Be Silent (Habakkuk 2:20)

“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before Him.”

Habakkuk 2:20

This is one of the better contrasts, in my opinion, of God and idols. The Bible is replete with verses talking about idols and those who worship them. This is one of the few that I can recall that presents a contrast between idols and God. In the verses immediately preceding this, God states that idols are speechless and that those who worship them are looking to a dead thing to instruct them. He goes so far as to say Woe to them. Not a good thing when God starts pronouncing woes for you.

Then comes this verse. God is present. Everybody, shut your mouth. The implication being that the idol cannot teach because it is silent, but God is ready and willing to teach if only we would be silent. It is quite the contrast.

The question with which I am presented this morning is this: Am I silent before God? I do not mean that I need to stop talking to God. Truth be told, there are times when I think God would prefer I said a few words to Him. What I mean is that I need to examine myself and see whether or not there is the requisite silence within me for God to be able to speak. Am I taking the time to meditate on God’s Word and silence my mind and heart in His presence or am I reading The Bible in the morning and forgetting about it for the rest of the day? Am I filling my mind with chatter or leaving Him some unfilled space to make His own?

In the NT (New Testament) — Corinthians, to be more specific — Paul writes that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit; the temple of God. Since God is in His holy temple — as this morning’s verse clearly states — am I silent? To my shame, I confess that I am not silent. I fill my mind with news and reading and fantasies about what might be and do not leave much silence for God to speak. He has been faithful to speak through the din I have created inside myself, but that is not as it should be. God is in His temple — me — and I should be silent; should give Him time and space to talk to me.

Today, let me put forth the effort to cultivate silence within for God to be able to speak.

Questions, Part 1: Good Enough?

There are certain questions that are, in the moment, unanswerable. I was once posed this question: “I can never be good enough for you, can I?” I have considered the question often in the intervening years and realized why I was so dumbstruck. I have concluded that I could not answer the question as asked or in the time allotted.

The question was emotionally charged (the charge is still palpable even typing it out), had a presupposed response, ascribes to me more than I warrant, and is layered like one can scarcely believe.

Emotional Charge

Any time we ask a question that is emotionally charged, we render it unanswerable at worst and dangerous to answer at best. Emotion pushes logic aside. With logic removed from the equation, the situation becomes muddied and difficult to decipher. More, any response to an emotionally charged question will be filtered through the attendant emotions. It would be like trying to pass magnetic media through an electromagnetic field and then look at the document saved on that media. Some of the information might survive, but it will — at a minimum — be garbled and potentially incomprehensible.

Looking back, I find that I am just as glad I did not answer the question when it was asked. Not because I harbor any animosity or ill-will toward the person who asked it, but because of the emotional charge inherent in the question; the despondency wrapped up in the asking at all leaves no good answer. Answers? Absolutely. None that would resolve the conflict implied by the question’s asking. The form of the question and the fact that it was asked at all further imply, to me, an underlying weakness in any relationship that was built on that kind of foundation. If one party in a relationship wonders whether or not they are “good enough” for the other, then that relationship has serious problems.

A Presupposed Response

The way that the question is phrased indicates that a response is already presupposed. The supposed response is “No, you cannot be good enough.” Whether accurate or not, this presupposition colors any further conversation on the topic. The phrasing of the question implies an underlying presumption that the sufficiency of the asker is dubious in their own mind and that any answer that is not the expected one would require persuasion. All answers, in short, will be suspect.

Perhaps it is just my own vanity or pride, but I think that one should proceed from the starting position that one is sufficient to one’s partner or friends so long as the relationship is maintained. Keeping a relationship going requires energy and time and sacrifice of nearly every variety. It is a far simpler matter to allow a relationship to die quietly than to nurture it. If one begins with the premise that the other party finds one, in some fashion, sufficient to a need or desirable to have around, then addressing shortfalls or areas of weakness is gentler on all parties and begins from a position of strength.

Questions Are Like Onions

I wish I had realized, in that moment years ago, that some of the layers of the question were answerable even then. Not every question has layers. I suspect that most of us intend far less than we ask. But I would like to peel back the layers of the onion a bit and address the areas of sufficiency that might have been inquired after.

Physical Attractiveness

It is possible to ask whether or not one is sufficiently physically attractive to please one’s partner. This is, to my mind, a question of aesthetic appreciation which can be divorced from sexual desire. This is simply a matter of a person being pleasant to look on. The comparative likelihood of a person being a relationship, particularly an intimate one, with someone whom they do not find aesthetically pleasing is marked. Using myself as the plumb line for male behavior, I find that males must overcome an innate aversion to those whom we do not deem aesthetically pleasant. We must consciously put forth effort to get past something within us that does not want to be around someone we find disagreeable to look at. By contrast, my experience with women is that they are perfectly capable of looking past the exterior and forming meaningful relationships with others based on character. My wife once told me that she did not find me physically attractive when we first met, but my character and personality were attractive to her, so our relationship was formed.

