The Black Plague (1348-49) brought terror on an unimaginable scale, wiping out up to half the population of Europe. One work, Piers Plowman, written shortly after the disaster, included these arresting lines:
Kings and knights, emperors and popes;
Death left no man standing, whether learned or ignorant;
Whatever he hit stirred never afterwards.
Many a lovely lady and their lover-knights
Swooned and died in sorrow of Death’s blows…
For God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us,
And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.
(As quoted in Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Black Plague)
Sadly, the conclusion that “God is deaf” does not comport with what we find in Scripture. Circumstances, as many of us were well reminded this past Sunday by Pastor Andrew Forrest, are hardly an accurate gauge to determine whether God is with us or not. As Andrew said so well, Genesis mentions several times that “God was with Joseph” when Joseph’s circumstances were dire.
In a much earlier epidemic around 260 AD, Christians believed they were the hands and feet of Jesus. Bishop Dionysius described them this way:
Many of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took care of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen…
(As quoted in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)
Perhaps our responsibility will not involve loss of life, though we should never count it out. We do know that it should include kind gestures and acts of everyday generosity. And we should never fail to tell stories to one another. The therapeutic effects of good storytelling are attested throughout human history:
The Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron in the wake of the plague outbreak in Florence in 1348. The disease ravaged the city, reducing the population by around 60 per cent. Boccaccio described how Florentines “dropped dead in open streets, both by day and by night, whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbors’ attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses.”
According to Pace University’s Martin Marafiot, Boccaccio’s prescription for an epidemic was a good dose of “narrative prophylaxis.” That meant protecting yourself with stories. Boccaccio suggested you could save yourself by fleeing towns, surrounding yourself with pleasant company and telling amusing stories to keep spirits up. Through a mixture of social isolation and pleasant activities, it was possible to survive the worst days of an epidemic.
(As quoted in André Spicer, “The Decameron—the 14-Century Italian Book that Shows Us How to Survive Coronavirus,” accessed at www.newstatesman.com)
The Decameron tells bawdy and humorous stories. It sought to help people keep their wits about them during a time of great upheaval. Christians may not believe in telling bawdy stories, though some of us feel more freedom in that regard than others! Wholesome humor, however, is always a good idea.
Telling stories to one another ought always to be part of our spiritual repertoire. The greatest story is of a God who comes near, suffers for us, and one day will fix all that is broken. What a hope not only during the challenge of coronavirus, but for each day no matter how catastrophic the circumstances.
HT: The Way of Improvement Leads Home
The Amazon link to her terrific book can be found here:
First, this book is a meaty, yet beautifully written book of 600 plus pages. I made over 550 marginal notes in my copy. I read and discussed it with a friend which made it a very rich experience.
Second, even though her book is rightfully heralded in “conservative” theological circles, there are some things that you might find objectionable like Rutledge giving room for the possibility of universal salvation.
A few years back I was pondering the practical implications of something in the gospels, so I wrote New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight. Here’s my question to Scot:
Is there a possible clue from Matt 12:39ff that our “apologetic argument” ought to focus more on the history of Jesus resurrection rather than more speculative or philosophical lines of evidence? Not exclusively for there are others passages which showcase other evidence but as an emphasis of sorts?
Scot’s answer was: 100%!!!!
If you are following the news, you are well aware of the Wheaton professor who has been put on leave pending a review of her theological position. I won’t comment on the controversy directly as some details are still forthcoming. What I will offer are quotes (both made long before the present controversy) by two theologians followed by my own reflections.
Miroslav Volf: “…all Christians don’t worship the same God, and all Muslims don’t worship the same God. But I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same. The description of God is partly different.”
Timothy George: “Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? The answer is surely Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that the Father of Jesus is the only God there is. … Christians and Muslims can together affirm many important truths about this great God—his oneness, eternity, power, majesty. … But the answer is also No, for Muslim theology rejects the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit—both essential components of the Christian understanding of God. … Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.”
My thoughts: Trinitarianism doesn’t make God “partly different” contra Miroslav Volf. Timothy George’s statement is irenic and clarifies the seminal issue. Yes, we are called to love. Jesus made that eminently clear. But a call to love is not a call to blur crucial theological realities. Volf likes to use the description of “sufficiently similar” when it comes to Christian and Muslim’s view of God. This strikes me as special pleading.
Much food for thought here:
HT: John Fea’s blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home
When it comes to writing history, Robert Caro is a giant among men. This past year, Caro released the fourth installment of his projected five-volume biography of the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Caro has devoted nearly 40 years researching and writing The Years of Lyndon Johnson, and he does not appear to be letting up anytime soon. Caro’s life ambition crystallized in his mid-thirties – to write the definitive biography of LBJ, a biography that would truly stand the test of time. This goal has propelled Caro vocationally throughout the lion’s share of his life and now sustains him into his sunset years.
Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson has served to percolate increased interest in the 36th president and to position its author as an internationally recognized biographer. Yet, as interesting as Caro’s ever expanding biography of Johnson is, a public intrigue with Caro himself has also piqued. Indeed, Caro is a fascinating figure; we might even say a cultural icon.
Caro is eccentrically devoted to his life’s work. His lifestyle and work ethic resemble a 21st century sweatshop, albeit civilized. For decades he has slavishly worked seven days a week, rarely breaking his routine even for holidays. He enjoys no professional help, no research assistant or transcriptionist. Caro foregoes modern conveniences such as a personal computer, preferring to draft his manuscript in longhand. He dresses in a suit every day, only to work in solitude in his Manhattan office. Caro’s office is a Byzantine gamut, littered with copious notes, stacked files, marked books, and walls covered with charts and graphs. Eyewitnesses testify that Caro’s work environment more resembles a war room than a writing den.
Caro’s life-long effort to unearth Johnson’s life in pedantic detail is impressive enough, but not altogether satisfying for the accomplished author. Rather, Caro aspires to know the mind and heart of Johnson; not merely Johnson’s actions, but what propelled his actions. Thus, Caro has coupled with his assiduous research a practice of imbibing Johnson’s way of life. Over the years, Caro has relocated his family in order to spend extensive time in Texas, Washington and even Vietnam. All of this has been in an effort to feel what Johnson felt, see what he saw, and know what he knew. Herein lies Caro’s genius. He is driven by a desire not merely to master the facts of Johnson’s life, but to know the very essence of the man.
As followers of Christ, perhaps we can learn something about discipleship from Robert Caro. When we weigh Caro’s devotion to Johnson in the scales of our pursuit of Christ, we may be found wanting. Caro has settled for nothing less than a deep and personal knowledge of his subject, LBJ. Too many Christians settle for a superficial knowledge of Christ that fosters a superficial commitment to Him.
But, we need not look to Caro to be chastened. We can simply look to the Apostle Paul, who aspired to know Jesus, writing, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… that I may know him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:8,10).
Our eccentric commitment may never be classified alongside Robert Caro’s in the world’s eyes, but knowing Jesus – and laboring to make him known – will prove unmatched in personal benefit and eternal consequence.
HT: www.jasonkallen.com, April 5, 2013
Wise review of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan: