Finding Rest in God:

February 29, 2008

Who will allow me to find rest in you? Who will enable you to come into my heart and make it drunk [with your Spirit], so that I should forget the bad things in my life and embrace the only good thing: you? What are you to me? Have mercy on me to say it. What am I myself, to you, that you command me to love you, and if I don’t, you grow angry and threaten me with lasting punishment? Is it, then, a small thing not to love you? Woe to me! Tell me, on account of your mercies, Lord my God, what you are to me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” Speak that I may hear you. Behold the eyes of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” I will run towards that voice and embrace you. Do not hide your face from me: may I die–lest I die!–so that I may see you.

The house of my soul is too small for you to enter it: may it be enlarged by you. It is falling apart: rebuild it. My house contains many things that would offend your eyes: I know and confess it. But who will clean it? Or to whom other than you shall I cry out, “cleanse me from my secret sins, Lord, and spare me from those sins foreign to me?” I believe, and therefore I speak, Lord: you know […]

[St. Augustine’s Confessions 1.5]

I read this sinner’s prayer of confession today and was really moved. I thought that since Matt and I are both fairly busy and haven’t had time recently for longer, more thoughtful posts, this would be a good alternative. I hope that my rendering of Augustine’s text lifts you up and encourages you in the same way that he encouraged me. It is important to understand that in the previous confessions (this is #5), Augustine has been developing the greatness of God and the comparable insignificance of man. This is why he starts out asking the question: “How can I ever find rest in you, God?” He delights in the fact that God loves us and desires to be loved by us. When Augustine says that God commands us to love him, the phrase in Latin literally has the sense of “commands himself to be loved by us,” but that, for obvious reasons, doesn’t work very well in English. This does help us, however, understand that Augustine means to say that God wants to be loved by us, not just to love us.

I also like how Augustine allows God to define the entire relationship. He asks the two questions: “what are you to me?” and “what am I myself […]?” and then answers them by asking God to tell him “what you are to me.” Augustine knows the answer, namely that God is his salvation, but he desires for God to speak it to him in a deeper, more penetrating way. Know that God loves you, and that his Spirit speaks unto our spirits saying “I am your salvation” (salus tua ego sum). Our response should not be any different than St. Augustine’s: to run and embrace God. When we realize the depth of God’s love for us, we cannot help but respond to him with our own love. For Augustine, the thought of God hiding his face from him makes him sick unto death (lest I die!)

The most natural response of someone trying to reject God’s love and forgiveness is to say that God cannot forgive whatever sin he has committed. Augustine provides an interesting response to this kind of reasoning, however, by pointing to the fact that no one else is more able, more appropriate for the task. There is no salvation apart from Christ. No one else can wash away our sins. Cherish God’s love and forgiveness. Respond to his love by loving him back. Don’t allow your sin to be a stumbling block to you, but run to God, since he is the only cure. This reminds me of the leper Jesus healed at the end of Mark 1 who came to Jesus and said: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus’ response is comforting to me: “I am willing. Be clean!”

James, the younger brother

Amendment: 5 March

Check out the song I wrote that is adapted from this translation.

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Keepin’ It Real

February 23, 2008

If you’ve been wondering why there has been no Consanguinity post in awhile, this passage in Hebrews might help explain it:

For it is by it [faith] the people of old received God’s commendation […] (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth (Hebrews 11:2, 38).

I was stunned when I read this verse in my quiet time the other morning, when I realized that Matt does all of these things. Although it may not be fair to equate him with the patriarchs, it’s at least worth thinking about (Katie and Jeremy, I have just one word for you: owltar). Matt has been pretty busy the last few weeks, which is the main practical difficulty that we anticipated when we started this blog. Don’t hold it against my big brother, though. Instead, just remember how AMAZINGLY COOL he is. When I think about how cool my older brother is, and about how he actually does the things that I only dream about doing, I’m almost willing to suggest that I’m actually not worthy of the consanguineous bonds between us. Unfortunately for him, though, we’re brothers, and there really isn’t anything that he (or Elizabeth) can do to change that fact.

Anyway, while Matt has been exploring the deserts, mountains, caves and openings in the earth (what exactly is the difference between a cave and a hole in the ground, anyway–perhaps Matt can enlighten us about this one), this is what Allison and I have been up to:

 

James&Allison_Gangsta

 

This is what I like to call “keepin’ it real.” Notice, however, that in spite of the fact that we look like we’re just chillin’, that there is a book in the background. It has to be Allison’s book, too, since I just finished my second physics paper, yes, the same one that I was supposed to write three years ago, the one that has been hanging over my head for so long and that I must write in order to graduate. The fact that I had just finished that paper and e-mailed it to Dr. Stewart is why we appear so relaxed. Anyway, you all can relax, too, since it looks like this gangsta is going to graduate after all.

