Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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The man from Nazareth; the man from God

A crowd gathered when they saw Jesus speaking openly despite the fact that the authorities were looking for him. They were offended because, well, this was just the son of Mary and Joseph. Jesus said in response: “You do indeed know me and know where I am from. But I have not come on my own; the one who sent me is true, and him you do not know…”

Two matters of recognition were required of the crowd to truly grasp who Jesus was. First is to know that he was simply from their midst – the son of Joseph and Mary; a carpenter. Jesus did not deny his human origins. He was indeed the man from Nazareth. In this, he agreed with the people who were offended in him. In affirming his human origins Jesus set himself apart from other religious claimants to savior-ship, whose origins always tend to be shrouded in myth; or at best in historical fable. It adds to the mystique; to the hocus-pocus. But Jesus affirmed that, yes, he is the son of Mary and Joseph; that is “all” that he was, and it ratified his humanity.

Being from Nazareth establishes the fact that he is one of us, which is a fundamental requirement for his mission of dying in our place.

But Jesus did not only affirm that he was the man from Nazareth. He also said he was the man from God. And this God the people did not know. And they were even the chosen people of God. The demand here is ultimately upon the crowd. They must do the double duty of not only recognizing his human origins, but also his divine origins. To know just the former leads to belittlement and disbelief. To know the former in context of also knowing the latter results in that special gift of salvation and the hope that comes with it: God with us, Emmanuel.

He is with us today because he, human being that he is, came from amongst us. But he is also the man from God, sent by God to be with us. His faith has saved us; and all who have recognized him doubly are in his faith today: the man from Nazareth, the man from God.


Mark 7. 25-31 Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, "Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from." Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me." Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, "When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?"

Our Gifts are Miracles

While we do not see many miracles today, we also take the spiritual gifts for granted. As a result, we live in an in-between space that is shielded from any evidence of God’s working powers. We see no miracles (and actually don’t wish to see any because seeing one would complicate our lives); nor do we take the gifts of the Holy Spirit seriously, either for ourselves or in others, because we simply see them as traits of our natural personalities:

He teaches? Oh, that’s because he has the gift of gab. She’s an evangelist? Oh, she’s just naturally friendly. They have people over all the time? Well, they are just hospitable people.

And so by these rationalizations we blind ourselves to the working of God the Holy Spirit through the gifts that he has given to the saints around us.

But the writer to the Hebrews tells us that spiritual gifts are of the same nature as miracles. In writing about how God demonstrates the greatness of our salvation with visual evidences, the writer says:

(Our salvation) was declared … through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will

Lots of visual demonstrations here. Our great salvation is attested to us by (1) those who heard him – and here the writer means those who heard him in person; (2) by signs and wonders and miracles; and (3) by the gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit as he wills.

Gifts are of the same nature as miracles, both of which trace right back to those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus on earth. Miracles may be few today; but the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been freely distributed, and every time they are exercised, they attest to God’s miraculous power in saving us from perdition.


Hebrews 2.3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, 4while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

As a matter of fact, you are the smallest

One challenge to faithful living is the statistics of it all. Compared to the sheer numbers of people out there who do not have faith in Christ, how can the faith that is in me be accurate? How can it be dependable? Is my Christianity, after all, just a bunch of good stories to make me feel better in an existence that is really nothing more than random atoms bumping against each other?

This morning I read what God said to the people of Israel: “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all peoples.”

That made my heart leap. God cannot be understood by majority rule. In fact he seems to take pleasure in chances, as it were, that are stacked against him.

I hear John Wesley’s well-known words in a new light this morning:

“And can it be that I should gain / An interest in the savior’s blood … / Amazing love! How can it be / That thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”

Then back to what God said: “… for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you …”

Indeed, how can it be? In terms of pure chance, it is the biggest shot in the dark: that God, the Creator of the Universe, the maker of the snow-covered fields and trees I see out my window as I write this … this God loves me precisely because I am, in fact, among the very few. How can it be?

But if it can’t be, I am indeed of all men most to be pitied.


