C.E.B. Cranfield’s one-sentence summary of Romans 3:24-26

C.E.B Cranfield, professor of theology at Durham University for much of the second half of the 20th century:

We take it that what Paul’s statement that God purposed Christ as a propitiatory victim means is that God, because in His mercy He willed to forgive sinful men and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against His own very Self in the person of His Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.

C.E.B. Cranfiled, The Epistle to the Romans 1-8 (Vol. 1) (International Critical Commentary Series), p. 217

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“In the West, we’ve lost the practice of lamenting. In contrast, the ancient Hebrews were constantly in God’s face.” Paul Miller

In Ruth chapter 1, upon the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons, her daughters-in-law request to continue living with her. But Naomi urges them not, saying, “No, my daughters, for it is more bitter for me than you that the hand of Yahweh has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). In light of this scene, Paul Miller comments:

Naomi makes us, with our Western cultural roots, a little nervous with her seeming disrespect of God. Yes, her life is hard, but should she blame God? Her open passion sends shivers down our stoic-tuned religious sensibilities, and we instinctively clamp down with our theology and say, “Naomi, God is orchestrating this. He’s in control. Don’t blame him.” Her grief and anger unsettle us and open doors to unbelief in our own lives. We’d rather quiet her with good theology. We think we’re comforting her, but maybe we’re trying to keep our own demons in place.

How does God respond to her accusations? In the context of the whole book of Ruth, Ruth’s love is God’s response to Naomi’s lament. God often uses human agents to show his love. So God weeps with her: “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again” (Ruth 1:14).

I remember many years ago at a pastors’ conference, a pastor opened up his heart and shared his struggles with cynicism and unbelief. He lamented, “What about me? What do I do with my heart?” The other pastors began offering advice—all except one missionary. He was so troubled, he interrupted them and said, “Our brother doesn’t need advice; he needs someone to weep with him.” Then he burst into tears and prayed for the struggling pastor. It transformed the conference.

What can we say to Naomi’s lament? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We just weep with her. That is good theology, to weep with those that weep. God does not lecture Naomi. Nor should we lecture those who are grieving. It is a striking example of Jesus’ command to “judge not” (Matt. 7:1). Oddly enough, good theology drives Naomi’s frustration with God. She feels anguish precisely because she believes God is in control. In contrast, paganism resigns itself to the hand that fate deals us.

It is easy to have the wrong kind of resignation to suffering. Years ago, our daughter Kim would pace in the early morning because of her autism. My wife, Jill, would yell at Kim to go back to bed, and I would ignore Kim, just trying to get some sleep. On the surface, Jill’s yelling seems less spiritual than my silence, but the opposite is true. Jill was passionately engaged with something that wasn’t working. I shut it out. God can work with the former, not the latter. He can work with something that is moving, but not when our head is (literally) under the pillow. In fact, it was only because Jill yelled that I finally began to pray with Kim regularly.

In the West, we’ve lost the practice of lamenting. In contrast, the ancient Hebrews were constantly in God’s face. About one third of the Psalms are laments:

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1)

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1)

“How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (Ps. 35:17)

“O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” (Isaiah 63:17)

Such honesty seldom characterizes our praying. Our inability to lament is primarily due to the influence of the Greek mind on the early church. Greek Stoicism believed that the emotions—anything that interrupted the goal of a calm and balanced life—were bad. The passionate person was the immature person. Balance was everything. Naomi’s brokenness feels unbalanced, so instinctively we want to correct her tilt.

A lament grieves that the world is unbalanced. It grieves at the gap between reality and God’s promise. It believes in a God who is there, who can act in time and space. It doesn’t drift into cynicism or unbelief, but engages God passionately with what’s wrong.

Several pages later, Miller writes about Naomi’s complaint to God found in Ruth 1:20-21, where Naomi says, “Do not call me Pleasant; call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and Yahweh has brought me back empty. Why call me Pleasant, when Yahweh has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

In each stanza Naomi uses a different picture to convey her grief. In the first she compares herself to a clay jar; she left full and came back empty. In the second she uses the image of the law court, saying, “Yahweh has testified against me.” Not only is the Almighty her Judge, but he also witnesses against her. What recourse does she have when the court is stacked against her?

How do we sort this out? First, Naomi is being real, authentic. If she puts on a spiritual mask with God, she will be a hypocrite. God would no longer be accessible because the real Naomi would no longer be encountering the real God. Second, her faith in God drives her frustration with God. Because she believes that he is both good and powerful, she is in agony…

The church has not been particularly good at hearing laments from its broken people. Personally, I don’t like listening to laments. They are disorderly, unnerving. I like things tidy. Laments break the pattern of seemingly appropriate politeness to God. They feel out of balance.

