Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Reflections on Septuagesima Sunday: Why Authority Trumps Education

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Matthew 7:28-29

Text:
Psalter: Psalms 19
OT: Nehemiah 8:1-10
NT: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
GP: Luke 4:14-21

Education as Salvation

I wish to begin by talking about two differing concepts of education. There is a lot of emphasis on education today, no matter how much the world disagrees on various issues, everyone seems to be virtually united in the infallible value of education. To quote from Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, “Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education.”

Behind this obsession and confidence in the infallibility of education lies the platonic theory of sin and righteousness. According to the platonic theory, people don’t willfully do what is wrong or willfully desire evil. People always choose what they think is good. No one knowingly chooses evil. Thus, how does error or sin or wrong-doing arise? People are simply mistaken as to what is good, true or right. People sin or do wrong because they mistakenly think that what they are doing is good whereas it is not.

So according to the platonic theory, people are simply ignorant. They lack knowledge of what is real goodness or righteousness. So how do you solve evil or sin? You simply educate them! You simply teach what is the good and right and once they know this, they will stop doing wrong and start doing what’s right. Thus, you reason with people and use rationality and wisdom to prove what is right and true, you even demonstrate it to them by being role models to them and let them experience it for themselves. And so by a combination of reasoning, learning and experiencing what is good, true or right, people will know those things and automatically do them.

This theory became very popular during the Enlightenment and their conviction of the fundamental goodness of man, that mankind isn’t really evil or corrupt, but are merely undeveloped and ignorant. Thus all you need is education, education, education and you’ll save the world.

The Fear of the Lord…

Of course as Christians we know this is absolute nonsense. People do not sin because they are ignorant of what is right, they sin because they are rebellious and willful or are lead away by lusts and evil desires which they know is wrong, even after they have experienced what is good, beautiful and right. According to the Christian faith, we call this demonic or spirited willful rebellion and the fundamental corruption of human nature “Original Sin”. And the evil lusts and desires which remains in our flesh is called “concupiscence”.

So now we turn to the proper Christian understanding. In many Christian schools they would often have this motto from Psalms 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” Before there can be knowledge and understanding of what is right, what is true and what is just, there must exist “the fear of the Lord”, that is, there must be primal awe fear and trembling of divine power and mystery, and there must be the disarming of human willfulness and submission to divine authority, and only from this fear and submission before the divine can there arise knowledge, wisdom and learning of what is true, right and good from He who is the Truth, the Right and the Good.

To turn to our text, the Psalmists in 19:9 declares, “The fear of the Lord is clean, and endureth forever.” This primal awe and fear and submission before the Lord our God is “clean”, not only in the sense that it is righteous and good, although it is of course that, but it is “clean” also in the sense that it cleanses and purges our hearts of the wicked will to sin and rebel against God, it cleanses also by overcoming and battling the evil lusts and desires in our hearts.

Yet we might ask, where does this “fear of the Lord” come from? How does it come to us? The clue is in what the Psalmist says in the prior verses, “The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart : the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.”

Thus, fear of the Lord and submission to divine authority comes from the “law of the Lord”, which is undefiled and converts the soul. But why on earth would the “Law of the Lord” convert the soul? Why on earth would we rejoice at the statues of the Lord? We must be careful here lest we go back to the “platonic theory” and talk about how educating people in the law of the Lord and the mere teaching them of true righteousness will automatically turn them into angels because they’ve been seeking for the righteousness all along and will rejoice when it is presented to them and make them do what is right.

The Fulfillment of the Law

To understand therefore by does the law of the Lord and his statues convert the soul and rejoice the heart, we need to turn to our Gospel text. But before we do so, it is important that we have some background to it. In Leviticus 25:8 onward, God gives to Moses the laws concerning the “Year of Jubilee”, where every fifty years, Israel will proclaim liberty throughout the land. Those who out of poverty had sold themselves into servitude would be released and redeemed, those who sold their houses or property out of poverty shall have it returned in the Year of Jubilee. However, this ideal or law was never enacted or carried out in the entire history of Israel.

