Friday, May 28, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Well, a week or so ago I became a political activist. Or, I should say, I have become more active in politics than I have ever been in my life.
Yes, it's true, I have a new lawn ornament with somebody's name in large, bold letters. My wife pointed out that it matches the color of the house, so that's a plus. And I must admit that my activism ranges somewhere between "there's an election?" to "do I have to vote?"
This time around, it's a friend running for state senate, and we happen to live on a well traveled street, and I'm happy to give him some help getting his name out there. And whenever the primary election comes around (turns out it's today), I'll be glad to cast a vote for him.
But two things I would register here. First, one of the things that consistently retards my activism (what there is of it) is the red-cheeked enthusiasts going door to door like evangelists or Jehovah's Witnesses all freaked out about what's going on in DC or Boise. And with quivering voices asking what we shall do if so-and-so gets elected again. When people turn the primary or the election into a gospel-like do or die issue, I start thinking about taking all my signs down (all one of them). At least the JWs and the Christian evangelists are actually talking about what matters (even if the JWs are very wrong). And my point isn't a complaint with going door to door per se, it's more a question of priorities. Real evangelism ought to garner far more enthusiasm than elections.
Secondly, the more I think about it, the more I can't understand how a Christian can run for office and not declare front and center that he/she is a disciple of Jesus Christ and intends to rule and serve in their office as a Christian, an ambassador of the King of the Universe. Some Christian politicians do mention that they are members of such and such Church or that they have helped in their church's youth group, etc. and I appreciate that. But others make no mention of it at all, and their web sites are full of mumbo jumbo about "liberty" and "freedom" and "conservative" and I could really care less. What I want to know is "whose liberty?" "whose freedom?" "conserving what?" Everyone wants liberty and freedom; no one is running on the platform of tyranny and slavery.
Now some of you know that I'm something of a fanboy of Karl Barth (peace be upon him), but this is one of the places where he was just plain wrong. But even here, it was a mix. He lead the charge of the German Churches who stood up to Hitler and wrote the Barmen Declaration which spoke truth to power, and specifically, declared to the civil magistrate in the name of Jesus that the Church would not bow to any other king. Jesus was the Word of God, and all other words in heaven and earth must submit to Him. This was courageous, heroic, and a high water mark of Protestant political theology. But at the same time, Barth would argue that individual Christians ought to serve in politics as "anonymous Christians." They ought to translate Christian morality and virtues into common parlance for their fellow citizens. And I just don't get that. Sure, I realize that some Christians will claim the name of Christ, get elected to office, and then proceed to sleep around with all the secretaries and pageboys. Others will get elected and in the name of Christ establish injustice in the land. But at least in those cases we have all the cards out on the table. A Church that is doing its job will prosecute immorality, correct folly, rebuke insolence, etc.
But I don't know how a Christian could pretend that political party affiliation is more fundamental then allegiance to Jesus. I don't know how a Christian could pretend that he or she is not an ambassador of the Lord Jesus at all times. This would be something like me taking my wedding ring off on a business trip. Oh, I might say in defense, I'm just an anonymous husband. Oh good now we're all relieved and put at ease. For a second there we thought there might be a hint of infidelity.
There will always be husbands who are unfaithful, and they will need to be called on the carpet, rebuked, and prosecuted accordingly. But it's not better for them to perform their infidelity in the dark. It's still infidelity. Or, to flip the analogy around, it's a far greater victory for marriage and marital love for a husband to declare his allegiance and loyalty to his wife than for an "anonymous husband" to declare his allegiance and loyalty to the idea of "marriage". We don't need the idea of marriage praised and honored, we need wives who are loved and cherished and honored. Likewise, we don't need an ooze-fest championing the ideas of liberty and freedom and conservative family values. We need men and women who know and love Jesus and are committed to obeying Him as they serve their neighbors in political office. And this doesn't preclude a broad spectrum of argumentation, having many tools in the toolbox, as Tim Keller suggests here, but I want to start seeing and hearing politicians arguing for their positions and defending them on the basis of God's Word. "We can't kill babies because that's murder, and God says we can't do that." "We can't kick all the immigrants out because the Bible says that we must show hospitality and love to the strangers in our gates." "We can't bomb our enemies just because they're bad; Jesus says we should look for ways to bless our enemies."
Last, it should be clear that when I say I want Christians to serve in political office as Christians, that is not the same thing as wrapping Jesus in an American flag or draping an American flag over the cross. At best, those are just well meaning Christians who know and believe what I'm saying but who don't realize the confusing signals they are sending. At worst it is a terrible mistake, confusing the Christian Church for the United States. At worst, it's a form of political polygamy, while trying to convince both wives that they are really the same woman. Really, just relax.
Anyway, if you want to get me excited, if you really want me to become an activist, I'd suggest that you calmly tell people that you are a Christian, a follower of the crucified and risen Messiah, and that you would like to serve this community in political office by supporting and implementing measures based on the Bible. Of course that probably won't get you elected, and it just might get you assassinated. But hey, I'd be willing to put your sign in my front yard. I'd probably even put up two.
Monday, May 24, 2010
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (Jn. 16:7)
We have just celebrated the Ascension of Jesus ten days ago, and today we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit. But I think it’s easy for these parts of the gospel to be overlooked, even sort of resented by us. How can we celebrate Jesus leaving? And sure, the Spirit is great and all, but we can’t really see the Spirit. We can’t talk to the Spirit quite so directly as the disciples could speak with Jesus. Christmas is wonderful because that is when God appeared to us in human flesh, and Easter is even more wonderful because God overcame death and sin and evil and came back to us in the flesh. And if we had it our way, we would want the story to just stop there. Why couldn’t Jesus just stay here on earth, all resurrected and glorious?
