Saturday, October 31, 2009

Post tenebras lux

Hier stehe ich

Happy Reformation Day!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Second thoughts

Normally when I post something on this blog I like to write it and then give it a day or two before I hit "publish post." I do this because I know myself well enough to know that I am prone to getting caught up in the heat of the moment and then writing something that presents a more extreme position than what I really believe. I think that could be said for the last post I wrote. I got caught up in a debate, remembered something I read by R.C. Sproul (which I still agree with) and then posted it. I don't think there is actually anything in my last post that is incorrect. But I do think it might suggest that hell could in no way be described as a "separation from God," and if that is the way it is taken then I think that is wrong.

I'm writing this post after a long day in the hospital and before an early morning in the hospital tomorrow so I can't do the Bible reading I would like to before writing this. But as a corrective to any error that may have been expressed in my last post there is one source to which I go and that is Scripture. In talking to the Ephesians about their state before their conversion to Christ Paul writes, "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12 - ESV). Surely this "separation" from Christ and being "without God," not only applies to the unconverted in this life but also to those in hell. Also to the Ephesians Paul writes of unbelievers, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts" (Ephesians 4:18 - NIV). Here Paul speaks of a more specific separation for unbelievers - separation from the "life of God." I think this separation from God also applies to those in hell. But Scripture also speaks of God's presence in hell. Revelation 14:10, speaking of those who received the mark of the beast and are now in hell says, "he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." So it is obvious that the torment of those in hell takes place in the presence of Christ. So in this way, those there are not "separate" from God.

I think what I was reacting against in the last post wasn't so much the idea that hell is "separation from God," which in some important sense it is, but the idea that hell is only separation from God and nothing more. This idea is not scriptural and I believe it has become popular because it is more palatable to most than what Scripture actually teaches - that hell not only is separation from God in some sense but it is also the positive expression of the wrath of God against those who are in hell.

In the end I think the Westminster Catechism probably puts it best:

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hell is not the absence of God

It has recently been suggested by a commenter on this blog that hell is "by definition" separation from God. This platitude is repeated so often that it is almost impossible not to start believing it. An Orthodox friend recently wrote a good post on the issue here, and here's R.C. Sproul's take, with which I agree:

It is common to say that hell is the absence of God. Such statements are motivated in large part by the dread of even contemplating what hell is like. We try often to soften that blow and find a euphimism to skirt around it.

We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.

When we use the imagery of the Old Testament in an attempt to understand the forsakenness of the lost, we are not speaking of the idea of the departure of God or the absence of God in the sense that He ceases to be omnipresent. Rather, it’s a way of describing the withdrawal of God in terms of His redemptive blessing. It is the absence of the light of His countenance. It is the presence of the frown of His countenance. It is the absence of the blessedness of His unveiled glory that is a delight to the souls of those who love Him, but it is the presence of the darkness of judgment. Hell reflects the presence of God in His mode of judgment, in His exercise of wrath, and that’s what everyone would like to escape.

I think that’s why we get confused. There is withdrawal in terms of the blessing of the radical nearness of God. His benefits can be removed far from us, and that’s what this language is calling attention to.

-R.C. Sproul (H/T: Desiring God)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morally Doubtful?

If He fulfilled not justice, I must; if He underwent not wrath, I must to eternity

I've begun reading one of the books I recently got, In My Place Condemned He Stood, by Packer and Dever and I've been quite impressed by it so far. I'm hoping that reading this book will not only give me a greater understanding of the love and justice of God revealed in our Lord's Passion but that it will also inspire some blog posts. For now I'll just give a couple of quotes from the first chapter by J.I. Packer which especially impressed me:

The wrath of God is as personal, and as potent, as his love; and, just as the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus was the direct manifesting of his Father's love toward us, so it was the direct averting of his Father's wrath against us.