That said, the answer to this aspect of the question could be a resounding “Yes.” and still not completely or accurately answer the query. In addition, this answer given alone might be misleading, as other aspects might not be answered in the affirmative.

Sexual Desirability

While I find certain things pleasant to look on — for example, certain types of vehicle or flowers — there is nothing sexual in that appreciation of their aesthetics. I appreciate a well-designed car for the artistry that I perceive in it. The same is true for a flower. However, it is possible for the aesthetic appreciation to include a dose of sexual desire when a member of the opposite sex is involved. It is also possible for a person whom I do not find aesthetically pleasing to evoke sexual desire due to some part of their person inviting that response. To be transparent, one’s sexual arousal does not excuse one’s actions in response to same. The body responds to what the body responds to and the mind likewise, but the two need not agree. They often do not.

Is it valid to ask whether or not one’s partner finds them sexually desirable? Of course. If there has been nothing to provide guidance in this, the question is perfectly valid. If, however, actions and words have together indicated that one is desirable, then the question is moot. As before, so now. This question could be answered in the affirmative and the question in its totality left unresolved. And, again, this answer given in isolation could be misleading.

Moral Compatibility

While it may not seem so at a glance, people’s morality is rather a large part of who and what they are. It may simply be a moral incompatibility that leaves us perplexed about others as we look around. I know that there are things I find morally reprehensible that others regard as no more serious than jaywalking. Likewise, there are things that I have absolutely no problem with which others would gasp in shock at. It is not that morality is relative, but it is a question of which morals I own and make my own. Is drinking immoral? Or is it drunkenness that is immoral? Or neither? The short answer is that drunkenness is immoral and the rest of the spectrum is either limiting ourselves for reasons — some valid, others less so — or granting ourselves license because excuses. Which morals I choose to make my own is important and any partner in life must have a compatible morality. Notice I do not say they must have the same morality. I know of married couples wherein one abstains from alcohol while the other partakes — each for perfectly valid reasons. Neither is a drunk and neither judges the other. In this way, their moralities are compatible. If one were a drunk and the other abstained altogether, then the moralities would clash and cause friction. It may be surmountable, but it will absolutely cause conflict.

If this is the question being asked, then the actual formation of it is not about whether one is “good enough” but whether or not one has a compatible morality. Can the two moralities coexist within the relationship or does their friction cause too much trouble for the situation to be tenable?

This, by the way, is where things get serious. Relationships survive lack of physical attractiveness with very little problem. Time strips that away whether we will or no. Relationships survive a lack of sexual desire. It is challenging, but relationships are able to get along under those circumstances. When moralities are incompatible, things really begin to get dicey.

Spirituality

People’s spirituality is another of those major things that define who and what they are. Some people espouse a particular faith — I am Christian. Not a good example of one, but a Christian. Others espouse a faith in science or human nature (God help them). Regardless of where we find ourselves on the spectrum of spirituality — from pantheist to atheist — we want to know that our partner’s spirituality is compatible with our own. And compatibility is not just like ways of thinking. Compatibility also entails how seriously we take our spirituality. Are we devout or casual in our spiritual life?

If this was the nature of the question posed back when, then it might better be rendered, “Is my spirituality not sufficiently like yours in type and level of devotion?”

There is another way this could be understood. It could be understood, as I came to ask it of myself, “Is this person the type who will cause me to grow and go deeper in my spiritual life? Will we spur each other on to a richer spirituality than we currently have?”

Compatible Priorities

How do I handle money? Where does family find itself in my priorities? The list of priorities goes on for days and incompatibilities in this arena break more relationships than most anything else, in my experience and observation.

If this was the question being asked — “Are my priorities not able to become sufficiently compatible with yours?” — then we are moving into the deepest reaches of serious territory and complex responses. Some of the others are simple to answer, but this requires careful consideration before reaching a conclusion. If moralities are compatible and spiritualities are compatible, then their relative significance and importance to the individuals scales how beneficial or deleterious their effects will be.

Caramelized Onions

For years, I considered all of these aspects of the question posed to me during free moments (of which there are many when one has a long commute). I do not recommend a regular diet of long periods of time spent in a quiet car with nothing but one’s own thoughts and musings.