Deuteronomy 7.7-8a It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you…

And Can It Be (John Wesley): And can it be that I should gain / An interest in the Savior’s blood? / Died he for me who caused his pain / For me, who him to death pursued? / Amazing love! How can it be / That thou, my God, shouldst die for me? / Amazing love! How can it be / That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

1 Corinthians 15.19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Kaleidoscope parables

Jesus spoke in kaleidoscopes; that is what his parables are like. You can peer into them all your life and you will always see new arrangements of truth. They are arrangements of his choosing, because he placed them there long ago. But it is only now that you see the one you are seeing.

This is one of those kaleidoscopes: “The kingdom of the heavens is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

The patterns in this one-sentence parable are mesmerizing.

The man is Jesus, someone said Friday night (and it was night outside; out our windows the woods were obscure in the glow of the lights in our living room).

So this is one arrangement of the pieces of this kaleidoscope. The man is Jesus, who left his heavenly place to sell all, even to dying the death of a criminal, to purchase his kingdom. Does it not say somewhere that he did it “for the joy set before him?” just like this man in the kaleidoscope sold all for joy?

But then someone else said that this arrangement makes us the treasure, and she had a hard time thinking of us as treasure. Doesn’t the hymn say that his amazing grace saved wretches like us? How can wretches be treasure too?

I said when I was a child I also saw Jesus as the man who found the treasure. But my heart is strangely comforted now, at age 55, in another way. What I see now in this kaleidoscope is that I am that man. And even though the treasure I have found – for all of my talking – remains still somewhat vague, I have a scent of joy in me that, in fact, I have come across something big.

And very few have found what I have found (for all of their talking). This is not to say that others have not found this treasure we call Christ. Many have found Christ. But … I have found him in the way that I have found him. And the treasure I have found, well, it is a rare thing. Others are seeing different patterns in this same kaleidoscope. But they do not see the kaleidoscope arrangement that I see. And for me, the patterns have fallen in unbelievably good places.

What I see is big, very big. I need to safeguard it in the quiet of this earth’s night, in the dark woods where things are hard to see. I’ll have to be careful what I do so as not to lose this scent of joy. Didn’t someone else say that he counted all things as loss for the sake of gaining Christ? He also saw patterns placed long ago in this kaleidoscope for him.

Ah, this is why the Lord said in the same conversation: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." What I have found shines so new, because it is so very, very old.


Matthew 13.44 The kingdom of heavens is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Hebrews 12.2 … Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Psalm 16.6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Philippians 3.8 ... I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord ...

Matthew 13.52 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Hymn: Amazing Grace: Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me / I once was lost, but now I’m found / was blind, but now I see.

The Oval Office of the Cosmos

The Psalmist saw it: One enthroned upon the cherubim.

Isaiah saw it “high and lifted up.”

If the Bible is the revealed word of God, then there is an Oval Office of God somewhere in this cosmos. We say that the Scriptures are inspired, but it does not sink into our scientific minds these days that God is indeed enthroned somewhere, and upon cherubim no less.

We think this is just the exaggerations of Hebrew poets. It is poetry, not scientifically “real.”

Science has really done a number on us. By it we can now get to the moon. But also by it we are now prevented from getting to the throne of God.

The throne of God? Oh, that’s just Hebrew poetry – and in our heart of hearts we think Dante can write these fictions much better. Besides, there’s more scandal in Dante.

But throughout the Scriptures, especially when things get difficult for life -- like perhaps an economic collapse, or dirty bombs going off in New York and Los Angeles at once -- we are given a glimpse of an extraordinary place, full of activity, the center of authority in the cosmos.

Ezekiel saw it as wheels within wheels.

John saw it as a vast expanse of crystal glass, with a throne in the center, and one seated on the throne, with 24 thrones surrounding it, and thunder and lighting coming from it, and all of it guarded by four living creatures full of eyes.

And the writer to the Hebrews saw it, and he saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. This Jesus, the Man in glory, in the Oval Office of the Cosmos, the one who died for us, and the one who is praying for us today.


