goodness and severity

i don’t know about others, but i find myself again and again concerned with the process of salvation and sanctification and how it must be worked out with fear and trembling. i think of those i know who fall away, who receive god’s great mercy and yet continue in their own way; and of those, a little older, who have told me recently that they are only now coming to understand why paul was so concerned with finishing the race well– because it’s really difficult to do. i can’t escape brokenness in this world. it’s all around us and all over us. it’s the state of man. james innell packer writes eloquently about the need to consider god’s goodness and his severity together if we wish to counter the impact of sin in our world and our lives:

the santa claus theology [god is only benevolent, not severe] carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil… the only way to save the liberal view of god is to dissociate him from [evil] things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world… thus [the man on the street] is left with a kind of God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief. when trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it. in this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a god who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.” Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993. (p. 160)

and in his recent explanation for walking out of the Anglican Communion:

In 1 Corinthians we find the following, addressed it seems to exponents of some kind of antinomian spirituality:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:9-11, ESV).

To make sure we grasp what Paul is saying here, I pose some questions.

First: What is Paul talking about in this vice list? Answer: Lifestyles, regular behavior patterns, habits of mind and action. He has in view not single lapses followed by repentance, forgiveness, and greater watchfulness (with God’s help) against recurrence, but ways of life in which some of his readers were set, believing that for Christians there was no harm in them. [emphasis mine]

Second: What is Paul saying about these habits? Answer: They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation. Clearly, self-indulgence and self-service, free from self-discipline and self-denial, is the attitude they express, and a lack of moral discernment lies at their heart.

packer’s chapter on goodness and severity was corrective to me this morning. it ends like this:

appreciate the discipline of god. he is both your upholder and, in the last analysis, your environment. all things come of him, and you have tasted his goodness every day of your life. has this experience led you to repentance and faith in christ? if not, you are trifling with god and stand under threat of his severity. but if, now, he (in whitefield’s phrase) puts thorns in your bed, it is only to awaken you from the sleep of spiritual death– and to make you rise up to seek his mercy.

or if you are a true believer, and he still puts thorns in your bed, it is only to keep you from falling into the somnolence of complacency and to ensure that you ‘continue in his goodness’ by letting your sense of need bring you back constantly in self-abasement and faith to seek his face. this kindly discipline, in which god’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness, is meant to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity apart from that context. it is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly. ‘my son, do not make light of the lord’s discipline’ (heb 12:5) ‘it was good for me to be afflicted so that i might learn your decrees’ (ps 119:71).” (packer, 1993, p. 166)

what shall i render to the lord for all his bounty to me? i will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the lord, i will pay my vows to the lord in the presence of all his people. (ps 116:12-14).

canada, 1979

canada. that’s where the rock is. for example, my personal faves sloan, a four-piece, all of them songwriters. check out between the bridges or navy blues. and on sloan’s label murderrecords, there’s local rabbits. both of ’em mix rock with reflection to great effect.

and there’s this blog’s namesake, joni. plus the absolute loudest concert i’ve ever been to, neil young. and don’t forget bruce cockburn and his masterful poem to the lord from 1979, dancing in the dragon’s jaws.

on another note, i have a thing about music from 1979. what a great year for rock, etc. i think i previously mentioned the clash’s london calling. how about joe jackson’s debut, look sharp? or elvis costello’s armed forces, with “accidents will happen” and “two little hitlers”. ’79 was the year of dylan’s slow train coming and the police’s reggatta de blanc, graham parker’s squeezing out sparks and talking heads’ fear of music. or how about tom petty and the heartbreakers damn the torpedos? many of these albums formed the cornerstones of my musical education, and they lend a sort of mystical quality to 1979 in my mind. there must have been something in the water…


it looks like what’s happening is, out of the ashes of our old homegroup, the kind of actual church community that erik and brooke were longing for is rising. people have embraced their vision of radical community and are trying to live it out every week, sans attachment to some hierarchical mega-movement. i guess it gets me a little down… we had to move away to make room for that. but zena assures me that it’s actually a good thing. i’m wishing we could find like minds to do the same (or similar) here in mansfield.

blogging about blogging

jeff cannell, who blogs about his kids and his wife and his faith, somehow caught the fact that z’s blog is up and running on the very day she started. i don’t know that zena will do this regularly, unless i can get a web interface up for her to use. she’s not terribly comfortable with ftp, etc. jeff’s blog is a good model for any blogger– it’s kind of an online testimony to god’s goodness and jeff’s enthusiasm for the way god made him and the people god has put around him. come to think of it, jeff is a good model, period. go read jeff’s blog.

some of my friends use their blogs as a sort of online diary; others use them as a communication experiment. this blog is handmade so there’s no ‘blogger’-style functionality (comments, etc.), which means no communication (although you can feel free to email me or call or stop by). and i don’t know if i’m comfortable with the diary model. i envisioned it as sort of a commentary on music and jesus and math, and a place to post links to interesting stuff. i mean, you gotta think carefully how much personal reflection you want to post out there to the ether. if i talk about what happened to me today, and it involves people around me, do they really want their lives slapped up on the internet for as long as i hold this domain name?

i guess the character of the blog will develop over time.

btw, the two towers extended edition is so much better than the theatrical release as to almost be a crime against the movie-going public. it’s also butt-numbingly long. see it for the grace notes (pip and merry drinking ent draught, gandalf revealing ‘i am saruman, as he should have been’) and for the absolutely essential plot and character development (boromir and faramir in osgiliath with their father before the calling of the fellowship). and see it again for the coolest special effect: legolas catching the reigns of a moving horse and swinging himself up onto its back, defying gravity like an astronaut. in the future, high school kids will have cult ‘lord of the rings’ parties where they stay up all night watching the three movies back to back. come to think of it, so will a lot of people my age.

morrison, motown, movies

thanksgiving night after everyone left chris and i stayed up and partook of some media together. he pulled out his old lp of van morrison’s “into the music”, and put the headphones on my head and i listened to the whole thing. van recorded this in 1979, the year of the clash’s “london calling” and many other punk/wave triumphs. but here’s van, a man with the courage of his convictions, not changing up his sound for the kids, just doing what he does and doing it well. “into the music” kicks off with bright side of the road, but then it goes into full force gale:

like a full force gale
i was lifted up again
i was lifted up again by the lord

it’s really cool to see my father-in-law connecting with christ. he prayed for the thanksgiving meal– just an honest prayer of a regular guy. it made me smile.

after van, we stayed up and watched standing in the shadows of motown/ growing up in detroit, you can’t help but know every motown song in your very bones. this was a documentary of the band that played on all of them, behind stevie, marvin, the temps, the tops, the supremes, smokey, everyone. they played on more #1 hits than the beatles, the stones, the beach boys and elvis presley combined. but until this documentary came out they remained virtually unknown and almost completely unsung. it’s something, watching these men get their due… you can tell they’ve waited a long time, sort of starved for affection, or recognition, or even acknowledgement.

i completely recommend that you go out and find a copy of this movie and watch it. it’s so affecting, in a good way.


my in-laws are football fans, which is a little foreign to me, but i love them and i love how much they love the lions and the tigers and the red wings and such. if you’re a football fan, then you can probably imagine what thanksgiving day is like for detroit sports fans… all football.

anyway, a commercial came on during the proceedings today, saying something like “a bad day with the lions is better than a good day with the in-laws.” so, the whole reason i’m posting on thanksgiving is simply to say that for me, the inverse is entirely true. i love my in-laws so much.