There are many things in this world that carry with them the seeds of their own destruction, and right now, a few of them stand out in my mind.

I am too slow to learn many things, and my own inadequacies seem to be pressing me from every side these days.

Most noticeably, I need help simply to support my family. I’m actively begging for money. That is a humbling thing. But even more humbling is that I can look back along the corridor of my life and see the decision points where I could have changed some things, and maybe achieved a better outcome.

I am also very aware of times when I could not be a friend to some dear, dear friends at some of their deepest times of need. And there are other times, when I have “been there”, for Beth, especially, that maybe I shouldn’t have been.

After Beth decided that she wanted to join the army, but before she had actually gotten to that point, there were several times when she would have “failed”, if I hadn’t been there to encourage her.

I wanted to be a good husband – to help my wife achieve her goals. But it is clear to me now that we could have avoided that whole deployment issue, which pained me greatly, and perhaps now this leukemia, which pains her greatly, if I had been less helpful to her at certain moments.

Before she enlisted, she was walking to lose weight. She and I were walking quite a lot that winter of 2001-2002, until she twisted her foot, and she couldn’t walk. She was despairing about not getting to enlist, so I encouraged her, and once her foot healed, we walked some more. She barely met the Army’s weight standard.

Later, she twice failed to meet the Army’s medical standards because of her blood pressure. She would get excited when having her blood pressure taken. It would go up too high, and twice she was rejected because of it.

I saw the anguish this caused her, and I worked with her to understand how her BP was responding, and how she could consciously relax and bring it down; after she had asked for the waiver to take the test one more time, she passed it, and was accepted for re-enlistment.

I have admired her courage and determination, but I cannot now bring myself to tell her, “what you did in Iraq was worth you having leukemia now.” I did not want her to join the army, but I helped her to do it because she wanted it. I wonder what life would have been like now, if I had not helped her then.

* * *

After Beth had joined the army, and when it was looking inevitable that she was going to be deployed to Iraq, and when I was in the depths of despair, a good friend scolded me that I had not exercised my proper role as a husband. No woman should be in the military, he said. Her place is with her husband and her children. Now that she is there, you must live with the consequences of your decision.

* * *

I know that he was right about that. Still, I did what I did.

Paul is a man who knew how to be single-minded. He said to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). And this was a big risk. Later in that same letter, he said, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile … If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:16-19).

Paul was putting all his eggs in one basket. In the Christ alone basket.

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” … “he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 9:30; 2 Cor 10:9-10).

Grace in the New Testament

The only word study on the word “Grace” that I’ve seen is the one that T. F. Torrance did in his The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.

Torrance studies the word in its Classical and Hellenistic Greek usage, and as well, he traces the word through the Old and New Testaments. He says: “In the New Testament charis (χάρις) becomes a terminus technicus”, that is, it acquires its own new and unique definition.

Tracing the word through the Gospels, through Paul, and the other New Testament writers, he says “there seems no doubt that the Pauline usage of charis became normative for the whole church”.

For Paul, it is always described as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.… In Paul, there is no separation between the person and the work of Christ. He does not know Christ after the flesh, but Christ crucified and risen after the Spirit. Christ crucified and risen is God’s power and God’s grace-act among men. In the background there is always the thought that charis is the grace of God, but in the foreground it is the person of Christ, and the act of Christ that fill the focus of vision.

The simplest and the most profound expression of grace Paul gives is perhaps the following: δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:24). It would be safe to say that Paul never speaks of grace, except as grounded in the self-giving of God in the person and death of Jesus, and in every instance it is the objective side of its content that predominates…

In its primary sense in St. Paul’s epistles grace has to do with the act of divine intervention rather than with our receiving of it. Charis is now the presupposition of all man’s relations with God and constitutive of the whole Christian life. Grace is the decisive deed which makes the ground of our approach to God an act and word of His in which He irrevocably committed. It means the establishing of something quite new among men, a new relation to God, not one in which the divine command forms the basis of our relations with God, but one in which the divine self-commitment invites us to approach Him on the grounds of love, because in Christ the divine will has been perfectly fulfilled on our behalf. Grace is a colossal deed that cuts away the ground from all our [“any other”] human religion, and establishes a new religion in the Gospel, so wonderful that men are utterly overwhelmed, and so radical that it entails a complete reversal of all previous attitudes and ideas. Such a reversal means that we cannot think our way in to the wisdom of God, which is, as Paul says, the Cross, because God has done a deed which makes our wisdom foolish and which interrupts us in our career.

“…Grace is the will of God to constitute man’s life afresh on a wholly new basis and in a renewed world, to set him free from sin and Satan; to endue him with the Spirit, to make him the possessor of a supernatural life. It is thus the presupposition of the whole Christian life, not one principle which (along with others) works within that life.”

Grace in the New Testament is the basic and most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel, it is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. “By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that, no striving will add one iota.”

For more information see this link.

Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”

If you look down the blog roll on the right, you’ll see links to a couple of blog sites where I do some of my other writing: Triablogue, Beggars All Reformation, Reformation500. Generally speaking, I’m quite involved in an activity known as “Christian apologetics,” and in this context, that tends to mean “arguing about religion”.

Down below, I’ve provided a post about My Roman Catholic Background . Someone from work, who was interested in looking for sources that could help us out financially, suggested St. Vincent DePaul, and asked me if I was Roman Catholic. I used to be. I grew up that way, and even wanted to be a priest. In 1983, I was accepted into Seminary. But I never went for a variety of reasons, and over the years, I came to the conclusion, strongly reinforced by a very tender conscience, that if I wanted to be a follower of Christ, I could not remain a Roman Catholic.

I’m sure that some of you reading this would take issue with me, and I’m happy to answer any questions on that topic. I’ve got lots to say about it. I’m convinced that the Reformation was, in the historical context, “the right thing to do”.

According to the Harvard historian Steven Ozment, Martin Luther was “the most brilliant theologian of the age”. Luther is known for his posting of the “95 Theses” on October 31, 1517, but his theology was not an epiphany; rather, it gradually developed over time as Luther taught theology from 1510 onward.

Along with his teaching on the justification by faith alone, which was probably the doctrinal heart of the Reformation, Luther also responded to the attitude of the church of Rome in general, with what became known as his “Theology of the Cross”. This he contrasted with the “Theology of Glory”, a prevailing attitude of the day which was not shy about preaching on the glories of the Roman church.

And this brings me to my point. In circumstances that will cause anyone to ask, “why is this happening to me,” Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” can provide a tremendous amount of comfort and context. Carl Trueman says:

[Luther] is taking Paul’s explosive argument from 1 Corinthians and developing it into a full theological agenda. … God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the foolishness of the cross. Who would have thought up the foolish idea of God taking human flesh in order to die a horrendous death on behalf of sinners who had deliberately defied him, or God making sinners pure by himself becoming sin for them, or God himself raising up a people to newness of life by himself submitting to death? We could go on, looking at such terms as life, blessing, holiness, and righteousness. Every single one must be reconceived in the light of the cross. All are important theological concepts; all are susceptible to human beings casting them in their own image; and all must be recast in the light of the cross.

When your life brings you into a context in which you have to watch your wife suffer with cancer, you end up asking yourself a lot of hard questions. I believe Luther’s Theology of the Cross helps provide some profound answers to those questions.

So this is a topic I hope to explore as we continue to live through this experience.