Psalm 80.1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.

Isaiah 6.1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Ezekiel 1.16, 26 (16) As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. (26) And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.

Revelation 4.2-6 … and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind …

Hebrews 1.3 Who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

Cover Girl forgiveness

It may be my vanity, but I fancy that my sins are not conspicuous. Whatever sins I have or entertain, I fancy I hide them pretty well. I am not the loud and boisterous kind – you know, like those in-your-face debauched folk who flaunt their sins in front of the whole world. (You can see lots of them on TV nowadays).

But the first thing I read this morning is that the sins of some folk follow them to judgment:

“The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgment, while the sins of others follow them there.”

This is worrisome. These folks also thought their sins were not conspicuous. They had other people believing they were on the beam, walking the walk. They actually had themselves believing it.

These are the folks who wear the forgiveness of God in Jesus like cosmetic make-up. In my aesthetics class, we are using Cover Girl makeup advertisements as an example of Platonic ideals. The makeup makes the women look like the Platonic ideal of what beautiful women should look like. Of course the real versions fall a bit short of the mark. Cover Girl. Get it?

The cover girl way to handle God’s forgiveness in Jesus is not to receive the forgiveness, but to use it. Like makeup. Do yourself up before you go out and face the day. Then you will not be conspicuously sinful.

I think this is what Paul means. Some people’s sins follow after them because they have cover-girl-ed those sins up from others and from themselves pretty well. But these folks will be the ones more surprised on jury day.

I need to deal with my cover girl methods.

But then, what a breath of fresh air. The next thing I read is,

“If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”

This is the beauty of my Christianity. I may handle God’s forgiveness like a cover girl, but God’s mercy has brought me to read both these verses today at one time, and my joy is restored even as I grow in sincerity.


1 Timothy 5.24 The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgment, while the sins of others follow them there.

Psalm 130.3-4 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I never know, until I know

Jesus said: I can do nothing on my own … I do only what I see the Father doing.

In light of these words we must ask again, “What does it mean to be like Jesus?” You know the song: “I want to be like, I want to walk like, I want to talk like … the Man from Galilee…

And you know the commercialized formula: WWJD? -- What Would Jesus Do? (I wonder: does Jesus get any royalties from the sale of key chains, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and all the other junk with WWJD printed on them?).

But this man from Galilee did nothing of his own accord. He said he can do nothing unless and until he saw the Father doing it. So am I really able to be like this? Or is this something only the Son of God was able to do? The Son of God, who surely must have had a special and exclusive means of getting messages from the Oval Office of Heaven?

I don’t know the answer to this. (Well, I can muse pretty well on the theological answer, but what I am after is the practical answer, and at the practical level, I don’t know).

But I wonder about this:

I often feel that I am not in possession of any “body of knowledge.” Here I am, a college professor – a full professor at that -- with a Ph.D. and three other degrees from “higher” education. And I am not in possession of any identifiable “body of knowledge.”

This is one of the struggles of my life. A dreaded moment for me is always when people say, “David, I’ve been meaning to ask you about this…” And then they ask me a question in the field that I have a Ph.D. in, or in one of the areas I am reputed to know something about (like theology). But before they ask the question, I know I won’t know the answer. I just won’t.

Just yesterday I was in the kitchen thinking about the passage for a Bible Study I will be leading in a few days. Then I noticed one of my Bibles on the living room table, so I turned to the passage. And in about five minutes, I knew how I would lead that study.

I then said to my wife: “The bible study just came to me. It’s funny, for all the classes I teach and must prepare for, I never know what the next class will be like … until it comes to me. And then I know.”

And she said, “You are a most unusual man ...”


John 5.19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father* does, that the Son does likewise.
John 5.30 "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."
John 8.28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am [he] and [that] I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.

A man planted a vineyard ...

“A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country…”

And so begins this parable spoken by Jesus about unrighteous tenants who, abusing every servant the man sent to collect his rent, finally killed the man’s beloved son when he was also sent to them.

