C.S. Lewis and Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

C.S. Lewis and Bertrand Russell were compatriots, contemporaries, prolific writers, and renown professors. They were also philosophical rivals. They had a lot in common; but when it came to belief in God, they couldn’t have disagreed more.

So what? They’ve each been dead over fifty years. Why do these two writers matter today?

Both C.S. Lewis and Bertrand Russell matter because most of the current-day arguments for or against belief in God are simply the rehashing of arguments you will find in their respective works. Social media debates about God often merely echo the writings and arguments of Lewis and Russell. Consequently, they are very relevant today and deserve re-consideration.   

To start, consider Lewis. Besides being a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge, C.S. Lewis was probably the most important 20th century apologist for Christianity. 

Screen Shot – C.S. Lewis

Huh? What is an apologist? Does that mean Lewis apologized for Christianity? 

No, in spite of how the word might sound, an apologist is not someone who constantly apologizes for something offensive. C.S. Lewis did not make a career of apologizing for Christianity’s perceived deficiencies or faults; to the contrary, as an apologist C.S. Lewis wrote many works in defense of the intellectual credibility of the Bible and Christianity, one of which is entitled The Problem of Pain

Then who was Bertrand Russell?

Bertrand Russell was an important mathematician, logician, and philosopher. He taught at the London School of Economics, Trinity College, the University of Chicago, and UCLA. On the side, he also sometimes commented on politics, ethics, and religion.

Screen Shot – Bertrand Russell

Was Russell a Christian apologist like Lewis?  

No, definitely not. Bertrand Russell was not an apologist for Christianity, but instead the exact opposite. Russell was morally and philosophically opposed to Christianity and sought to intellectually discredit it. Given how far apart he stood from Lewis philosophically, Russell might even be considered the anti-Lewis. One of Lewis’s most famous books bears the title Mere Christianity. In stark contrast, Russell famously published a polemical ten-page pamphlet (the transcript of a March 1927 lecture) pointedly entitled Why I Am Not a Christian.   

For the sake of accuracy, though, I should not create a misconception here. I made it sound like Bertrand Russell was writing in reaction to C.S. Lewis. But since Lewis’s apologetic works were published years later than Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, I should conscientiously correct that. It was exactly the other way around. The theistic Lewis was (probably) writing in response to the atheistic Russell. If possible, I will eventually locate a quote from Lewis himself to the effect that he did in fact have Russell’s work in mind as he wrote. Thus far, though, I have not found anything online to substantiate that either The Problem of Pain or Mere Christianity were intentionally written by Lewis in response to Russell’s pamphlet. Nonetheless, given the similar content covered and the relative proximity of the two closest publications — within fifteen years, with both published in Great Britain — I think it very likely, if not certain.

Who had the better arguments — Lewis or Russell? 

Frankly, the answer to that depends on whose presuppositions you are inclined to accept. Lewis believed that there must be a transcendent Creator to explain for humanity’s overwhelming religious bent, while Russell saw the same bent as a traditional vestige that ought be discarded. Russell championed the supremacy of rigorous logic, and especially, of scientific progress; while Lewis accepted the reliability of the Gospel accounts, valued Church tradition, and deferred to authority of the Bible. Their positions therefore had very, very different points of departure.      

How does all this information lead to the section that follows?

Of all the arguments against God, one of the biggest leveled by Russell and by his successors is that the God of the Bible is “not great” but is instead morally unworthy. For instance, Russell insisted that the doctrine of hell as taught by Christ was “a doctrine of cruelty.” Russell also perceives Jesus as vinidictive towards those who rejected his teachings. This indictment of God might well be the very root of Russell’s whole atheistic program.

Earlier today I was re-reading a portion of Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. Before sharing it, I thought my readers might benefit from some background information about the dispute between Lewis and the most prominent atheist of his day, who would be Russell. This particular passage does not specifically reference Bertrand Russell; but the skeptical Russells of yesterday and today usually dearly wish that the God of the Bible would be nicer. They would rather God be more like the senile, benevolent old grandfather in heaven described by Lewis.     

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to be doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see the young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp. 31-32.

The Problem of Pain is well worth the read. Lewis does a commendable job of answering some of the hardest questions and objections that critics of God and Christianity pose.

The Bible and Human Trafficking

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Sometimes people will argue that the Bible was often used historically as a justification for slavery. Sadly, that is true. Regrettably, slave traders and slave owners sometimes did use passages from the Bible to justify slavery. But actually, they almost always misused and abused the Bible. If you read through the whole Bible, you will find that the Bible’s ethical comments on slavery change over time. Early on, the Bible is silent on slavery, other than to acknowledge that it happened. Later, God gives laws that restrict and regulate the practice of slavery. And towards the end of the Bible, slavery is increasingly frowned upon. Paul’s epistle to the slave owner Philemon is especially notable in this regard. And finally, in the last book of the Bible (that is, the Book of Revelation), the practice of slavery is indicted as one reason for severe divine judgment. 

Curiously, you will find that final indictment of slavery at the end of a commodities list. It reads a bit like a grocery list. Except this is a grocery list for a fabulously wealthy civilization.  

At the end of a list of more than twenty commercially traded luxury items, Revelation 18:13 indicates that the wicked, irredeemable Harlot City Babylon also happened to trade slaves. The verse is mostly just an informative list. If you were to summarize it in context, you might say, “So they traded gold, silver, jewels, pearls, linen, silk, ivory, wood, bronze, iron, marble, spices, yada, yada; and, oh yeah — almost forgot — they also traded slaves…” 

And yet two telling Greek words of indictment are added at the very end to that list: ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων, or, in English, human souls. The implicit condemnation of slavery in those two words may be oh-so-subtle and easy to miss. But the condemnation is there nonetheless, because those two words are otherwise simply unnecessary. The list could have just ended with the word slaves, but it goes on with those two words to expound on the what slavery actually entails. These are human beings, or human souls that are being traded and treated as if they were merely commodities. Human trafficking was happening in Babylon.

And perhaps that’s why the Harlot City Babylon is especially wicked and, in the end, entirely irredeemable: because of slavery and human trafficking, because in the City of Babylon human beings have become mere commerical commodities.  

“Okay, but Babylon was just ancient Babylon; right? How is any of that relevant to me?”  

On the contrary, it might be very relevant to us. In the Book of Revelation Babylon actually isn’t ancient Babylon at all. Instead, Babylon symbolizes another city or civilization (or two). In the Book of Revelation, Babylon serves as a cipher for the City of Rome and for the entire Roman Empire. Significantly, at the very same time, Babylon also seems to represent a final, future city or civilization — a future metropolis that meets an abrupt and fiery end.     

My fellow Americans might claim, “Well, the passage definitely cannot apply to us, because we don’t practice slavery here in America anymore. The Civil War took care of that, once and for all. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended well over 150 years ago. We are entirely free from the institution of slavery now. Some of our ancestors may have been guilty of that dehumanizing practice; but we are innocent.”  

Okay, good for us. But what about the less overt forms of slavery that do occur here in the United States and around the world? Various forms of human trafficking do occur here and now. Modern-Day Babylon might be closer to home than we want to acknowledge.  

Braggart

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Growing up, I occasionally heard and eventually internalized a mom-ism about appropriate humility: “Don’t toot your own horn.” Classmates would put it more tersely: “Don’t brag.” I learned that scripture says the same thing and even provides a few stories featuring obnoxious braggarts. These stories are meant to serve as negative object lessons: “Don’t be like this guy.” In Proverbs 27:2 wise ole King Solomon admonishes his youthful audience to “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth — an outsider, not your own lips.” Okay, everyone was saying the same thing — my mom, my classmates, and even God in Heaven above: “Don’t brag, buddy.” Okay, okay. It’s entirely unanimous verdict —and quite a clear message. Don’t brag; no one likes it. Get it, kid? Yeah, I got it. 

So eventually I became really, really good at not bragging. In fact, I was the very best non-bragger you can imagine. No one thought of me as a brazen braggart anymore because I totally mastered the fine art of restrained humility. People even commented on it, and with some frequency. They said, “You used to be such an obnoxious, verbose little braggart. But now you demonstrate such exemplary self-restraint. We’re so very proud of you for such a quick turn-around. You simply radiate restraint and humility.” And I would just smile. 

