Friday, April 30, 2010

He has loved us before the world was created

The work of atonement derives from God's love; therefore it has not established the latter:

For this reason, Paul says that the love with which God embraced us "before the creation of the world" was established and grounded in Christ [Eph. 1:4-5]. These things are plain and in agreement with Scripture, and beautifully harmonize those passages in which it is said that God declared his love toward us in giving his only-begotten Son to die [John 3:16]; and, conversely, that God was our enemy before he was again made favourable to us by Christ's death [Rom. 5:10]. But to render these things more certain among those who require the testimony of the ancient church, I shall quote a passage of Augustine where the very thing is taught: "God's love," says he, "is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created, that we also might be his sons along with his only-begotten Son - before we became anything at all. The fact that we were reconciled through Christ's death must not be understood as if his Son reconciled us to him that he might now begin to love those whom he hated. Rather, we have already been reconciled to him who loves us, with whom we were enemies on account of sin. The apostle will testify whether I am speaking the truth: 'God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us' [Rom. 5:8]. Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made."

- John Calvin, Institutes 2.16.4

Saturday, April 24, 2010

He giveth snow like wool

Lacking inspiration to write about anything else at the moment I’ll reflect on this year’s snowboarding, a sport I’ve grown to love more each year for the last five or six years. Prior to that time, from when I was 12 or 13 years old, I was a skier and would usually go up a couple of times a year. I did more snowboarding this year than any previous year.

This year’s snowboarding started with my Christmas break when I went home to Southwest Washington state. I snowboarded Mt. Hood at Ski Bowl and Mt. Hood Meadows with my younger brothers and various friends:

Looking up at Mt. Hood at dusk from Ski Bowl.

Lots of powder on the upper runs at Ski Bowl at night.

Sunset from Mt. Hood Meadows

Unfortunately I have no pictures but I also spent a rainy New Year’s Eve and early New Year’s Day on Mt. Hood with a brother and a friend. We snowboarded in the sometimes pouring rain which was a new experience for me. We made a fun time of it though trying to hone our jumping skills and enjoying the firework show at midnight on the mountain.

When I returned to California I made three trips up to Snow Valley near Big Bear in the mountains north of Loma Linda and the Inland Empire. The mountains in Southern California got more snow this year than in a long time so the snowboarding has been better than usual down here this year.

Mountains of fresh snow in a gas station parking lot as we made our way to Snow Valley.

To cap off the year’s snowboarding I made a trip up to Mammoth Mountain a couple of weeks ago. We left Loma Linda at 3AM, made it to Mammoth in time for the lifts to open, left at 4PM when the lifts closed and were back home in Loma Linda around 9:30.

Top of the Sierra, Mammoth Mountain

Monday, April 19, 2010

O Sweetest Exchange!

A little over a year and a half ago I came across a wonderful section of Calvin's Institutes where he talks about a "wonderful exchange." I liked it so much I quoted it on my blog here. Then a little over a year later I found a quote from Luther where he also wrote of a wonderful exchange. So when I came across a similar writing from a much earlier source I wanted to quote it here also. I saw the quote from this ancient writing over on Justin Taylor's great blog and realized that years ago I had purchased a copy of this same text. It's from the Epistle to Diognetus, a very early Christian writing most likely from sometime during the 2nd Century. The version I own is a slightly different translation from the one quoted by Justin Taylor. The author of the epistle writes:
And when the cup of our iniquities was filled, and it had become perfectly clear that their wages - the punishment of death - had to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had determined to reveal henceforth His goodness and power. O the surpassing kindness and love of God for man! No, He did not hate us, or discard us, or remember our wrongs; He exercised forbearance and long-suffering! In mercy, of His own accord, He lifted the burden of our sins! Of His own accord He gave up His own Son as a ransom for us - the Saint for sinners, the Guiltless for the guilty, the Innocent for the wicked, the Incorruptible for the corruptible, the Immortal for the mortal! Indeed, what else could have covered our sins but His holiness? In whom could we, the lawless and impious, be sanctified but in the Son of God alone? O sweetest exchange! O unfathomable accomplishment! O unexpected blessings - the sinfulness of many is buried in One who is holy, the holiness of One sanctifies the many who are sinners!

- The Epistle to Diognetus 9:2-5

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Divine Appointment"

Some patient interactions make a strong impression on me. Sometimes it is because of an unusual diagnosis. But usually it's because I connect with a patient who is a Christian and is going through a very difficult time. Such an incident happened this week that I won't forget anytime soon.