We know the rest of the story. But do we know the beginning?

The opening sentence paints a picture of the creation of the world. It is a picture given to us by God, as Jesus, about how he, as God, brought creation into being. A word-picture painted of the birth of the world by the very Painter of the World.

Do you follow what I mean? It is not as if I am saying, “Look, let me try to paint a picture of what God had in mind when he created the world.” No. It is God himself saying, “Look, I liken the creation of this world that I created …

… to a vineyard…”

A vineyard with a fence around it, a winepress, and a watchtower.

So the picture that God paints of what he had in mind for his creation is … not of a parking lot; not of a marketplace; not of a university; not of a political venue.

It is of a vineyard. With a fence around it, a winepress, and a watchtower.

It is of a place where they grow grapes, and where they make wine. And so jealous is he of it that, of the simple elements in his picture, two of them – the fence and the watchtower – are for defense. Defense against what, when that World was painted prior to any Fall? Ah, the deepest things are before words. I have my ideas, but let's just attribute it for now to love and care. We will find out more later.

Somewhere else, a passing comment was made by a host of a wedding when he tasted the wine that Jesus made from water. “You have saved the best wine for last …”

David Wang


Mark 12.1-12 Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 7But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Have you not read this scripture: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?"

John 2.10 “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The external and noisey wind of the Spirit

We usually think of the Holy Spirit as one who lives inside of us as Comforter. This is the truth, but not the whole truth.

Occasionally we feel anointed by the Holy Spirit to do a particular task. This is also the truth, but not the whole truth.

We rarely see the Holy Spirit as a wind in our external circumstances, blowing the chaff away so the wheat can be pure. This is also the truth.

It is turbulent being blown to and fro, up and down, by the wind. But the Wind's aim is to winnow away the chaff in our circumstances. This makes anything we go through worth living through. It makes sense of the troubles we face.

The process is also aesthetic, in that, if the Holy Spirit as Wind is blowing around us, then the turbulence we see is evidence of his presence. We see it all; that is the aesthetics of it. We feel it; that is the aesthetics of it. How can a wind blow and we not see its effects and feel it? What kind of wind is it that does not stir sight, sound, smell, touch, taste? A wind that cannot stir our senses may be only a wind in our theological imaginations.

We Protestants have particularly sophisticated theological imaginations when it comes to processing out the feel of the Wind. FEEL? Oh! We can’t have that! We would be in danger of becoming Pentecostal!

We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, but SHUSH! No movement, no sound, no taste, no smell, no wonder, no awe … but we sure know the Greek term for spirit. No wonder. We can parse the Greek, but we cannot see Him blowing the furniture around. Where are you Lord? Hold on, Lord, let me shut the door so that wind stops rattling it. Okay. Now where was I? Oh yes: Where are you Lord?

We seek shelter from that bothersome wind rattling the door. Make that wind stop, Lord, so I can pray! Now, come Holy Spirit …


John 3.8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Luke 3.16-17 ... but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.

Sublimity and morality in nature and history: Psalm 135.6-9

It is disconcerting to read of the sublimity of God expressed in powerful displays of nature in heaven and on earth, and in the seas. Think of Mt. St. Helens erupting and covering the entire state of Washington with volcanic ash. The feeling of the sublime comes when the psalmist considers the might and power of such a display, but knows that he himself is safe within the sovereign counsel of this mighty God. But the same utterance reveals that this God also judged Pharoah and Egypt, and struck down all of that nation’s firstborn in the Exodus account. If we are to take the Scriptures as the word of God, then history is a revelation of how God has unfolded his will. And this revelation reveals God to not be neutral. No doubt he was (and is) not against individual Egyptians; but he was -- and is -- against plans and schemes that stand in the way of his purpose, which is to redeem a people for his name and glory and, in this process, redeem all of creation as well. It is a big plan. The point is that history reveals him to be one that will judge those who oppose this plan; and he does so by taking what today would be considered very impolitic and non-egalitarian actions. Horrors! A God who would destroy the firstborn of Egypt? One who would bring locusts and darkness and starvation upon a nation? What kind of God is this? Actually, this is a God that is quite in line with our expectations of how life should be in this present order of things. There are the good and the bad; there is evil; and the bad and the evil deserve judgment. It is not that the Egyptians were judged because they were Egyptians per se; that would have been unfair. The Egyptians were judged because they were unfair: they were oppressors; they enslaved a people for unreasonable servitude; they killed the male babies of Isreal to keep the Israelites from rebelling. This is wrong. This deserves a horrific (in our eyes) response. And one was delivered. If God were simply a patsy egalitarian, one who has no moral measures and has no power to enact judgment, one who simply wishes that we can all get along no matter what injustice is incurred, then life would truly be without hope. But he is not such a God. He does whatever he pleases, but what he pleases, or what pleases him, is moral and just, because he is Morality and Justice.