Just kidding. That never happened.    

Blame my tongue. I will. It was all my tongue’s fault. As a child, my loose tongue is what inevitably got me into trouble. My tongue often said whatever I happened to be thinking. 

For whatever reason, a lot of people did not want to hear — nor particularly appreciate — whatever it was I happened to be thinking. Why not? How can this be? And yet I eventually realized it to be true. This sad epiphany — this grim realization — perplexed and confounded me. How could this be so? I thought that whatever I happened to be thinking was all quite interesting and engaging. I had thought that others would eagerly desire to hear what I was thinking. But no. Sometimes they did not eagerly want to know what I was thinking. Sometimes they simply wanted me to shut up. And that realization was very, very hard to accept.

And I suppose the fact that I am writing about it right now shows that I never really did fully accept it. But my sad childhood epiphany did cause me to become considerably more introspective. And that, I suppose, would be a win for everyone. Now I tend to think a bit more… for a few additional seconds… before I proclaim whatever is on my mind.

Honestly, though, I learned not to simply blame my loose tongue, but to question even my thoughts. Eventually, after many, many years, I learned to put my thoughts through the WWJD filter. That is, I try to use the What Would Jesus Do? filter. More accurately, it is a WWJ[hm]S? filter. What would Jesus have me say? What would Jesus have me say in this particular situation?

Frankly, I often fail (and fail miserably) to get it right. I often find myself saying certain words and expressions that I know for sure Jesus would not have me say. This especially happens to me in stressful situations, as my loving family can attest. But still, I would like to think I have made a bit of progress over the years. 

Finally, I decided to share this because at some level I am still somewhat of a defiant child. I still believe that at least some of my thoughts are worth sharing. I hope you do, too.

What is the Kingdom of God?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A few days ago a friend of mine emailed to ask me what exactly the Kingdom of God is. My friend’s question shows his familiarity with the first three books of the New Testament (also known as the Synoptic Gospels), because Jesus constantly talks about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) in those three Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Statistically speaking, the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ very favorite topic.

Photo of Page 148 in The Infographic Bible by Karen Sawrey

For the sake of brevity, in my response I tried to distill a lot of material into the most succinct and simple answer I possibly could. This then is my answer to my friend’s request to define the Kingdom of God:

Friend, I think it is easiest to think of the Kingdom of God in terms of what it is now and what it will be someday.

Until Jesus returns the Kingdom of God is essentially the Church, that is, the devoted people of God. The Kingdom exists anywhere and wherever the faithful people of God are located and intentionally gather. In Luke 17:21, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you. Actually, Jesus said something more like “y’all,” and less like “you.” Jesus meant a group of people, not an individual. Thus, the Kingdom of God is not just an individual experience; instead, it is even more profoundly experienced when God’s people intentionally gather in worship and service.

But the Kingdom of God also has a future aspect. After Jesus returns and after the resurrection of the saints, the Kingdom of God will expand to include all of redeemed creation.

Admittedly, I could have said quite a bit more about the Kingdom of God. But again, brevity and simplicity were my aim. If someone equates the faithful and sincere Church of Christ to the Kingdom of God, that equation will usually and very often fit quite nicely.

Risen Indeed

Saturday, April 16, 2022

What time is it? What day is it? What does the future hold for us? Does anyone know what the future holds? What can we actually know? Whose claims about the future should we accept? Which voices should we heed?   

As for the future of each of us and all of us, this one historical question just might be the most crucial, pivotal question of all: Did Jesus of Nazareth actually, physically rise from the dead?

If Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead, then, yes, we can know what the future holds.

How so?

If Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then someday we will too. His resurrection is the basis and the guarantee of your resurrection and mine. Jesus himself said so. According to one witness, Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. And everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” That statement can be found in the Gospel of John, chapter eleven, verses twenty five and twenty six.

Such a fantastic promise seems entirely implausible, as it is completely and utterly outside our realm of everyday experience. Life beyond death? Life beyond the grave? How can someone possibly promise to personally provide life beyond death? 

