We Are On The Winning Team

Normandy1Over the weekend, we commemorated the World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, exactly seventy years ago. On that fateful day, the Allied Forces went against a formidable foe in Nazi Germany. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in that epic battle. It must have appeared as though Nazi Germany was gaining the upper hand in the battle, but that wasn’t the case. Adolf Hitler’s troops were defeated. France, and then all of continental Europe, would be freed from the clutches of Nazi Germany.

We live in a day when evil dominates the news. If you did not know any better, you would think that the forces of evil were gaining the upper hand, but they are doomed to fail. How can we be so sure? We can because the Bible has given us a sneak preview of the final scene, and we know that victory is ours.
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It was His Love

hbu cross 2013The cross may have been old and rugged
The cross may have been firm and secure
But it was not the cross that held my Lord up at Calvary
It was His love for you and me

The nails may have been long and sharp
The nails may have been sturdy and straight
But it was not the nails that held my Lord up on the cross
It was His love for you and me

The soldiers may have been fit and trained
The soldiers may have been ruthless and hardened
But it was not the soldiers who hoisted my Lord on the cross
It was His love for you and me Continue reading

Is God’s law really a curse in disguise?

So, is God’s law really a curse in disguise?  Well, some Christians think so.  I’ve heard them say as much, likely so have you.  Part of the reason they do is something Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree– . . . “ (RSV)

The phrase I’d like to consider is “the curse of the law.”  What did Paul mean by it?  How did/does Christ redeem us from it?  All this talk of blessing and curses probably strikes you as kind of strange.Paul the apostle

Well, let’s back up to consider the broader context of the letter. 

Not long after Paul left the churches he founded in Galatia false teachers moved in and started teaching a form of the gospel which was not good news at all. These false brothers were insisting that non-Jews live like Jews in order to get in on the benefits of Christ.  What does it mean to live like a Jew?  Well, several things.  They would have to observe Sabbath as a day of rest, keep certain dietary rules and regulations, celebrate Jewish holidays, promise to uphold all of God’s law, which included men being circumcised.  Paul referred to these as “the works of the law.”

When Paul heard his churches had been infiltrated by these Judaizers (as we call them), he fired off the letter we call “Galatians.”  His essential argument is this: no one—Jew or Gentile—is put into a right and proper relationship with God by doing “the works of the law.” Instead, the faithfulness of Jesus has made it possible for those who put faith in Jesus to be made right with God.

In Galatians 3 Paul argues that faith all along has been what made rightness with God a reality.  It started with Abraham and his covenant.  It’s evident in the message of the prophets as well.  Those who trust in “the works of the law”—remember, dietary rules, Sabbath observance, circumcision—soon find they are living contrary to the law.  For Paul, it is clear the law is not the means of salvation. To try to make the law into something it was never intended is foolish.  The law does not justify.  It never did.  It was never meant to. 

So here is where our phrase “the curse of the law” comes in.  Jesus, God’s Anointed, has redeemed us from the curse of the law.  What did Paul mean?  To some degree it depends on what “of” means? You need to know that the word “of” is not found in the original language of the letter, Greek.  It is commonly supplied in English to express the relationship between two words (e.g., the love of God, the friend of sinners, one of my friends).  In Galatians 3 the words are “curse” and “law.” So what is their relationship? In large measure it has to do with how the Greek genitive case—now I’m getting really technical—is interpreted.  Let’s start with what Paul did not mean.  Paul did not mean that the entire law is a curse.  That would be what is known as an epexegetical use of the genitive.  So: “Christ redeemed us from the curse, namely, the law, . . . “ Some have taken this approach and unfortunately missed Paul’s point altogether.  No Pharisee like Paul would have ever thought of the law as a curse.  If you want to know what Jews like Paul thought of the law, read Psalm 119.  The longest chapter in the Bible is a celebration of the law, its goodness and its benefits.  More than that, notice that even before he came to Christ Paul felt confident before God precisely because he was  blameless before the law (Philippians 3:4-6). I think we can safely rule out the epexegetical genitive.  Well the best candidate for understanding what “of” is may be found in the partitive genitive.  The partitive genitive expresses the relationship between a part and a whole.  For example, in the phrase “one of my friends”.  The set is “my friends.” The subset is “one.”  The “one” is part of a whole, “my friends.”  This is probably the best way to read the phrase “the curse of the law.”  The set is “the law.” The subset is “curse.”  The phrase “the curse of the law” could be rendered “the part of the law that pronounces curses.”

“OK,” I can hear you saying, “now in English.”  If you haven’t noticed, there are places in the law—especially Deuteronomy 27-28 (part of the law)—where curses are pronounced against those who violate the terms of the covenant.  Ancient treaties and covenants always included a list of blessings and curses, announcing what would happen if one party kept or broke their promises.  It’s much the same today in modern contracts when a lawyer spells out the trouble you’ll be in if you violate the agreement you made.  In those days the penalties for breaking a promise were called “curses.” I suggest the best way to read Galatians 3:13 is this way: Now Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, has redeemed us from that curse-part of the law, since all of us were under the curse. How? He did it by becoming a curse for us, that is, becoming subject to the law that said “everyone who hangs on a tree is under the curse of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23).  Since Jesus hung on the cross, he fell under the curse. Now how did the cursed one—Jesus—liberate us from the part of the law that pronounces curses?  In a word, resurrection.  When God raised Jesus from the dead, he vindicated him as His Messiah and effectively reversed the curse, not just the single curse which affected Jesus but the entire system of curses which affected all of humanity.  In the resurrection Jesus became the curse-buster. As a result, the curses associated with the first covenant have been rendered null and void through Christ’s faithfulness. This apparently had been God’s purpose all along. GhostbustersLogoLarge

I’ve met Christians who question why we read the Old Testament.  “The New Testament has all we need,” they say.  “Jesus did away with ‘the curse of the law.’”  In effect, the Old Testament law was simply a curse disguised as God’s law. Well, in a way, yes, but in the main, no.  He did away with that part of the law that pronounces curses, but he didn’t do away with honor your father and mother, or do not steal, or do not murder.  He didn’t do away with love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  In fact, Jesus repeats these directives, affirms them, and makes them central to his own teaching.  Yes, Jesus reversed the curse.  Now the blessings and promises made to Abraham extend beyond the patriarch’s kin to all people who put faith in Him.  But the law in all its beauty and goodness remains.

 

Nietzsche and the Incarnation

In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche argues that “the value of life cannot be estimated” by a living human being, because anyone who puts life on trial will be incapable of taking up an objective standpoint: “he is a party to the dispute, indeed its object, and not the judge of it” (p. 40).  Any value judgment of the sort life is worth living or life is not worth living is “no more than the symptom of a certain kind of life” (p. 55).  In other words, a judgment against life is merely a noncognitive expression of one’s dissatisfaction with life.

But then he makes an interesting claim:  “One would have to be situated outside life, and on the other hand to know it as thoroughly as any, as many, as all who have experienced it, to be permitted to touch on the problem of the value of life at all” (p. 55).  Only someone who had both lived a subjectively full human life and had experienced life from an objective standpoint outside the human world could know if life was worth living.

Nietzsche thinks no one can do this, because he thinks there is no other world outside our own.  But anyone who believes in a transcendent God situated “outside” human life can see what it would take to affirm the value of life.  That transcendent God would have to become incarnate as a human being and affirm that human life is worth living.  In other words — even according to Nietzsche — the uniquely Christian doctrine of an Incarnation is the only thing that can make life value true.

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