David Wang


Psalm 135.
6 Whatever the LORD pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. 7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. 8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both human beings and animals; 9 he sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants.

God in the Shack

A commentary on the book, The Shack, by William Young

By midlife, like many of us, Mack Philips’ relationship to God had configured itself into something like a truce. Yes you are Great and Good, and I’ll give you the deference due, but I’ve got this life to live if you’d just kindly stand aside…

Unlike most of us, Mack’s truce with God was also quite an accomplishment, considering he had lost his youngest daughter to a serial killer, crime unsolved, body unfound. Imagine having to live with that for the rest of your life. It was no wonder that Mack, even as he gamely managed his truce, thought of his life as The Great Sadness.

Then one day Mack met God.

It was not in heaven, because Mack didn’t die and go there. It was in Oregon, because God came down to meet him. Of course God has been known to do this sort of thing. The most celebrated incident took place in a stable in Bethlehem many centuries ago. But for him to do it again in a shack in Oregon, well, this takes some getting used to. We Christians will stake our lives (at least we say we would) on the fact that God came as a babe to an unwed teenage girl many centuries ago. But the idea of him coming in our own day as a -- deleted to not spoil the read -- may just be too much of a pill to swallow.

We have theology now; we’ve worked it out so that his next coming will be on schedule. Actually there are several schedules, depending on the d├ęcor of your doctrine. But no matter which, all these schedules place his coming in the hazy future, safely out of the reach of our Daytimers and Outlook calendars. We have, after all, lives to lead and Bible studies to prepare for.

I read William Young’s The Shack sitting in a hospital waiting room while my wife was under the knife for breast cancer. As the pages flew by, and the tears flowed down, it struck me that Mack’s and my worlds were seamless. I checked myself, as amateur theology buffs do in moments of emotion. It wasn’t sentimentality. It wasn’t good writing (there’s a bumpiness to the prose of Young’s first novel, which I hear was written on a commuter train). It certainly wasn’t my Reformed Theology bona fides – no; it certainly wasn’t that.

It was experience. I am talking about the kind that is usually considered bad; the why-did-this-happen-to-me sort of experience. Why did Mack have to lose his youngest daughter? Why must my wife have breast cancer?

Harvard philosopher Elaine Scarry says that big realities like justice, love, or beauty are “distributed.” By this she means that justice and beauty so characterize this creation that we can’t really grasp them. They are, to use another one of her big words, not “sensorial,” like a chair that can be touched or a cat that can be petted. Therefore we reduce justice down to laws we write in books, and beauty down to paintings we lock up in museums. Then we can touch and pet them.

I think we also tend to reduce God down to dogmas and doctrines. By now my Reformed friends are horrified. He’s gone soft. One whacky book and he’s gone emergent. Nothing of the sort. The Shack simply makes me realize the limitations of doctrines I can only touch and pet.

When confronted with tragic experiences we can’t rationally explain, several things can happen to doctrine. It can remain unchallenged while we look to other sources for comfort (in which case its cash value is quite small). Some abandon it altogether (in which case it never had cash value at all). Or in the face of deep hurt and confusion doctrine grows arms and embraces you. Doctrine loses its sensorial-ness as a book on your shelf even as you feel its distributed comforts all over and around you, perhaps for the first time. It is paradoxical. But big things always are.