So far from the manifestation of God's wrath in punishing sin being morally doubtful, the thing that would be morally doubtful would be for him not to show his wrath in this way. God is not just - that is, he does not act in the way that is right, he does not do what is proper to a judge - unless he inflicts upon all sin and wrongdoing the penalty it deserves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tidings from Lapland

I received another new book in the last few days, which I was also very excited to get as it is not available for purchase on the internet. The book is Memoirs of Early Christianity in Northern Lapland by Aatu Laitinen. The first couple of chapters on the lives of Laestadius and Raattamaa have been very interesting and I've enjoyed learning some details that I had never seen before. Raattamaa's testimony about his own conversion, which I read this morning, is something that I had seen before but I like it so much that I'll quote it here:

"But then it happened one day," we will continue Raattamaa's account, "that when I received the grace to gaze in faith and the Spirit at the bloodred thorn crowned King, power came from Him, and Christ's suffering affected in my soul a living power I had never known before. I believed my sins forgiven in the shed heart-sprinkling atoning blood, from which followed the recognition of the resurrected and living Lord Jesus. That which I had been seeking from afar was close at hand, and effected joy and peace in my soul. Now I was ashamed of my unbelief, and noticed that I had not previously believed from the heart."

-Juhani Raattamaa (1811-1899)

Friday, October 23, 2009


I don't know why some conversations are so memorable while most are quickly forgotten. One that is memorable for me is a short exchange I had while in Seminary at Asbury. I don't remember who the conversation was with but it occurred after some professor in some class, theology or church history, briefly explained a position on the atonement sometimes called "Ransom Theory" where a "ransom" was paid to Satan in the atoning death of Christ. This view was not being supported by the professor but simply presented as a view that had been held by some in the history of the church. I remember saying to a classmate that I believed in a ransom but that the ransom had been paid to God, not Satan. My classmate wasn't too impressed with my point of view and said something like, "well that's not very palatable." I was interested to read something by John Piper though in his devotional book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. In this book Piper writes of "fifty reasons why He came to die." In the chapter I read last night Piper wrote:
There is no thought in the Bible that Satan had to be paid off to let sinners be saved. What happened to Satan when Christ died was not payment but defeat...

...If we ask who received the ransom, the biblical answer would surely be God. The Bible says that Christ "gave himself up for us, [an] . . . offering . . . to God" (Ephesians 5:2). Christ "offered himself without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14). The whole need for a substitute to die on our behalf is because we have sinned against God and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And because of our sin, "the whole world [is] held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19). So when Christ gives himself as a ransom for us, the Bible says that we are freed from the condemnation of God. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). The ultimate captivity from which we need release is the final "judgment of God" (Romans 2:2; Revelation 14:7).
So basically Piper articulated the view that I tried to argue for some years ago when I was much more unsure about what I believed. I can say now that I think the view supported here by Piper, that is, Penal Substitution, is central the gospel and necessary for faithfulness to Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, in understanding what took place on the cross.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Books!

I've been looking forward toward getting a few books I ordered from Monergism and they came in the mail today... Not that I'm going to have time to read them while on my surgery rotation. I've already read one of them - Richard Rushing's modernization of John Owen's The Mortification of Sin, which I borrowed from a friend. I liked the book so much though that I wanted my own copy to go over more slowly. I've been wanting to read something on the atonement lately so I also purchased J.I. Packer's and Mark Dever's In My Place Condemned He Stood.
The books below, The Journey of an Immigrant Awakening Movement in America by Kulla and A Godly Heritage, edited by Foltz and Yliniemi, are a couple on Apostolic Lutheranism that I got a month or two ago. They're not as recent as the acquisitions above but I was also very excited to get my hands on them. I pretty much devoured all the chapters that were of most interest to me during a few coffee shop visits and I used some of the info for my post below, "Lapin Maija."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Islands in a Sea of Meaninglessness

More recently, in some of the post modern readings, we are called to all experience Christ in our own way and not be bothered by the confines of some ancient Apostolic proclamation. Post modernism urges us to live as independent islands in a sea of meaninglessness. Your autonomous opinions, they argue, are just as meaningful and valid as those who deliberated at Nicea or who were first commissioned by the Risen Lord. A hermeneutic of proclamation and faith is replaced by a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt and both called equally valid. According to this scheme, theology, it seems, is really – after all – only anthropology. The church is a human construct, not a divinely ordained community. Yet, in the face of all of this - though the tempest rages for a season, the church is once again reconstituted into the truth. What we are experiencing in our day has been the re-emergence of a more faithful church from other quarters, mainly in the non-western world and the great unanimity of the church throughout the ages marches on, because God is the one who preserves His church and its living witness to Jesus Christ...

...If Nicea does not lay out boundaries, then we are left only with self-identification and we can no longer use the word ‘Christian’ or ‘Body of Christ’ with any real meaning. For if you don’t have doctrinal stability, you cannot have ethical stability and if you don’t have ethical stability you don’t have stability of worship and therefore we are no longer related vitality and necessarily to the headship of Jesus Christ. Our historic boundaries would become lost in a post-modern sea of autonomous self-definitions. What a contrast from the Apostle John who gives that final testimony at the end of time which gives us the courage to know that in the Final Day the church will be preserved out of every snare for he hears this act of worship in heaven, testifying not to another gospel or something novel, but to the Apostolic proclamation:

You were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…and so… to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever (Rev. 5:9,13), thus fulfilling those words of the Apostle Paul in Col. 1:18: And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy.

- Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary from his essay here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Therefore, let your soul, by faith, dwell on such thoughts as these:

I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do.

My soul has become parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. I have made vows, but I did not keep them. Many times I have been persuaded that I have gained the victory, and that I should be delivered, but I was deceived. Now I plainly see that without some great help and assistance, I will perish and be forced to abandon God.

But yet, though this is my state and condition, I will lift up my hands that hang down, and strengthen my feeble knees, for, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ has all the fullness of grace in His heart, and all the fullness of power in His hand. He is able to slay all these enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror.

-John Owen (1616-1683), from The Mortification of Sin in modern English by Richard Rushing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have despised all of them

Preaching to my own wretched self:

Bring your lust to the gospel. Not for relief, but for further conviction of your guilt. Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, 'What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this how I pay back the Father for His love? Is this how I thank the Son for His blood? Is this how I respond to the Holy Spirit for His grace? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in? How can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before Him? Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile lust's sake, I have hardly left Him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation?

'What shall I say to the Lord? His love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation - I have despised all of them! I have considered them as nothing, that I might harbor lust in my heart. Have I seen God as my Father, that I might provoke Him to His face? Was my soul washed that there might be room for new defilements? Shall I seek to disappoint the purpose of the death of Christ? Shall I grieve the Holy Spirit, Who has sealed me unto the day of redemption? Allow your conscience to consider these things every day. See if your conscience can resist the way in which these considerations aggravate guilt. If this does not cause your conscience to sink and melt, I fear that your case is very dangerous.

- John Owen, written in modern English by Richard Rushing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lapin Maija