The other good news from this week is that Allison and I were accepted as members of Wycliffe on Monday. We’re pretty excited about it, although it’s hard to be really that excited about anything when you have a thesis to write (for Allison, that is). We even have new e-mail addresses (james_covington@wycliffe.org and allison_covington@wycliffe.org). Yeah, it’s actually that official. I know that it’s hard to reconcile the above picture with the category of missionary in your mind, but it’s true, irrespective of what you are inclined to think.

Allison and I have also really been enjoying our new jobs at Lightbearers. It has been a real change for both of us. We actually get to work at a desk, make phone calls, and feel somewhat important, not to mention the bottomless jar of chocolate on April’s desk. For me, you’d be safe to say that I’m having the best semester of my college experience; for Allison you’d be equally unsafe in saying the same. If you ever wonder what an average day for me is like, just open the closest non-English dictionary that you can find and spend about an hour there. I have been spending a lot of time in my Latin-English dictionary this semester, loving every minute of it. Anyway, I should probably end this post while I’m still ahead, since I know that you, as readers, can only handle so much of this kind of ranting. We really appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

James, the younger brother


A Prairie Home Perspective

February 11, 2008

I heard this yesterday on the radio.  It’s a pretty hilarious sketch on the current election campaign and I couldn’t resist posting it.  You can skip forward to about 3:30 in order to just hear the sketch.

Matt, the elder brother


Civil Disobedience: A Tale of Two Laws

February 10, 2008

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

–from Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week, Matt referred to Romans 13, in which Paul writes that we are to obey the authority of government, since God is ultimately working out his sovereign designs through it: namely justice (punishing the wrongdoers and protecting the innocent) and grace (both supplying moral direction and providing for the common good of the citizens). Matt has given us a firm foundation for government, which includes the general imperative that we are to obey the laws that our government writes. This rule, however, inevitably introduces the question: should Christians, then, obey immoral laws? We can see two different laws arising, even prima facie (this is a useful Latin phrase meaning, “on the first appearance,” or “at the first glance”): the law of man and the Law of God. Naturally, if a conflict arises between these two laws, the Law of God takes precedence over the law of man. Any human law, then, contradicting the divine Law is unjust, which is what led St. Augustine to write: “for it seems to me that an unjust law is no law at all” (On Free Choice of the Will, V).

To help support this claim, let’s examine some examples from the Bible. The Hebrew midwives in Egypt were commanded by Pharaoh to kill all of the newborn Hebrew boys, but”[they] feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them […]” (Ex. 1:17). Once again, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had built (Dan. 3), and Daniel ignored the edict given by King Darius that for 30 days no man should pray to anyone but him (Dan. 6). Even the apostles were forced to choose between obeying God and obeying men. Peter and John were thrown into prison for preaching the gospel, and when they were brought on trial and commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus, John spoke up: “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide […]” (Acts 4:20). In each of these examples, there is a direct conflict between human and divine law. The Hebrew midwives would have been violating the commandment saying “Thou shalt not kill,” Daniel and his friends would have been breaking another that says “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20), and the apostles would have been forsaking the Great Commission given to them by Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20).

These people of God, however, did not place themselves above the law, but accepted the consequences of breaking it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace, Daniel into the lions den, and the apostles into prison, even though God later delivered all of them. In summary so far, direct variance with God’s law and willingness to accept the legal consequences of breaking the unjust law are necessary conditions to justify breaking an unjust law; this position is defended by Kerby Anderson in his article Civil Disobedience. Furthermore, he claims that it is not justifiable to break just laws in the process of breaking a law that conflicts with God’s Law.