I was just a few days into my internal medicine rotation, seeing patients in a clinic with an attending physician. Internal medicine is the field I'm interested in going into so I'm hoping I will like this rotation. The second or third patient of the day was called and entered the room. My first impression of the patient was that he was an elderly man who looked to be in a good physical state. He had no problem getting around and smiled widely as he shook my hand and the hand of the attending physician. As the doctor asked him why he had come to clinic that day it became obvious that this man had a very serious diagnosis, one with the potential to cause a lot of suffering and which had already caused a good deal of suffering in the days prior to his presentation to our clinic.

It turned out that this patient had gone to the ER with severe pain in one of his bones a few days earlier. In the ER they had ordered an X-ray and then a bone scan which revealed cancer that had metastasized to many different areas of this man's skeleton. Only in the last week had one of these metastases began to cause severe pain. The patient had been diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer years earlier but the treatment had obviously been unsuccessful and now, barring a miracle, this man would most likely die from this cancer.

It struck me during the interview that this patient had a more severe diagnosis than any I had seen recently and he was also currently in a great deal of pain. But unlike many patients I see every week with less severe diagnoses he had a peace about him. He was friendly and smiled as he interacted with us.

At some point during the interview he mentioned, for some reason, that he had been a pastor. This piqued my curiosity but I thought that in the presence of my attending physician I would not get to explore this further. The fact that this man's diagnosis seemed so severe also made it difficult for me to consider talking about things not relating to that diagnosis. As the interview progressed the patient commented on how the hospital seemed very busy and it reminded him of when he had been a hospital chaplain in Kentucky. I mentioned that I had lived in Kentucky for a couple of years and the patient said, "I also went to seminary in Kentucky." Now he really had my attention and I said, "so did I, outside of Lexington." The patient still didn't expect that we shared any deeper connection and he said, "oh, I went to a small seminary called Asbury." I smiled and told him that I also went to Asbury. At this point I wasn't sure what the attending was thinking as I had just began working with her. But I was happy when she said she needed to step out for a moment and encouraged us to both keep reminiscing. And that we did.

We found that God had touched both of us at a wonderful place called Asbury Theological Seminary. We were far enough apart in age that we had shared none of the same professors but we had enough in common to enjoy talking of our memories of Asbury and Kentucky. When I asked what denomination he had pastored in he said "United Methodist," but quickly added that he had been one of the few conservative evangelicals in California. I could sympathize with him when he told me that it got so bad in the California-Pacific Annual Conference that he and the handful of other Bible-believing United Methodist pastors just quit going to annual conference. He told me that his family had finally left the United Methodist Church for a conservative, Bible-believing church. We were both encouraged by our conversation and with a big smile this elderly gentleman proclaimed that this was a "divine appointment." I agreed. I asked him if I could pray for him and just after I had started praying the attending walked into the room. We both straightened up but I hoped that I would be able to finish my prayer for him at some point.

The attending physician asked a few more questions, did a focused physical exam, and then formulated her plan to our patient. It looked like it would all be over soon when I was surprised to hear her ask, "is it alright if I pray for you?" The patient explained that I had already started praying earlier and said he would be happy if we all prayed together. So the three of us held hands and my attending prayed a wonderful Christ-focused prayer.

It was a great experience. And even though I grieve for what this man and his family might go through in the coming months, I'm thankful that he and his family know the Lord and have a hope of eternal life beholding, worshipping and knowing Him more and more. Seeing a patient with so much peace and even the ability to encourage those around him in the midst of pain and a potentially frightening diagnosis also made me think that this was evidence of God's grace in his life. I've seen many other patients with far less severe diagnoses who were angry, bitter and left the clinicians they met tired and cynical. But this man was a blessing to those he came in contact with. May God have mercy on him and his family.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Books! #2

I finally put the gift card I got from my parents for Christmas to work and bought a few books. Unfortunately the next four months will probably be too busy to make much of a dent in either. The two I bought are very different from one another. Lilith by George MacDonald has been on my list of books to read for five or six years now since reading Phantastes by the same author. It was of Phantastes which C.S. Lewis wrote, "that the whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that was where the Death came in) my imagination." I also found Phantastes to be captivating and was told that if I liked that book I would probably also like Lilith.

For Lent my church read through the Pentateuch. I stayed pretty much on schedule up until Leviticus and then kind of fell off. But I was reminded once again about how little I understand the Old Testament. I was also reminded of a book which John Piper had recently said was one of the best he'd ever read, John Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch. It will probably take me a decade to read this book but if I ever do I think it will be well worth it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In my place condemned He stood

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood --
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
-P.P. Bliss

I was reading a comment thread on a post over on the blog Stand Firm on Good Friday and I saw a claim being made there that I've seen made in other forums and have heard in many conversations. It is first said that the church fathers, the earliest Christian writers outside the New Testament, did not dwell much on the atonement or have a well-formulated view of this doctrine. That claim may be true. I know that some early writers, such as Origen, believed in a "ransom theory" of the atonement.

It is then assumed that because some patristic writers did not elevate the doctrine of the atonement to a high level of importance that it is alright today to have many different views of the atonement and that it is wrong to judge and say that one of these views is the correct view.

What amazes me is that these debaters, who mostly have a strong dislike of penal substitution or satisfaction, often claim that this view was not even formulated until St. Anselm of Canterbury writing in the 11th Century, and was not believed by many to be central to the Christian faith until the Reformation and therefore a penal substitutionary view is either unimportant or wrong.

The reason that this amazes me is that these deniers of a penal substitutionary atonement seem to completely ignore the inspired writings of Paul or the even earlier writings of the prophet Isaiah, both of whom were writing long before the church fathers, Anselm or the Reformers. Paul wrote, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God," and also, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree (2 Cor 5:21 and Galatians 3:13).'" Keeping in mind that Christ became both sin and a curse in order to redeem and save us, we also read that Christ was, "put forward as a propitiation by his blood," by God (Romans 3:25). And as a propitiation by His blood Paul tells us what Christ was saving us from, "we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9)." Here the Apostle Paul does not say that the elect are saved primarily from "the devil" or "from corruption" or even "from our sins." Paul says we are saved from the wrath of God by Christ. That is not to say that we aren't also saved from bondage to the devil or corruption or our sins, but we are primarily saved from God's wrath and it is the wrath of God which is the primary problem for those who are outside of Christ.

And if there were any doubt about what Paul might mean by his use of the word "propitiation" or how exactly Christ saved us from God's wrath I think Isaiah makes it clear in his prophecy concerning the Messiah. I've heard some argue that what Isaiah wrote in the 53rd chapter of his book could be written concerning the prophet himself and not about Christ. But if one were to take this view they would be disagreeing with all four gospel writers, with Luke writing in Acts and with St. Peter. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is quoted as having predicted things concerning Christ in Matthew 8:17, Mark 15:28, Luke 22:37, John 12:38, Acts 8:32 and 1st Peter 2:22. These are places where the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is applied to Christ in the New Testament but other parts of the book of Isaiah are quoted in numerous other places, including by Paul as having foretold aspects of Christ's life and ministry. So to deny that Isaiah 53 applies to Christ and His sufferings is to reject the witness of almost the entire New Testament.

And what does Isaiah tell us about the Messiah's sufferings? Isaiah writes that He "was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace(53:5)." Verse 6 says, "and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." And whose will was it that Christ be crushed? Who was putting upon Christ the chastisement that brought us peace? Verse 10 reads, "Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief." Ultimately it was not Satan or man who made Christ suffer. No ransom was payed to the devil. To believe such things is to reject the clear teaching of Scripture. Christ suffered in the place of sinful man, having taken upon Himself our sin, being made "to be sin," He bore the wrath that the justice of God demanded sinful humans to receive.

So it may be true that a penal-substitutionary view of the atonement is not clearly taught in the patristic writings. If this is true it is unfortunate but it is only one example among many of doctrines which were taught by the Apostles being obscured by sinful men in the history of the Church. And it is not only the Church where the obscuring of the doctrines of God have occurred. The same had occurred in Ancient Israel when Josiah discovered the Book of the Law in the temple and had it read aloud to the people, re-revealing the truth of God. If God's people Israel were not immune to the obscuring and loss of true doctrine then there is no reason to assume that the Church would somehow be immune to the same evil. But God in His mercy has used men like Anselm and the Reformers to bring us back to the Word of God and the un-tainted truth which is revealed there.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. - Matt. 4:16

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
- 1 Cor. 15:54b-55

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. - Rev. 21:4

Friday, April 2, 2010

The true Victim

Christ himself is the true Victim, who takes away all the sins of the world. He is the immaculate Lamb of God, sacrificed on the cross during the Paschal season. He is the true Priest consecrated by God, and as such has offered himself up as Victim to the Father in an odor of sweetness. He is the High Priest who once a year enters alone in the Holy of Holies to plead not only for his own people, but for the salvation of all peoples who believe in him. And this Christ truly did, dying once for the entire human race until the end of time.

-Thomas à Kempis