The Back Page – We Shall See

A Chinese story suggests the danger of assessing too quickly the nature of changes that intrude into our lives.
An old farmer had a son and a horse. One day the horse ran off. His neighbors came to console him.
“What bad luck!” they lamented. “How will you ever afford another?” The farmer sat, smoked his pipe, and replied, “We shall see.”
A few days later, the stray returned, bringing two wild horses with him. The farmer’s herd suddenly tripled! The neighbors rejoiced. “What good luck!” they cried. Again the farmer sat and smoked. “We shall see.”
While the son was working to break the wild pair, one threw him from his back, badly breaking the son’s leg. The neighbors all arrived, calling out, “Your son will never walk again! What a great misfortune!” “We shall see.”
Wars were being waged in those days. One day the army stormed through the village, rounding up all the young men to press them into service far away in the frozen north. “What bad luck!” cried the villagers. But because the farmer’s son’s leg was so shattered, the army passed him by. “For you, what good luck!” they said. And indeed it was, because, crippled though he was, the son managed to care for his old father until his death many years later.
If we believe that a wise and loving God—not blind luck or fate—controls our lives, this truth is even more profound. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and dreamed that his brothers would one day bow
to him. What good luck! But these led only to jealousy and to his being sold into slavery in Egypt. What bad luck! The man who bought him was Potiphar, who put him in charge of his whole house. What good luck! But Potiphar’s wife, when she failed to seduce Joseph, falsely accused him. The young man ended up in jail. What bad luck! In prison, Joseph prospered, and correctly interpreted the baker’s and cupbearer’s dreams. What good luck! But the cupbearer forgot him, and failed to help him get out. What bad luck!
However, when the time was right, Joseph got his chance to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and became Egypt’s vice-regent. It wasn’t just good luck—“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to preserve many people alive.”

The Back Page – Hebrew Poetry

For centuries, Western poetry focused on rhyme and meter:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Here, both lines end in long “e,” and the beat is iambic tetrameter.
Biblical Hebrew poets focused on rhyming ideas more than sounds. The ideas (not so much the sounds or beats) of line “a” parallel those in “b.” The exact kind of parallelism differs from verse to verse.
A few basic variations include:
1) synonymous, in which the second line repeats in different words the idea of the first:
The earth is Yahweh’s, and all it contains,
the world [sc. is his], and those who dwell in it.
2) antithetic, in which the second line opposes the first:
Evildoers will be cut off, but
those who wait for Yahweh will inherit the land.
3) synthetic, in which the second line (and sometimes others that follow) builds on the first.
Better a small serving of vegetables where love is
than a fattened calf with hatred.
The second line may present in reverse order what is asserted in the first, resulting in a chiastic, X- shaped arrangement:
Yahweh watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Being aware of Hebrew poetry enriches our understanding of the OT. Jews often couched even everyday statements poetically:
What share do we have in David,
what part [sc. is there for us] in Jesse’s son?
To your tents, Israel!
Look after your own house, David!
Maybe we should do the same! We can combine our Western rhyme and meter with Eastern thought parallelism as we greet each other, and in discussions of important church issues:
To see you here—it makes me glad!
When you are gone, my heart is sad.
Who cares if Pastor’s sermons rhyme?
What counts is that they end on time.

The Back Page – His Own Generation

“David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep” (Acts 13:36).
We are creatures of time. You and I inhabit a mere sliver of history and culture. Behind us stretch centuries of civilizations that thought and acted differently from us; around and before us lie yet more. It fascinates to occasionally scan a National Geographic, muse in a museum, or stroll the streets of a strange city to sense how shallow and selective our own experiences have been. Nothing wrong with that —it is part of being human. We can be and do and think only so much. How then to best use our three score-and-ten?
David “served the purpose of God in his own generation.” First, he served the purpose of God. Individual lives alone are little. How expansive to expend our energies on enterprises whose boundaries beckon beyond our own! “The purpose of God”—here is something cosmic and continuing, neither narrow nor fleeting. Serving the purpose of God offers us a task that is important and lasting.
Second, he served his own generation. David did not try to become a second Noah, Moses, or Joshua, important as these heroes had been. Their generations had long passed, along with the challenges unique to them. David’s generation eyed its own needs—a champion to challenge Goliath, a man after God’s own heart to replace Saul, a unifier for a fragmented nation, a psalmist to inspire Israel to praise and prayer. These David became.
If we are to follow his example, we need to know well our own generation. Though we learn from the past, we do not live there. Though parts of yesterday may have been better than parts of today, we can’t go back. David served the purpose of God in his own generation, not a remembered and idealized past one.
What are the needs of Second Cape and Upper Township today? Although our church may have been structured in such-and-such a way and conducted thus-and-so ministries in the past, do these remain best for today (and tomorrow)? If we are ever going to give a cup of water, extend a hand, teach a class, or encourage a missionary, it must be now—in “our own generation.”

The Back Page – Truth

There are two kinds of truth—objective and subjective.
Objective truth is verifiable. Because there is a reality “out there” to which our statements about it should correspond, answers are (or should be) the same for everybody. How much is 2+2? What is the chemical formula for glucose? When was Rob Winder born? How many nails were used to construct this building? There are clear, non-negotiable answers to these questions.
Subjective truth is personal and, though “true” for the person who holds it, varies from individual to individual. What food tastes best? What genre of music most pleases the ear? Which sport is most exciting? Where is the most relaxing vacation spot?
Is religious truth primarily objective or subjective?
Today, many people respond when we share the gospel by saying, “If belief in Jesus is true for you, then great! I am happy for you! But it’s not true for me.” For them, religion is an individual matter, a choice based on personal preference, having no objective data on which to base a decision, a matter of subjective truth.
But religions should address questions that have non-negotiable answers. To quote Finding Home: Either there is or is not a transcendent, creator God. Either spacetime and matter/ energy are all that exist, or there is more. Either God spoke to Muḥammad through Gabriel or he did not. Either Kṛṣṇa is an avatāra of Viṣṇu or he is not. Either one who dies in jihād is greeted in paradise by forty virgins or he is not. Either Jesus of Nazareth physically rose from the dead or he did not. These are not “ideas” or “values” or “beliefs” or “spiritual metaphors.” These statements purport to describe the actual state of affairs. Neither what anyone believes about them, nor how many believe, nor how hard they believe, nor what belief makes them do, makes these assertions either true or false. Belief may mold the believer’s attitude and behavior, but attitudes and behaviors do not establish the veracity of what a believer believes.
We should be Christians, not primarily because it is true “for us,” but because it is true. As Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly-devised tales … but were eyewitnesses” (2 Pet 1:16).