It is really impossible to even think about Civil Disobedience in 21st century America without considering Martin Luther King Jr. He encouraged people all across the United States to protest the unjust laws of segregation, founded on and continuing to spawn racism. In perhaps his most famous writing, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he explained the necessary grounds for and proper means of civil disobedience. He wrote this letter as a response to evangelicals who were criticizing his methods after being thrown in jail for peaceful protesting. This letter is moderately long, but definitely a worth-while read for anyone wanting to understand civil disobedience in a Christian context. I would really encourage you to take a few minutes and read it sometime (click the link above). In his famous Letter, Martin Luther King Jr. gives a more practical outline to civil disobedience in four steps:

  1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist
  2. Negotiation
  3. Self-purification
  4. Direct action

    The first is self-explanatory. It must be clearly demonstrated that injustice exists prior to civil disobedience. Secondly, the natural channels for protest and changing the law must be exhausted. One should try to change the law before simply disobeying it. In many ways, the third step is the most important: self-purification. One must get rid of all feelings of hatred and revenge and prepare to be persecuted and punished by the law (this includes full willingness to accept the legal consequences of breaking the unjust law, as stated above). Then and only then, after the first three steps have been taken, is it justifiable to peaceably break the law through direct action.

    Given the kind of democracy that we live in, we have tremendous power to change the law, to diminish injustice and promote justice. In our situation, then, steps 1 & 2 probably require a significant amount of effort, before one can arrive at 3 & 4. In fact, African Americans had been striving for political equality for an entire century since they had been “freed” after the end of the Civil War, although they were still very much socially “enslaved.” The combination of the massive injustices of racism and the fact that the Civil Rights movement for African Americans was at a political stalemate was what justified this peaceful civil disobedience.

    It is not hard to understand how civil disobedience plays out with respect to a law that directly conflicts with God’s Law, but what about more radical approaches? Is it permissible to break certain just laws in a rather harmless way in order to draw the attention needed to get unjust laws changed? Or can revolution or assassination of a heinously unjust leader (such as Hitler) be justified? Although there is not room enough to fully address these more difficult questions here, I would direct you to something that Dr. King mentions in his letter. He refers to being arrested for parading without a license (an example of breaking just laws in order to try to change unjust ones), although he claims that those enforcing the permit-law were doing so on unjust grounds (laws concerning parade permits are meant to help keep the peace, not enforce racial segregation). Furthermore, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was involved in plots to assassinate Hitler during WWII, and whether his involvement was moral or not greatly troubled him. Perhaps you, the reader, can provide some feedback on these questions, or good examples of this kind of action seeming to be just.

    On a hopeful note, I would like to relate briefly something that I read this week, an account from the Old Testament that demonstrates how political channels can be used to promote justice. At the end of the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites were sent back to Jerusalem by Cyrus the Great to rebuild the temple. Under the rule of Artaxerxes, however, they were stopped by unjust political manipulation. But when Darius became king, the people were led by the prophets to resume building. When asked on what grounds they had begun to construct again, they cited the authority that Cyrus had given them. A message was sent to the king saying: “Now if the king is so inclined, let a search be conducted in the royal archives there in Babylon in order to determine whether King Cyrus did in fact issue orders for this temple of God to be rebuilt in Jerusalem […]” (Ezra 5:17a). When Darius learned of the favor Cyrus had showed to the Israelites, he happily supported them in their efforts.

    I hope this helps establish how we are supposed to interact with our government as Christians. Although there are more particulars to be worked out, perhaps you can help us out, Matt, with some practical application for these ideas in your response this week.

    James, the younger brother.


    A Trip Along Highway 1

    February 8, 2008

    James and I have begun to work out more of the details of our posting schedule. As stated earlier, our main posts will occur roughly once a week. Currently, in these main posts we are discussing the relationship between religion and politics. After a main post, the other one of us may submit a brief response (e.g. James’ last post, Government: The Greatest Lawgiver). So, you can expect a longer post from James continuing our overall discussion sometime next week. In addition to the main posts, we thought that, since most of the people reading this are family, it would be nice to have a regular schedule of posts that would just give brief updates of what’s going on in our lives. From now on, one of us will write a “personal update” post once every two weeks. That means you’ll hear from each of us once a month. Of course either of us may make random posts at any time. Thus begins my first personal update.

    As most of you know, Elizabeth and I are now living in a new apartment south of Stanford and up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This apartment isn’t really any closer to Santa Cruz, but it does allow me to drive along a much nicer route without adding any additional time. Now, my commute typically begins with 20 minutes of driving on the very windy and deserted 1.5-lane Tunitas Creek Road. Most of this drive is through dense redwood forest with a little creek along the road, and I often see no cars on for this entire stretch of the commute. At the bottom Tunitas Creek Road I hit Highway 1, which runs all of the way up and down the California Coast and consequently goes right through Santa Cruz. The route along highway 1 is more populated with cars, but traffic is pretty much non-existent, and the scenery is impressive, especially when a Pacific Storm is on the way and the waves are really big. Most of the shore is lined with cliffs and only broken by occasional beaches. This was the setting I had in mind when I wrote “Interring the Subterfuge.” Here is a picture I took of Pigeon Point Lighthouse a couple of days ago.