Once when my son and I were talking, he pointed out that it was rather strange that we serve a King that we can’t see. And this is true. It’s true that we can’t see Jesus, and it’s true that this is strange. This is underlined even more starkly at this table. Maybe we don’t think about it consciously, but this is the Lord’s table, the table of the Lord Jesus, and we can’t see Him. He invites us to eat with Him every week, and the dinner host is invisible. If we think about too much, it could be rather depressing or upsetting. It could even cast doubts in our mind about what we’re doing, what we believe. But Jesus says that it is better for Him to go away. It’s better for Jesus to leave so that the Spirit will come. Jesus tells his disciples that this is one of the reasons why He is leaving them. He is departing so that he can send the Spirit to them. Jesus is not here so that the Spirit can be. That almost seems more strange. Why can’t Jesus and the Spirit both be here? The Spirit came down on Jesus at His baptism. They were both here then. Why is it better for Jesus to be in heaven while the Spirit is here with us on earth?
Part of the point seems to be that Jesus wants us to be like Him. When Jesus walked this earth, He had to walk in the power of the Spirit and obey His Father. The Spirit led Jesus, and Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered. Likewise, we must learn to walk in the Spirit obey the Father so we might learn obedience as sons in the Son.
But if this setup is better, this means that it is better at least for the present for us to gather around this table in faith than for Jesus to appear bodily in front of us. It is better for us to be fed with Jesus through this bread and wine than to have Jesus sitting here with us in His human flesh. And this really is comforting. This way is better. So come eat, drink, and rejoice in the Spirit who knits us together through the body and blood of our risen King.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday in which we celebrate and rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The first Pentecost actually occurred long before the book of Acts, long before Jesus was born. The first Pentecost is recorded in Genesis 1 where we read that the Spirit hovered over the waters in anticipation of the great explosion of creation that was about to occur through the Word of God. We might point to the dove hovering over the waters of the flood, carrying in its mouth the olive branch, the sign to Noah and his family that a new creation, a new world was springing forth again from the waters of destruction just like God has said. Later, it was Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, specifically on the fiftieth day after the very first Passover, when God struck the firstborn of Egypt and brought His people through the sea on dry land. There the mountain was covered with fire and the word of God thundered, calling Israel into a new creation, a new life, a new world in covenant with Him. But all of this pointed forward ultimately to the Great Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the last great Passover, when the blood of the lamb of God was shed to take away the sins of the world. God’s people were again delivered but this time from the Egypt of sin and death and every enemy through the resurrection of Jesus. And then He told His disciples to go to the upper room, the new Mount Sinai, to wait for it to burst into flame. And on that Pentecost, the Spirit rushed through the room and lit God’s people on fire, and the Word thundered and the nations came and gathered around to see what was going on. The Spirit has come to finish the work of the Word. The Word came and died and rose again, and the Spirit has come to fulfill the Word, to accomplish the Word. And so we rejoice in this new creation over which the Spirit has hovered for nearly two thousand years. And like Noah it is sometimes easy to be discouraged, to fear that the new world will never emerge. But that first Pentecost the dove appeared and the signs of the new world have been all around us ever since. The gospel goes forth, men, women, and children from every tribe and tongue are forgiven and washed clean. And the signs are everywhere. So worship your King this morning. Worship the risen King, and worship the Spirit of our King who rushes over this world bringing it life, bringing the Word of the Father into being. Worship our Triune God.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Talking with my students in the Omnibus class I teach for Veritas Press, several things connected for me in new and vivid ways.
We like to point out that relativism is incoherent because it must take a stand for the truth of the non-existence of absolute truth. So which is it?
Or, we critique postmodernists who decry global statements, universalizing narratives that seek to explain everything as though we understand or see everything. And to their cries of foul play, we ask them where they got their global narrative decoder goggles enabling them to see and understand the nature of narratives to such a degree to be so sure that our narrative is wrong. Don't wave your universalizing narrative around like that, someone might get hurt.
Culturally, we mock the veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance that, as veneers go, is about as authentic as an angry teenager with pink hair and a hole in his lip showing up to the class party in his mom's minivan. Everyone wants to be all Mayan and Aztecan until someone actually suggests child sacrifice or the need for a beating human heart. Oh, you weren't serious?
My students and I were talking specifically about Marcel Duchamp's famous bit of work entitled Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (pictured here). Here on display in some famous art museum seems to be something of the same caliber as the before mentioned phenomena. Someone, presumably Duchamp or his able assistants, went out to the hardware store and purchased these items or maybe they dug around in a trash can (I don't know). But someone meticulously arranged these items in the glass, thought through how the pane ought to be cracked and splintered and so on. And then set it up all proper like in the art museum for everyone to see.
I'm no artist and there very well may be some artistic interpretation to be done on this work, but it struck me that this is the artistic equivalent of going down to the mall to buy $85 jeans that someone has pre-ripped for you (in all the right places).
One of the questions we pondered was whether this piece of art seemed to emit a sort of hopelessness and despair. And what we concluded is that the piece of art was trying to emit hopelessness and despair but that it was being propped up by a lot of aspiration, hope, and creativity. Real despair wouldn't take the time to put this piece of art together. Authentic hopelessness isn't creative. This angry piece of art has arrived at the party in his mom's minivan.
And this line of reasoning isn't meant to deconstruct all platforms, all truth, or even mom's minivan. The point is to embrace the world that God made and has given, and that would include all the specific things that God has given you and your family. In other words, love your mom.
One of the great dangers with this kind of play acting is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What may begin as only pretending to be hopeless and bitter actually ends up becoming hopeless and bitter. What we act like, who we imitate is what we become.
So, for example, Christian young people who "play" rebellion with their parents by getting huffy in theological throw downs over baptism, paedocommunion, liturgy, clerical collars, and eschatology are in grave danger of tithing mint and cumin and dill, while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like honor your father and mother. It can't come as a surprise that when a 22 year old college student wears his postmillenial eschatology like a lip ring, he ends up with a real one in a few years. Or when the kid disrespects his mother in defense of the pastor wearing a clerical collar, why would we be surprised that he ends up Roman Catholic and a few years later is a Muslim?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Lawrence Besserman writes that one widespread practice in the middle ages was the veneration of Job as the patron saint of those who suffered from worms, various skin diseases, venereal disease, and melancholy. In fact, if one wanted, one might find a number of Latin and German charms against worms, in which Saint Job is invoked.
And somewhat mysteriously, Job was also the patron saint of musicians. Figure that one out.