When Jill and I were first married (we were eighteen and nineteen), she realized within six months that something was wrong with me. She wasn’t sure I was a Christian. Neither was I. I remember her lying in bed pouring her heart out in a desperate prayer for me. I hated her prayer. I recoiled from her outpouring of passion. Two years later God quietly changed my heart. God heard Jill’s lament.

Jill responded to my poverty of spirit with her own poverty of spirit. That’s what a lament does. That’s why I recoiled from it. The very thing I needed, poverty of spirit, was the shape of Jill’s lament. A lament puts us in an openly dependent position, where our brokenness reflects the brokenness of the world. It’s pure authenticity. Holding it in, not giving voice to the lament, can be a way of putting a good face on it. But to not lament puts God at arm’s length and has the potential splitting us. We appear okay, but we are really brokenhearted.

A lament functions like a mirror of the world. What is broken or out of balance is not the lament but the world. Motivated by clear seeing, a lament reacts to the mismatch between hope and reality, between heaven and earth…

Listening to a lament is a powerful way of loving someone who is suffering. By being present, by not correcting them or even offering our own unique brand of Christian encouragement (“It’s going to be all right–God’s in control.”), we give those who are grieving space to be themselves.

That doesn’t mean that Naomi’s judgment of God is correct. God is good and just. He will answer her frustration with more goodness. Naomi was interpreting God through the lens of her experience. She stopped in the middle of the story and measured God. A deeper faith waits until the end of the story and interprets experience through the lens of God’s faithfulness. Is this something we tell Naomi? No. It is what we tell ourselves. Good theology lets us endure quietly with someone else’s pain when all the pieces aren’t together. It acts like invisible faith-glue.

A lament fits God’s heart perfectly. God’s loves an open, honest heart, no matter how broken by life, even if theologically incorrect. How else could Jesus invite everyone who was weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest? He invites us to come as we are–all messed up–with our grief and our emotions. God not only did not condemn Moses’s and Elijah’s laments, but recorded them as part of Scripture (Ex. 5:22; 1 Kings 17:20).

Paul Miller, A Loving Life, (29-31, 47-9)

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Søren Kierkegaard on the “tragic misuse of biblical scholarship,” how it can drive God’s Word infinitely further from us than if we had never read it

Kierkegaard has just finished a section where he’s argued for the necessity of being alone with God’s Word in order to truly read God’s Word, and yet how so very few are willing to do so.

But, asserting defiantly that one certainly does dare to be alone with God’s Word, which nevertheless is not true, one can also defend oneself against God’s Word in a quite different way. Take Holy Scripture, lock your door–but then take ten dictionaries, twenty-five commentaries, then you can read it, just as calmly and coolly as you read a newspaper advertising. If, as you sit there reading a passage, you happen, curiously enough, to get the idea: Have I done this? Do I act according to this (of course, you can hit upon such ideas only in distraction, in an absentminded moment when you are not concentrating with your usual seriousness), then the danger is still not very great. Look, perhaps there are several variations, and perhaps a new manuscript has just been found–good Lord!–and the prospect of new variations, and perhaps there are five interpreters with one opinion and seven with another and two with a  strange opinion and three who are wavering or have no opinion, and “I myself am not absolutely sure about the meaning of this passage, or to, speak my mind, I agree with the three wavering interpreters who have no opinion” etc. Such a person does not get into the awkward position I am in: either to have to comply with the Word immediately or at least to be obliged to make a humbling confession. No, he is calm and says, “There is no problem as far as I am concerned; I certainly intend to comply–as soon as the discrepancies are ironed out and the interpreters agree fairly well.” Aha! That certainly will not be for a long time yet. The man succeeded, however, in obscuring the fact that the error is in him, that it is he who has no desire to deny flesh and blood and to comply with God’s Word. What a tragic misuse of scholarship, that it is made so easy for people to deceive themselves!

If there were not so many illusions and self-deceptions, certainly everyone would admit as I do: I hardly dare to be alone with God’s Word.

