03 October 2020

A rhetorical device

 “Who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Who knows? For such a time as this?

You see in English, we use this phrase “Who knows?” as a rhetorical device. What’s a rhetorical question? It’s asked in order to stimulate the listener to think, because there may not be a clear cut answer to a rhetorical question. We may not even want an answer to a rhetorical question. For example:

“When are you going to do the dishes?” your mother may ask. “Who knows?”
“When are you going to clean your room?” “Who knows?”
“How are your grades in school?” “Who knows? It’s all online so it’s not easy to calculate.”
“Why is everything so hard for you?” “Who knows?”
“What are your plans with your life?” “Who knows?”
“Why are we experiencing all of this” “Who knows?”
“What does 2021 hold for us?”

But every time that phrase “Who knows?” is used in the Old Testament, the few times that it is, every time it’s used as a rhetorical device, the answer is obvious. It refers to Someone Who does know.

22 December 2019

"Advent always begins in the dark"

"Make your face shine upon us that we may be saved."
As Fleming Rutledge writes, "Advent begins where human potential ends." There is nothing humans can do to manifest their own salvation. Advent teaches us we are weak and helpless, but God comes to us, "not the other way around." And he fulfills his promises to us. He saves us, redeems us from our tragedies.
I find myself facing the tragedies of my life, often unable to believe in the larger plan God has for my life. Will God redeem my career, my path, my chance at affection? Will God turn his face toward me and save me? In Advent, I am learning to let God's redemption begin where my potential ends.
A few days ago I wrote that I made a recent turn toward cynicism. The track record of failure in reality has led me to deny hope. But as I am learning now, Advent is about turning toward the future which God is creating. That God will do something. Hope is not in vain, but it will be manifested in Jesus. God is teaching me that hope is worth holding on to.

Flying Over Europe

16 December 2019

He is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask

"The Lord spoke again unto Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as hell or as high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.' And he said, 'Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'"
How would I answer God if he were to issue me the same opportunity? Ask of the Lord your God a sign, anything. What could I possibly ask? How often I have asked God to make himself known to me. Where have you gone? What do you want from me? Have you truly called me? Do you even have a plan for me? Yet now confronted by this question in God's own words, I do not know whether the sign I seek is worth asking for. Like Ahaz, I ponder, Who am I to test God? I cannot. I cannot when I am confronted by my Creator.
All that I could possibly ask would be only the most basic, most primitive element of my faith: to know for certain that he loves me. That he would comfort me with his warm embrace. Nothing else would matter. Nothing else would mean as much as truly knowing God's affection for me.
So when God responds to Ahaz, he responds through Isaiah saying, Could you weary your God? Therefore the sign is this: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him God-is-with-us.
Perhaps God does know what we actually need, what signs we seek. He asks us what we want, and we may be befuddled in our words, but in our hearts, we crave love and warmth and affection. So he gives us what we truly need: himself. God alive in the flesh on earth. He comes to love us, to show us love, to touch us.

Because he is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask.

Beirut, Lebanon

15 December 2019

Advent this year

There are many reasons for a young person to be cynical in this period in time. Love, politics, religion, education, career, hopes, dreams, reality, love again, heartbreak... What right do I have to be hopeful? Why should I imagine there is anything better ahead?
I recognize I've made a turn toward cynicism recently. I can't give a straight answer why. Maybe because hopefulness is so exhausting.
Instead I'd rather temporarily meet my own personal needs. I wander back to my emotional home where I can imagine fantasies in which at least some primitive part of me can be fulfilled. Because the life I should be living--at least the one in my imagination--I'm not.
So what am I doing? Shall I take hold of life and existentially seize opportunities? Am I to sit back and expect God to show up? Maybe. Or maybe I am meant to wait. That is what this season of Advent has taught me. I am waiting for God to show up. Maybe these lectionary lessons about waiting are what I've been needing to reflect on and learn from. This Advent season is something I've needed.
Unlike Lent where the key word is sacrifice or repentance--active behaviors--in Advent, the key word is wait. I let God show up because I am waiting for him. Wait, and maybe I'll find reasons not to be cynical.

Beirut, Lebanon

08 December 2019

God finds us when we are merely surviving

We may often find ourselves in circumstances wherein we only want to survive. Ruth and Naomi looking for bread. David writing songs of his life in danger. Joseph and Mary looking for shelter. We ourselves, just trying to get by. So we expect nothing more from God. Only let me live. Let me survive. I have no intention of thriving. Yet we cannot see the greater picture, the greater promise God has in store for us. Ruth finds a husband and enters the narrative of God's people. David is found to be after the heart of God and becomes king. Joseph and Mary become parents to the Messiah. We may be just seeking survival, not realizing there is an abundant life yet to come.

Beirut, Lebanon