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This past weekend, a college friend lost her 21 year old son very unexpectedly. As the family wrestles with the usual mechanics of a loss, notifying everyone and preparing for the services, there are several things that accentuate the intensity of this time: his youth, the suddenness of his death, their first born, the ‘wrong-ness’ of a parent losing a child, the proximity to Christmas, and so on. I find myself trying to imagine myself in that situation. Has she already gotten his gift(s)? As she picks them up, and it brings fresh waves of sadness over her, what does she do with it? When they steel themselves to go through his things and find the presents he’d gotten for them, with sticky notes on them, saying “Mom” and “Dad,” ready to be wrapped, how do you begin to sort out the tangle of emotions that erupt unbidden from an already shattered heart?
They are going through a particularly brutal kind of hell. Those of us further in space and time from the rawness of the loss are faced with our own questions. Yes, we are mortal, and there are all kinds of theological reasonings for our mortality. We can even discuss how the Fall was God’s Plan A, and mysteriously draw comfort from that—how He was not and is not caught off guard by what we do, but planned for it, just as parents plan flooring and furniture options around the age and messiness of their children. When the mess, accident or violent tantrum happens, the clean up was included in the equation of what setting to live in.
But why grief? Why was that in the equation? When an ant is squashed, the other ants generally just step around it and go on with life, the vacant place filled by another with barely a blip in efficiency. Why does love have to have the negative aspect of grief instead of just the positives, so when Good-Bye happens, we can just move on?
The very fact that we perceive it as evil, and despise it, rather than accepting it as just part of nature—hoof and horn, tooth and claw, is proof that it is unnatural, something other. If we were unable to perceive it as such, we would be truly lost—any belief in God would be merely a fantasy. Just as a fish doesn’t know it is wet, a world where evil was part of the intrinsic fabric of existence would be invisible to us. That we do see it and despise it tells us not only that it is not part of this world’s blueprint, but there is also a Good to which we can aspire and cling.
Indeed, by the same logic, the fact that we see and appreciate beauty, glory, joy, love and the other virtues tells us there is more to the world, and us, than mere survival of the fittest.
But is it mere dualism, just yin and yang, light and dark in an eternal contest, in conflicting balance, with us on the front line between them, with our blood serving as the lubrication of their machinations?
I made a pledge when I began this blog to remain steadfastly apartisan, meaning I would endeavour, to the best of my ability, to favor neither Democrats nor Republicans in my post. I chose my wording carefully, because I did not see a way to remain wholly apolitical. These days, both matters of faith and higher education are highly politicized, and to avoid them when they naturally arise would be irresponsible. Christ was very political in His ministry, but He skewered all parties in His delivery of the truth of the Gospel. I will confess readily that I do not in any way have Christ’s perfect objectivity in the matter, so I know my true perspectives peek out from time to time.
I offer this explanation because from time to time David Theroux of the Independent Institute asks me to cover work of the institute here. If I feel it meets the above criteria, I say yes and do it. If not, then I don’t. Over Spring Break he emailed me about a short video by I.I. Research Fellow Anthony Gregory.
C. S. Lewis is probably the most famous Christian “armchair” philosophers. It is (past) time for both the Christian and non-Christian worlds to learn of and from one of the most eminent professional Christian philosophers, Dr. Alvin Plantinga.
Plantinga over the decades has developed some of the most philosophically rigorous defenses of theism and devastating critiques of naturalism. Chances are you have heard or even used some of his arguments in your apologetics discussions without even knowing it.
David J. Theroux of The Independent Institute (where Plantinga is on one of the Boards of Advisors) has written a wonderful introductory piece honoring Plantinga’s reception of the University of Pittsbrgh’s Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy.
I strongly urge you to read it. In addition to honoring Plantinga, it outlines his major contributions, and offers many good links to books, articles and videos of Plantinga’s work. If you have any interest or concern about the worldview struggles in our culture and want to better understand how to respond to naturalistic attacks on your faith, personally and in the culture, this is required reading.
The plane glided smoothly over the wood boards, birthing perfect curls of shavings. It would be a table fit for a king’s palace, but was crafted for the Levite who led the local synagogue. Sturdy and large enough for feasts and councils, with some adornment of abstract design along the legs and edges, consistent with the prohibition against graven images in Law, yet elegantly simple, it’s artisanry understated.
Twenty-seven year old hands, muscular, with remarkable dexterity, gripped the plane with the confidence of a skilled tradesman. They had gripped tools for nearly all of their days, and formally for fourteen years, since the hands’ owner’s apprenticeship that began after he celebrated his bar mitzvah. At twenty-one he began to cultivate his own style and clients, while still in the family shop.
If all went well, another few months would see him established sufficiently to wed his fiancée. He wondered as he whistled over his work a tune from the synagogue service, where did the fourteen year training period for crafts and trades come from? Did it originate with Father Jacob, who labored fourteen years for his two brides, a week of years for each? If so, why did one these days have to work fourteen years to just get the one wife? Not that he wanted more than one! No, no! He’d observed that one was plenty for most men. He just wished it could be seven for the one, and then get on with life.