And yet… what if? What if Jesus really did rise from the dead? Then maybe, just maybe death is not the ultimate end of us. Maybe, just maybe history (and, more pertinently, our own future) was completely altered in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. 

“Do you believe this?” How you answer this one question from Jesus will determine how you perceive the future. How you answer this one question may also determine your destiny. 

Personally, I will take his word for it. I hope you do, too.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

Hebrews 13:8

Courtesy of Constantine

Monday, April 11th, 2022

Subtitle: Constantine, Constantine, and Two of the Four Greatest Bible Manuscripts 

Constantine the Great

Categorize this under ’tis strange and yet true. 

Curiously, one name keeps popping to the surface as I research the history of the B-I-B-L-E: Constantine. If you wonder if I am referring to the Roman Emperor by that name, my answer would be a resolute, firm yes. And it would be a much weaker, wimpier yes — a sort of, kind of yes. It would be more of a “yes, I guess, but not exactly.” 

Pffft… what kind of yes is that? How can my answer be both resolute, strong yes and a wimpy yes? Why do I deflate my affirmative answer with the words “sort of, kind of, I guess yes”? Well, you see… because both my yes-es are actually true. I need to qualify or generalize my affirmative answer because I am and I am not talking about an individual person. In addition to the man Constantine, I mean just the name Constantine itself. The name Constantine itself “just happens” to reappear at various times and in various incarnations over and over in the history of the publication and transmission of the Bible. As I said, ’tis strange, and yet true.

Do you need to be convinced? Okay, then, follow along.

First of all, and as mentioned previously, I present the man himself: Constantine the Great. Constantine, as you may have learned, was the first Roman Emperor to publicly convert to Christianity. Incidentally, I say “publicly convert” because historians think it possible that at least one prior emperor had privately embraced Christianity. But Constantine went public with his conversion. He let everyone in the empire know that he had rejected the old pantheon of gods for a new triune one. As the first unabashed and publicly-proclaimed Christian Emperor, Constantine set out to improve the standing and reputation of his newly-adopted, once-maligned and persecuted religion. To that end, Constantine recognized the need to draw some clear lines demarcating exactly what Christianity is and what it is not. Thus, he commissioned the first officially sanctioned compilation and publication of the Christian Bible, including all the recognized books of the Old and the New Testaments. The wording of the last sentence really matters a lot. So I will get back to it in a later post. Just know that Constantine wanted an officially recognized Christian Bible available for reference and use throughout the whole Roman Empire. He deemed it necessary to have one standard, official text. 

Secondly, I hereby present the immensely important intercontinental city of Constantinople, founded by… guess who? In addition to being the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great decided to move the capitol of the Roman Empire over 850 miles eastward. His new capitol was named after him: Constantine’s capitol was called Constantinople. And it became an important center for commerce and for Christianity (and consequently for the Bible) for the next one thousand years, until the Muslim Turks captured it and renamed it Istanbul. In the history of the Bible, Constantinople matters because it can be marked as the precise place where some of the most important copies of Bible either originated or resided for many centuries before making their escape westward.       

Thirdly, I must present a nineteenth-century Prussian Bible hunter serendipitously named… you guessed it: Constantine. His full name was Constantine von Tischendorf. Now, to call him a “Bible-hunter” may sound strange. Still, a Bible hunter is precisely what he was. Constantine Tischendorf traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East searching through libraries and monasteries for the oldest copies of Bible, be they known or merely rumored. Technically, the oldest copies of the Bible are known as manuscripts, because they are hand-written copies. Fortuitously (or should I rather say providentially?), Constantine Tischendorf the manuscript hunter succeeded in finding and recovering not one but two of the world’s most important biblical manuscripts. Those two biblical manuscripts are now known as the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus and the Codex Sinaiticus. He (literally) uncovered the first in Paris, and somewhat accidentally discovered the second while visiting Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Incidentally, Saint Catherine’s Monastery just happens to be named for Constantine’s mother Catherine; but to clarify, I mean Constantine the Great’s mother, not Constantine Tischendorf’s. Tischendorf’s mother’s name was Christiane Eleonore.  