Of all my reading on the Laestadian revival one character has intrigued me more than any other. Laestadius himself is a very interesting man, a scientist, a seminary trained Lutheran pastor and ultimately a man whom God would use to shake many in Lapland out of their spiritual slumber and death to repentance and life in Christ. Raattamaa is an interesting character, the man who carried the reigns of the revival from Laestadius and who held the revival together until his death. And there are numerous others such as John Lumijarvi that I would like to know more about. But as the title of this post suggests, the one by whom I've been the most intrigued is the Sami or Lapp woman named Mary or Maria. In Finnish she's known as Lapin Maija. Many believe that her real name was Milla Clementsdotter. It is of this woman that Laestadius wrote:
In the winter of 1844 I came to the Åsele region of Lapland in the capacity of inspector. I met a few Readers of the more moderate type there. Among them was a Sami girl named Maria who, after hearing my sermon from the altar, opened her whole heart to me. This simple girl had experienced the order of salvation in a way that was totally new to me. She had traveled far and wide, seeking light for her darkness. In her journeys she had at last encountered Pastor Brandell in Nora, and after she opened up her heart to him, Brandell released Maria from her doubts. Through him, Maria came to a living faith. And I thought to myself, "Here is a Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus. For the first time now," I thought, "I can see the way that leads to life; it was hidden from me until I had the privilege of speaking with Maria." Her simple account of her pilgrimage and experiences made such a deep impression on my heart that I, too, saw the light; that evening spent with Maria, I experienced a foretaste of the joy of heaven. But the pastors of Åsele did not understand Maria's heart, and even Maria recognized that they were not of this sheepfold. I shall remember the poor Maria as long as I live, and I hope to meet her in the brighter world beyond the grave.
This woman, who had been such a mystery to me, was part of a group which also had a mysterious title, the Readers. Until I recently acquired Carl A. Kulla's book, The Journey of an Immigrant Awakening Movement in America, I had a sense of who the Readers of Lapland were but this book has helped to clarify things. Kulla writes, "Pietism moved quickly from Germany to Sweden and the Baltic countries, where it met with strong opposition from the established church. . . Although Pietists remained within the state churches of their respective countries, they were a living church within the outward church, which caused Pietism to be in tension with the authorities." It seems then that the situation in the Scandinavian countries and Finland was not unlike the situation in the Church of England as the Methodist revival broke out in Britain and raised the ire of bishops and priests there. And as with the Methodist revival where John Wesley was converted to Christ under the tutelage of Moravians, it was also the Moravians who came to Scandinavia with the gospel. Kulla writes, "Already in 1731, and again in 1734, Moravian missionaries were spreading their influence throughout the land. From 1750 to the end of the century they permeated the religious life of Sweden." It was the spiritual descendants of these Moravian missionaries who were the Readers of Laestadius' time. Kulla writes, "Pietism was spread largely by the written word, the Bible, Luther's writings, and devotional writings from Lutheran heritage. Therefore the movement in Sweden received the name 'Lasare' which means 'Readers,' which name then became the general designation of all the awakenings."

With the presence of Christians like the Readers and also much depravity often seen in drunkenness and exploitation of the Sami, Mary was born into a Lapland of both light and much darkness. If her identity as Milla Clementsdotter is correct then it seems that early on at least, Mary experienced mostly the darkness of Lapland. But God by His grace and in His sovereignty would lead Mary to a living faith which would eventually be shared with Lars Levi Laestadius and ultimately millions of other "thirsty whelps of grace."

