I was in Thailand I saw the red light distrinct. Young girls were numbered off like cattle and sold for sexual pleasure, many by no volition of their own. I questioned a local woman who told me these girls ‘get what they deserve, for in a past life they must have done evil.’ Is this doctrine of karma a true peace? In the Eastern eye whatever is, is without disruption, ‘peace.’ But for the Christian peace is only understood in terms of being right with God. Prostitution is evil in His sight, so prostitution is at odds with peace, and this has ramifications for how man lives with man.”

After this came the assertion, “Okay, but I knew a man who lived in a small African village, and he was old and his wife had passed away. Clearly, it is evil for him to go around raping women to fulfill his sexual desires, but he told me that having a village prostitute helped to stop him and other men from that evil. What about that?”

I said, “Is the answer to evil more evil? If you replace evil with another evil, what do you have? Evil. But in Christ, evil has been conquered by good. And through Christ, man is enabled to live at peace with God.”

This was the end of that portion of our conversation, but as I continued to think on it I was struck by the nonchalance of my challenger’s acceptance of evil. Our undergirding socially constructed ideals about peace as a society and people are deeply influenced and produced by our sociological inheritance. If peace is not to be defined by God, then by what? Indeed, there is no such thing as peace without God. And this is not merely a sociological issue, though this was how we spoke about it, but a deeply personal issue. We know when we sin we are setting ourselves against God Almighty. We know that replacing sin with lesser sin is still sin, and that we are still at enmity with God so long as we are slaves to sin. We become like dogs who cower in their shame and back away from a wrathful master in fear. Perhaps we conviniently supress the knowledge that God is there so we can keep on sinning.

As long as we do so, we are enemies of peace.
“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:22

Look how closely the commands of the LORD are attached to peace. Malachi 2:6 “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.”

And in Jesus alone is true ultimate peace. Listen to these words:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1

It may be hard to get our minds around it, but all peace (in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible), even for the Buddhist or Muslim, ultimately comes from Jesus. The curse that this world is under, with its resultant evil dissemated throughout our existence of time and space, can only be extinguished or conquered, by Jesus alone. What other sort of peace is there if not reconciliation with God? True peace with men only comes through peace with God, for everything we do and think anthropologically has theological ramifications, and vice versa toward sociological order.

May we, then, be people then who point to Jesus in order to say, “Shalom”, or “peace be with you.” Peace has no other genesis or referent.

 

The Misnomer of Aronofsky’s “Noah”

Having very much enjoyed some of Darren Aronofsky’s work in filmmaking, especially due to those attributes the Huffington Post mentioned in their review of Noah (“the canted camera angles of ‘Requiem,’ the unfiltered feel of ‘The Wrestler,’ the psychological twilight of ‘Black Swan'”), I was looking forward to sitting down in the theater for this epic.

However, much to my dismay, the versimilitude of the movie was quickly shot by its Biblical infidelity. To this time disagree with the Huffington post, who claimed “Everything you’ve read in the Bible is there. It just fills in the holes with fantasy. So calm down”, I evoke a sigh of relief by noting a few (emphasize “few”) important deviations from the truth (i.e., the Biblical narrative) in an epic countdown:

3. The Earth, Animals, & Dominion

While the film had a quirky yet effective montage (Aronofsky usually very effective with this) of the fall of man, visiting numerous times the eating of the forbidden fruit and Cain’s act of murder, it appears that the extent of the fall of man excludes the earth. For this reason the flood is construed as a portal through which all of mankind would be exterminated and the animals could then live in peace and harmony on a sinless earth (man now extinct).

However, Romans 8:22 makes clear that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth…”, pain in childbirth being a result of the curse (Gen. 3:16). In fact, it is rather surprising the film missed this since Gen. 5:29 attaches this significance to a name: “Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.'”

