Is there a missing part of Romans 13?

No, I'm not starting a conspiracy theory about a secret manuscript of Romans that has been zealously guarded by generations of fanatical monks. It just seems to me that logically something is missing in Romans 13. The other times that Paul makes an exhortation to part of society, he balances it with exhortations to the corresponding part of society. Children, obey your parents; and parents, don't exasperate your children. Husbands, love your wives; and wives, obey your husbands. Slaves, obey your masters; and masters, don't forget you have the same master in heaven. So why does Romans 13 exhort people to obey the government, without an exhortation to the government to govern well?

I'm guessing Paul felt he had to leave that implicit, Christianity was already being suspected of subverting the Roman Empire. But he does give us a challenging picture of what government ought to do, right there in the exhortation for citizens to obey the government. Verse 4 says the ruler "is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." So the exhortation to the government would be "act against those who do wrong, not against those who do right." He might also have added that rulers ought to be humble. God placed them in authority to be instruments of His wrath. They should not think they are irreplaceable. God can remove them and put in other authorities if they don't do what is right.

On this day before election day, I'm thinking we citizens ought to understand both sides of Paul's exhortation. We are ordinary people, who ought to obey the government in our daily lives. But in our representative democracy, we are also the sovereigns, who get to choose who will be the authority for the next four years. May we choose wisely. May God show us the truth about the two candidate, and may we be wise enough that the truth matters to us.

All Saints Day

Chatting with a Facebook friend reminded me that today is All Saints Day on the traditional Christian calendar. This reminded me of a hymn I loved in my college years that haven't heard for a while, For All The Saints.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For more lyrics and the music, see the Cyberhymnal page

A surprising discovery

I just spent the last 9 days in England. One morning I took a walk and saw something that compelled me to go back to the house and get the camera. A car in Stockport, England with an Obama sticker. (Click picture for larger view).
We never saw a car with a McCain sticker on our trip, and we never saw another car with an Obama sticker. So I suppose the significance of this electorally is that Obama enjoys a slight lead in the county of Cheshire (1 supporter vs 0 for McCain, out of a total population of ?)

Sarah Palin and Internet Security

The recent news about a hacker getting into Gov. Sarah Palin's Yahoo mailbox shows at least one lesson about Internet security. When you have a login account to a website, make sure that if it has a "security question" to recover your password, you make it a question that someone can't look up or guess the answer from knowing your basic biography. Gov. Palin's secret question apparently was "Where did you meet your husband?", and the answer was on her Wikipedia page.

It did take some guessing though, because the answer was not just "Wasilla", but "Wasilla High". The account I've read says the hacker was at the "I've forgotten my password" page for 45 minutes until he guessed the right answer. This also seems like a lapse on Yahoo's part, that someone could submit several wrong answers to the secret security question without their system locking the account or locking the password recovery option.

PS. The above should not be construed as a defense of what the hacker did. If someone steals my car, he is a car thief. I may conclude it would be more prudent to get better locks on my next car, but it doesn't mean I 'deserved' to have the car stolen because I didn't have good locks on it.

This commercial deserves an award

If the annual award show for commercials has a category for best unintended use of irony this one would be a clear winner.

Young boy aware of market risks

The little boy comes in to his mom and dad's room worrying about the family's financial future. "Dad, does your retirement plan provide predictability of income and protection against market risks?" I bet the AIG company wishes they'd signed up with a plan that provided those things.

But wait, the commercial is for AIG! We can see how well the coverage must work, AIG isn't worried at all about market risks right now, is it?

Today in history

August 27, 1775.

The Battle of Brooklyn.
A British victory was almost inevitable. George Washington was defending a city built on islands (Long Island, Manhattan Island, Staten Island) and his attacker had command of the waterways between the islands. The British had learned at Bunker Hill not to underestimate the American ability to withstand a frontal assault, and had won a maneuver victory by attacking the American flank after a night march. But perhaps the British had learned too much caution at Bunker Hill, or perhaps General William Howe was too sympathetic to the Americans, and thought wiping out Washington's army would make a settlement with the rebels impossible. For whatever the reason, the British had an opportunity this day to largely destroy the American army and they let them escape.

Winston Churchill once wrote about an admiral (Admiral Beatty in WWI) that he was the only person who could have lost the war in an afternoon. Was William Howe the general who could have won the American Revolution for King George in an afternoon, and let it go?