Thus, when Jesus went to the synagogue and read out the passage by the prophet Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

and then proceed to say, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is basically saying to them, I have come to fulfill the laws concerning the Year of Jubilee, I have come to proclaim that now is the Year of Jubilee, now is the kairos moment when I shall liberate and redeem the captives from the oppression of the world, the flesh and the devil. By what right does he do this, by what authority? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me”. He has been sent by God the Father, the Author and Authority behind the laws themselves, to fulfill the law of jubilee and redeem his people from sin.

Thus, whereas when we confront the law by ourselves, the law of God, far from being good news, judges our sins and condemns us for not fulfilling it. But the law in the hands of Christ, who comes with the authority of God the Father, becomes unto us an occasion of rejoicing and conversion. For the law is indeed good, holy and beneficial. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if everyone obeyed God’s command to love thy neighbour as thyself? But of course, we know that no one fulfills this command perfectly, and worse, we are constantly being beaten over our heads to fulfill this command until we would resent and hate this nag.

However, now comes He who does fulfill it, the Anointed one who came precisely to carry out the law and commands of God. And so now, the law far from becoming hateful to us and a nag, is turned into an occasion of rejoicing, for here is the authority behind of the Law himself, carrying out the gracious redeeming laws of the Jubilee, ultimately obeying the Father’s command to love us and to be gracious to us.

Thus, how does the law of the Lord convert the soul? Why does the statues of the Lord rejoice the heart? By being fulfilled by the Lord himself, because the author of the law himself now manifests the the power and authority of the law in fulfilling it here on earth in Christ, the goodness of the law, the holiness of the law, and the righteousness of the law, is become unto us, our salvation and our redemption and no longer our judge and our condemner, for God himself has fulfilled it for us and brought the benefits of his law to us.

Conclusion

To summarise, God redeems us, not by educating us in the law or teaching us rules and regulations or by beating us over the head with his commands, but by fulfilling the law himself and distributing its benefits to us. God does not redeem us by teaching us about the liberation of the Year of Jubilee and hope that we will find it in the goodness of our hearts to obey this law (wait long long!), he redeems us by doing it himself, by coming down from heaven, subjecting himself in obedience to the law and distributing its benefits to us himself. Fundamentally, he redeems us by simply obeying the two great commandments of God’s commandments, he love God with all his being and he loved his neighbours as himself, namely, we, his fellow neighbours and man, and we poor and miserable sinners.

To conclude, what is the difference between Christ and worldly education? Christ taught, with authority, and not just any authority, divine authority. Not with intellectual worldly learning or profundity or sophistication, but simply by sheer divine authority, simply on the basis that he has come from God, is the Lord of the Sabbath, the author of the laws. And to this divine authority, the Law embodied, the divine obedience personified, God’s love to us, we bow in obedience and submission and acquire the fear of the Lord which cleanses our hearts. And thus the Psalmists says of the law, that it gives wisdom unto the simple, because it is not based on profundity or learning, but on divine authority.

To end with a passage from the Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard,

The question is, after all: Is there an eternal life? The answer: There is an eternal life. What, in heaven’s name, is profound about that? If Christ had not said it, and if Christ was not who He said He was, then if the statement itself is profound, it must be possible to discover its profundity… The decisive thing is not the statement, but the fact that it was Christ who said it; but the confusing thing is that, as though in order to tempt people to believe, they talk about profundity. In order to speak correctly a Christian priest would have to say, quite simply: We have Christ’s word for it that there is an eternal life; and that settles the matter. There is no question here of racking one’s brains or philosophising, but simply that Christ said it, not as a profound thinker but with divine authority… What Plato says on immortality really is profound, reached after deep study; but then poor Plato has no authority whatsoever.

Of the Difference between a Genius and an Apostle

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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