Noah is seen as one who will reverse the curse of Gen. 3:15 by doing what Adam could not. The command to Adam, then, to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28), applies to Noah, so that a cessation of humanity would be against God’s intent for mankind, thereby making Him capricious. But on the contrary, God blesses Noah and tells him to multiply on the earth after the flood (9:1).

It is notable that the only time God’s command to Adam to subdue the earth is quoted is in the mouth of Tubal-Cain, the arch-enemy of the film. Subduing the earth and movement away from agrarianism is considered evil, but Isaiah 45:18 says, “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!)”.

2. Sin & Noah’s Fault

Gen. 6:5,11 says “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.”

It is interesting how the film tries to interpret “man.” Aronofsky’s Noah uses the term to refer to all those outside his family, or household. Surely there is no warrant for this Biblically. And while Aronofsky’s Noah tries to maintain that even himself and his household are under sin, he actually turns out to be in-the-wrong, and is told by numerous characters, especially his wife, that the core of his sons are actually good.

This doesn’t sit well with Gen. 6:5, or scriptures like Ps. 51:5 where David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” The result of the fall, according to scripture, is not a partial depravity, but a thorough corruption. While the hope for Noah is that he would be a new Adam perfectly obeying, even he sins after getting off the ark by getting drunk (especially represented by his nakedness, as with Adam & Eve). The world awaits another savior, one who is morally perfect, who is the Christ to come (the “second Adam”).

But this is not the hope for Aronofsky. The film maintains that men are basically innocent, despite the vast corruption of humanity. This comes out quite a few times, most notably with Ham’s girlfriend, who Ham says is innocent. The twins born are also maintained as innocent (despite Ps. 51:5, quoted above). The physical world is said to be innocent. And yet, Biblically, none of these are innocent (Rom. 3:9-18), so that the only hope for humanity is the mercy of God.

You would think that a movie so focused on judgement would understand mercy, but this is woefully not the case. In fact, Aronofsky’s Noah finally resigns himself to the pressure of his family and conscience, so that God is actually made out to be unjust in wanting to destroy all mankind (noteworthy again is the fact that, Biblically, God doesn’t intend to destroy all of mankind, but preserves Noah and his family). Would God be unjust to do such a thing? He would be if men were innocent, as the film argues, but in fact, there is none innocent (Rom. 3:9-18), so that all deserve judgement and death.

Interestingly enough, Noah is said to be a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), but Aronofsky’s Noah seems to be well set and happy about the destruction of humanity, even killing off quite a few himself. There is no Biblical notion of this. Instead, the idea is that Noah was mocked and derided for his belief in the judgement to come, and the peoples of the earth largely ignored him while continuing in their eating, and drinking, and being merry (Luke 17:26-27) – They were not crowding the ark as soon as the rains came, they were not Tubal-Cain yelling at the heavens for God to reveal Himself, they were well satisfied with their rebellion against the Creator, revelling in their ignorance and evil ways.

1. Revelation – God meets Noah

Is Aronofsky’s Noah a Biblical prophet? While his dreams were rather confusing, it seems they were authoritative, for what he thought would happen actually happened. But it is either that Noah heard clearly from God that all humanity was supposed to be wiped out (including his family), so that Noah actually rebels against God in the end, or it is that God’s revelation to Noah wasn’t clear and Noah actually realizes how wrong he was, which is the film’s implication.

Aside from the fact that the scripture never even gets close to indicating God desired Noah’s family to be wiped out (in fact, all the sons have healthy baby making wives, all who are blessed by God), is the revelation (or message) of God to Noah somehow unclear? In the film, we never hear audibly from God, but Noah either gets a dream or stares blankly at the clouded sky. The silence of God is clearly popular in Aronofsky’s mind.

So when the Bible says, “God said to Noah” (Gen. 6:13), are we to believe God did not actually say to Noah? A friend of mine didn’t want to watch the film, for he thought it would portray God in physical form (a violation of the second commandment of Ex. 20), and the reason he thought that is because God sometimes manifests Himself in physical form. In Gen. 3:8 it is said that Adam and Eve heard his footsteps, and there are many appearances of God physically throughout the Hebrew scriptures (especially as “The Angel of the LORD”).

Couldn’t the Lord have simply spoken audibly from the heavens? Sure, that could be the case, or he may have physically manifested himself, but the point is that God spoke to Noah, as the scriptures say, not gave him general impressions for him to interpret. Even the specific dimensions of the ark are given by God directly (Gen. 6:15), just as the interpretation of the rainbow is given by God (Gen. 9:12-17), so that God’s word is not only authoritative, but it is clear, and it is sufficient.

This is an important point because the whole second half of the film is trying to deal with the tension between Noah’s revelation from God and what they believe to be true about the future, which seems equally unknown to everyone. This is not the case in scripture, for God knows the beginning from the end of things, and never reveals Himself to his people in vain (Is. 55:11), but He says “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.”

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, Aronofsky’s Noah does not appear to be a prophet knowing God’s word, but a mystic sikh who is more in touch with the earth than with a God who infallibly directs all human history. Aronofsky’s Noah gives in to the understanding of sin given by others and makes God out to be capricious, which would drive anyone to get drunk times over.

No, Aronofsky’s Noah is no Noah at all. This story can be added to the pantheon of pagan flood epics, with Gilgamesh and Atrahasis.

For God has said to us:
When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:28-29)

The hope for scripture is in one who would save us from the curse, but for Aronofsky the curse doesn’t extend to all the earth – it doesn’t even extend to the whole of humanity, and because of that the Lord is wrong to desire judgement on all men, and equally wrong to think people need judging (or saving!). But Scripture tells us we are in a helpless place, and that the hope was for Noah to save us.

Noah failed to do that very thing, but there is One who has, and His name is Jesus. This same Jesus said a flood and judgement is coming for us (Luke 17:24-18:8), and when it comes, the question is – will you make it through on the ark? This is the same as asking, “will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This is the significance of the true Noah, and as far as it is missed, there is no Noah.

Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a misnomer.

First Letter ESV

I needn’t tell you why memorizing scripture is good and necessary, for scripture consistently and constantly testifies to its own memory and use.

However, there are many useful methods to memorize. One such method works through contextual recollection, which, as that descriptor might hint at, is helpful for getting at large portions of text. In order to help the reader contextualize, but not simply give them the words to memorize, the first letter of every word is given. In this way the actual content (words) must be memorized, but their memorization is helped along by their relation to others. In my experience, this helps me use logical and syntactical relationships within the passage for memorization, instead of seeing the words as a string of data which are in turn taken into mind.

Now, I’ve gone ahead and thrown my best HTML and Javascript coding skills at this idea, and I managed to produce a full translation of the ESV with the first letters, henceforth called “F.L.E.S.V.” (First Letter English Standard Version). You should know that it is the 2004 edition, which is slightly different than the 2007. I noticed this only after doing all the work.

I’ve managed to get this on my phone with “PocketSword”, may favorite IPhone Bible app (text is Ephesians 1): 

photo

I’m sure you can already start to make out the text just by familiarity with Pauline literature. That familiarity is a good thing. Also, reading the text at different speeds has helped me find a niche where I am comfortable memorizing. I hope this proves useful for others.

Here is a download to the executable of the program (*.exe extension which can be ran on any windows computer):

http://www.mediafire.com/download/76zz662jjwh80d1/FLESV.exe

In order to convert it to other formats, this tool can be used:

http://www.churchsw.org/2013/02/simple-bible-reader-converter.html

I did work rather hard to produce a PDF of the text, but in order to avoid any copyright issues, or what have you, you may ask me for it only if you know me personally.

My prayer is that your devotional life grow deeper, your love of the Word grow more robust, that the praise of the LORD will be on your lips and in your heart, and that in his Word you may have hope.

Ps. 119:74 “Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.”