What I came to understand is that the question was too complex to have been answered with a simple Yes or No.

I can state with certainty that physical attraction and sexual desire have been present in every intimate relationship throughout my life. I can also, to my shame, state that very few of those relationships included compatible moralities, spiritualities, or priorities. Hence the end of them. It is not a matter of whether or not those people were “good enough for” me or I for them, but of whether or not we were beneficial to each other; whether or not we spurred one another to become more fully ourselves.

Ascription of Too Much

Who am I and who cares? The question was posed by a book title some time ago, but the question, with minor tailoring, applies here. Who am I to determine the sufficiency or goodness of another person? Moreover, who cares about my estimations? Therein lies a portion of the problematic nature of this question. I am not fit to judge another’s sufficiency or goodness. I am flawed and insufficient, decidedly not qualified to be passing judgment.

For someone to ascribe to me the judgment of their relative goodness or sufficiency is to lessen themselves and to elevate me far beyond my deserts. A person could be “good enough” for me to enjoy looking on them and “good enough” for our morals and spirituality to be compatible and still the relationship will fail for one reason or another. Despite our best efforts. Despite what we might wish. Things fall apart and the center does not hold and the reasons may be as opaque to us as they are clear to others.

Regardless, ascribing any human being the judgment seat of our fitness is a mistake.

Conclusion

Since this question has sporadically been on my mind over the last decade or so, I asked it with regard to my wife and I while we were dating and engaged. I have always found my wife to be an attractive lady and her desirability has never been in question. There is more. Far more. She challenges me to be more fully myself with regard to my morals and spirituality and priorities. She pushes me to adhere strictly to the morals that I call my own and to push deeper into my spiritual life. She has also drawn out my priorities and allowed me to evaluate them and rearrange them when they were not what I wanted them to be. When I was selfish, it became obvious and I was allowed the space to work through that while still being given the support that helped move things forward.

Does this mean that my wife and I are “good enough” for one another? I think that is the wrong question. We challenge each other and encourage each other and push each other. She challenges me to be more fully me. She urges me to make that me better. In both her loveable and challenging moments, she reminds me that she needs me to be the best me I can. And it is a challenge that I find I want to rise to more and more often. It is not a question of whether or not we are “good enough” for one another. It never has been and it never will be.

She is not “good enough” — she is who I need. And that is far more than “enough.”

i never knew

i never knew how little i knew
until i was faced with all that i don’t.

    i haven’t faced it all
                not yet
    but it waits
        lurks
            seeks the opportune moment to strike
    it blindsides me

i feel i’ve learned something and all that i don’t presents itself
    looms large before me and dwarfs my meager knowledge in the shadow of my ignorance

- written 29 May 2014

His (Nahum 1:7)

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Nahum 1:7

Too often, I find that the world in which I live foists upon my mind the question of whether or not God is good. The question is asked by many. Parents who see children die ask how God can be good. Spouses who must surrender their beloved to wasting illness pose the question. People who see the suffering in the world ask the question regularly. The trouble is that nigh all of these askers pose the question in the form of “How can God be good if He allows _____?” The blank is usually populated by some form of suffering. The implication being that God is either impotent to effect the surcease of suffering or that He permits it to continue and is some form of sadist for so doing. Since I have seen a few days of trouble in my three dozen years, I record the following insights.

First: God is good. Nahum writes it and I have experienced it for myself. When my youngest sister passed away for no earthly reason, God was good. He was our Comfort. And, yes, the capital letter is warranted. When a long relationship dissolved and the splash damage from it took others under with it, God was there to walk through the difficulty with me. Why these examples? Because Nahum notes that God is a stronghold in the day of trouble. When trouble comes, I can rest assured that God is there to comfort me and shelter me when things get unendurable.

Second: God is not obliged to protect those who are not His own. Often, those who mewl about how unjust it is for God not to intervene and stop “bad things” from happening are not His. More, these are frequently those who deny His existence entirely. Nahum notes that He knows those who take refuge in Him. God knows which people are His and which are not. If a person is not God’s, then why does that person think God is obliged to do something for them? My parents were not obliged to raise other people’s children. I am not on the hook for maintaining my neighbor’s car. That which belongs to me, I care for. That which does not belong to me consumes whatever of my attentions is left over, should I choose so to invest those energies. I might, just as readily and equitably, choose to invest my energies in hobbies or betterment of myself. God knows who belongs to Him and He takes care of His own. Sure, I go through rough patches, but I trust my God and He shelters me. I know that the trials could be much worse than they are, but He makes them endurable.

Last: just because God can does not mean that He should. So many years ago that I will not embarrass myself by giving the number, my da took me to see Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Yes, I am a huge nerd. In that film, the President of Star Fleet gives a speech in which he says, “Let us redefine ‘progress’ … just because we can do a thing it does not follow that we must do that thing.” To many, this speech was probably background noise to what was happening on screen. To me, it was truth being spoken. Just because we can; have the ability to do a thing, it does not follow that we must do that thing. I am able to do many things. Some of which are right and good and probably ought to be done. Some of which are ill-advised. Others still are just plain wrong. I, like many, am perfectly capable of going guano insane and running people off the road in my vehicle. That is wrong. Just because I can do it does not mean that I must, or even ought to do it. Before we blather on about whether or not God can do a thing, perhaps we should stop to ask whether or not He should. If He were to stop all the violence and suffering in the world, it would require turning all humanity into automatons. We would obey His commands without question and thereby end all suffering. It would be wonderful. Except that without freewill, we would not have the ability to love and would be unable to adhere to the two commands in which Jesus summed up the entirety of the OT: love God and love each other. Sure, He could strip us of our freewill and He is totally able to remove all suffering. In fact, He has promised that He will one day do exactly that. Part of why I do not piss and moan about suffering now is that I know much of it is our own doing and I know further that He will eventually do away with both cause and effect; sin and suffering.

Will I sometimes wonder about the goodness of God? I suspect so. However, I wish to come back to this place of remembrance when I do and be reminded that God is good; a refuge to me in my times of trouble and He knows that I am His.

Requirements (Micah 6:8)

He has told you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Everyone and everything has requirements. Our modern devices have power requirements. Our vehicles have fuel and maintenance requirements. Our relationships have requirements. In the verses preceding this, the question is what I can do to make myself acceptable to God; what manner of sacrifice or offering will cover over my sins. What, exactly, does God require from us?

First: justice. All of the definitions of this word; all potential meanings point toward doing what The Law says. Many folks have a problem with this and get their panties in a twist over which laws and how they think they should be given a pass. The short of it is that Jesus summarized the entirety of the OT in two commandments: love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; love your neighbor the way you love yourself … and everyone is your neighbor. The first century church did not saddle non-Jewish converts with any of The Law beyond these obvious commands from Christ and saying that they should not eat food sacrificed to idols; should not eat blood; should stay sexually pure (Acts 15:28-29). What God requires, first and foremost, is obedience.

Second: kindness. This word is slightly richer in meaning, potentially meaning goodness, kindness, or faithfulness. Rather than cherry-pick a meaning that suits me, I will take God to mean all three. He wants kindness; wants me to treat others the way I want them to treat me. He wants faithfulness; wants me to stay true to Him and to be good to my word. He wants goodness; He wants to form His character in me. Who, after all, is good but God (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19)?

Third: humility. If I am obedient and God’s character is being formed in me, then there will be a temptation toward pride. God wants me to be humble. I heard a definition of humility that I find helpful. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. That took me a while and I still mentally chew on that. God is not interested in me belittling myself or dismissing truths about how well He is forming His character in me or the great things He has done for me. He wants me to recognize the great things He has done for, in, and through me. He wants me to recognize them as His work. And that is the key. It is His work, not my own. I am not amazing. I am not all that smart or wise. What I am is yet another flawed human being doing his pathetic best while God does far more than I can even imagine I should ask for me and in me and through me. I have seen Him work and I yearn to see it happen again. But I will not; cannot see God working if I am in the way. I am too close to my sad little self to see around me to God. So I need to get me out of the way. Humility starts by fixing my eyes on God. He is the ultimate Other; the most completely Not Me. How can I think of myself when looking on Him?

Those are the requirements: obedience, which leads to Godly character, and humility to guard against the pride that threatens when Godly character is formed. Sacrifice is not required — obedience is. Offerings and tithes are not required (though they are encouraged) — Godly character is. And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Nothing else is required.

Fruitful Little Sender (Micah 5:2)

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
[Too] little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

Micah 5:2

This verse is quoted in the NT (New Testament) as a prophecy about the Messiah. And so it is. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and fulfilled the prophecy contained in this verse. The verses following extend the prophecy out into the End Times, but this verse; this prophecy is fulfilled. While that does trigger my memories and get me thinking, that is not what I see emerging from this verse this morning.