    Pigeon Point Lighthouse

    This quarter I’ve been taking a Structural Geology course in order to improve my geology background. So far I’m really enjoying the class. I think I will like being a geologist. Last weekend we did our first field trip, and guess where we went…Highway 1 near Tunitas Creek Road. As it turns out there is a lot of interesting geology along the coast. We spent most of our time looking at faults and fault zones, but at the end of the day we went by a spot called Pebble Beach, which has some really cool rocks called turbidites. These form in underwater avalanches (often triggered by earthquakes). They are essentially a sequence of layers with grain size and density decreasing as you go up through the deposit. Basically, the dense cobbly parts of the avalanche fall out of the flow first and then smaller and smaller things settle out. You can see part of the turbidite sequence in this photo (it starts with cobbles on the right and gets finer grained to the left). Since the beds were deposited they’ve been tilted up vertically an lifted out of the ocean. Tomorrow I’ll be going on another field trip, this time a little further north on the coast.

    00015med.jpg

    Though I may spend a lot of time driving on Highway 1, I’ve been doing some other things as well. My first paper finally has gotten published. Most of you probably can’t get that version for free, but there is also a copy here – not that any of you really want to read this. I’m also working on a second paper which we hope to submit to Nature soon. It would be a big deal to get it published there, but I don’t have my fingers crossed. I’ve now officially applied for a postdoc position at Minnesota and will hopefully hear back about my first fellowship application within the next month. I’ll keep everyone posted regarding the job situation as it develops.

    Matt, the elder brother


    Government: The Greatest Lawgiver

    February 6, 2008

    […] then tell us what cities are better governed because of you, as Sparta is because of Lycurgus, and many others–big and small–are because of many other men? What city gives you credit for being a good lawgiver who benefited it, as Italy and Sicily do Charondas, and as we do to Solon? […]

    –Plato, Republic X.599e, translation by G. M. A. Grube

    Two and a half millennia ago, the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato implied the same fundamental purpose of government, namely to “benefit” the people. A lawgiver is only considered good inasmuch as he does good to the people through his laws. Each point in Matt’s summary of the purpose of government:

    1. Provide for the common good.

    2. Implement justice.

    3. Protect the freedom of the individual.

    4. Provide moral direction.

    can be understood as a benefit for the people. It is no coincidence that the two main political parties in the United States are the Democrats and the Republicans: “democracy” comes from the Greek works dēmos (people)+ krasia (power), while “republic” comes from the Latin words rēs (thing, or affair) + publica (public). A good government should be “of the people, by the people, for the people.

    Moreover, the fact that government exists is a common grace from which men benefit. Otherwise, we would be subject to utter chaos and anarchy. This is not to say that all governments are good ones, or fair ones, or that all the people in the world are being benefited by their governments. No, it is merely to say that the only reason that there is any government at all is by the grace of God. I particularly like what Matt said about government providing a moral compass. The principle of obedience and headship (wife to husband, children to parents, slaves to masters–or employees to employers) that the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 5-6 is fundamentally the same principle that he teaches in Romans 13 about obeying the government. These structures are placed over us for our own benefit, and it is not only because we live in a fallen world, because some of these predate the Fall (wife to husband, and presumably children to parents). Although Adam and Eve had a direct relationship with God the Father, Adam was set over Eve as her federal head. What this means, then, is that just as marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church (divine marriage), in the same way, government is an image of our ultimate obedience to God (divine government). God’s laws are meant to benefit us more than any human government. He is the ultimate champion of Matt’s points 1-4. He is the greatest lawgiver.

    James, the younger brother


    Redemption (Part IV)

    February 3, 2008

    Without hesitating Josiah began to circle around the base of the lighthouse. He felt a calming relief on account of the dense cover that the rain afforded him, being unsure of where he was, or even when he was, and entirely unable to guess who might be watching. It was an unusually warm rain, and although he was getting soaked, Josiah appreciated how clean it made him feel. Although he hadn’t thought about it at the time, Josiah now realized that he had been drenched in sweat when he woke up and found himself still restrained in that dark room. A few moments later, he turned onto the path winding up to the door, now washed-out by the constant downpour, and he splashed mud and rain up onto his pants legs. When he reached the bottom of the steps, Josiah leaped up them in one bound.

    Looking up, he saw that the red, wooden door was already opened, and had been for some time, judging from the amount of rainwater that had accumulated on the gray concrete floor. A golden key projected from the keyhole, obviously left behind in careless haste. Josiah stepped inside out of the warm rain into an even warmer, yellow light that splashed off of the walls and bounced down from above, reflecting off of the polished metal steps. A column of radiance dripped down through the hollow well girdled by the spiraling staircase. It wasn’t so much the intensity or color of the light that made an impression on Josiah, and neither was it the exceptional warmth. It was somehow denser and heavier than light, in substance more like water than that rarefied glow of photons, but even thicker: it was ever so much like honey.

    Josiah started up the steps, wading through the dewy incandescence. The inside of the lighthouse tower spun before his eyes as his feet clanked steadily against the steps. The sense of urgency that had been driving him just a few moments before now seemed distant and obscure, as if clouded over by rain and fog, and the higher Josiah got up the steps, the more he began to feel utterly content in where he was. The light was growing brighter and warmer and thicker. When he was just a few steps from the top of the staircase, both of his feet landed firmly on the same step, and the sound of footsteps echoed off of the gray walls until it finally dissolved in silence. The lighthouse beacon was no longer revolving, but pointed straight through the doorway leading into the tower.

    A carefree smile spread across Josiah’s face as he closed his eyes and basked in the warmth as if he were out tanning by the beach on a hot summer day. Then, just as clouds float in front of the sun and veil it for a while, so too the light dimmed, and with it the warmth fled. Josiah opened his eyes to see a spidery figure standing in the door frame, and as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, he was able to discern an icy grin on the man’s face. His left hand held the familiar electronic device, not much bigger than his palm, down at his side, while his right hand was pointing a gun straight at Josiah. “Don’t feel so bad. There wasn’t really any way that you could have kept from giving in” the man said reassuringly. Josiah lowered his head and glanced down at his feet. Although what happened next may seem foolish to the reader, one must realize that to Josiah, there never was another option. The path lay clearly before him. Even when questioned about it years later, Josiah still described his actions as the only reasonable thing to do. What happened was this:

    Without any warning, Josiah leaped up the remaining few stairs and threw himself into the wirey man with all of his strength, who collapsed from the impact, and the two fell onto the tower floor. Josiah wrenched the gun out of his hand and sent it clanging down the metal steps. Now recoiling from the unanticipated shock of being pounced upon and knocked to the floor, the thin man was beginning to fight back. That so much strength resided in such a small frame was surprising to Josiah, and it was all he could do to keep his arms pinned to the ground. After several minutes of struggling, Josiah was beginning to be worn out from restraining the man and was now only clumsily dodging the sharp and violent flailing of his legs. Knowing that he could not hold him down much longer, Josiah quickly lowered his face to the spidery man’s left arm and sank his teeth deep into his skin. The man let out an awful shriek as he relaxed his hand, instinctively retracting it toward his face. Taking advantage of the few seconds he had gained, Josiah snatched the reader up off of the floor and lunged back through the doorway.

    The room whirled around him as Josiah bounded down the stairs. A few seconds later, he heard frantic footsteps in pursuit. As his heart raced frantically against the pace of his steps, Josiah reminded himself how much would be at stake in just the next few moments. Flying down the steps, the red, wooden door once again came into sight. The water was now so high that it was spilling out over the threshold. Rainwater splattered the wall as Josiah’s left foot landed in the puddle on the concrete floor. Springing seamlessly through the door-frame, Josiah pulled the door closed behind him. Leaning back with all of his might, Josiah hastily turned the key, still dangling in the lock. The bolt reluctantly slid into place. Not a moment later, the pain-wracked face of the spidery man smashed up against the small window set near the top of the door. The door shook violently as he tried to get out, and Josiah jumped back in fear. The wicked face then disappeared and the rattling halted.

    Josiah let out a sight of relief as he glanced down at the reader in his hand. It was really there. Then, startled by the renewed jolting behind him, Josiah realized that the small wooden door wouldn’t hold much longer, not against a man of such hidden strength. Leaping down the steps, he sprinted north through the warm rain. Although no one could have seen him from but a few feet away, Josiah sped on through the starless night. The sand gave way beneath his feet, while the warm rain washed away the sweat and blood from his face.