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Jesu, Juva

Archive for March 2020

So far does he remove our transgressions from us

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Walking westward, therefore, from the courtyard toward the sanctum was a movement toward God, representing Israel to him—an ascent into the summit of the architectural mountain of God. Walking eastward from the sanctum toward the courtyard was a movement away from God, representing him to Israel—and a descent from the cultic mountain of God. . . .

The text is careful to portray the goats as a set: the high priest takes them both from the congregation of Israel, presents them both together before YHWH at the door of the tent of meeting, and then casts lots for them both . . . Indeed, there is historical precedent [SCM: Morales cites rabbinical sources, but Jacob’s goats in Rebekah’s meal is a clear biblical–theological precedent] for understanding these goats to be identical in appearance, and chosen expressly because of this likeness, as if it were one goat accomplishing two different aspects of atonement—purification and expiation, cleansing from sin’s pollution and the removal of sin’s guilt. . . .

Moreover, as both goats begin together at the doorway of the tent of meeting, their movement may be tracked along an east–west alignment, movements coordinated with the early narratives of Genesis in relation to God’s Presence. Here it is worth emphasizing that the goats, as one symbol, stand for the sake of Israel: the sacrificed goat conveying Israel favourably into the inner sanctum vicariously, the led-away goat conveying Israel’s sins away from the face of God.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 174, 179–180

From the day of atonement ritual, you would expect Psalm 103 to read, “so far does he remove our transgressions from him.” Surprise! Where does that place us? With Yahweh!

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:49 pm

A reminder of sins every year

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With the tabernacle being a microcosm of the cosmos, its rituals, including those of the Day of Atonement, should be related to the reality of the cosmos. . . . The cultic drama of the microcosm’s cleansing points prophetically to a Day of Atonement not enacted on the cultic stage but rather upon its counterpart, the cosmos as true house of God. . . . The drama of the tabernacle’s defilement by the sin and corpse pollution of Aaron’s sons mirrors the drama of Adam’s own transgression and defilement of the cosmos. . . . What can be done? Is all lost? The answer provided in Leviticus through the Day of Atonement on the stage of the cultic drama, therefore, provides the answer for the cosmos as house of God as well—there must be a Day of Atonement for the cosmos. Ultimately, this annual purgation reiterates the need for a full and final cleansing—one that cannot be threatened or undone—for the covenant promise of humanity’s communion and fellowship with God to be realized.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 171–172

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:17 pm

Not contagious

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Moral impurity should be distinguished from ritual impurity. Ritual impurity is impermanent, sometimes contagious, may defile the courtyard altar, and, while requiring cleansing, does not require forgiveness; moral impurity requires atonement (sometimes being cut off or death), defiles the land, along with the innermost areas of the sanctuary, but is not contagious.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 159

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:05 pm

Girard

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I love big ideas that explain many things (see Edwin Friedman). René Girard’s big idea is to see a cyclical process of imitation (what he calls mimesis) and violence everywhere.

The cycle is as follows:

  1. Human beings are imitative people: we see what someone else is doing and are interested in doing the same. Deep down, this is because we see what someone else desires and we desire it for ourselves.
  2. This may begin quite innocently; for example, who can fault the desire to be a skilled musician? But it often escalates to a competitive situation: envy. Some situations may be zero–sum (e.g., two men desiring the same woman), while others may not be (there is room in the world for many great musicians). However, even situations that are not zero–sum result in envious competition, because what is really desired is the praise of men.
  3. It only takes two people for envy and scapegoating to happen. But within a society or community, it gains additional power as other people coalesce around the competition. This process is compelling because taking sides allows people to overcome their usual differences and experience unity. Thus, the competition escalates.
  4. The escalation results in violence, which can be ended only with a scapegoat: ideally, one party confesses guilt. In any case, that party is expelled in some sense.
  5. Over time a society buries the memory of its own guilt, and the expelled party becomes lionized as kind of hero or savior, with the narrative that they brought both unity and relief to the violence. (This is how myth begins.)
  6. However, this perverse cycle repeats indefinitely in a culture. Although it is evil, it is difficult to rid a culture of the scapegoating cycle because it is so (temporarily) cathartic.

Girard expertly identifies this pattern at work across a wide variety of situations in myth, scripture, history, and current events. While he may at times seem to be using his hammer to turn everything into a nail, it is amazing how many nails he finds. The scapegoating process is everywhere.

In Girard’s telling, there are a number of Biblical stories such as Job (who we should read first and foremost as a type of Jesus) that expose this process, but without giving way to it. Jesus’s own death is the great true–myth that is able to expose the scapegoating process, and therefore deal a final blow to it. Girard himself was brought to faith by his discovery that the Biblical stories all expose and defeat scapegoating, unlike any other stories.

Part of the reason that the scapegoating process is so powerful is that it is a justification mechanism. If you can demonize your opponent, then you are justified in whatever you have done or will do to him to gain the advantage. But there is also a kind of feedback loop here: the more we magnify the evil of our opponents, the smaller our own sins become. This enables us to feel justified in all our sins, even if they have nothing to do with the cause or opponent we are fighting. Whom do you despise? You are quite likely scapegoating them to feel justified in yourself. Especially if you despise them together with someone else, allowing you to feel a deeper unity in your justified despising.

This process obviously fails to justify us whatsoever. But what is amazing is that Jesus by his death as our scapegoat actually accomplishes our justification! However, in order to appropriate his justification, you must repent of your sins (including admitting to any scapegoating you have engaged in) and you must agree with his innocence. This completely reverses the pagan scapegoating process, where the scapegoat is made to plead guilty. (Cancel culture and watchblogging are evil things even when their broken clocks happen to tell the right time). If you make Jesus your scapegoat by hating him and persecuting his people, then you are not justified. But if you accept Jesus as your gift–scapegoat, then you are justified.

In order for Jesus’s kingdom to grow, we must become like him. This means that we resist and expose the scapegoating process wherever it appears, instead calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus. The church is often called to suffer like Jesus for the sake of the world, but equally like Jesus we refuse to agree with the false charges of our enemies. And while our growth in righteousness and mission requires us to faithfully imitate Jesus in all these ways, we must at the same time be watchful of ourselves, lest we allow our imitation of him to devolve into a pagan competition.

Additional resources and reading

Written by Scott Moonen

March 27, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Exile

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As this pandemic and pandemonium forces our churches to close, and we gather in homes instead, I agree with Ben Zornes that we should not be taking the Lord’s Supper from house to house. I have written on this previously, and also stressed that the command to discern Jesus’s body applies directly to our receiving one another in corporate worship.

This does not mean that Jesus is not with us when we gather! Where two or three gather, he is with us (Matthew 18:20) by his Spirit. But it does mean that there is a kind of famine of God’s special presence and feast, as I have written in support of weekly communion.

The church doesn’t need to be disobeying civil orders right now. And livestreaming music and teaching is a blessing; so is gathering in smaller groups as we are able. It’s just that these things do not constitute covenant renewal, the “sacrifice of praise” before the throne as the ekklesia–assembly–body–bride. It is not true that our individual intercession is cut off. But it is true that the church’s heightened corporate and covenantal intercession, our role as Esther herself, has been cut off.

How should we understand this partial famine? For one, with the church’s intercession cut off, with an end to offering up a memorial of Jesus’s death (1 Cor 11), there is no more covenantal covering for God’s long-stored wrath toward the evils of our cavalier modern world such as abortion. This covering has allowed a merciful window for repentance, but now we should not be surprised to see God’s avalanche gather momentum, exactly and precisely because he hears and does not forget both corporate and individual prayers and cries.

But we also need to consider that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17), just as it did most dramatically in the first century. This event is not an attack by the world against the church; it is something God has brought about, and he is certainly disciplining us, removing unfaithful lampstands.

With that in mind, the letters to the churches in Revelation are especially timely for the church to consider. With allowances for over-simplification:

  • Is our love for the world eclipsing our love for Jesus? (Ephesus) Are we dallying with the world? (Pergamum) Are we tolerating those who dally with the world? (Thyatira) It does seem that our love for the world and its ways is about to be sifted. Have we been faithful to tithe?
  • Be faithful and do not fear (Smyrna)
  • Hold fast; trust and obey (Philadelphia)
  • Correct your works: repent and be fruitful (Sardis, Laodicea)

One aspect of treasuring Jesus over the world is to cultivate a better sense of just what it is we have lost in this time. Woe to me that I stay home! (Psalm 120:5) Be glad to go to Jesus’s house! (Psalm 122:1) May all who hate the church be put to shame! (Psalm 129:5) How good and pleasant is our unity! (Psalm 133:1) We are a thousand times more blessed to dwell in God’s house than anywhere else! (Psalm 84)

Finally, with respect to the evil of abortion, have we been complicit in telling lies to the world about the true value of children by failing to discern our little ones to be among the body of Christ? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:30) It is amazing to me that God has orchestrated this so that little ones are not dying!