Monday, May 17, 2010
The fruit of the Spirit is love. God is love. “Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” “By this we know love that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Love dies for the benefit of others. But this looks foolish. Love looks like it’s losing what it desires. When Jesus died on the cross, He did not appear to the disciples or to most folks like he was conquering sin and death and entering into His glory. He was mocked as the king of the Jews, but it didn’t appear to most that He was actually in the process of becoming the king of the world. Because love dies, love looks foolish, and love looks like it’s turning away from the very thing it’s seeking. And this is the wisdom of love.
Love is not a mere feeling, a heart throbbing, an emotional pleasure. Love is a kind of wisdom, a way of knowing, a way of understanding the world rightly. Love knows that God has made the world like a poem, like a riddle. God has made the world for children, children who love games and puzzles, and love to find that things are not exactly as they seem.
Baptism, Paul says, is burial. Baptism is a death. The Spirit is the love song of God, the music of the Trinity. And the Spirit wants to teach us to sing the song of the Father and the Son. He wants us to learn their love. St. Augustine said that the Spirit was their bond of love. And so we begin our Christian lives in the Spirit’s song of love by dying, by being drawn into the death of Jesus. But the death of Jesus is not suicide. This is no cult. The grave of Jesus was not as it seemed. The tomb of Christ was empty on the third day.
In other words, love is a kind of exegesis. When Jesus talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He rebuked them for being so slow to believe all that the Scriptures taught concerning the Messiah who was to suffer and then rise again. The disciples had read their Bibles too woodenly. They read their Bibles like someone who doesn’t get a joke. They heard the words, they read the words, but they didn’t see the point, they didn’t get it. And this is fundamentally a failure of love.
Love is like faith in that sees more than merely what is there to be seen. Love sees what is unseen. Love knows, love understands in deeper ways than simple facts. Love lays down its life. Love is God the Son dying for us. Love is losing in order to win. Love is serving in order to rule. Love is dying in order to live. If death and resurrection is the theme, the climax, the chiastic center of all time and space, then everything else echoes that theme. Things are not as they seem. Words are more than they say.
And the whole world turns into a poem and a riddle. The whole world becomes magical. Stars are not just stars; they are rulers and angels and powers. And trees are figures of men and women, blessed and fruitful or old, bitter, and gnarled. And water might become wine. It might cleanse lepers. It might hold you up if you step out onto it. It teems with life and healing and salvation.
So, Joel and Mary, as you raise up Louella. Teach her about the magic of the world, and most importantly, the magic of love, how love dies in order to live. But teach her about how love sees the world, and sees the love of God in everything in the world. Teach her to see Jesus in the sunsets, see Jesus in the stars, see Jesus in kangaroos and teeth and starfish. Teach her to see His grace in everything so that she gets the joke, so that she can laugh in hope, and face every pain in faith. One of the most important ways you teach children to love, is by loving them and setting an example of love. Your love for one another is huge. Your love of God’s word, God’s creation, God’s people, and your love of the gifts God has given you – all of these loves are opportunities to walk in love so that Louella will grow up never knowing anything different, so that she will grow up in the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Pastor Leithart has encouraged us to extend this reality into our families. We are called to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in all that we do in our homes. One of the central ways that we ought to extend this reality into our homes is by copying what we do here at this table in faith. The Lord has made us family. We gather here around this table as brothers and sisters, as children of God, sons in the Son, united by the Spirit. And God feeds us here at His table week after week. But how does He feed us? He doesn’t just shove bread at us and tell us to eat the stupid bread. He doesn’t peer out at all of us and criticize all of our weaknesses. He doesn’t snap at us or gripe at us. His table is not characterized by grumpiness and crankiness. His table is characterized by thankfulness and giving and joy. He gives us bread that is his own flesh pierced for us. He gives us wine that is His own blood shed for us. And He does it cheerfully, thankfully, in love. And we can’t even fathom the depths of this love. We’re all little kids at this table, looking around wide-eyed, easily distracted, dropping crumbs on the floor. And God rejoices over us. We come here with dirt on our hands and faces. We come here distracted and ignorant. And God sits down with us and loves us. And of course, God corrects us. He does on occasion rebuke and exhort. But the tone of this meal is joy and thankfulness and love. This is the life of the Spirit here, and you do not cease to be God’s family when you go out into your own homes. Because you are God’s family here, you continue to be God’s family out there. And you cannot eat here and be fed with grace and joy and thankfulness, and then go out there and serve up griping and criticism and anger. God says, “See how I love you here? Go and do likewise. See how I bless you here? Go and do likewise.” And fathers in particular must lead in this way. It won’t do to sit down at the table and yell at everybody, “now we’re going to be thankful and happy!” God doesn’t beat us over the head with His grace. God feeds us with His grace. So come to this table and watch and listen, eat and drink and rejoice, and look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Look to Jesus, cling to Jesus, and hope in His grace to live out this grace in your homes, with your parents, with your children, with your spouse and roommates and neighbors.
Ever since sin entered the world, God’s people have struggled to understand how to interact with those who do not walk in the light. The sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men, and God sent the flood. While Israel was in the wilderness, the men took a liking to the Moabite girls, and when they were invited over for dinner and a sacrifice, idolatry ensued. And God struck down twenty-four thousand in a plague which did not end until Phinehas took a javelin and struck down one Israel man and his new Midianite girlfriend. The sin of intermarrying continued to plague Israel down through the centuries, though God commanded Israel to break down the Canaanite altars, dash in pieces their pillars, and chop down their images and burn them with fire.
Gideon was one exception, a man filled with the Spirit, though it made a bunch of people mad when he and his buddies took down one of Baal’s shrines one night. But Paul’s exhortation was the point then as much as it is today, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Or James who condemns his audience, calling them “adulterers and adultressess” – “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God?” James says that the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously.
The Spirit is God’s love for us, but like fools, we treat the Spirit cheaply. Rather than cultivating a fierce loyalty and love for God and His people, many Christian young people just try to see how close they can get to Moab before they get struck with a plague. It’s not pornography; it’s art. Sure, the lyrics are pretty scary, but she really is a great musician. It’s not the story I’m into so much as the acting. I’m sure there was at least one Israelite teenager pleading with his dad: It’s not the Moabites I’m into, it’s just the music that’s pretty sweet.
But the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously. And when we ask the questions: who is your God, who are your people? Many other questions clear up pretty quickly. And this isn’t an argument for monasticism, swearing off everything that the world does or produces. The point is loyalty to the God who saved you, loyalty to His Spirit, and this loyalty drives us to conquest. Which shrine of Baal are you and your friends planning to take down next?
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Speaking of the writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anthony Esolen writes:
"Hopkins asserted with great ardor that man could approach his Lord by the inconsiderable trifles of the world, a love for irises and moths and falcons... Knowledge is everywhere to be be gleaned but only by those who love. The fault line severs those who can read the signs, often in the most unexpected places, from those who cannot because their love does not beat warmly enough... But if our hearts are open, we will see. Then it will be as if the veil of creation had been torn in two. We will not see beyond creation, leaving it behind in disdain, but into creation... We will see even unto the dangerous and loving Creator who awaits within and beside and beyond. God is no mere object of love, but the Lover who will tear through cloud and sky to grip the heart of man."
-Anthony Esolen, Ironies of Faith, 308-309.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
"The modern habit of saying, 'This is my opinion, but I may be wrong,' is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong, I say that it is not my opinion. The modern habit of saying, 'Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me' - the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more posses a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon."
G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to the Book of Job
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Repentance and confession of sin is hard. It hurts, it's embarrassing, it's awkward and shameful. Sometimes, people have ignored the sins, hoping they would just go away by themselves. Frequently there have been lies -- both to self and to others -- in order to cope, in order to pretend the pain wasn't there. We manufacture ways of pretending the guilt isn't there.
But it's still there. It haunts us. It hangs down on us. It colors days, nights, weeks, months, years. When the Lord's hand is heavy upon us, there's no peace.
And to live like this is to live like ordinary human beings. Normal people descended from Adam live like this, and they think it strange that we make a big deal about it. Why stress about sin and guilt? Lots of pain, lots of hurt, why not just make the best of hard circumstances? And with a bit of creativity, a few more lies, a hard heart and a stiff upper lip, people can get by. They compensate for the pain and guilt in a million ways, and they do get by.
But there's nothing exceptional about getting by. There's nothing really surprising, nothing astonishing about compensating for sin, making up for failures, coping with guilt. That's all normal, ordinary, and average. And the Christian faith is not interested in helping people cope. The gospel is not interested in helping people do ordinary human things.
Jesus died and rose again and poured out His Spirit upon all flesh in order to remake humanity, in order to raise the sons of earth, in order that a new humanity might emerge empowered by the Spirit. And this new way of being human is not satisfied with the status quo, is not content to live life coping, limping, and bracing. This new way of living is at war with all sin and guilt and evil, and the great weapon we have been granted is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God which identifies sin, locates it, and then teaches us how to eradicate it. And the Bible calls this warfare repentance.
And this looks crazy. The cross of Christ has always appeared foolish to the world. The cross of Christ is the way of self-denial, the way of humiliation, the way of confession, the way of forgiveness. And it looks and feels like dying, and it is a form of dying. But it is the power of God on display. When Christians repent, when they confess their sins, when they own their faults, their lies, their lust, their immorality, and confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, God forgives them and their sins are washed away.
What looks like folly and what feels awkward and painful (and it is) is simultaneously a wonderful, overflowing glory.
Normal people don't confess their sins. Ordinary human beings don't ask for forgiveness for lies and treachery that no one will ever find out about. Normal people don't do that. But the Spirit isn't for coping; the Spirit isn't a crutch. The Spirit explodes the old ways of doing life, and He empowers people to repent. The Spirit empowers new life. And this new way of being human is far more exotic than walking on water, even more dangerous than calling plagues down on a world dominating empire. This new way of being human is entrusted with the sacred task of doing battle with evil itself. And in the power of the Spirit, with the sword of the Spirit, men and women rip into their own souls, tearing out the old man, tearing out the old cancerous sin.
And that takes courage, that takes guts, and more than that, it takes the new, resurrected life of God in us. But it is glorious. When men and women confess their sins and repent down to the ground, it is like a fireworks display, like a surging army with banners, terrible and grim. Every act of repentance is another earthquake shaking down the old creation, and another ray of sun, the new creation bursting through the shadows.
And that's why God rejoices more over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Lk. 15:7-10). There is a roar of gladness and joy in the presence of God when sinners repent, and the world is a little newer every time the words, "please forgive me," are spoken in sincerity and truth.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
It's not particularly hard to grow weary in parenting. Children can seem slow to learn the lessons we teach them over and over and over. How many times have I told you...? And when the kids are young it can seem like they'll never grow up. I imagine parents of older children can feel similar distress, only more intense as they realize the time they have is short. Most of the cement is hardened by high school, and there's not a lot left to be done. Of course there are still important responsibilities, but many parents panic as they see sin and weakness in their children. When they're young it looks like they'll never grow out of their sins, and when they're older it looks like they in fact haven't.
Of course sometimes this is because parents aren't/haven't been faithful. They haven't obeyed the Lord in correcting their sons and daughters, they haven't prayed for them faithfully, and they haven't loved and rejoiced over them. And then they reap what they have sown.
But then there are many faithful parents who still fear the outcome of their children. They toil, they correct, they love, they sacrifice, they pray, they die for their children and expectantly wait, looking for the fruit of their labors. And after slaving in the sun for six years it doesn't look like there's much to show for it. After fifteen years, it can look even more worrisome. All he cares about are dinosaurs and swords when he's six, and now that he's sixteen it's only sports and movies. Where's the spiritual fruit? Where's the devotion to Christ?
