Posted by: duncandrews | May 21, 2013

Whitsunday; a poem for Pentecost, by George Herbert

¶ Whitsunday.

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sunne, which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordiall water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,

Thou shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

Posted by: duncandrews | May 16, 2013

Out of the storm: a short poem

Job 38-41

Ah! Infinite starburst, searing light,
heat white hot, your flaming handsIMG_1098
smallest twitch and lightning is put to flight,
a cord to bind Orion where he stands.

In terror my ashen eyes have now seen
what before my ears had only heard,
and I am consumed, repentant, husk obscene.

And yet, to me you speak a word.

Posted by: duncandrews | November 5, 2012

Moore College: a short reflection

I was recently asked to write a paragraph reflecting on my four years at Moore College. It’s short, but I thought I’d share it:

My time at Moore College has been a great blessing. Two things stand out. First, I’ve become part of a community drawn together in the gospel that I hold very dearly; and second, I’ve been taught and modeled a way of being a theologian and bible reader that is both academically rigorous, engaging thoughtfully and generously with those with different positions, and at the same time that is captivated by the gospel, humble in piety, and clear in articulating and defending God’s truth.

Posted by: duncandrews | October 31, 2012

A summary of what I’ve been thinking about all year…

I’ve just finished a 15000 word research project that I’ve been working on this year. It’s been a great ride – particularly entering into the world of discourse-analysis and linguistics, and thinking a lot about the significance and role of imperatives (commands, requests, etc) in communication in general and in Paul’s letters in particular. Here’s my conclusion:

This study has attempted to evaluate the exegetical significance of the discourse-initial imperatives of Colossians, Romans, and 1 Timothy. At each point they have been found both to be structurally and thematically significant, and to have a priority over the remaining imperatives. In this light, the call to reckon gospel realities as true (Romans) and to continue walking in them (Colossians), signal the passive/receptive setting of Pauline ethics. The call to right teaching in 1 Timothy reflects the active expression of these passive realities, as the claims of Jesus’ lordship are placed under threat by the counter-claims of false teaching. The tension between passive and active, necessary because of the eschatological situation in Christ, testifies that our moral effort, real and necessary, nevertheless only takes place in the fundamental gospel reality that in Christ God has first acted for, in, and on us.

Posted by: duncandrews | September 1, 2012

All bright and alive: A poem for a five year old

There is a girl all bright and alive
who on this day is turning five.
Five! I don’t believe it’s true!
Wasn’t it yesterday you were two?
Or the day before when you were born,
our scraggly, crying little fawn?
But now I see you standing there
with your long legs and pretty hair
I can’t deny that five you are;
my little princess, my shining star.

Turning five is a very grand thing.
Not only can you make a swing
go up and down all by yourself
but you’ve read all the books on your shelf
(with just a little help from me).
And your pictures are a sight to see,
like a rainbow splashed onto a page;
and so I think it’s a very good age.
For on this day you are turning five,
our gift from God, all bright and alive.

Posted by: duncandrews | August 26, 2012

My eyes a fountain of tears: a theology of weeping (vi)

Paul’s example: living as joyful weepers

It is in the apostle Paul’s life that we see these themes—gospel weeping and gospel hope—coming together. Paul’s ministry was marked by tears. Acts 20 mentions his tears three times as he addresses the Ephesian elders (20:19, 31, 37). Paul writes to the Corinthians with tears to communicate his love (2 Cor. 2:4). In Phil. 3:18 Paul weeps at the state of rebellious humanity, remembering that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

However, Paul’s was also a ministry of profound joy. Throughout Romans, he either exhorts to rejoice or tells of his own joy at least ten times.[1] Philippians 4 is well-known: following Paul’s claim that he weeps remembering that people live as enemies of Christ (3:18), he exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (4:4).

Paul knew the world’s brokenness, and he knew the certainty and tragedy of the coming judgment that so many would be swept up in; and he wept. He knew Jesus’ warning of tears for sin now or tears of terror at God’s wrath later. For Paul, our eschatological situation—the ‘last days’—is rightly the time for tears.

Nevertheless, Paul also knew of a future day when there would be no more tears, a future day which broke into this present day of tears. Isaiah had prophesied it: God would wipe away the tears from every face and destroy death forever (25:6-8). And as Paul reflected on Jesus’ death and resurrection, he saw that destruction of death accomplished—‘where O death is your victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55)—and promised to Jesus’ people—‘thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor. 15:57).

