The Danger of The Green Eyed Monster

When I was a kid I wondered why we said someone could be “Green with envy.” Why not say someone was “orange with envy?” Back then, I thought it had to do with money. Money was green and that seemed to be what most people envied. If we search the history of the envy’s association with green, we find it goes way back to Shakespeare. Pick up Othello, The Merchant of Venice, or Anthony and Cleopatra and you’ll find the “green-eyed monster” in some form. That’s around 500 years of English speaking tradition right there.

Maybe, the association with green comes from the Greeks. For the Greeks, green (or paleness) was the color of sickness. Envy is a sickness, after all. It can eat away at a man’s soul like cancer. I’ve seen it destroy the life of a few people. It affects our vision of others and ourselves, our speech, and our actions. The funny thing that I’ve observed about envy is that when someone is consumed with it they can’t see the danger. In fact, with the examples I’ve seen, they think everyone else has a problem—not them.

We don’t hear a lot of warnings in sermons about envy today. We have warnings about sexual immorality, sharing our faith, or how to be the church—but hardly about envy. Maybe it is because I am a protestant and an evangelical protestant at that. We emphasize missions and the gospel (both good things) rather than individual, albeit dangerous, sins. Though often overlooked, envy is a big sin—it made the list of the seven deadliest for the Catholic church.

Clement of Rome saw the danger in envy. In his First Epistle he warns his readers against it. According to Clement Cain murdered Abel because of envy. He says, “Ye see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau, his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage.” (Ch. 4) The list of those charged with envy by Clement stretches from Moses to David. You may find Clement’s reading of the text exegetically flawed, but something is at work there. Was it just sin nature that caused Cain to murder his brother? Or, can we name that sin as envy? It isn’t that much of a stretch, even if envy isn’t mentioned in the passage.

Clement goes on to say, “Envy had alienated wives from their husbands, and changed that saying of our father Adam, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.’ Envy and strife have overthrow great cities and rooter up mighty nations.” (Ch. 6) Envy divides. It erodes the created order of human relationships. Even the most intimate of relationships are broken because of envy. It is sickness that says, “I am the important one here! Not You!”

There is a cure for envy though.  It is the gospel (protestants rejoice!)

“Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares,” says Clement, “and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.” (Ch. 7)

Dare we suggest that those “vain and fruitless cares” that Clement mentions might include “envy?” I don’t think it is a stretch. Envy plays a prominent part in the previous paragraphs leading up to this quote and would be in the back of the reader’s mind.

So, the cure of envy is simple (if we depend on Christ). Look to Christ and his gospel. Remember the wealth of love that we have in Him. Place our hope in Him not in material wealth or recognition.


Epistle To The Romans by Karl Barth: Five Books That Changed My Life–Part 4

This series is contextual in nature. I’m not writing this to highlight my five favorite books. I’m not even sure that any of these would make that list anyways. But, these are five books have affected my life significantly enough over the last several years. Situations in my life magnified their impact. They come in no particular order of importance.

There is nothing more frustrating then being told by another person what you meant by your actions or words. Especially, when someone is reading far more into those actions than what you actually meant—a common problem when attempting to understand introverts. In fact, what they were reading into your actions was the furthest from your imagination. In most situations like this, you can talk it out with someone, explain yourself, and then the issue is resolved. But some people aren’t easily convinced of anything but their own interpretation. So, they’ll try to manipulate you into believing that your actions meant what they say they meant.

That’s what was happening to me. It came by way of a misinterpreted view of post-conversion anthropology. The idea is that we are still slaves to sin after conversion—though they will never say it like that. It goes something like this: All of our actions are tainted with sin. Therefore, everything we do is laced with sin. You did X, therefore your intention must have been sinful (and a particular sin at that).

These ideas stack the deck against the Christian. The Christian has a reasonable explanation for acting a certain way. He explains his reasoning, but others aren’t buying it. They mistrust the very thing being said to them.When evidence is offered in defense, it is given no credence. Of course, in this scenario, none of the accusers motives can be questioned in the same way. No real evidence is ever brought forth against the accuser other than feelings.

The above paragraph sounds preposterous, I know but it is what happened (or perhaps you are already assuming I was actually in the wrong and don’t see it). These types of situations are intense for me. I’m an INFJ so I feel within myself what people feel about me. It’s great when those are good feelings, bad when they are not, and horrible when those feelings are based on falsehood. It left me with a lot of self-doubt and those closest to me had to remind me of my words and actions with them behind closed doors that demonstrated that my intentions were different than what was being accused of me.

Enter Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. 

I was beat down; down for the count; I felt unworthy; doubted everything about how I understood myself and my intentions; buoyed by my friends cheering me in the audience. I laid, busted and bleeding on the mat—down for the count. Into the ring jumped Karl Barth and took a giant swing against my opponent. His punch so jarring I felt it lying on the mat. In reference to Romans 6:18, “Being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness,” he said:

Their bondage to sin has been broken, and they have become servants of righteousness. The power of the resurrection, the knowledge of God who quickeneth the dead, has converted them—yes! has converted THEM!, since their conversion was no mechanical process…To the man under grace, righteousness is not a possibility, but a necessity; not a disposition subject to change, but the inexorable meaning of life; not a condition possessing varying degrees of healthiness, but the condition by which existence is itself determined; not that which he possesses, but that which possess him. (p. 219–220)

I looked up, there stood Barth over my opponent like Ali over Liston. That day Barth became my champion.

My First Semester Back

negativespace-4I have been busy with school and I have not had a lot of chances to post here. This semester I’ve written close to 150 pages, and read over 4,000. This has been the busiest semester that I have ever had in all of my schooling…and I loved it.

Looking back it is a blur. But, there are a few lessons that I took from this semester.

  1. Prayer is key: Because most of the heavy reading was front loaded I had to read a lot of pages some days. For about four weeks straight I was knocking out 150 pages a day. Some days I wanted to quite (just for the day). Other days I couldn’t focus. I turned to prayer for help. My strength was renewed, I learned more, and most importantly, I felt closer to God in the process. There is a fear that studies will cause us to dry up spiritually. But, if you approach it as worship towards God and look to him for help, study can be one of the most fruitful spiritual disciplines you practice. It was for me this semester.
  2. Review my reading: Speed reading is great. I found that I could knock out 150 pages a day because I had developed speed reading skills. The problem…retention. When I arrived at class I found it took me a few minutes to remember everything about the books I had read. I had underlined well (usually whenever the professor said, “Did you guys get his main point here…” it was something I had underlined as a main point), but my mind had not processed everything together. I need to find a good way to review in order to get a grasp for the author’s work.
  3. My writing/researching system works: I wrote  around 150 pages this semester. That is the most I have ever written in a semester. Not all of it was research laden. Some of it was just personal reflection. But, half of it was based on research. This would have crushed me previously. But now, I have a method and it works. My writings may not show it this semester, but, I tested my method and I can see that it is a good one for me (I didn’t get to edit as much as I would have liked and one of my arguments needed to mature before I wrote it, but the deadline was looming). It isn’t perfect, but my method helped me write quickly.
  4. Focus more on my writing: I use too many words that have no funciton….in fact, I wanted to write, “I use way too many words…” I have to trim it down. I also have to state my argument clearly.I don’t feel confident in my arguments, and I worry about how I will appear to my audience. Zinsser, in his book, On Writing Well encourages writers to do the opposite. I think he had people like me in mind.

Therefore, a fundamental rule is: be yourself No rule, however, is harder to follow. It requires the writer to do two things which by his metabolism are impossible. He must relax and he must have confidence. (21)


The God Who is There (The Schaeffer Trilogy): Books That Changed My Life Part 3

This series is contextual in nature. I’m not writing this to highlight my five favorite books. I’m not even sure that any of these would make that list anyways. But, these are five books have affected my life significantly enough over the last several years. Situations in my life magnified their impact. They come in no particular order of importance.

I was at a spiritual crossroads in 2007. I had a reaction to a set of beliefs that I saw in current evangelicalism that bothered me. Whether it was an accurate understanding of the evangelical culture at large or a misunderstanding you will have to be the judge. I was having a reaction against what I thought was normative Christianity. As everything else in life goes…when you are reacting to something you see it everywhere and in everything–sometimes when it may not be there fully.

Either way, I had a bone to pick with modern evangelicalism (popular evangelicalism….not textbook). It was the idea that our faith was somehow separate from the real world. Science could prove our faith wrong, but it wouldn’t shake our faith. I took issue with this because I thought that if God existed then he was the best explanation for our world. If science “disproved God” (good luck!) then I would have to abandon the faith.

This idea that our faith was something that could not be proved in this world was irksome to me. Not only was this concept’s relation to the real world bothersome, but also the way it played out in decision making. From private interpretations of scripture (a big problem for the early church fathers) or divine calls and secret wills; God was used and abused by people right before my eyes. All the while God seemed like a chameleon changing his will as if with the seasons. Basically, people could do whatever they wanted as long as they had their secret knowledge of God’s will. Gnostics! Diviners! Bleh!

I had one foot out the door moving away from Christianity (or at least the evangelical church) when a friend grabbed me and recommended reading Francis Schaeffer. I began with Escape From Reason (not realizing it was the second book in the trilogy) and then moved to The God Who is There. In these books I would find another Christian who believed as I did (as I thought scripture taught) that the belief in God was the best explanation of the world we live in. And just like Michael Corleone, I was pulled back in….though still standing by the door, perhaps.

Since then, I have found I am not alone in my understanding of the evangelical world. And, I probably don’t agree with Schaeffer’s interpretation of philosophy anymore (especially his views on Aquinas). But as I said at the beginning of this series: This isn’t about the books that are my favorite. It is about the books that changed my life. Hats of to Schaeffer for keeping me a Christian, at least in name.

Confessions of a Perfectionist Ph.D. Student: Love and Scholarship

Confession: Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. I thought scholarship was only about my whit and intelligence–not my love for others.

At the heart of perfectionism lay both fear and pride. On the one hand, there is fear that you will make a mistake, lead people astray, or look bad. It is the last one that reveals the pride in perfectionism. In hoping not to look bad you want others to look well upon you and your work. In fact, at least for me, I wanted people to see a great body of work that settled many issues. You want to write the perfect paper, express the right ideas, in a way where everyone will be persuaded by your whit or logic–maybe even think that you have put to rest all other arguments.

Displaying our whit should not be a goal of our scholarship. Avoiding this is one of the goals I have for my “2nd Chance Ph.D.” In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine says this:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

The goal of any work done by the scholar is to express love for God and love for man. If the work of a Christian scholar does not center around this love then they have missed the whole point of why they do what they do. In fact, if the Christian scholar who desires for people to marvel at their intellectual musings actually proves that they are ignorant of the true purpose of the scriptures; if Augustine is correct in his statement.

Even if we don’t agree with Augustine that we must have this love to interpret scripture (for what do we do with non-Christian interpretation…is there any merit to it?) we can at least say for the Christian scholar that this love of God and man should be present in his/her work.

That, was something I did not do well before. I hope to be better about it this time around. Bear with me as it will be a process.

Does the book of Esther mention God at all? Depends on the version you read.

In my Ph.D. seminar last week we began talking about the theology of the book of Esther. It seems odd to speak of the theology of a book that doesn’t mention the name of God. However, there are some manuscripts of the Old Greek versions of Esther which do mention God in the book. They are found in the additions referred to as texts C, D, and the Alpha Text. In Esther C verse 8 (an addition made after the Masoretic Text [MT] 4:17) Esther appeals to God to act on behalf of the people of Abraham (see the picture above). In addition D verse 8, which occurs right after C, God changes the heart of the king. Both of these references to God are mentioned in the Alpha Text. So, some manuscripts contain a reference to God in the book of Esther. For more information and a side-by-side comparison of these texts in English go here.

There are two questions that come up for me again and again in relation to these “additions”:

  1. The Early Church Fathers seemed to prefer the LXX (including references to the additions). If their versions included the additions, why aren’t we reading their versions instead of the MT?
  2. Should we prefer Early Christian OT canons over MT canon? The latter representing a Jewish (non-Christian) community.

I don’t have answers here for these questions. But I’m throwing them out there for a little discussion.