Constantine Tischendorf

So Constantine Tischendorf personally deserves credit for finding and publishing two of the four greatest and most complete biblical manuscripts. And those two great manuscripts may well have been commissioned by none other than Constantine the Great, some scholars suggest. And thus Constantine von Tischendorf (quite possibly) recovered what Constantine the Great once commissioned over 1,500 years before. 

While there is much more to this saga of Constantine-to-Constantine Bible transmission, we will sign off here for now, except to say that what you read in your nearest copy of the Bible comes to you courtesy of Constantine.  

Israel’s Relevance or Irrelevance

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Is Israel currently relevant or irrelevant?

Some time ago, I had a conversation with someone in a position of ecclesiastical authority (read: a pastor) about the relevance of Israel. He was challenging the notion of Israel’s current redemptive and prophetic relevance. His basic argument (if I understood him correctly, which I am pretty sure I do) was that Israel has lost the redemptive and prophetic position it once held, and has been replaced by the Church. He argued that both the specific nation of Israel and the Jewish people in general should no longer be considered the elect people of God, because God has made faith in Christ the basis of divine election, not a received tradition nor some generational lineage. 

Now, for the sake of fairness, I should say that I am summarizing and elaborating a bit on his position here, as those were not his exact, precise words. Instead, he was reiterating a very commonly-held evangelical theological position that I have heard over and over… and over. Therefore, with this “I’m-accurately-retelling-you-the-gist-of-it” disclaimer, I’ll move on.

“Choose, Bible-believing congregants, you must choose.” 

With regard to the historical Mission of God, this ecclesiastical leader quite subtly posited a stark either-or choice: either God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through Israel and the Jewish people, or God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through the Church of Jesus Christ; but God must be working one way or the other. Since it must be one or the other, a historical observer must choose. 

Umm… really? Do believers really have to make that particular choice? Why can’t it be both? Why can’t God be working redemptively and prophetically through both the Jewish people and the Church? Although I know you say a choice is necessary, I’m not sure why.

From what I can surmise, the real answer to that question is not that Scripture forces such a choice, but because recent Church history makes this an area a pastoral concern — even of worry. Educated ecclesiastical leaders are well aware of how often this particular prophetic pursuit has embarrassed the Christian Church (and especially the American Christian Church).  

But what do I mean by “this particular prophetic pursuit”?     

As soon as someone starts seriously suggesting that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel might currently have prophetic relevance, sirens and alarms start blaring in the minds of people who have been to seminary (that is, ecclesiastical leaders). They think to themselves, “This is exactly the sort of talk you can expect from wackos and quacks.” And their unspoken internal follow up question is, “How soon does this problematic person (i.e., wacko) start identifying the Antichrist, and pinpointing the imminent date of the Rapture?” To be polite, though, the ecclesiastical leader will usually be quite careful not betray any outward contempt.

Now, such a reaction is, sadly, quite warranted. Conscientious, ecclesiastical leaders should indeed react that way, because history has paraded many such prophecy-obsessed wackos and quacks. And those wackos and quacks frequently mislead people, and in so doing, embarrass the cause of Christ, or worse. Therefore, ecclesiastical leaders will be on the lookout for such people, out of laudable zeal for the reputation of Christ and the Church.

But still, the question about Israel’s relevance remains legit. Is Israel and are the Jewish people currently prophetically relevant or irrelevant?

Again, if someone says “they are indeed relevant,” that person is immediately suspected to be a wacko or a quack. But, but, but… sometimes the Bible sure does seem to indicate that Israel and the Jewish people are redemptively and prophetically relevant; doesn’t it? 

For example, a friend of mine recently pointed out a curious prophecy in Hosea. Here it is: 

For the children of Israel will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. 

Hosea 3:4-5

Alright then, ecclesiastical leaders, what do you do with such a passage? One thing that this prophetic passage kinda demands is a time-stamp; doesn’t it? When, exactly, was this so? Or when will this be so? When did or does this occur? The children of Israel will go for a long period without anything temple-rites associated (by the way, the absence of a standing Jewish temple in Jerusalem would explain this), and then eventually they will return to God and to “David their king,” who is presumably the Messiah; yes?

Okay, when did or does this occur, then? Is this past or present?

Ecclesiastical leaders might squirm (and should squirm) a bit at this point, because they know that if they say this period of exile has already occurred, it opens the question of why a subsequent second exile was necessary and thereafter occurred for a much, much longer time. And alternatively, if they say it has not been fulfilled yet, it probably and very probably means that the Jewish people and Israel are still redemptively and prophetically relevant. This is a legitimate, de facto either-or scenario, as far as I can see. An interpreter actually does have to choose one way or another here: the past or the present.

So go ahead and squirm, ecclesiastical leaders, but realize that you cannot simply ignore the question. Yes, acknowledging the potential relevance of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people does allow for the possibility of wild speculation by end-times obsessed quacks and wackos; but it does not twist Scripture. Instead, it faces the fact that such prophetically challenging passages do indeed exist in Scripture and deserve our attention and answers. 

But it is easier just to ignore such passages and preach instead about easier, less controversial passages. And yes, the following sentence would betray some frustration on my part with a variety of ecclesiastical leaders, some of whom I love and respect greatly. (Hopefully, you know who you are.)

And finally, I only pointed out one such prophetic passage. There are a lot more.  

A Biblical Umbilical Connection

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Screen Shot depicting Zechariah the Priest offering incense. For the story see Luke 1:8-25.

When we as believers turn to God in prayer, we are like the one “lucky” lottery-selected priest who would enter the tabernacle or the temple of God twice a day to offer smoky, fragrant incense before the veil of the Holy of Holies. In fact, the priest’s ceremonial morning and evening offering of smoky, fragrant incense before the veil to the Holy of Holies was less significant and less potent than our discretionary whenever-and-wherever appeals to God in (sincere) prayer. Why is that so? It is so because the solitary lucky priest’s ceremonial service was merely a symbolic foreshadow of our more immediate (and real) spiritual access to the Throne of Almighty God in Heaven. Ours is the real deal, or perhaps, “realer” deal.    

As an analogy, our invisible, spiritual altar of incense can be compared to a baby en utero. By virtue of “its” placenta and umbilical cord, a developing baby is simultaneously physically connected to “its” mother and yet separated (and thus protected) from “its” mother. Likewise, as believers we are simultaneously spiritually connected to the provision of God and yet separate from the overwhelming, fearsome sin-consuming holiness of God.  

Ultrasound image of a developing baby.

When we are at the altar of incense (that is, while we are engaged in sincere prayers of faith) we have a simultaneous umbilical-like spiritual connection beyond the physical/spiritual veil into the heavenly throne room of Almighty God. Actually, believers always have that ongoing umbilical connection to the presence of God. But it functions most optimally and beneficially when we are deliberate and intentional — when we turn to God intentionally in faith.

So in summary, to depict the importance and effectiveness of prayer, I want to present two images: a priest offering fragrant incense in front of a temple veil, and a developing baby en utero. The priestly image is an image which scripture itself gives us. The developing baby is my own interpretive analogy. I hope these two images help you understand and appreciate the importance and potential of prayer.

Random Photograph

The Demise of Milady Babylon

Friday, March 11, 2022

A piece in an art contest.

Milady Babylon’s days are numbered. 

Some will say that Milady Babylon’s days are long past, that yes, certainly, her days were once numbered; but those days have long since expired. They would contend that Milady Babylon is already deceased and that she has already passed from the historical scene. Milady Babylon’s days have already come and gone, they would argue. But… they would be wrong. Milady Babylon exists yet, for a while longer, at least.     

Now, to call Milady Babylon “milady” might be perceived as somewhat scandalous. After all, Milady Babylon is a woman of compromised virtue, to put things politely and mildly. Older English translations of the Bible use quite strong and rather corse language in reference to Milady Babylon and her preferred occupation. Milady Babylon, you see, debases and sells herself in exchange for money and gifts. If nothing else, Milady Babylon is a material girl.

A painting from an art museum in California.