For Paul we rightly weep when faced with the world in its bondage to decay and sin, bound for judgment, or with the reality of our own persistent sin; but we also rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2). We rejoice because we know that when we weep, God weeps too; not as one crushed by his tears but as God, the transcendent, self-sufficient, almighty creator who is love; and therefore, as one motivated by his and our tears to do whatever it would take to wipe away every tear and make all things new (Rev. 21:3-5).


[1] 5:2, 3, 11; 12:12, 15; 14:17; 15:10, 13, 32; 16:19.

PREVIOUS
Posted by: duncandrews | August 24, 2012

My eyes a fountain of tears: a theology of weeping (v)

God’s tears revealed

However, given the trinitarian structure of Christian theology, are we able to ascribe Jesus’ tears not only to his humanity, not only to the incarnate second person of the trinity, but to the eternal triune God? In other words, when Jesus weeps, does God weep? While focusing on Jesus’ humanity, Donne hints at divine tears: ‘In Iob there is a question ask’d of God, Hast thou eyes of flesh, and doest thou see, as man sees? Let this question be directed to God manifested in Christ, and Christ will weepe out an answer to that question, I have eyes of flesh, and I do weep as man weeps.’[1]

There is, however, a serious concern in claims relating to the divinity of Jesus’ tears. According to classical theology’s doctrine of impassibility, God as wholly other cannot be manipulated, forced, or touched by suffering—if he were it would imply a force external to God exerting power over God.[2] In other words, God would not be God. The most we could say would be that God in Christ wept, not that in Christ God wept.

In this connection, the prophetic witness to Yahweh’s tears is worth exploring. Isaiah 15-16, the Oracle against Moab, is a distinct unit at the end of which the entire oracle is ascribed to Yahweh (6:13). In it Yahweh says ‘My heart cries over Moab’ (15:5). ‘I join with Jazer to weep, … I drench Heshbon and Elealeh with my tears’ (16:9). However, the most striking prophetic example of divine tears comes in Jeremiah, the ‘weeping prophet’[3]. Jeremiah was powerfully identified with Yahweh; in Jer. 1 we read of the prophet’s calling, in which the Word of Yahweh commissioned him, itself the generative power behind Jeremiah’s own words. He speaks as an expression of God’s commissioning word. Moreover, Jeremiah ‘not only speaks the Word of God; he embodies it’,[4] and so is ‘torn apart not merely because of his own affliction, nor only because of Israel’s affliction, but because of the affliction of God, which God allows him to share’.[5]

Throughout Jeremiah, this identification between prophet and Yahweh manifests itself through an ambiguity regarding speaker, the ‘voice of the prophet [being] replaced by the voice of God’.[6] In relation to Yahweh’s tears, Jer. 8-9 are striking. In grief Jeremiah/Yahweh says ‘I am broken by the brokenness of my dear people. […] If my head were water, my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night over the slain of my dear people’ (Jer. 8:21-9:1).

With Jeremiah’s divine tears in place, we return to Jesus in John 11. From the start of John’s gospel, Jesus is identified with God in a more dramatic way even than Jeremiah: he is the exegete of the Father, making the Father known (1:18). In John 10, just before our passage, Jesus confronts the religious leaders of Israel, claiming equality with the Father: ‘I and the Father are one!’ (10:30). Soon after he weeps over Lazarus, Jesus claims: ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14:9).

Given John’s affirmation that God is Spirit (4:24), God the Father does not weep in a physiological sense. We have earlier defined our interest as not only physiological weeping but the emotional intensity signified by that weeping. In the light of what we’ve seen, this intensity does rightly belong to God. In this sense, it is right to say that when Jesus weeps, the eternal triune God weeps.

However, the concerns of classical theology remain legitimate. If God weeps out of need, or lack, or external compulsion, he is no longer the transcendent, sovereign God and Father of Jesus, who ‘is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:25). Nevertheless, what if God weeps, not because he is acted upon by a force external to himself, but because in his love and self-sufficiency he freely enters into the suffering of his creation? According to Kasper, ‘[i]f God suffers, then he suffers in a divine manner, that is, his suffering is an expression of his freedom; suffering does not befall God, rather he freely allows it to touch him’[7]. Packer similarly writes, ‘[a] totally impassive God would be a horror, and not the God of Calvary at all. […] If, therefore, we can learn to think of the chosenness of God’s grief and pain as the essence of his impassibility, so-called, we will do well.’[8]

Jesus’ tears then are not only a function of the incarnation, but reveal the very heart of God as love; a God who does not remain distant but in the freedom of his self-sufficiency and sovereignty opens himself up to the suffering of his world. Moreover, the fact that in Christ it is this sovereign God who weeps is not an end in itself, as if the plight of the world could be fixed merely by God sympathizing with us. God’s tears are the means by which he destroys tears; his entering into human suffering the path through which he brought an end to that suffering in his cross and resurrection. God’s tears in Christ therefore tell us not only of his sympathy, but of his power and willingness to save, and are therefore the basis of our eschatological hope.


[1] Donne, The Sermons of John Donne, 328.

[2] C.f. J.I. Packer, ‘God’, in New Dictionary of Theology (ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer; Accordance electronic edition, version 1.1.; Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 277.

[3] J. R. Soza, ‘Jeremiah’, in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner; Accordance Electronic Ed., Version 1.1; Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), para. 2178.

[4] Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Overtures to biblical theology; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 156.

[5] John Goldingay, God’s Prophet, God’s Servant: a Study in Jeremiah and Isaiah 40-55 (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1984), 39.

[6] Andrew G. Shead, A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah (Downers Grove, Ill.: Apollos, 2012), 116.

[7] Walter Kasper, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell, God of Jesus Christ (London: SCM, 1984), 195. Italics original.

[8] J.I. Packer, ‘What Do You Mean When You Say God?’, Christianity Today, September 19, 1986, 27.

PREVIOUS
NEXT
Posted by: duncandrews | August 22, 2012

My eyes a fountain of tears: a theology of weeping (iv)

Tears in the example and teaching of Jesus

Tears for the brokenness of the world; tears of sorrow for sin; tears of petition; and tears for the judgment of God. In both Jesus’ example and his teaching, we see these ‘types’ of weeping in the OT presented and, given Jesus’ perfected humanity, vindicated. We are told three times of Jesus’ tears, twice in the gospels and once in Hebrews.

As he faced the reality of his friend’s death, Jesus wept (Jn. 11:35). He wept for the brokenness of the world, and the consequent death that had enslaved it. As he approached Jerusalem, knowing its coming judgment, Jesus wept (Lk. 19:41-44). In Hebrews 5:7, likely referring to Gethsemene,[1] we read that Jesus ‘offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save Him from death’. Jesus wept in petition to his Father when faced with the cross.

Jesus does not cry tears of repentance; but they are a major theme in his teaching. Tears of repentance rightly belong in this age: weep now, and you will rejoice later; rejoice now, and you will weep later.[2] In Matthew the future judgment is consistently a place of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’.[3] In Luke those who weep now will laugh, but Jesus says ‘woe to you who are now laughing, for you will mourn and weep’ (6:25). In the face of his coming and the future judgment of God, Jesus calls for tears not only for the future judgment but for the present sin that is the reason for that judgment.

The OT, and Jesus’ own example and teaching, highlight the biblical contours of weeping. Right tears that makes sense in the Bible’s story are not tears of frustration against God or of religious showmanship. They are genuine tears for the fallenness of the world, for the reality of future judgment, as a petition to God to come and act, and in repentance for sin.


[1] So Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 198.

[2] For instance, Mt. 5:4, Lk. 6:21, 25.

[3] For instance, 8:12, 13:42, 50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30.

PREVIOUS
NEXT
Posted by: duncandrews | August 20, 2012

My eyes a fountain of tears: a theology of weeping (iii)

Humanity’s tears vindicated and directed

In the context of the overarching story of the bible, Jesus comes as the true human. In Colossians 1:15 we read that not only is he like Adam made in the image of God, but that he is the image of the invisible God. He comes as what humanity was created to be; as theologian Herman Bavink writes, ‘in Adam’s creation Christ was already in view’.

Jesus then comes as the goal, the telos of humanity, and his tears come as a vindication of humanity’s tears. Again Donne: ‘He wept as man doth weepe, and he wept as a man may weepe’.

But in the biblical story, not all of humanity’s tears are vindicated. The Israelites in the wilderness weep in complaint against God (Num. 14:1), their weeping condemned as a sign of their despising Yahweh, forgetting his provision in the Exodus (Num. 14:11). Or in Malachi, the priests cover ‘the Lord’s alter with tears’ (2:13); but it is a false weeping, religious showmanship without true repentance (2:14-15).