But there are at least two points we should make. First, parents should beware of cookie-cutter piety expectations. In other words, what does heartfelt piety look like in a six year old boy versus a six year old girl? What does piety look like in a fifteen year old girl and a fifteen year old boy? Of course worship and prayer and scripture should be central, but we shouldn't shy away from teaching and looking for faithfulness in whatever area our children are into. If it's dinosaurs, you can talk about science and faith, creation and evolution, miracles and magic, mythology and Scripture, Moses and Darwin. If they're into sports and movies, you can talk about courage, loyalty, hard work, discipline, self-control, stories, and virtue. There may be great piety in a sixteen year old boy who refuses to return trash talk to an opposing player, but overbearing parents only see "sports obsession" and miss the fruit of the Spirit. There may be great virtue in a six year old boy who stands up to his classmates insisting the dragons and unicorns are real, and that modern science is mythological bunk, but a faithless parent can only think of the fact that he cries too easily when he's injured. Of course, the flaws and weaknesses should be prayed for and addressed diligently, but not in such a way as to crush the seedling faithfulness in our children.
And this leads into the second point which is that parents always lead most effectively by example. Children grow up to be like their parents. And parents who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the "to do" list for their kids are still training them. When parents are constantly discouraged at the apparent lack of progress and spiritual maturity in their children, one of the lessons they are teaching is discouragement. Again, there is a place for expressing disappointment for failures; there is a place for teaching, correcting, rebuking, etc. But we want to make sure that this is well balanced with thick, double helping portions of love and delight in the progress of our children.
We have a few bare patches of dirt in our yard, and I planted some grass seed this Spring. But it's been cold here and very slow in sprouting. The other day I was out with my son, and he very helpfully made a sign to stick into the yard by one of the dry patches. The sign is a piece of paper with a kindergartener's scrawl taped to a stick. The sign says (in green crayon letters) "Grass." I called over to him and asked if there was any new grass sprouting yet, and he said "no." I walked over to see his sign and to lament the persistence of the bare patches in the lawn, and at first glance, it certainly appeared that he was right. It all looked like caked, dark brown dirt, like it has for months. But I knelt down and looked a little closer, and I suddenly saw a tiny patch of angel hair sprouts in a tiny section of the bald patch, no larger than a quarter. I pointed it out to my son, and we celebrated our gardening miracle together with expressions of admiration and amazement all mixed together. But as we stared at that little tuft of ten or fifteen slender hairs of grass, we spotted another microscopic forest a few inches away and then another and another. They were tiny, and it would have been easy to miss them. In fact, standing up, I couldn't really see them at all but perhaps for a faint greenish tint, smudging the dirt here and there. I might have easily glanced at the dirt, concluded there was nothing there and walked away discouraged, disheartened, or dejected.
And parenting is that way. We can scrape and labor and teach and discipline for weeks, months, years, and with a glance at the landscape conclude that there is nothing growing. But when we think there is nothing growing and we grow frustrated, that can have adverse effects on our view of the ground and how we treat it. But if we peer more closely and see the tiny fruit, the seedling faithfulness just breaking the surface, it suddenly sends us into joyful tending mode. I suddenly become far more protective of those little bald patches of dirt. And that's how we should feel about our children. There are hard cases, and there are seasons of famine and barrenness. But faith looks to the promises of God, obeys His word, and then looks closely for the little signs of God's blessing. And faith rejoices in even one, tiny sprout of life. And that joy is efficacious, for them and for you. Frequently, we when we find one tiny sprout of faithfulness, we may suddenly become aware of another and another and another. And faith sees God'd provision and faithfulness and looks to Him for more.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Unity is a challenging thing, and it is challenging because it always implies difference. Similarity is familiar and seems safe, but difference is unfamiliar and can seem threatening. The wisdom of this world prefers parties, clubs, and highly defined uniformity. But the wisdom of God is the foolishness of men. The wisdom of God builds the new temple of God in the power of the Spirit.
The text: 1 Cor. 3:1-23: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ…”
Carnal and Spiritual
Paul laments that the Corinthians are not yet ready for “solid food” because they are still babes in Christ (3:1-2). Paul wishes he could speak to them as “spiritual people” – as people who have begun to search the deep things of God through the Holy Spirit (2:10-16). The milk of the gospel is unity in Christ, but they are still full of envy, strife, and divisions (3:3). They are still acting like “mere men.” This carnal wisdom is specifically evidenced in their denominational rivalry (3:4). Paul says that he and Apollos played roles in the gospel coming to Corinth, but he emphasizes that it was what the “Lord gave” (3:5), “God gave the increase” (3:6), and “God who gives the increase” (3:7). This doesn’t mean that the labors and gifts of people are irrelevant (3:8), but he insists that ministers are “fellow workers” of God in His field, in His building (3:9).
Wise Master Builder
Paul says that he was given grace to be a wise “master builder” (3:10). This is the Greek root for the English word “architect” and the same word used in the Septuagint to describe the work of Bezalel and Aholiab (Ex. 31:4, 35:32, 35:35, 37:21). Paul implies that he is like Bezalel and Apollos is like Aholiab. They have both been given the same Spirit to build the temple of God. But as Bezalel and Aholiab witnessed after the completion of the tabernacle, God’s Spirit comes to dwell in His house (Ex. 40:34-38). But Paul knows that this doesn’t mean that everything every pastor or teacher does or says will prove to be valuable (3:10-12). Each one’s work will be tested with fire (3:13-14). The reason some people’s work will be destroyed while they themselves are saved “through fire” is because the Spirit of God is the fire of God (3:16, cf. Acts 2). The Spirit tests, the Spirit destroys, the Spirit holds the temple together, whose temple you are (3:17).
No Boast in Men
This is why Paul insists that it is silly to think we’ve figured out how this whole thing works (3:18). The church is built and held together by the wisdom of God not the wisdom of men (3:19-20). God’s people do not hold the Spirit; the Spirit holds God’s people (3:21). This is why we have nothing of ourselves and absolutely everything in Christ (3:21). In the Spirit, we are called to know Christ, to search the deep things of God, to be taught by the Spirit (2:10-16) until we are absolutely certain that mere men are powerless, but the power of God holds us and all things together (3:22-23).
Applications & Conclusions
Unity requires difference. But there is significant difference between difference and deviance. After confessing that this is all the power of God and the working of the Spirit, Paul will charge up the hill and begin attacking the sins in the church of Corinth (ch. 5-11). Tumors must be removed from the body of Christ. But after condemning those sins, Paul anticipates a reaction to the deviance which is an overcorrection toward uniformity which is not at all the style of the Spirit (ch. 12-15).
The Spirit holds the Church together. This is why Paul jumps up and down on the power of God and the Spirit of God (1:17-18, 24-25, 2:4-5). The kingdom of God is not in word but in power (4:20). This means that we should have moments when we feel the impossibility of the church. People who should not ordinarily get along are getting along. And if we don’t have those feelings, we should wonder if the Spirit is with us. But when the wheels leave the ground, and we know we can’t fly, then we know that it is the Spirit who holds us.
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul says that he preaches the cross not because it’s a particularly winsome strategy (it actually sounds like foolishness to those who are perishing), rather he preaches the cross because it is the power of God. Paul says that being in the church means witnessing the power of God. He specifically applies this to Jews and Gentiles, people that did not (should not) usually get along. Paul says this is the wisdom of God because God thinks it’s a good idea (that it will work), and it’s the power of God on display because He will bring it about. Only God can hold these sorts of people together in love in the same room. Paul goes on to emphasize that this is all because of the Spirit of God. He says he came not with persuasive words but in demonstration of the Spirit and power. He says that this is the way God does His work in the church so that our faith will not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. This can sometimes be more apparent in small churches or churches with huge controversies, but the church is created and sustained by the power of the Spirit. Gordon Fee has pointed out that this is not like states or schools or the Elks club or 4H where there are human reasons for why those people come together and are friends. Being in the church should feel something like a ride at a carnival or worse. Or another way to ask the question is where is the power of God being exhibited? Why has that family stayed? They’re so different. Why do those two people get along? Why doesn’t half the church just leave? Of course we walk by faith, and we love one another. But there should always be some part of us that feels the centripetal force. And this applies to church discipline, to bold preaching, and to a right view of diversity within the church. When the wheels come off the tracks from time to time, we are reminded that the Spirit is the One holding this together. The kingdom of God is not in word but in power. So rejoice as we eat and drink together. Rejoice as the Lord knits us into one. But also rejoice in the ride, rejoice in the power of God. Rejoice in the fact that this thing, the Church, is God’s work, His project, and it’s His Spirit feeding us, nourishing us, and holding us all together.
In Romans 13, Paul writes, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
One of the lusts of the flesh is pride: self-lust. And one of the heinous ways that pride rears its ugly head is in refusing to receive the forgiveness offered in Christ. Forgiveness is not like a request that takes time for God to process. There is no paperwork, there is no waiting period. There is no background check. No references are necessary. God knows us; He knows our sin. But forgiveness isn’t a decision on the part of God. Forgiveness is an act. It is an act that has already occurred. That act is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When Jesus was nailed to the tree on Calvary, the sins of the world were loaded onto Him. Your bitterness, your lusts, your anger, your selfishness, your pride, your lies, your treachery was all laid on Him. And then He died, and the silence that followed the death of Christ was the only waiting period there was. That silence, that waiting was the only time we waited to hear what God would say. But early in the morning on the first day of the week, God spoke a new creation into being. God shouted a new light out of the darkness, and the word that He spoke was the word “live.”
And when Jesus burst out of the tomb, that was for the forgiveness of the world. Jesus was handed over for our offenses and He was raised for our justification. And now the message of the gospel, the good news that Christians have proclaimed for centuries are the three words we began this service with: Christ is risen. That is the new light that has burst into the world. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. He is the light that lightens every man. When we come before God, and we know our sins, we know our failures, we know our weakness, and our regrets and guilt is piled high, but God does not wait. God does not think about it. The answer is simple. The answer is the empty tomb. God says, “live.” So confess your doubt as sin and put it away. Confess your prideful unbelief and put it away. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Put on the resurrected one. Put on the justified one. Put on your forgiveness.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Should Christian college students smoke cigarettes?
First, we should clarify that this issue is one of wisdom. God has not declared cigarettes sinful and therefore neither should we. And in principle this also means that cigarettes may be smoked to the glory of God.
But the question is should Christian young people smoke cigarettes? Is it a good idea? Is it wise?
There are at least two biblical principles that we ought to consider when we ask this question, and they come under the headings of authority and love.
First, it must be recognized that for better or worse the symbol of smoking cigarettes has become a fairly universal symbol in North America of rebellion. This does not mean that everyone who smokes cigarettes is in rebellion, but it is a fairly wide spread symbol of rebellion. From the hippies to the rock stars to the frat boys, the symbol is a slightly more subtle version of the middle finger to authority.
Now there was a time when smoking cigarettes was far more culturally acceptable. And I can imagine a time in which Christian families gathered around after dinner for post meal smokes somewhat like how many of us will have coffee or tea after dinner today. Maybe my perception of that era is distorted, but the point still stands. I can imagine a Christian culture where smoking (in moderation) is an acceptable social pastime. In such a culture, kids could grow up and share an occasional smoke with their parents and grandparents and neighbors and everyone was in fellowship and could do it all to the glory of God.
And maybe, just maybe, postmillenially speaking such a culture will emerge in a thousand years. But the way to building such a Christian culture is not through Christian teenagers and college students telling their parents where to stick it.
And that brings us to the point about authority. One of the most helpful questions to ask when deciding whether it is a good idea to smoke cigarettes is the question: what do your parents think? I suppose there are probably a few Christian families here and there and various subcultures where smoking is still relatively acceptable. Well, good for them. But for lots of us who have grown up over the last few decades, the frowns and grimaces and sideways glances are not, I can assure you, repressed feelings of approval.
The entire weight of the Scriptures is not, "Children, just don't make your parents really mad." But we read it that way sometimes, and as long as mom isn't hyperventilating and dad hasn't exploded and called the elders, we shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves it must not be a big deal. They're only a little mad, we assure ourselves piously.
But honoring parents is not merely passive. Disobedience does not merely come in the form of sins of commission (doing what they have expressly forbidden). Dishonor and disobedience also come in the form of sins of omission. We can dishonor our parents by not actively bestowing honor, for not looking for ways to bless them, for not looking for ways to please them. If you asked them, "Is there anything that I'm doing, that you wish I would stop?" -- would smoking be on the list? Then drop it. Even if they're wrong, it should be an easy, black and white decision. Our job as young people is to honor our parents, to pile up honor and blessing for them.
And related to this would be the fact that our "father and mother" include all those in authority over us. If 9 out of 10 of your elders, pastors, and teachers would frown at it, why do it? Aren't we called to love? And love not only covers multitudes of sins, it looks for ways to die for others. Ordinarily, in our culture, cigarettes are self-serving and the only other people thankful for your indulgence are your friends who also know deep down (or not so deep down) that dad would really not be pleased with this. Is that love?
And so moving right into the second principle, the principle of love, Paul said that meat offered to idols is clean, and Christians were free to eat it but if he knew his doing so would cause a brother to stumble he would rather be a vegetarian than eat prime rib offered to Athena. The principle is that we should be willing to give up lots and lots for the unity of the body.
So you confess that you believe in the communion of saints? But which communion are you talking about? If you're talking about the body that you gather with week after week to worship with, how do they like those smokes? And shrugging your shoulders and saying that no one has ever said anything to you about it, doesn't mean it's not a problem, it just means that you have brothers and sisters who are more polite than you.
Two last thoughts: I write all of this somewhat autobiographically. These are convictions that I have come to over time, but which I did not always recognize or practice. And in the grand scheme of things, I really don't think this is a hill to die on in either direction. I don't think elders and pastors ought to have campaigns to eliminate all the twenty year old cigarette smokers from their congregations. And I know good, upstanding Christians who smoke. God bless them. But neither do I think that young people should make this their own pet campaign either, even if privately with their close friends back behind Bucers or Starbucks. I do believe that the next generation of Christians ought to look for ways to improve upon their elders, but do we really want to claim that the next great reformation will be in the form of Camels and Marlboros?
My advice: Don't be a crank or a whiner, but look for ways to love and bless the body of Christ. Ask your parents what they think, and look forward to listening to them, following their example, and be hungry to find ways to die to yourself in order to love and honor them. And my guess is that there are many people who already know what their parents think and have some repenting to do.
Monday, May 03, 2010
This is ordinary bread and wine. It was made with human hands that will one day be dust in a grave. There is no power in these elements of themselves. But we confess what God says happens at this table, at this meal. Here, when this bread is taken, when we give thanks for it, break it, distribute it and eat it, we confess and believe that Holy Spirit feeds us with the crucified and risen flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when this wine has been taken, when we give thanks for it, distribute it and drink it, the Holy Spirit feeds us with the blood of Jesus Christ for our joy and life and salvation. But what we do here is a microcosm of what we do everywhere. Man does not live by bread alone. In parenting, we take our ordinary hands, ordinary words, ordinary hugs, ordinary spanks, ordinary laughter, ordinary love, and we confess that the Holy Spirit turns those ordinary elements into grace that we cannot fathom. In other words, the ordinary is not as ordinary as we often think. The ordinary is actually bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. As we offer up our lives, our children, our parenting, our families, all that we are – as we offer them up in thanksgiving and then go about our normal tasks in faith, God promises to take these ordinary things and glorify them, transfigure them into glories that we cannot imagine. But this doesn’t mean then that it doesn’t matter what we do as parents or children or siblings. Shall we sin that grace may abound? Real labor went into these gifts of bread and wine. Someone kneaded flower, smashed grapes, formed and bottled. And it’s not like we do our part and God does His, it isn’t an 80/20 deal or a 90/10. It’s all grace, but there’s grace even in the grace. Just when you thought you had reached the bottom of God’s goodness you find another galaxy of grace in the same place. God gives us hands and feet, mouths and eyes, all gifts, all grace, ordinary grace. But there’s more grace in the grace; it’s bigger on the inside because the Spirit always makes room for more. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice, and trust the Spirit to work in and through this meal and then to follow you out into your lives.
As Pastor Leithart continues his series on parenting in the Spirit, we should take care that we are preparing ourselves rightly. It is perilously easy to hear sermons on family living and parenting and to become discouraged or disillusioned. There are no perfect parents here, and all have fallen short of the glory of God. And children are particularly dear to us; failing in parenting can cut in particularly sharp and painful ways. But God does not call us to obedience and faithfulness as a coercive and tyrannical dictator. God is not harsh and maniacal. He does not call us to faithfulness and then laugh at us when we fall down. God is a faithful and loving Father. And God our Father has loved us with an everlasting love, a love that sent the Son into the world, a love that gave His only begotten Son to bleed and die for the sins of the world, a love poured out for the sins of parents who fail.
There are those parents who hear this good news, are relieved that maybe it’s not as bad as they thought, and then continue to wreck their families and ungratefully despise the gifts of God.
But there are other parents who are truly cut to the heart by their weakness and failings, and who honestly confess their failings and short comings to God. These parents are and will be forgiven. And this forgiveness is not mere relief, though it is absolutely freeing. This forgiveness rejoices in the grace of God. This forgiven parent knows that walking in the Spirit and parenting in the Spirit is a bit like walking a tight rope over the Grand Canyon.
But faith believes the promises of God. Faith looks to Jesus and to the loving Father who raised Him from the dead. And when this same God says that the promise of forgiveness is for you and for your children, your job is to believe this. Believe it because Jesus is alive. Believe it because Christ is risen. Believe that there is grace for you. And know that you can only walk in the Spirit as you are standing in the grace of forgiveness.
Proverbs 28:19: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.”
This is a near quotation of Prov. 12:11.
This proverb is tied together by the repetition of the main verb, to be satisfied or full. One kind of action results in fullness of bread, and another kind of action results in a fullness of poverty. And a “fullness of poverty” is a striking and ironic image.
“Working the land” is reminiscent of Genesis 2-3. Adam was originally placed in the garden to “work” it (2:5, 15). And in the curses for his sin, the ground is cursed and Adam is told that he will have to toil to eat anything from it. Adam followed worthless/empty things when he listened to the voice of his wife and disobeyed God. Thus, he and the ground he was taken from were cursed, and he was filled with poverty.