God refers to Bethlehem as [too] little to be among the clans of Judah. Bethlehem was not, I guess, a terribly important city in the sense that Jerusalem is important. The city seems to be an unassuming little place. And I am reminded of how often God will use places and things as metaphors for people. King David was unassuming, too. Samuel had to have him brought in from the fields where he was working in order to anoint him king. David did not go out against Goliath and say that he (David) was going to put Goliath in the hurt locker, but that God was going to smack down the giant. Paul was also pretty unassuming. In his letters, he writes that people are talking about him while he is not present. Those folks are saying that he is not all that impressive in person and not a great speaker, but that his writings are weighty and impressive. That, I think, is as it should be. The words that God gives should have weight whereas the messenger need not. God delights in using the little; the unassuming to accomplish great things.

Which leads nicely into the other name given in tandem with Bethlehem: Ephrathah. Looking it up in the concordance, it seems that the word means fruitful. Often, Bethlehem is noted for being on the way to Ephrathah; on the way to fruitfulness. Am I reading too much into this? Maybe. But the truth of the matter is that humility is on the path to fruitfulness, whether this passage was intended to communicate that or not. More than once, God states that He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God says that those who humble themselves in His sight will be lifted up by Him. Winston Churchill once described another man as “A modest man who has much to be modest about.” The same could reasonably be said of all of us, if we wish to be great in God’s kingdom. We, all of us, have much to be modest about. And, as it turns out, Churchill had cause to say later that the same man was “an honorable and gallant gentleman, and a faithful colleague who served his country well at the time of her greatest need.” Humble little men and women; modest people can and often do accomplish great things in the hands of a great God.

The last thing to note about Bethlehem is that the Ruler mentioned will go forth for God. That is, the Ruler will go out and do what God has commissioned Him to do. When Jesus came to the Earth, He did exactly what the Father had commissioned Him to do. But I think it can be taken a step further. If I am little in the eyes of the world and fruitful in the eyes of God then the Ruler will also go forth from me; will reach out and touch lives around me.

Perhaps I am being too metaphorical in my reading of this verse. It would be neither the first nor the last time I had done so. But these truths are scattered throughout The Bible and this verse brought them to mind. The truths remain utterly true, regardless of whether or not this verse was intended to communicate them.

To clearly communicate Jesus to the world around me, it helps if my life is fruitful; abounding in all that the Holy Spirit brings — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. To have a fruitful life, I must first humble myself before God. Then I can be a fruitful little sender of the message that God is a Great Big Provider.

Compassion on Anyone and Everyone (Jonah 4:11)

“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

Jonah 4:11

Jonah is a fascinating bit of a prophet. He preaches the worst evangelical sermon in history — 40 days and you are all dead! — and an entire city (120,000 converts from a single sermon!) repents in sackcloth and ashes. Jonah’s response to what is clearly the work of God? The prophet prays and says, “God, I told You this would happen, because You are gracious and compassionate and slow to anger and prefer to bless rather than judge. Since You have stayed true to Your character and I did not want these people to repent and be saved, just kill me now.” Mind: blown.

But is that really any different from some believers today? There are folks who look at the prisoners on Death Row and think that their (the prisoners’) crimes are so heinous that they do not deserve forgiveness. Truth is, none of us deserves forgiveness. There are those who look at terrorists and want them to die in their sins; want them to be killed rather than converted. True conversion would stop their terrorist actions just as effectively and would have bonus prizes attached in the form of a new member in God’s family and someone who understands the mind of terrorists who can try to evangelize them. The Assyrians, whose capital was Nineveh, were a brutal people in their day. Think an entire army of Vlad the Impaler and that is not far from reality. Would we want people who had a lot in common with the man who is the origin of the Dracula legend to be saved? For my own part, I cannot answer definitely. Take it one step further. Would we take God’s message of hope and forgiveness to those people?

Yesterday, I was reminded of the parallels between Jesus and Jonah and the whole idea of them not looking the same got caught in my head. Some commentators write that Jonah might have looked very much like he had been sent by one of the Assyrian gods to proclaim judgment and that is why the people of Nineveh listened the way they did. More, one of the Assyrian gods was a fish man and those same commentators think that Jonah’s entrance onto the scene — being vomited up by a fish — might have given him serious cred with the Assyrians if anyone was on that beach to see it. I cannot speak to either one — I am neither a history scholar nor was I there — but I can say that the message and the messenger were not pretty.

The message is simple. No matter how bad we might be, God wants to have compassion on us and forgive us and not have to judge us. We could be a nation of Vlad Drakuls and God would still want us to repent and come to Him. We could be the worst thing imaginable and He would still want us to repent and be forgiven. God is not willing that any should perish. God notes, in this morning’s verse, that the people of Nineveh did not know any better; that they do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand. Some of us know better. God wants those people to repent, too. God wants to have compassion on anyone and everyone. Do I have that heart in me?