But if you are at all inclined to think that Milady Babylon might be an actual person, I should quickly correct that. Milady Babylon has the surname Babylon because Babylon was once the seat of a glorious, spectacular empire. Historically, Babylon was a wealthy, beautiful city that oversaw a much wider empire. In the Book of Revelation Milady Babylon serves as a prototype, a pseudonym, and a cipher for another, similar city that was the capital of a much wider empire. That city was Rome. And of course Rome stood as both a city and a vast empire at the time the Book of Revelation was written. Incidentally, the Romans referred to Rome as Roma; and Roma was frequently depicted as a robust, fierce lady.

But that’s not all. Somehow Milady Babylon features quite prominently in the very section of Revelation wherein the Beast of the Abyss rises to power and prominence (i.e., chapters 16-19). This coincidence must not be missed.

According to Revelation 13:2, the Dragon (that is, Satan) empowers the Beast.

So who is this Beast from the Abyss? The Beast from the Abyss is one and the same as the Antichrist, although admittedly the Book of Revelation does not use that particular title. The Antichrist has various monikers in the New Testament, including the Beast, the Antichrist, and the Man of Lawlessness. But whatever his title, this individual (probably a totalitarian dictator) appears right before Jesus Christ’s triumphant final physical return to Earth. I should perhaps repeat that for emphasis. The Antichrist is on the scene when Jesus comes back. And somehow Milady Babylon persists (or perhaps reappears) long enough to see the Beast from the Abyss rise to power. If you doubt me here, please see Revelation 17:16, which says that “the Beast will hate the prostitute … and burn her with fire.”

So then, who or what is Milady Babylon? Revelation 18:21 clearly says that she is a city. Okay, if she is a city, which is she? Well, perhaps we need to recall that Babylon itself was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. Likewise, Rome was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. If a latter-day Babylon reappears at the end of history, can we thus expect it to be an empire or even a civilization?

Maybe, just maybe Milady Babylon represents a decadent, materialistic society or civilization.

If so, brace yourself, because Revelation 18:8 and 18:17 reveal that Milady Babylon goes up in flames “in a single hour.” Nuclear war, perhaps? I admit that I am inclined to see it that way.

Now, you can console yourself with the thought that maybe this is referring to Rome’s demise when it was sacked by the Visigoths many, many centuries ago. Or alternatively, you can read Revelation chapters 16-19 as a coherent sequential narrative, which would imply that Milady Babylon is an empire or a civilization that will meet its sudden fiery demise shortly before the final physical return of Jesus Christ to Earth. Either way, the Book of Revelation reveals that Milady Babylon’s decadent days are definitely numbered. 

Finally, this ugly scenario is one reason I personally hope the rapture occurs beforehand, regardless of how out-of-vogue the notion of the rapture may currently be.

Have a nice day. 🙂

Are You Distracted from the Battle by the War?

Thursday, March 10, 2022

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12 – New International Version

Many people are preoccupied with the wrong war, I suspect. At least, if I speak just for myself, over the last few weeks I have been utterly preoccupied with war updates and the progress of the latest war. Even now as I write this, I find it hard to resist the temptation to go online and check the news. And from what I hear, I am not the only one. In fact, I know I am not the only one who is preoccupied with the latest war news. Many of us have been figuratively glued to our devices and televisions. We are understandably mesmerized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

война is “war” in Russian.

But it is not the only ongoing war. There are many, many others. Furthermore, it might not even be the most important war.

Now, I know that might sound naïve of me. I can imagine someone reacting with: “Of course it’s the most important war! It’s the most important war since World War 2! Don’t you realize that we might be on the brink of World War 3?! We might be on the brink of a nuclear war!”

Yes, I do realize that. I know that the invasion of Ukraine could even potentially escalate into a nuclear war. And yes, I agree that the stakes here are incredibly high.

But I remind myself (and now you) there are imperceptible battles being fought every hour and all around us for the loyalties of human hearts, the content of maturing minds, and the purity of contested souls. Are these more immediate, less noticeable battles not even more important than the glaring, blaring war in Eastern Europe? 

To use a line from an old song, we could win the war over there, but lose the one at home.