Friday, July 19, 2013

before the altar of God

Several weeks back now, at another blog, I posted on intimidation as a topic within the arsenal of manipulation. Because that blog is a news aggregate, and because it functions within the narrow lens of eschatological matters, the post was not necessarily on intimidation, but rather, 'tagged' within that concern in the midst of others.

And it borrowed, if I may, an individual whose life (already, by her success, the stuff of both public knowledge and public adoration) had become a different story.

I borrowed it in order to explore matters that affect all of us now.

While I posted commentary there, limitations there are in how I could approach the matter that I am not so limited by herein, hence the topic again. Some sense there is in which blogs are more similar to letters written between family or old friends that I quite respect: it allows a writer to go where ever she might choose.

Personal is to blogs, you see, as thought is to essay: it is a framing tool that is both implicit and foundational to the identity of the medium.

Many of us post essays at our blogs, to be sure.

But a degree of informal and 'conversational' does define even those of us who use the essay form to express our thoughts in a blog.

So I can struggle herein, as if in conversation or dashing off a quick note, back in the day, that I will slip into an envelope, address, stick a stamp on and run out to place in the mailbox before I head out the door to a day...

I want a sense of intimidation as the enemy uses it—and as intimidation will target Christians, who need an awareness of how intimidation operates in order to be ready for the day that will wield both intimidation and exposure against us.

And I must suspect that all of us have at least an uneasy awareness of intimidation. I was badly bullied as a young girl—those years wherein the very spirit is scarred forever, no matter how skillfully we might later be able to develop the masks we wear.

It may be that an instinct for how intimidation works somehow finds its roots therein. If so, good: we have the promise of our God that He will bring to good (Romans 8:28) all that happens to us, if we align ourselves with His purpose.

Yes. That is exactly what that verse means. Nothing so very esoteric to it. He is the Gardener, and we are His garden, and He prunes and He fertilizes and He arranges the sun and the wind and the rain.

Where should we work against Him—if we, as Christ asked that 'why do you' of Paul, kick against the goad—God is not guaranteeing that He will overrule our insistence on our own way.

If, after all, is exactly that. Everything dependent on specific circumstance.

Well, actually 'if' never appears in the text.

"To those who are according to His purpose called."

Yet it is the Greek word for 'purpose' that catches the attention, when I stop to prove the text via an examination of the Greek, set out in the columns by word, a quick definition pacing several columns over...

πρόθεσιν appears four times in the New Testament (although it appears in other cases in other verses), each time associated with the purpose of God, and in passages that speak of 'eternal' and 'predestined' and 'grace' and 'of the ages.'

Plato, Demosthenes and Plutarch used the word in passages (classical Greek, which I consider a vital cross-reference to meaning in the Koine) to render, "the setting forth of a thing, placing of it in view."

A quick word study shows that it was used in the Septuagint as a translation for the Hebrew 'showbread,' which was set on the Jewish altar before God at all times.

An obvious word choice in translating, perhaps; although it ignores bread, it captures something intrinsic about the bread, which essence both separates that bread from mere bread and allows what that bread 'is.' That is-ness can be characterized both in fact and metaphor (spiritual use of metaphor reveals the 'true' behind the image).

Twelve loaves of this bread were offered on the Sabbath, and stayed on the altar for seven days. The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of the Jewish people.

St. Paul chose an image that would have had meaning to the Jews, but not necessarily the Gentiles who, in choosing to become 'in Christ,' became of the Jewish faith. The church at Rome may be presumed to have housed both.

Paul's letter to the Romans is usually regarded to have been written sometime around 55-57 A.D. Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 A.D. Whether he expelled 'all' is a historical question as of yet; too, the date at which those who accepted Christ as Lord began to be called Christians is not quite certain.

At the death of Claudius (54.A.D.), however, it is generally surmised that they returned. The letter to the Romans, then, would (if these views of history suffice) have had to be written subsequent to his death (unless one regards that only some of the Jews were expelled; nailing that fact, however, is outside the necessity of this post).