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

Various

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If you don’t yet follow Wrath of Gnon, you should.

This is beautiful: The Sound of the Hagia Sophia.

Here are some fascinating pictures of the locusts in Africa.

North Carolina had a couple of earthquakes in the western part of the state this past weekend, but we felt nothing here.

Christian Leithart thinks about how to panic sensibly.

So do Squirrel Nut Zippers. From “La Grippe”:

There’s an Asian influenza
Infecting us all by the scores
And it’s turning into pneumonia
We must go out once more . . .
So we must go out and dance around

Have a look at Jelle’s Marble Runs and see if you can resist getting completely absorbed.

For fun, the kids and I were working through the alphabet on a theme of food, somehow coming to focus especially on fish. Asher pounced on G with the offering: ghoti. Ha!

My county library has Lewis’s space trilogy available in audiobook form. I’ve just finished listening to it after first reading the books eight years ago. I’m freshly encouraged in the task of Christian living (Lewis is quite the Kuyperian Chestertonian, isn’t he?), and also again amazed at Lewis’s Issacharian insight into our times in That Hideous Strength. I need to revisit these more often.

Mark Horne just published his reflections on Proverbs. It is outstanding; pick one up for yourself and for each of the young people in your life. Mark also reflects on current events and how wisdom takes some work and wrestling. You should follow Mark too.

Lord willing, Peter Leithart is coming to the Triangle in April to teach on worship. I’m looking forward to it; join me!

I’ve been appealing to Occam’s razor lately as a rule for evaluating architectural decisions and their tradeoffs. In particular, architectural decisions must take into account not only ideal considerations, but also a team’s capacity to develop, maintain, and support these decisions. Simplicity has its own rewards regardless of the size of your team, but the smaller the team, the more aggressively you must press for that simplicity. Don’t multiply entities unnecessarily!

My pastor touched on Hebrews 12 and shaking this past Sunday. A preterist reading of this and the wider context adds (but does not subtract) helpful insights. Certainly we are to cherish the hope that one day we will live in a fully realized and glorious city (ch. 11), and that one day all that can be shaken will be removed (ch. 12). But the original audience was also to take great hope in God’s breaking early into time and history, and so are we. We have come already to the mountain–city, Zion–Jerusalem (12:22), and especially in worship we stand together in this place with Jesus and the angels and the communion of the saints. The entire book of Hebrews is an exposition of this reality and an invitation to enter into it.

From this perspective, the great “once more” shaking announced in Hebrews (as well as Matthew, etc.) was the tearing down of the old covenant and its ways, the very persecution and mountain that was bearing down on God’s people and in which the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage them. These old ways ended forever in AD 70; no more sacrifices could be offered by the line of Aaron but only by the line of Melchizedek. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was both a vindication of Jesus against the old ways, and a deliverance for his church, his body.

Thus, we see both that God works in history, and also that this history is moving to a glorious conclusion. So we can hope for several visitations, several shakings, several days of the Lord: (1) Jesus visits his church weekly on the day of the Lord; (2) Jesus visits tribes and nations at various times in history in judgment and to deliver his people; (3) as proof of his resurrection and enthronement, and vindication of himself and his promises, Jesus visited the world in AD 70 to finish the inauguration of his new creation; (4) we have a glorious hope that after his present reign (and our reign with him) is complete, Jesus will visit the world and deliver it to his father (1 Cor 15, etc.).

AD 70 was thus the promised sign of the son of man’s entering into heaven.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 17, 2020 at 12:58 pm

There’s no other way

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“You have done what was required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that.”

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Written by Scott Moonen

March 1, 2020 at 9:05 am

Posted in Books, Quotations, Vocation