Posted in theology

I was without excuse

By Elizabeth Prata

I was looking through an old travel journal I’d kept on my first big trip. I was a senior in high school, and the class was taking a trip to London. My parents gave me the trip as a graduation present.

I’d never flown before at the time (except a small Cessna a few feet off the ground in Provinceown) so the thought of flying through the night, at such a high altitude, over the ocean, I was very excited.

My travel journal captured my excitement: “Just completed takeoff. It was the most fantastic experience I ever had in my whole life! At first we were going slow and then fast and the next thing we knew we were over the lights of Boston. They were beautiful, like spider webs in the morning. In the next second we were over Provincetown and the next second I saw Nantucket.”

At that point we were at an altitude of 22,000 feet, the captain informed us, and our top altitude would be 33,000 feet. My next entry was a few hours later, when the sun began to peek over the horizon. We were flying east, so we were meeting the sun as we traveled over Nova Scotia, Canada, then the Atlantic, then Ireland.

“Beautiful. I’m watching one side of the world wake up while the other side is still sleeping. It’s all pink and blue, and the clouds are like cotton. The stewardess asked us to close our window shades, I’m not. I’m not going to miss this for all the gold on earth. This is God’s handiwork. I’m not turning down an offering from God.”

I remember the giddy feeling of having left earth and flying through realms I’d never been. Unhitched from the world, able to see above the clouds and into the heavens from a new perspective was startling to me and made a big impression. I’d written:

“I’ve decided that this is heaven. When I die I want to spend eternity here. Nothing but God could have made this. This is another world. The sun just came over the horizon. It’s too beautiful to describe.”

I’ve always loved geography, maps, locations, and boundaries like the sand-sea boundary, the 45th parallel, the equator. Edges of things. Being above the clouds and seeing in one glance the earth below and space above; the dark vs. light areas of the earth, and the stars above while the world wakes as not only fascinating to me but moving.

I know when the astronauts went into space they were moved also. I think we can’t help but be moved. The scripture says

The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2).

How can we look at the magnificence of the skies, moon, stars, and sun progressing across the skies in such an orderly march, each in its sparkling place, note the sunrise and sunset. I see that at age 17, even though having lived with a rabidly atheist father and a constantly seeking but never arriving at the knowledge of the truth mother, I could and did see God in the skies, as it poured forth speech. It’s obvious.

Poor me.

I was a perfect example of Romans 1:19-20,

that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Acknowledging God as creator actually put me in a worse position “when I die”. I wasn’t going to heaven if it happened. I’d be going to hell. It isn’t enough to see God’s handiwork, acknowledge it as His, and go on my way, deciding to enter heaven after I die. Why?

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, (Romans 1:21a).

It is not enough to say “God made this” yet go on my way as before. The knowledge of God as august, majestic, powerful creator should move us to look at ourselves in comparison and say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” like the tax collector did, and was justified. I was moved that there was a God, it’s obvious enough that He made the world as Romans 1:20 states (‘He has made it plain to them’), but I did not know THE God. His handiwork did not stir in me a self-awareness of my puniness and filthiness next to His holiness. His handiwork is supposed to do that for the Gentiles, as the Law was supposed to for the Jews. (Romans 2-3).

The Law was supposed to demonstrate to the Jew that he could not attain moral perfection. His inner man would prevent it, being totally corrupt. Therefore, we are both under condemnation, both Jew and Gentile, for “all have sinned”. Only God is perfectly moral, just, and holy.

I hung there, in that precarious position of acknowledging God as Creator, but foolish enough to ignore Jesus as Savior. I thought I had made a wise and philosophically advanced decision, and God should applaud me for it. Not consciously, but unconsciously. I was the person that the verse in Romans 1:21b-22 speaks of,

they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.

No, lol, I didn’t worship snakes and crawling things but I did worship myself, my goals, my intellect, my wisdom, my pride. I worshiped idols as the verse says.