Goodbye to a great writer

When I wrote my post yesterday about the great divide, the example in the forefront of my mind of a writer who still sees the abundance of good in spite of the abundance of evil was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This man grew up never knowing his father (his father had died before his birth), as a young man believed Soviet propaganda about the USSR building a new society, until a critical comment about Stalin in a letter to a friend thrust him into the reality of the Gulag. And after surviving the Gulag, he survived a brush with stomach cancer.

The surprising thing is despite the depressing circumstances of Soviet prisons and/or cancer he discusses in his books, his writings are filled with optimism. Not foolish optimism, he knows happiness isn't just around the corner. But he believes that being good is still possible, that we can each choose to be truly human, a "tiny fragment of [our] own people", or a reflection in this life of eternity.

The news today is he passed away at the age of 89, from either a stroke or heart failure.

The great literary divide

Good writers are celebrated as keen observers of life. Keen observers can easily find things that are wrong in life. Disasters, malice and hypocrisy abound. While popular entertainment suggests that certain kinds of people are usually good and other kinds are usually evil, a keen observer will find that evil abounds in all kinds of people.
A keen observer who sees abundant evil in society can make two conclusions about it. One conclusion is that life is irretrievably flawed. If life was still under warranty we could return it, but since it isn’t under warranty there is nothing that can be done. There is no point in caring about anything because everything is broken. There is nothing better in life than to seek momentary pleasures where one can, and there is no reason to resist impulsive desires. There is a different but related conclusion; since I have suffered a great deal from life or society, life or society owes me compensation. I cannot really proceed with living until this arrives.

The other conclusion is while evil is abundant, good is also abundant. The individual is free to respond either to the good or the evil, and is also responsible for how she responds. She can choose to add to life’s quantity of evil or to life’s quantity of good. When tempted to condemn or avenge oneself against evildoers, one stops to ask ‘am I really any better?’

While the Christian world view favors the second conclusion, I also think a truly keen observer would find it by observation. I think the first conclusion arose because of the unstated assumption in the human heart that existence owes us an ideal situation.

Much of what is acclaimed as serious modern literature is by writers who opt for the first conclusion. I remember disliking English classes in high school, even though I was a proficient reader. My complaint: why did we have to read such depressing books where nothing ever happened? Partly childish, yes. But partly I think I was aware (although I didn’t express it that well) of the prevalent pessimism of these reportedly great writers

I second the call for a theology of suffering

My buddy Eddie over at says the church needs a theology of suffering. He disagrees with a comment someone says in a newspaper article that
“Miracles and healings are evidence. They are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don’t have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology.”

He goes on to quote Hebrews 11:33-38, about the anonymous heroes of faith who were d and refused to be released, who were stoned, sawed in two, put to by the sword.

Eddie comments:
But how much faith does it take to be d and refuse to be released, to be stoned to , to be jeered, to be sawn in two. Sawn in two! Now that is real faith - truly the world wasn’t worthy of people who were willing to go through that for the sake of their God.

Good point.

I've thought about these anonymous heroes of faith before. In human terms, they would appear to be failures. They believed God would deliver them, would uphold them, and yet He didn't in this life. Hebrews goes on:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

But He does uphold them and honor them in the next life. But in this life they appeared to be failures. Along with what Eddie says about not imagining having enough faith to be d, I doubt I'd have enough faith to be willing to appear as a failure.

The 'simple gospel' I don't believe in

The (overly) simplistic version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ says: Come to Jesus and your troubles will be over. Or the troubles you experience will be only dramatic and impressive ones that never really bother you because you'll be delivered quickly from the difficulty.

I don't believe it. At least I say I don't believe it. An exhaustive transcript of my prayer life probably would reveal times when I wanted to believe it.

The Simple Gospel

I don't know if this is original with me, but if it isn't I can't remember where I read or heard it.

Is the Gospel simple? It can be. So simple a child can understand it. But simplistic? Not really. I can whistle the first few notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony. (I can even type them -- da da da DAA). If you listen to the symphony you hear these notes repeated often, but there is a whole lot more going on.

So the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like a symphonic theme, so simple a child can understand and repeat it, but capable of an immense amount of variation and exposition. A large percentage of the uncountable sum of God's thoughts have to do with it.

We need to pray for Iraqi Christians

Christians in Iraq have suffered a lot in recent years, as this article points out.

It appears that having to pay money to not be killed is rather common. I've seen other articles that Christians in Iraq have often been targets of violence.

Someone is reading this

A friend told me that she likes my new blog. She said it looks interesting because she knows I'm a deep thinker. I made the obvious retort, that I am a deep thinker-- sometimes it takes me hours to get back to the surface.

Thanks, Jeanne!

Interesting quote

[the] Bible--the most influential indictment of pharisees, courtiers, and tyrants ever printed.
Kevin Phillips The Cousin's Wars 1999. Basic Books p 48.

The book is about the ideological and cultural continuities between the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the US Civil War. The immediate context of the quote is how the high literacy rate in largely Puritan eastern England was a major contributor to the struggle by Parliament against Charles I.

Diversity and loneliness

It is becoming a commonplace observation that God loves diversity. Many institutions (including the mission I work for) wants to promote diversity, to have more different kinds of people involved and working together. One of our favorite passages is Revelations 7:9-10 "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."

It dawned on me this morning that few people (even introverts like myself) really like loneliness. We don't like being the only one of our kind, the only one who has ever thought X or Y or Z or whatever our idiosyncracies are. We dislike it so much we are tempted to hide what we think or feel when it is very different from what others think or feel. But if God loves diversity, and has never created two people identically the same, doesn't it follow that we are each going to feel alone in some way?

Faith and reality

We Christians are often far short of what Scripture says we should be. New Creations in Christ, People who have died to sin -- oh really?

I think there are three things we can do about this discrepancy.
1) Conclude that what Scripture says is wrong. I've started down this road many times, but by God's grace I haven't persisted.
2) Pretend that the discrepancy doesn't exist. Put on an act that we're good and OK and all is fine, and make our faith about something external rather than the state of our hearts.
3) Believe that Scripture is true, but that the promises are things to be claimed by faith and through God's grace in our lives. This is what Caleb and Joshua did about the discrepancy between the promises of God that Israel would be given the land of Canaan, and the reality they saw, that the land was inhabited by powerful enemies. And this is what Paul tells us to do in Romans 6. He says we have died to sin in Christ and have been raised with Him in a new life, but he then says we have to reckon or calculate ourselves to sin. It doesn't just happen automatically.

The true British idealism of our founding fathers

Another July 4 thought

Now and then I've wondered if becoming independent from the British Empire was really the right thing to do. I've thought if I'd lived at the time, I would have supported petitioning the British Parliament to broaden representation to the colonies, but I might have hesitated at armed rebellion. Scripture does say: "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!" (Habakkuk 2:12). Isn't this what the Revolution did, found a new nation by bloodshed?

But a few years ago I read a book called "The Cousin's Wars" by Kevin Phillips. He examined the continuity of heritage and cultural background with the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War, and states that in each case the better version of political organization won out. It dawned on me that our founding father's rallying cry "No taxation without representation" could have been repeated exactly by Parliament against Charles I. And in general, democracy has proved to be the best system for government that humanity has come up with.

Celebrating the 4th of July

We just finished celebrating the Independence of the USA.

I'm not sure July 4 is the correct day to celebrate the beginning of the United States of America. It should be July 2.

On July 2, the Continental Congress approved a resolution to become independent. What they approved on July 4 was the text of the Declaration of Independence. So it seems the decision to become independent was adopted July 2nd, while July 4th was approving how we were going to communicate that decision.

John Adams had this to say in a letter to his wife on July 3rd:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

The next letter he wrote to his wife was July 7 and he didn't have anything to say about the vote to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

But now maybe you have to be a real history trivia nut to really worry if Independence Day is celebrated on the right day or not.

Maybe things aren't supposed to be simple

Since God has many thoughts, and we are supposed to delight in how many there are, why then should it so often surprise us when reality turns out to be more complicated than we thought?

How many are your thoughts, O Lord

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is 139:17 "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!" (NIV). I've been fascinated by the vast number of details God put into creation for years now. In college I studied entomology (insects). I remember one afternoon studying some caterpillars preserved in formaldehyde. The guidebook said that caterpillars of this family could be recognized by the fact they had three hairs on body segment number 7 or 8 (I forget the exact number, maybe I'm misremembering the exact number of hairs too). So I looked at these little critters under the dissecting microscope, and sure enough when I counted to the right segment, there were the right number of hairs.

I was in awe. If I were in charge of designing and creating a universe on the scale of the one we live in, I'm sure I wouldn't have ever gotten around to planning the specs of whether certain caterpillars would have three hairs on segment number 7. I might have made an executive decision about the number of galactic clusters, but the rest I would have left to the many subcommittees of angels helping me in the task. But God created a universe in amazing detail, even down to how many hairs a caterpillar has on each segment.