All that to note that some sense of a similar loss in 'translation rendered' might have limited the Gentile understanding of the word 'purpose,' just as it limits the modern day. Or perhaps not. It is as easy to presume (for one is merely connecting dots across a vast dearth of concrete knowledge) that St. Paul had clearly instructed (or that other Jews, not known to history, had done so) in how the use of the work showbread related to Christ.

We at the least must presume that St. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, knew far better than most how to cull and deliver the essence of Christ as revealed to the Jews and so soon to the Gentiles as well, working in faith with those whom Christ said would also be brought into the fold.

The essence of Christ as that showbread is definitively expressed within the Jewish understanding, and the loss of that understanding, these centuries now, erodes much.

Thank God, that He can save His own without the subtleties and interrelated beauty of what we have lost!

But how much poetry and metaphor and exquisite beauty, as much as truth beyond the Truth that we can still grasp, has been lost because of it...

And how far that loss has allowed the wolves who come in to distort the message must likewise be noted.

One of Christ's teachings against the Pharisees (Mt. 12:4) uses the same word when He explained that David, when he and his men were hungry, ate the consecrated bread, which was lawful only for the priests to eat. Note therein that we are now all priests!

Another translation of that verse (Mt. 12:4) uses the phrase, bread of the presence, which adds much, for me, to the ideas inherent in Romans 8:28 and its 'called according to the purpose of God.'

That 'purpose' might be understood as our existence herein as it is interlinked with being before the altar of God at all times...

If we are called according to being in the Presence of God...

If we are called, according to the sacred of God...

If we are called according to being, in Christ, on the altar before God at all times...

If we are called, then, according to being God's witnesses here...

And yes, witness is the same word as testimony.

Which is the same word from which we derived the English martyr...

But how listless, how weak, how impotent an understanding, if Romans 8:28 is used only to mean that, whatever 'bad' happens to us will be restored at some point with a future wealth or happiness or temporal success or restoration of temporal loss...

When set against the duty and magnificence of set upon the altar of God and before God at all times that is the showbread of God...

Greater things await us.

And yes. A far graver understanding to that greatness, as to that good. Martyr, as many Christians in the Middle East are enduring now, is not the end.

It is, in many instances, however, a needed portion of that 'good.'

Other writers have more understanding of the showbread before the altar than I possess, however; I read something on the subject in the last year or so—and would that that much-reviled NSA surveillance that tracks everything would deliver the whole cache of everything I have ever researched to me, so that I could set it in as a file on my desk, and be able to find again the many things I have examined!

I merely recognized in the 'figurative use' of the word purpose that led back to the showbread on the altar a remembrance that Christ is that bread, always on the altar before God.

Too, the Presence of God is inherent in that 'always on the altar before.' Some degree of implicit reference (which the first century Jewish readers at least, may be presumed to have understood) can be presumed in that inherent, then, that connected the mind immediately to Christ as the showbread on the altar.

It might be understood as another of the implicit 'pointings' to Christ as God that our time has let lapse from our needful understanding.

However. Our own necessity to be a portion of that showbread (yet not become God): Christ in us; Christ's journey to the Cross our journey; Christ to the world as we must be to the world, that always on the altar before God, must be the outcome of the metaphor as used in that spiritual sense metaphor commands...

We who are called according to His purpose are called to be, in Christ, the showbread of God: not just always on that altar but set forth, placed in view before the watching world.

Precious words, my dears, and I know that the thrill of them—that most sublime quiver to the very soul—shivers in my readers as it does in my own spirit.

And while it must be addended to any thought that examines that one verse that our idea of good as pleasant experiences as we live out our days and God's idea of good as necessity-against-a-future-end that may pointblank walk through many things our limited understanding can only accept as 'bad...'

It remains that it is quite easy for God to cut the overhang that has grown up over us and blocks the sun.

Or to let it stay there through the years, knowing that at the exact moment when the plant is ready, it can be taken gently up and set into the new location, perhaps like the seedling brought out from the greenhouse into the garden proper.

And whether that happens now, in this temporal earth, or in a future 'new heaven and new earth' (which anyone who has been tracking the destruction of the planet and the creatures within it well knows we will need), needs to be grasped as the unknown possibility.