It was another 25 years before my incessant questions as a pagan would be resolved. If God made the world, then all the cultures who ever worshiped a god must be right that there is an afterlife. Since it’s obvious there’s an afterlife, hell must be real too. What makes heaven so great? What is the standard by which a person goes there? Because if everyone goes there, what makes it heaven? Everyone here is awful. (I acknowledged others’ sin, our depraved nature being obvious, except for meee, of course…)

God graciously gave me Jesus, and upon His moment of time pre-planned before the foundation of the world, I finally recognized my sin thanks to His grace and opening my eyes through the gift of faith. I repented of sin and fell upon Jesus’ feet. I understood the cross.

All those years I’d asked those questions, but whenever my mind tread closer to the cross, Jesus, and my own sin, my mind skittered away and I said, ‘No not that. It can’t be THAT.’ I don’t think many Christians understand the torment of the conscience, and the weariness to the soul of trying to find the answer but that our sin-darkened minds refuse to allow the holy light of the answer to burst through. It takes God passing HIs hand over us to do that, the external understanding of our need for Him, seen because of Him, by Him, through Him. I never would have gotten there on my own never. I know that.

Therefore we should be weak-need because of His grace. Grace through faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Posted in theology, wisdom

The pagan’s bookshelf

By Elizabeth Prata

I grew up in a household that rejected God. I didn’t go to church except once in a while as a sputter here and there. I knew nothing of the Bible.

My parents were both readers. I’m glad, I turned into a reader then a student of literacy then a teacher of reading. Some of the books I remember being most read around my home were typical books of the pagan bookshelf.

I’m OK, You’re OK, 1967: a self-help book by Thomas Anthony Harris. It is a practical guide to transactional analysis as a method for solving problems in life. It stayed on the bestseller list for two years.

I’ll never forget that yellow cover, It was a highly visible book. Now that I’ve grown and like design, I see it as a typical design of the mid-century. I see psychology for what it is, a pale and paltry copy of the true answers of life, which reside in Jesus. Psychology seeks answers within one’s self, where no answers will ever emerge. Only confusion.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, 1979: “Long buried and suppressed, the Gnostic Gospels contain the secret writings attributed to the followers of Jesus.”. How long will we be plagued by spurious claims that the REAL story of Jesus is suppressed and waiting to come out.  The world does not want the true Jesus. But another that comes in His name, they will accept him. (John 5:43).

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach, 1970, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach and illustrated by Russell Munson, is a fable in novella form about a seagull who is trying to learn about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection.” Another book promising answers if we only look within, and one that caught the fancy of the American psyche for several years. By the end of 1972 over a million copies were in print. This book was everywhere. A new edition was just republished in 2014. The world never tires of hearing that we possess the answers to life and can self-perfect. No savior needed.

Body Language, by Julius Fast, 1971. “This classic books introduces kinetics, the science of non-verbal communication, which is used to analyze the common gestures we use and observe every day, gestures which reveal our deepest feelings and hidden thoughts to total strangers―if they know how to read them.”

Ah, we all want to know hidden thoughts. We all want to be little gods reading thoughts as the omniscient God does. ‘You will be like God’ said the serpent, in Genesis 3. This book hung around a lot at my house, too. I noticed that it was revised and updated in 2002. Where before the cover showed a woman demonstrating body language that’s “closed,” the updated version for the new millennium the woman is shown as displaying “open”.

 

I heard Martyn Lloyd Jones preaching a certain sermon in Acts. He mentioned a book by Rosalind Murray written during WWII, called The Good Pagan’s Failure. This review of the book states,

It is Rosalind Murray’s contention that the crucial difference which separates and divides us as human beings is, and always must be, spiritual, exemplified by an acceptance or rejection of belief in God. “Our attitude on this fundamental question determines the whole direction of our living in all of its aspects, and in all relations, and that opposition in this one decisive matter implies secondary, but resultant, opposition in outlook and in value throughout our lives.” … “The Good Pagan’s failure,” Murray writes, “can be attributed to the fundamental illusion from which he starts, the belief that it is possible to conserve all positive and constructive value of the Christian order while removing it from belief in God.” source

All the non-fiction books on the pagan’s bookshelf seeking answers are only wisps of false wisdom coupled with temporary solutions. I’m blessed that God protected me from absorbing these humanistic anti-God philosophies while I was at the impressionable stages. I read the Seagull book, and parts of I’m OK, You’re OK, and even the Gnostic book, which was read and re-read voraciously at my house. None of them made sense to me.

In His timing, the Lord gave me the mind of Christ, and now the Bible makes the most sense. It immediately showed me the order, beauty, and consistency in the world. It let me understand that there is no such thing as chaos, only hidden order through providence. I learned I had no wisdom of my own and that all I did was vanity and striving after wind. Yes. This is the wisdom of the ages, and God has it in infinite quantities. How blessed we are that He shared it in His word.

The good pagan’s failure is that she is seeking wisdom within her self. The Christian sister seeks it from the Lord. Good pagan? I’d rather be a depraved but saved sinner. My bookshelf is now filled with Bibles, commentaries, and books on seeking Jesus.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18).

books

 

Posted in bible reading plan, Uncategorized

Bible Reading Plan thoughts: The Howl in Isaiah

Our Bible Reading Plan for today is Isaiah 12-17. The cycle in the Prophets is one of promise of judgment, judgment, repentance, and restoration. Repeat. The judgment parts are rough. In the passage from chapter 13, in the KJV we read,

Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. (Isaiah 13:6)

The promised judgment was coming soon, and it did. This chapter also looks ahead to the final judgment of Babylon in the Day of the LORD as seen in Revelation 18:2. Isaiah 12 was a comforting passage, a song of praise. Then we get to the promise of destruction against that most unholy of cities: Babylon. I read once someone termed the Bible as a tale of Two Cities: Babylon and Jerusalem. They weren’t far off.

Of course, what the cities represent is what it’s all about. Unholiness of Babylon, the world and its systems, and the holiness of Jerusalem, where God has set His name and soon will dwell personally.

Having come to the Lord later in life, I vividly remember being inside the unholy world system and wondering why I felt uncertainty, restlessness, and fear at different times. The specter of death with the unknown beyond will definitely do that to you.

In the KJV the word ‘howl’ made me think of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem called Howl. Its imagery burns into one’s mind with a sulfur strike white hotness emblazoned like a photo negative. It’s an angry poem, raging against the darkness and essentially crying out “Why is it like this? Why?” The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 2:1, Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? and Howl (as are so many poems) is just the pagan version of that scripture.

Ginsberg said some of the imagery in the poem came from a bad peyote trip he’d taken where he saw the apartment building he was staying in morphed into the face of a child-eating demon he later called Moloch.

In the Bible, there really is a child-eating demon-god named Moloch to whom the people sacrificed their children.

Romans 1:18 says that the unrighteous suppress the truth. They are aware of the truth, and despite pressing it down away from consciousness, at some level they connect with it. They detect its convicting tendrils creeping upward from the polluted recesses of their heart, only to be smashed down in howling rage. We see that in Ginsberg’s Howl, and we see it in Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, where Yeats used religious imagery to make his point.

Yeats hadn’t taken a peyote button, but he was heavily involved in occult practices such as calling up demons and channeling and seances and the like. He sought visions, and he got them. So, similar to Ginsberg, the imagery in Yeats’ vision tapped the well of dark truth suppressed deep within his soul. Not comprehending it, the pagans rage. Yeats’ soul seethed and stormed, you can feel that his poem is a bellow into the gaping maw of black eternity, only to be silently swallowed by a dark and depraved infinite, and in the end, pitiful howl making no more noise than an owl’s winged whisper.

In the Isaiah passage today, the LORD promises destruction upon Babylon. Their near future and their far future contain the coming of the LORD in wrath for their unrighteous deeds. He is telling them in advance, ‘Howl, for your destruction is sure!’ This is the end which the pagans rail against. It is the end that all the unrighteous suppress in wickedness, but still lay coiled nasty to spring up and swallow souls whole. Howl, you Babylonians. Wail, you pagans, because justice, knife sharp and cleanly pure, will separate you from this earth with a flick.

fri howl

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Comparing the language and imagery used in various pagan poems.

poempoem 2