Alone with God’s Word–this must be, just as the lover wanted to be alone with the letter, for otherwise it would not be reading the letter from the beloved–and otherwise it is not reading God’s Word or seeing oneself in the mirror. That is indeed what we should do and the first thing we should do if we are to look at ourselves with blessing in the mirror of the Word–we should not look at the mirror but see ourselves in the mirror. If you are a scholar, remember that if you do not read God’s Word in another way, it will turn out that after a lifetime of reading God’s Word many hours every day, you nevertheless have never read–God’s Word. Then make the distinction (in addition to the scholarly reading), so that you will also really begin to read God’s Word or at least will confess to yourself that you, despite daily scholarly reading of it, are not reading God’s Word, that you do not want anything to do with it at all. If you are not a scholar, there is less occasion to be mistaken; so straightaway to the task, no delay in observing the mirror, but straightaway to looking at yourself in the mirror…

But nevertheless it is not human to give the matter a totally different turn: that I cunningly shove in, one layer after another, interpretation and scholarly research, and more scholarly research (much in the way a boy puts a napkin or more under his pants when he is going to get a licking), that I shove all this between the Word and myself and then give this interpreting and scholarliness the name of earnestness and zeal for the truth, and then allow this preoccupation to swell to such prolixity that I never come to receive the impression of God’s Word, never come to look at myself in the mirror. It seems as if all this research and pondering and scrutinizing would draw God’s Word very close to me; the truth is that this the very way, this is the most cunning way, to remove God’s Word as far as possible from me, infinitely further than it is from one who never saw God’s Word, infinitely further than it is from one who became so anxious and afraid of God’s Word that he cast it as far away as possible.

Søren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination, 132-3, 5

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Wm. Struthers on how porn affects neurological circuitry

As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on pornographic images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image.

Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by high containment walls making escape nearly impossible. This neurological superhighway has many on-ramps. The mental life is fixated on sex, but it is intended for intimacy. It is wide—able to accommodate multiple partners, images and sexual possibilities, but it is intended to be narrow—a place for God’s exclusive love to be imaged. This neurological superhighway has been reconstructed and built for speed, able to rapidly get to the climax of sexual stimulation. It is intended, however, for the slow discovery and appreciation of a loving partner. The pornography-built pathway has only a few 0ff-ramps, leading to sexual encounters that have only a fleeting impact and hasten the need for more. But these encounters are intended to be long lasting and satisfying for both partners and have many off ramps for creative expressions of intimacy that are not genitally oriented.

William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, 85

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Richard Sibbes on demonically-induced thoughts

Some again are haunted with hideous representations to their imaginations, and with vile and unworthy thoughts of God, of Christ, of the Word, which, as busy flies, disquiet and molest their peace. These are cast in like wildfire by Satan, as may be discerned by the strangeness, the strength and violence, and the horribleness of them even to corrupt nature. A pious soul is no more guilty of them than Benjamin was when Joseph’s cup was put into his sack. Among other helps recommended by godly writers, such as detestation of them and diversion from them to other things, let this be one, to complain to Christ against them, and to fly under the wings of his protection, and to desire him to take our part against his and our enemy. Shall every sin and blasphemy of man be forgiven, and not these blasphemous thoughts, which have the devil for their father, when Christ himself was molested in this way so that he might succour all poor souls in this condition?

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, 46

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William Struthers on pornography’s pull and push, as well as pornography’s consequences for how men view women

Something about pornography pulls and pushes at the male soul. The pull is easy to identify. The naked female form can be hypnotizing. A woman’s willingness to participate in a sexual act or to expose her nakedness is alluring to men. The awareness of one’s own sexuality, the longing to know, to experience something as good wells up from deep within. An image begins to pick up steam the longer we look upon it. It gains momentum and can reach a point where it feels like a tractor-trailer rolling downhill with no brakes.

And that is just the naked form. The more dynamic and lifelike the pornography (i.e., videos, interactive cybersex), the greater the neurological and hormonal tsunami it initiates. The tsunami can overwhelm your ability to make wise decisions. The images and videos bring you to a window in time where you can cheat reality. This alternate reality has few immediate consequences except for the promise of sexual arousal and orgasm. The knowledge and promise of the transcendent sexual ecstasy that is waiting can be overwhelming. When caught in the spiraling psychological and physiological pull of pornography, the prospect of escaping it is unpleasant. You want to let it pull you in.

Many men can spend hours looking at pornography, continually increasing their sexual arousal and tricking themselves into preparing for sexual encounter with another person that doesn’t (usually) happen. As they do, they are neurologically training themselves to respond to the naked form, but it is the mental manipulation and fantasy that increases the need for a partner in intimacy. Men see many sexual cues throughout the day, but they also mentally manipulate these images and fantasize about what it might be like to have intercourse with one of these women. The way that a male brain is organized in being one-track, goal-oriented and visuospatial (mentally manipulating objects) make it the perfect playground for sexual fantasy–the mental consumption of another’s sexuality.