Adam was sent out of the garden to work the ground he was taken from (3:23), but where Adam is cursed with hard toil, Cain is cursed with the promise that the ground will not give its strength to him (4:12). From these early episodes, it is clear that poverty is not merely lack of material goods. Poverty has everything to do with estrangement from God and from His blessing on our labors. Cain may have been a very hard worker, but the curse of God promises poverty.
Another way of looking at this proverb is as a promise for the renewal of creation. The original creation scene suggests that God Himself was the original “worker” of the ground. God worked/tilled the ground, and out of the ground He formed animals and plants and ultimately Adam. God causes good things to come up from the ground. This was Adam’s original mandate and part of his image bearing. He was called to imitate God’s work in creation.
This proverb suggests that the image of God is being renewed. Working the ground will produce plenty again. Perhaps this is bound up with another meaning of the word “work.” The word can and frequently does mean “serve.” The word becomes particularly significance in the Exodus narrative. Pharaoh makes Israel serve him, but Yahweh comes for His people so that they may serve Him (Ex. 1:13-14, 3:13, 4:23). And the Israelites begin their service of Yahweh in the Passover (Ex. 13:5) and it ultimately takes place in the worship of God in the tabernacle (Num. 3:7-8, 4:23-47).
It’s after the Exodus that God explicitly says “You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you.” (Ex. 23:25) The covenant rescue and love of God is beginning to turn back the curse. This was to be constantly pictured in the tabernacle with the Levites and Priests who “served” or “worked,” offering the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God (Lev. 21:6).
28:20: “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
The Proverbs have previously warned against “haste” as a sure method of falling into sin and getting lost (Pr. 19:2). Likewise, “haste” is a sure recipe for poverty (Pr. 21:5). The Proverbs go so far as to say that a man who is hasty in his words is worse off than a fool (Pr. 29:20).
Following the last proverb, this one distinguishes between different kinds of diligence, different sorts of “work.” Abundance and blessing comes to the man who works “faithfully.” Haste can seem like hard work and sometimes looks like diligence. But as the previous proverbs have warned, it is frequently a high-handed sort of folly.
“Faithful” means steady or truthful. Moses hands are held up by Aaron and Hur and made “steady” (Ex. 17:12). God is faithful like a “rock” (Dt. 32:4). Repeatedly, God is described as truthful and faithful. He keeps His promises and saves and defends His people (e.g. Ps. 89, 96:13, 98:3).
He who hastens to get rich will “not go unpunished.” The word for “unpunished” means “free” or “innocent.” He who takes the name of God in vain will not be “guiltless” (Ex. 20:7, Dt. 5:11). God shows mercy to thousands who fear Him, but He by no means will “clear” the guilty (Ex. 34:7, Num. 14:18). The word is used again in Numbers 5 to describe the jealousy rite for the husband who suspects his wife of infidelity (cf. Pr. 6:29. The word is also used in a few contexts with regard to loyalty to the king/nation (1 Sam. 26:9, 1 Kg. 2:9). All of this seems to indicate a kind of treachery, a guilt specifically of covenant breaking, betrayal.
This fits with the previous part of the proverb. A faithful man imitates God’s covenant faithfulness. But a greedy and hasty man is a covenant breaker. And this leads us back to the previous proverb and the point about poverty having to do with one’s standing before God. A man who just scrapes the ground and digs everywhere looking for treasure will ordinarily find nothing because he does not know or want to believe that God’s blessing is necessary for success. The man who seeks God and imitates His faithfulness will find that the earth produces blessings.
28:21: “To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.”
Literally, to show partiality is to “regard/recognize faces.” Isaac did not “recognize/regard” Jacob (Gen. 27:23). Later Jacob identifies Joseph’s robe by recognizing it (Gen. 37:33). But regarding or recognizing faces is not good because it distorts justice (Dt. 1:17, 16:19). Someone’s reputation or one’s own reputation before that person’s face can lead people to judge wrongly. Bribes can be implicit (reputation) as well as explicit (a bribe). And perhaps this proverb points to how little it can sometimes take for a decision to waver. Partiality in judging is not good (Pr. 24:23).
Waltke suggests that this proverb should be understood in a parallel way to Pr. 6:26 where a prostitute reduces a man to a “piece of bread.” And the thought may be that the prostitute is actually fairly cheap (see ESV), and it is that very cheapness that reduces the man’s worth. The word for man in this proverb is gever which is related to the word givor which means “mighty man.” This is a man who is strong enough to work the ground and under the blessing of God cause it to produce fruit. But instead of an honest wage, a man may take a bribe for a crust of bread.
Not only can the verb mean recognize, but in some forms it means to be “unrecognized” or “foreign/stranger” (Gen. 17:12). In Dt. 32:27 the meanings seem to converge when Moses sings about how God would have destroyed Israel except for what their enemies would have thought. They would have “misunderstood” or as the KJV puts it “behave themselves strangely.”
This ambiguity points to the fact that in some sense justice must always be done by both recognizing faces and not recognizing faces. There is a proximity and distance necessary to execute justice. And absolute objectivity is simply impossible.
The law forbids “sons of a foreigner” from eating the Passover (Ex. 12:43). Neither may Israelites bring animals for sacrifice which they have purchased from a son of foreigner or stranger (Lev. 22:25). Perhaps there is some covenantal connection here as well?
Parents can sometimes fail in this regard when they neglect basic justice for the sake of a moment of silence.
Job longs for the grave in 3:19: "the small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master."
Yahweh has claimed Job as His "slave" twice in chapters 1 and 2, and now Job longs for death where that relationship can be severed. He longs for the place where a "slave" is free from his "lord."
This can be taken as pure pain or anger or nihilism, but the word for "free" is the same word used in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15 in regulations specifically designed to protect Hebrew slaves. They may serve for six years, but in the seventh year, they are to be freed. Job not only longs for freedom, he longs for the seventh year, the year of Sabbath, the year of release.
As becomes more explicit as the dialog goes on, Job longs for the grave not as a nihilistic end, a plunge into the void. Rather, Job longs for the grave because he fully expects to be raised up from it. Perhaps Job is not only looking for freedom but also for maturity and a standing before his master.