One weekend in Oregon, Mack Philips experienced those arms in a shack in the woods. The Person (or Persons -- I don’t want to get doctrinally picky here) was big indeed, and that Person said, “I am not what you think I am.” By this I don’t think Young means that tried-and-true Biblical doctrines about God are wrong. I think he means, as J.B. Philips did before him, that our conceptions about God are simply too small.

I also think Young means to say that as Christianity unwittingly works to institutionalize, it loses its ability to scandalize. And the power of the gospel has always been about scandal. The Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar uses words like “strange,” “mad,” and “crazy” to describe the historic appearance of the God of the Universe in one man – and as we said, born of an unwed mother – claiming to be the salvation of the world. And yet Balthasar spent his life serving nothing less beautiful than this.

And so have countless thousands of others. No doubt the post-shack Mack Philips is among that number, and probably William Young as well.

David Wang

Luminous Faith

Feb 15, 2009 Luminous faith

My layman’s understanding of lightwaves from the sun is that they are not seen until they strike a physical object like the earth. Then we see nature in all its glory.

With that in mind, here is Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Faith is the light of God becoming luminous in man.”

Balthasar’s word-picture wonderfully illustrates how true faith can never originate in human effort. Like lightwaves from the sun, true faith always originates in God. It travels to us invisibly, but when it arrives in us, we become its luminous recipients.

The Scripture says, “In your light we see light.”

True faith not only lights up that which is truly true, but in its light we can also discern things that are only partially true. I think this is what Bathasar means when he says that God’s true light can even light up the partial truths of human imagination, or philosophy, or myth. In fact we can only know these as partially true in light of the fullness of God’s faith hitting us from afar, and making us luminous.

The Scripture says (and Bathasar cites): “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This all-pervading light reveals the truth that my every action and every thought ought to exude the light of the faith of God freely bathing me from within. And in that luminosity, things revealed to be only partially true should become less present, at least less important.

In the midst of this meditation, another thread came to me: “You have been burdened by the public speaking responsibilities you have in the upcoming weeks. But each day devote one hour to each task, and you will be fine.” I see a glimmer of faith in this thought, like a distant light in a dark forest. I will go towards it; it may be the light of faith.

David Wang


Psalm 36.9: For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

2 Corinthians 4.6: For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Hans Urs von Balthasar The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, Volume 1, Ignatius-Crossroads, p 156

Brushstrokes for the moment

Feb 13, 2009

Painting this tree gave me a renewed respect for the authority of brushstrokes. I am a very occasional painter, so I felt insecure in applying paint to canvas. How do I hold the brush? How much paint to use? Does the picture taking shape before me look anything like the image I see within me?

As a painting emerges on canvas, it is either a friend that you know, or a stranger you must get used to. If it is the latter, painting may not be a pleasant activity, because you come to realize that the stranger is you.

In my case, many dabs and strokes had to be repeated. And I see the unevenness of the product. Friends generally say “wow!” And that is a pleasant thing. But in the quiet of my heart, my response to my painting is “hmm.”

My last 3 classroom experiences – all three of them this week -- have been unsatisfying. The clumsiness with which I handled the contents is like the clumsiness I felt in applying the paint. In my heart of hearts, I know I am still an occasional teacher, just like I am an occasional painter. The “wows” of others can lead one astray, and in teaching there are many disguises one can wear to give the illusion of “wow.” All those disguises are strangers. The first challenge in the classroom is that you must come to know yourself: who you are, what your limitations are, what you can truly bring that is living and true. Only after all of that can there be any hope of wielding a confident brushstroke.

The Scriptures say that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The brushstrokes of God, both in us and around us, are filled with authority. So much so, they are like nature; we can say that the brushstrokes of God all come naturally. (I hope God is smiling). And so this morning, as I face the angst once again of applying the brushstrokes to lesson plans, and to all the moments of life up ahead, my prayer is, “Make me more like you.”