Because of these cognitive structures and the ability to store sexual images that are associated with sexual arousal and gratification, the minds of many men become hidden, personalized adult film studios. Any women they have seen and anyone else they can imagine are their performers. As porn and fantasy take control of the mind, it becomes a dream theater that is transposed over the waking world. Every woman they come into contact with is objectified, undressed, and evaluated as a willing (or unwilling) mental sexual partner. She is rated on her imagined sexual proficiency and then either stored for later use or discarded as worthless. This mental consumption of a person is a violation of the image of God in each of us…

In contrast to the attraction of pornography, part of our nature pushes against it. The arousal that it produces can also have an element of fear, revulsion or a need to avoid it. While many men indulge freely without any notion of restraint, others are repulsed by their response to pornography. The arousal that they experience sexually is accompanied by a conflicting sense of shame, guilt and/or anxiety. Such men have a sense that something is just not right about what they are doing.

The nagging voice is repressed while viewing pornography, but afterward there is gnawing sense that we shouldn’t have looked. We intuitively know that what we saw was not meant for us. We have intruded into someone’s intimate space. To the properly oriented conscience, viewing pornography elicits a healthy sense of guilt. To the seared conscience, one that has been ground down by abuse, fear, selfishness or repeated exposure to sin, pornography is just something you do. The seared conscience is forced either to turn against itself and plunge into the despair of self-loathing and unhealthy shame or to adopt new standards that allow for the acceptability of pornography. That standard may work for a time, but ultimately it leads to hurt, pain and suffering.

The unfortunate truth is that much of the pain resulting from pornography may be in the lives of others rather than the one with the seared conscience. Marriages, families, friendships, careers and ministries are often destroyed by the effects of pornography on a man…

Many of the men struggling with pornography that I have worked with have shared how frustrated and ashamed they are at their automatic response to the women they meet. Their eyes are immediately drawn to the woman’s breasts, buttocks and hips. This objectifying of women, looking at their “parts” and evaluating them as potential sexual partners has become reflexive, a consequence of their habitual use of pornography and preoccupation with their own sexual fantasies. One of the greatest victories that a man recovering from an addiction to pornography and compulsive sexual acting out has is when he can look at a beautiful women and not feel the need to mentally treat her as a sex object.

A man with a properly oriented conscience and filled with the Spirit has a healthy view of sexuality. He values the image of God in the women (and men) that he meets and has trained his mind to take these sexual thoughts captive. He is able to experience great freedom in his interactions with women. He does not mentally bed every woman he meets. Being able to see a woman as a human being and not a sexual plaything is a critical step for the man recovering from pornography dependence toward sanctification. But for the man who is caught in the grips of pornography, all women are potential sexual partners. He thinks this because that is what pornography has taught him. It is impossible to view pornography and not have it affect one’s belief about women.

William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, 44-46, 49-50

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William Struthers, Naomi Wolf on how “pornography has rendered men less sexually responsive to real women”

It is not the shouting of pornography that gives it so much power over men. It is the whispering of the lie of sexual fulfillment that prey on our human insecurities. When men believe those lies, they develop psychological and behavioral habits that prevent relational fulfillment. Pornography shapes and rewires us in such a way that we become unable to see women as we should. We no longer direct our sexual drives in appropriate ways. Porn narrows our ability to live a good and holy life.

In her article “The Porn Myth,” feminist Naomi Wolf argues that pornography has moved into the mainstream of the cultural arena, and in large part due to the Internet, it  has “pornographized” our culture. She observes that many feminists were wrong in their assumption that pornography would turn men into raving sexual beasts bent on all forms of sexual mayhem. Instead, she argues, over the years the pervasiveness of pornography has rendered men less sexually responsive to real women.

I believe she is right. Pornography has numbed the healthy sexuality of men who are active consumers of it. Wolf writes,

For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn. (Wolf, 2003)

So how did we get to this perfect storm of cultural, technological, and psychological factors converging on so many men? How has pornography been able to hijack lives and blunt the expression of healthy sexuality? How should the Christian church respond to the current state of affairs? We need to see just how pornography corrupts us to our core. We need to go back and reexamine what it means to be human–to be created in the image of God. We need to understand what it means to be created male. We need to have a theology that understands the importance of sexuality and what this looks like for men. And we need to respond in a way that honors those who have been affected by pornography and to help in restoration, redemption and healing.

William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, 37-38

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