Good cannot be measured by pleasant experiences as we live out our days, nor can it be measured as how much wealth we accrue or how solid our pension in.

If God has blessed us (and we should certainly be aware that the blessing is in His hands, and not the result of our hard work), here and now, much blessing it is.

But we are watching an environment where life earnings are being swept away and it might be appropriate to begin to examine exactly where we place our ability to trust God for His good...

Those who have followed the happenings in the Episcopal Church (TEC) might have a more ready understanding of the changes that beset us now, as it seems that all that has happened in Mr. Obama's administration (and was begun before him and will continue after he leaves) mirrors, if not echoes, much that has happened/is happening in TEC...

And what is happening in America—what is, if I may, being stirred up in America—is only one version of an unrest that simmers in other pots (a different soup being cooked, perhaps) in other parts of the world.

But I am in a garden yet, and have been for some long while, and whatever innate understanding of the craft of this evil has become my own, I think we all have a sense of the wiles of that intimidation with which I began this post, up until the point when we are exposed, and anything we might know is taken from us.

I believe that, inherent in Christ's pithy warning to count the cost before you begin is an inherent necessity to be viscerally aware—that is to be, if I may, 'gut-aware'—of where the enemy will take you at the critical moment of loss. A great many readers already know what and why 'critical moment' should even be in our vocabulary. I have not got anywhere yet with documenting what is 'out there' at the new blog; as I lament often, so much of it remains so very fantastical that to slip it in the morning news, to be perused with that ordered cup of coffee, breakfast finished, the day almost ready to begin...

Is just not done. I have said often, too, that the matter of framing what is out there so that it matches 'our set' is critical. As a community-oriented creation, we instinctively read people and know them either as enemy or as 'one of us.' As Christians, to be sure, the impetus is a larger defining of 'us,' but in practice, most are not so ready to allow Christian to include the whole of the body of Christ...

Instead, by instinct edge toward smaller definings. The theory of that larger body, yes.

But the actual practice—not always within the capability.

That is the way of the order in which most of us are shaped and defined, and our Master does understand that, even as He stretches us to a larger comprehension.

I edge yet between those two realities—the instinct to only want 'our own herd' in the pasture, and to only set out there what that herd is able to take in...

Against the awareness of a larger world, that has many pastures, some of which are indeed Christ's own, and others, not. And within that larger pasture now (the portion of that pasture that is Christ's own), items so fantastical that, in an earlier day, they would have only made it to the pages of The National Enquirer at the grocery stand, eyed while setting the groceries out on the line, but never picked up.

Headlines enough to turn the head from the magazine to saner details. Yet accepted and (as we must accept) possibly the very future that is to come and present before us now by many people quite so sane and intelligent as you and I.

A great many out there remain quite oblivious to what is going on about us, however, and while I still wonder whether it might be better to leave them so—to do quiet devotionals that affirm Christ—to leave all in that blessed la-la land that I do rant against, here and there, aware that the unprepared life is similar to the undiscipled life (which is the exact twin of the undisciplined life, but allows the nuance of difference that one twin, even identical, has to another) and when the floods come...

They may be swept away.

Today, in America, the Paula Deen matter behind us, we hover still in that of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and while it seems cooler heads will prevail...

Have prevailed.

The enemy is set on destruction, and violence abounds.

Cooler heads are not always the order of the day now.

And while it might seem that I diverged from my topic, setting the stage for the topic at hand was needful...

But I think I will leave this here, let the stage being set be the topic...and further thought on intimidation must wait for another day.

[Note. Have tweaked the above for clarity (in several paragraphs, much needed), this morning after, and caught several typos, missed words and missed links. Also, a note that a difference there is between Jewish identity in Christ and Gentile identity in Christ: yes, one, but also, two separate 'folds' that can be traced in many places in Scripture...

At some point, will hope to examine further. It is not that it is required knowledge; as with the showbread, it is 'further up and further in,' and not essential to salvation.

However, as with all places wherein 'not essentials' are lost, it might be used by the enemy.

Whose very existence is not taken seriously in this day, which is not optional knowledge. Ed.]