An account of the life of Milla Clementsdotter is found in an 1840 issue of the Swedish magazine, Nordisk Kyrkotidning. According to this account, Milla or Mary, which is a variant of that name, was born in Föllinge, Lapland on November 1st, 1815, although according to church records she was born on this date in 1813. Her father had lost his property because of his drunkenness and died after being assaulted when Mary was a child. Her mother remarried and Mary accompanied her mother and stepfather in their travels around Lapland. At the age of six, Mary was left with a farming family who agreed to teach her to read. Her time with this family seems to have been unhappy as she was harshly treated and was not educated well in reading as her mother had been promised. She seems to have moved from family to family as an orphan and during this time memorized the Lutheran catechism and took her first communion. Also during this time Mary witnessed much drunkenness in her caretakers and the sadness that this vice brought with it. After years of moving from family to family, including a time of working as a reindeer-herder, Mary's parents agreed to give her in marriage to a suitor many years her senior who was not known for his sobriety or Christianity. Mary successfully avoided the pursuit of this man and met some Sami "boys," as the biography calls them, who had been convicted of their sin and had heard the true gospel preached by Pastor Brandell of Nora. Of these boys the author writes, "even if their knowledge was not spectacular, their earnestness over the salvation of the soul was indeed all the greater. . . They were called madmen and fools by the apathetic people around them, but their admonitions, their mild, humble conduct, their devotion in prayer, to which they also exhorted her and with which she was so pleased, drew her to them and were a true joy to her in all her inner need and her present external distress."
Mary eventually came to live again with her mother and stepfather who had become "fisher-Lapps," along with her other siblings. During this time she was still troubled in conscience and had a dream of a group of people leaving a church, entering a cottage where there was merry-making and then being dragged to hell, chained together. In this dream Mary believed that she was warned by God of hell and admonished to carry this warning to her family. As would be expected, with her troubled conscience, Mary desired all the more to travel to Nora to hear the gospel preached by Pastor Brandell. Eventually Mary once again left her family to seek wages to send home. During these wanderings, when Mary was probably in her 20's, she fell very sick and was deathly ill for five weeks. After five weeks of bed-rest with a family who took her in, she eventually tried to hitch a ride to Nora to hear the gospel preached with a group of young people who were going to a dance. She was abandoned by this group and left stranded on a forest road on a winter night. Aila Foltz does a good job of describing this occurrence in the book A Godly Heritage, Foltz writes:
Falling snowflakes covered her as she lay unconscious on the road. It was Christmas time, and nobody was abroad at that hour in this sparsely settled region. A short distance from where Milla lay was an isolated farm. The farmer's son had gone visiting with the intention of returning the following day, but he was so overcome with anxiety about his family that he hitched up his sleigh and left for home the same evening. After traveling some distance, the horse shied and stopped abruptly. When the young man alighted to investigate, he found the Sami girl lying in the road covered with snow. He picked her up, laid her in his sleigh and took her home. In the warm house, she recovered enough to continue her journey the next day.
Mary eventually made it to Sollefteå where she met a Pastor Berglund, who had experienced living faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Berglund encourged her to go on to Nora to hear Brandell preach the Word of God. Although the biography in Nordisk Kyrkotidning never tells of Mary finally making it to Nora, she must have eventually arrived there as Laestadius speaks of her hearing Pastor Brandell in Nora in his account of meeting her. It was in Nora where according to Laestadius, "Brandell had released her from her doubts and the girl was led by him to a living faith."

Not much is known about Mary after her fateful meeting with Laestadius. Foltz writes, "according to church records, she married Thomas Palsson, a Sami farmhand from Frostviken, a few years before she met Laestadius, and she gave birth to a daughter a few years later."

The account of Mary's life from Nordisk Kyrkotidning raises for me more questions than it answers. But one thing I am convinced of is that this was a woman of God in whose heart a wonderful work of grace had been done. Of his meeting with Mary, Laestadius wrote that she had opened her "whole heart" to him and, "I thought, 'I can see the way that leads to life.'" If opening one's heart to others leads to them seeing the way of repentance and faith in Christ I think it is obvious that it is Christ Himself who inhabits that heart.

I've been very happy to find books and websites that give an incomplete outline of Mary's life and the Readers but I would like to learn more about both. Although there are other resources out there I thought that this blog post might be interesting to anyone with a similar interest in the Laestadian revival or Mary of Lapland.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First Call

I'm a night-owl. I like to stay up late. But I also like to sleep. The last time I fasted completely from sleep was eight years ago during a night of insomnia. Other than that I remember once when I was a kid I decided to stay up all night with a friend to see what it was like. I wasn't impressed.

But Friday night/Saturday morning became the third time in my life I went for 24 hours without sleep. It was my first real "on-call" experience in medicine, on my surgery rotation for my 3rd year of med school. The day started at 6AM Friday morning and ended at 10:30 AM Saturday morning, with 20 of those 28 hours spent working in the hospital. I spent the eventful evening running between the ER and the operating room as we saw a shreded leg from a motorcycle accident and point blank shotgun blast to an abdomen, among other things.

At around 4AM as I stood over an operating table, holding a retractor (a rather unimportant job), I was fading with my eyes attempting to force themselves closed. But I became aware of the importance of the circadian rhythm as 6AM rolled around and I began to feel as good and as wide awake as I do most mornings. This was a pleasant surprise. After rounding on our team's patients I headed back to Loma Linda for a much-needed nap.

You may have noticed fewer posts on this blog in the past week. It is likely to remain that way for the next five weeks as general surgery is a very busy rotation. I will put this teaser out there though... I'm thinking of writing a post entitled "Lapin Maija."