So what can we say about the right ‘shape’ of weeping? How can our tears be rightly directed?

Throughout the OT, we see a number of ‘types’ of tears that make sense within the boundaries of its narrative. First of all, we see tears for a broken world.

Tears for a broken world

Tears are present from the Bible’s first book, although are concentrated towards the end, particularly in the figure of Joseph. Each time Joseph sees his brothers in Egypt he weeps (42:24, 43:30). Once he reveals his identity he weeps so loudly the whole house can hear, as the emotional pain of separation is resolved (45:2). At his father Isaac’s death he again weeps for the loss (50:1).

The story of creation’s fall begins in its most cosmic scope (Gen. 3), but narrows through the narrative, culminating in Joseph’s story of tragedy and reconciliation (Gen. 37:2-50:26). In the context of Genesis, then, Joseph’s tears come as a concentration of the brokenness of creation, and reveal the first ‘type’ of tears the make sense in the light of the realities presented. Joseph cries as a function of the world’s brokenness.

Tears of sorrow for sin

Another ‘type’ of OT tears are of sorrow for sin. Josiah in 2 Kings and the people of Israel in Nehemiah, for example, both weep when faced with the Torah being read out to them (2 Kings 22:8-20; Neh. 8:9). Calvin characterised the law as a mirror in which we contemplate our weakness and sin, and the consequent curse upon us (Inst. 2.7.7). After seeing the reality of the desperate condition, not just of the world, but of their own rebellious and broken hearts in the light of God’s law, both Josiah and the exiles wept before Yahweh.

Tears of petition to God

The Psalms of David highlight a third type of right tears, of petition to God. In Psalm 6 David drenches his bed with his tears every night (v. 6), pleading with God to come and help him in his distress (vv. 8-10). David yearned for God to rescue him; and his belief that God was able to do that manifested itself in an
intense, personal weeping, directed towards God himself.

Tears for the future judgment of God

The last major ‘type’ of OT tears are for the judgment of God. These come particularly in the prophets, as they face the unthinkable tragedy of exile. Isaiah cries out ‘Let me weep bitterly! Do not try to comfort me about the destruction of my dear people’ (22:4). Jeremiah’s eyes overflow with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive (13:17). Joel calls for the people to weep because of their coming destruction (1:5). The prophets see the judgment of God on his people in the exile, and the right response was to weep.

The contours of right tears through the OT include, then, tears for the brokenness of the world, tears of sorrow for sin, tears of petition, and tears for the judgment of God. With these in mind, we return to Jesus’ tears.

PREVIOUS
NEXT

I’ll finish my series on a theology of tears soon, but my time recently has been taken up with an essay on the connection between evangelicalism and the ‘Friendly Mission’ to the indigenous people of Tasmania in the 1830s. Here’s a summary of my thoughts:

The ‘Friendly Mission’ was the successful but ill-fated attempt to relocate, without physical coercion, the Aboriginal peoples of Van Diemen’s Land to Flinders Island. It came as the culmination of a complex and volatile series of events, and precipitated the tragic death of almost all indigenous Tasmanians within 50 years. After giving an outline of the events of the Friendly Mission, this essay will explore the issue of its connection to evangelicalism. Using both an historical and a theological definition of ‘evangelical’, it will be found that the main actors involved in the Mission, most notably its leader George Augustus Robinson, were, or at least presented themselves as, motivated by evangelical concerns. However, when placed in its broader historical context, it will be argued that the Mission cannot be seen as evangelical in a fundamental sense. In the light of the domestic socio-political events out of which the Mission emerged, including the ongoing conflict between the settlers and indigenous peoples and the role played by the government in establishing and funding the Mission, it is apparent that political concerns were the real motivator. This is reinforced by a comparison of the Friendly Mission with international evangelical activist movements, specifically abolitionism. Despite Robinson’s characterisation of the Mission as an extension of evangelical abolitionism, he failed to account for key differences. These differences meant that, while evangelicalism certainly played an important part in the discourse surrounding the Mission, it was not the Mission’s primary concern. The Mission ultimately served, not the cause of the Christian gospel, but the cause of (British) social cohesion and stability in a new and volatile colonial outpost.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories