CHANGING THE WORLD: Local, global tributes to honor Martin Luther’s radical movement

Tom Netherland
for the Bristol Herald Courier

Martin Luther changed the world and humanity.

To paraphrase the title of a William Manchester book on the Middle Ages, in a world lit only by fire, Luther provided a light by which the individual could see and think for themselves.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As ignited by religious and societal revolutionary theologian Martin Luther, the world as we know it would most certainly not be the same had Luther never stepped forth in opposition of the era’s Roman Catholic Church leadership.

 “We would live in bleak ignorance. Just bleak ignorance,” said Don Michael Hudson, associate professor and chair of the philosophy and religion department at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. “Along with bleak ignorance, there would be big oppression of the people (today). I feel that way very strongly.”

Born on Nov. 10, 1483, in Germany, Luther evolved into becoming a radical. He equated to Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma to Montgomery, Rosa Parks on the bus, George Washington on the front lines, the Allies encountering Hitler. But, one could make a sound argument that Luther surpassed them all as history’s most radical of radicals.

“Luther said, ‘Open your eyes, open your mind. Don’t be a sheep. Think for yourself,’” Hudson said. “Some people take umbrage with it being called the Dark Ages. Well, it was. Europe was shrouded in darkness.”

Light shed upon Luther and his era comes via a smattering of yearlong acknowledgements locally, nationally and worldwide. For instance, a showing of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World,” will screen on Monday, Oct. 30, at Cinemark Tinseltown in Bristol, Virginia. Tickets must be purchased beforehand and online via the link listed below.

Two days earlier, Concordia Lutheran Church in Kingsport will host an event of relevant music. They will present Songs of the Reformation on Saturday, Oct. 28, which will highlight the singing of hymns written by Luther.

“Luther said that after God’s love, music is the greatest thing,” said Rev. Paul Becker, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church. “We want to help people see the beauty of the good news. Even stuff that’s 500 years old is fresh enough that it could have been written yesterday.”

Take Luther’s “Salvation Unto Us Has Come”:

“Salvation unto us has come

By God’s free grace and favor;

Good works cannot avert our doom,

They help and save us never.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,

Who did for all the world atone;

He is our one redeemer.”

Luther’s “good works cannot avert our doom” line directly contradicted the Catholic Church. However, “Luther was an ardent Catholic …,” wrote author William Manchester in “A World Lit Only By Fire.”

Indeed, Luther was an academic as well as an Augustinian friar and then a Catholic priest. He translated the Bible into New High German, “a language he virtually created …,” Manchester wrote.

Luther served as a devout man of the cloth, a Catholic for whom God meant everything. Perhaps his most famous hymn bears that out in its title: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

“In his early years, Luther’s loyalty to the Vatican was total; when he first glimpsed the Eternal City in 1511,” Manchester wrote, “he fell to his knees crying, ‘Hail to thee, O Holy Rome!’”

Meanwhile, ocean waves of turmoil, long churning throughout Europe regarding the church’s controversial sale of indulgences, spread with the gradual passage of time. All was not calm either within Luther or ultimately the papacy or the Roman Catholic Church at large.

“To Luther, the selling of indulgences was a big scam,” Hudson said. “That really set him off. It was a racket.”

Corruption infected vast hallways within the fractured house of the Roman Catholic Church before, during and after Luther. Licentiousness, criminality and general boorishness spread like a communicable disease for which there seemed no cure. Such behavior reached clear to and indeed enveloped the papacy.

“At one point you had three popes on the throne at the same time,” Hudson said. “There was a system dealing with all of the illegitimate children of the pope and priests. They had no checks and balances. They used their own traditions for their own purposes, and if you disagreed, you were burned at the stake.”

Luther, as had Czech priest Jan Hus 100 years earlier, sought reform of the church. Hus directly challenged the church’s sale of indulgences. For his affront, Hus was tried as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415.

Voices such as Hus’ presented problems for the church. Widespread illiteracy and the lack of a printing press prevented the public from reading scripture for themselves. They depended on the clergy for their spiritual meals. Firebrands such as Hus gave them accurate readings of the Bible in concert with sharp rebukes of church leadership that did not.

“The Catholic Church used the Bible to squash the individual for their own purposes,” Hudson said. “To question the pope was not only to face the fear of fire in this life, but the fire of hell in the next life.”

One hundred and two years later, Luther penned “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.”

Better known as Luther’s “95 Theses,” the priest posted them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517. That he posted them on the door of the church wasn’t so revolutionary; the church door equated to a community bulletin board.

Luther’s words, however, proved contemporarily and historically earthquaking.

“He wrote that one cannot achieve salvation through indulgences,” Becker said. “Faith in Christ as the savior is the only way.”

Luther simply penned the truth.

“That will always upset people,” Becker said.

Coupled with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s, seeds of what became known as the Protestant Reformation grew exponentially in the aftermath of Luther’s “95 Theses.”

The Reformation led to far more than just a split in the Roman Catholic Church and the advent of Protestantism. For one, it stands as monumental within the entire history of the world.

“Oh man, I’d put it in the top three,” Hudson said. “It unleashed the modern world. It was the seeds of the Enlightenment. It changed our whole world. One of the reasons why our government has checks and balances is because of the Reformation.”

Luther and the subsequent Protestant Reformation rocked the world on its axis.

Ultimately, Luther neither critiqued God nor the Bible nor Catholicism. He repudiated its purveyors who bastardized the word of God.

“The Reformation was one of the major shifts, changes in human history,” Hudson said. “We’re still living full-blown in that shift.”

Göbekli Tepe: Neolithic Gathering and Feasting at the Beginning of Food Production

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 10.50.54 AM
Göbekli Tepe, Copyright DAI

Göbekli Tepe: Neolithic Gathering and Feasting at the Beginning of Food Production

ASOR July 2017

“A few kilometres northeast of modern Şanlıurfa in south-eastern Turkey, the tell of Göbekli Tepe is situated on the highest point of the otherwise barren Germuş mountain range. Rising 15 metres and with an area of about 9 hectares, the completely man-made mound covers the earliest known monumental cult architecture in the ancient Near East. Constructed by hunter-gatherers right after the end of the last Ice Age, they also intentionally buried it about 10,000 years ago.”

This is an important report and update from the team working on/at Göbekli Tepe. I visited this site a little over two years ago. The site reaches back to over 11,000 years ago and challenges our view of PP Neolithic life, agriculture, and possibly religion. I do, however, disagree with a few of the authors’ interpretations. I think it is too early to be arguing GT as a site for “feasting.” Admittedly, the authors argue that their conclusions are based on “ethnologic and historic analogies,” not archaeology in situ. So we must be cautious for now. But a very nice article nonetheless.

And here are some of my photos from March 2015:


And here is the site for their excellent blog roll:

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 10.59.05 AM
Gobekli Tepe, Copyright DAI

King Israel-Palestine Trip March 2018

It is March 10, 2018 and this is your view of the Mediterranean.

From Jaffa.

Jaffa 2015 Don Michael Hudson, PhD

From the rooftop of the old Turkish mansion where you are staying.

You have hiked up to Masada to see Herod’s palace.

You have seen the Dead Sea scrolls.

You have floated in the Dead Sea.

You have prayed at the Western Wall.

You have been on the Temple Mount.

You have spent glorious days around the Sea of Galilee.

You have been to Caesarea Maritima.

You have looked over the Elah Valley.

You have seen the Palestinian-Israeli situation firsthand.

You read the Bible like never before.

Join us. Israel-Palestine, Spring Break 2018

March 2-11, 2018

Cost: $3250 all-inclusive

Contact: Don Hudson 423.652.4154

Come, Bring Your Story

Mars Hill Review Issue 1
Mars Hill Review Issue 1

Come, Bring Your Story

Don Michael Hudson/ Mars Hill Review 1994: Premier Issue

“It is only the story… that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort. Without it we are blind.”
–Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah.

I have very few rituals in my chaotic life. One ritual, though, that I hold to religiously is the ritual I practice before going to sleep at night. I crawl in bed at least one hour prior to sleeping armed with an arsenal of books, magazines, and catalogues. First, I read “lighter” material like the latest fly-fishing catalog or Gun Dog magazine. Next, I turn my attention to an article or two from a Christian journal or periodical. Then, I will read part of the novel I am currently engrossed in. And finally, I will read the stories of the Old Testament or the Gospels until my wife threatens to burn all my books in some unholy bonfire if I don’t turn out the light. This is my nightly ritual of inducing sleep and my wife’s ritual of losing sleep.

One night something I read disturbed my sleep. Between dreaming of purchasing a new Orvis PM-10 lightweight rod with the “faster action” and Flannery O’Conner’s novel, Wise Blood, I read a seemingly innocuous article in a Christian quarterly. Simply put, the writer of the article presented a pastor struggling to find time for his “daily devotions.” This problem, of course, is a common problem for pastors and parishioners alike. What disturbed me though was the common solution offered for the problem. We have heard this before. First, discipline yourself to sit down and read the Word whether you feel like it or not. Then, develop a system that will help you discipline yourself and keep you consistent. As an aid to the preoccupied pastor, the article displayed a system for consistency that looked like an overworked Day-Timer. According to this author, neglecting the Bible is a problem of discipline.

The more I thought of the article the more angry I became. I could not finish my ritual-I never made it to the Gospel stories that night. Instead, I turned off the light and stewed in a tangle of sheets flopping from side to side rehearsing the “honest” conversation I would love to have with my errant brother. Unbeknownst to him, we fenced with one another until the wee hours of the morning and as usual when I have a conversation with myself, I always win.

Now, am I against daily devotions and the godly virtues of discipline, consistency, and systematization? Of course not. But let me invite you to wrestle with the questions that kept me up that night and were also the final plunges into my opponent’s heart. I would guess that they are also questions you have asked somewhere along your spiritual journey. Why is the Bible so hard to read? Why are there seasons in my life that I would rather do anything but read my Bible? In other words, if the Bible really is the story of God, why must I treat myself like some prisoner in a labor camp who must discipline himself to do the dreaded duty of reading his Bible again? If you were an outsider hearing most Christians talk about reading their Bibles, you would think they were speaking of root canals or tax audits.

A New Thought on an Old Problem

I went to Bible school with a deep passion in my heart. Since I was eleven years old, I believe that God called me for some type of teaching ministry. Even as a sophomore in high school I would sneak up to a small Bible college in my area and take night classes with college students. This may sound strange to you, but taking first year Greek and a class on the Pauline Epistles was a semester of ecstasy for me. At last I could study the Bible professionally, and this was one of the happiest moments of my teenage years. So when I tell you that I felt that I had died and gone to heaven when I entered Bible college it is no exaggeration.

Bible college was everything and more than I expected: Old Testament, New Testament, Theology, Greek Exegesis and Syntax, Church History, History of Doctrine, and Bible Exposition. In all honesty I think I received one of the best educations one could receive in that day. Seminary was a fascinating continuation and deepening of those things I learned in college. I turned my attention to the Old Testament and ancient languages. At the same time, I taught Greek as an assistant professor and ministered in a local church as an assistant pastor. All my dreams were coming true. But there was one trouble. Each passing year of college and seminary brought a gradually decreasing interest in the Bible. The iridescent, passionate flames that I entered college with were cooling to a few glowing embers.

I think though that my interest was waning because as much as I knew, my knowledge never touched me where I lived. I was wrestling with a few significant problems in my life and the Bible was dead. I studied the Bible but it did not speak to me. Secretly, I turned to Hemingway, Faulkner, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Jung, and Dostoevsky because they spoke to me more powerfully than the Bible did. I studied the Bible but it did not speak to me. A dilemma intruded into my life. My Bible was irrelevant and my world was significant. When I was 28 years old I graduated with a Th. M. in Old Testament. I had received an M. Div., and M. A. in Bible. I had preached for fourteen years and taught as a professor for five years. I had received one of the best Bible educations in the world. And yet, I was in a quandary because I was going out to invite people to read a book that bored me and to listen to a book that did not speak to me. No matter how much I disciplined myself I could not bring myself to enjoy the Bible. I am ashamed to admit that for the first year out of seminary I rarely read the Bible.

My memories haunted me though. Like old friends who would not let me slip away with my despair, they reminded me that things were not always this way. I recalled the consuming desire I had in high school to know the Scriptures, how I had found comfort in the psalms, encouragement in the stories, and rebuke in the epistles. I remembered those impossible days when I held to the smallest thread of truth. The quietest, most insistent whisper though summoned me to remember my boyhood love for the Bible stories. My mother read those stories to me and when I grew old enough to read for myself, I devoured the same stories. This was the memory I could not evade. Memory was my storyteller, and she recalled the story of how I loved the stories.

It was the stories of my boyhood that compelled me to love the Bible. From a world that was terrifying, lonely, and mundane they invited me to a world that was, at times, too unbelievable to bear. They wooed my reluctant heart. Who was this strange God who violently divided the Red Sea, called upon a prostitute to help level the walls of Jericho, whispered to Elijah hiding in a cave, and delivered Daniel from the gaping jaws of ravenous lions? Who were these strange heroes of Judges? Gideon and his fleece. Jephthah and his daughter. Samson and Delilah. Who was this one they called Christ? I thought him to be an odd man. But he healed people. I wanted to be healed. He gave sight to the blind. I wanted to see. He took little children into his arms. Would he take me into his arms? The people he loved the most crucified him. Why didn’t he call ten thousand angels, you know, just like the song we sang in church? I wanted to be Zacheus, Peter, Mary, John. I could see myself in the Bible stories. I wanted to be everyone in those stories. After six years of seminary, it was the passionate stories of my boyhood that drew my heart back to the Bible. It dawned on me one day that it was the mystery, passion, and wonder of the story that I had somehow squandered in my youthful idealism. I thought I had outgrown the stories.

There still remained a flicker in some corner of my darkened heart. Maybe my problem of reading the Bible was more than just a problem of discipline. How quickly do we forget Paul’s admonition that the law, discipline that is, is a schoolmaster who leads the student to the truth. God does not view us as machines who need to be programmed but as people who need to be called to something greater.

As I said previously, discipline is important, but making discipline our bottom line in this matter denies the passion and desire inherent to us all. In other words, is there not something undeniable about me that hungers for God? Discipline assumes that something outside of me draws me to the Bible. Story assumes that something inside of me draws me to listen to the Bible. What I find to my comfort and amazement is that a candle of desire is already lit in my heart. Some arsonist lit that candle a long time before I was aware of it. Yes, I am a self-centered, self-obsessed man. There are numerous days that I would like to be left alone to live my life as I choose. However, and I believe I speak for most Christians, there is something deep inside of me that wants to know God. My desire is not always present, but I do enjoy reading my Bible.

So what happened to this desire of mine in seminary? What killed my passion and what kills the passion of so many Christians? This is the major question of the essay. Maybe the way we are taught to read the Bible is wrong. Perhaps the way we read the Bible disciplines our passion rather than liberates our passion. I believe the way I was taught to read the Bible was one of cursing the darkness rather than lighting a candle. Seminary had somehow stripped the wonder and importance of stories from my life. Seminary taught me two things that almost suffocated my reading of the Bible: First, reading the Bible properly was comprised of following the right rules, the right method-reading the Bible was a science. If we could get the rules of interpretation right then our reading would be right and good. So I focused on getting all the rules and steps down just as a diesel mechanic would learn the proper way to rebuild an engine.

Second, I was discouraged from bringing my story to the Bible. We must separate ourselves from the Bible so we can understand it. Most pastors are taught that their reading of the Bible should be rational, logical, and objective so they must distance themselves from the text they are reading. To bring their lives to the story is to sully the story. Do you see how important these two points are? Do you see how destructive these points are? We as pastors and laymen are taught to be scientists rather than artists. A scientist stands “over and against” the Bible to understand it. To be a scientist means that I act on the Bible. A scientist sees a problem in reading the Bible and turns to behavior modification much like B. F. Skinner would. An artist is personally involved and stands under and within the Bible to understand it. To be an artist means that the Bible acts on me. An artist sees a problem in reading the Bible and turns to the romantic story of God.

Let me introduce you to a different way of reading the Bible. A way of reading that will hopefully draw you back to the passionate story of God. First, I acknowledge that the Bible is a story-not a list of prohibitions, or commandments, or proverbs, or steps-but a story. I do not read the Bible as a story because I happen to enjoy that way of reading. I read the Bible as a story because that’s the way the Bible presents itself. God has spoken to us in story and we will do well to listen the way that God has spoken. And, in my opinion, if we read the Bible as anything but story, we are fundamentally unbiblical. It is important to remember that the ten commandments are embedded in the middle of the story of the Penteteuch and not vice versa. The Psalms are a passionate expression of and personal response to God’s stories. The Proverbs are stories encapsulated in short, pithy statements. The Prophets are an interpretation, a re-reading of the stories of Israel. In the book of Romans, Paul makes a pointed statement about stories much like Christ and the prophets who preceded him. The church in Rome did not understand the gospel because it did not understand the stories of the Hebrew Bible. To explain salient points of the gospel, Paul returned to the stories of the Bible and reinterpreted them. For example, to elucidate justification by faith he returned to the story of Abraham’s justification. To clarify God’s strange way of salvation, he re-reads the story of Jacob and Esau. If I understand what Paul is accomplishing in the book of Romans, he is saying to the Romans that they would understand the gospel if they would comprehend the ancient stories of Israel.

What terrifies me about my generation is that we have lost the importance of seeing the Bible as it was written-a story. We have reduced the Bible to a few significant prooftexts, a few commandments, a few steps to secure the good life. We see the Bible just as we see the average self-help book in the bookstore-not a mysterious, intriguing, beguiling story to be caught up in, but a list of principles that will remove the mystery and suffering of our lives.

Second, I read other stories to help me understand the stories of the Bible. If all of us are truly made in the image of God then every story has traces of God in it. I am not suggesting that any story is as authoritative as the Bible stories. But every story has some level of authority because it arises out of the individual and his or her community. The image of God is undeniable and inescapable. And so every human reflects the image of God in his or her artistry. The more we read the better readers of the Bible we will be.

This is true for at least two reasons: 1) Every story expands our inner worlds, changes our inner worlds. Repeatedly I have said to my students, “Who you are is how you read.” The more you know about life the more you will bring to the stories of God to understand them and apply them. The world is my classroom and humanity is my teacher. 2) Certain stories are very similar to certain stories in the Bible. For example, I am going to ask you to read two stories in the next section of this essay: the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden, and then Jephthah’s daughter from Judges 11. If you cannot recall Jephthah’s daughter it might be wise to read that first and then come back to the fairy tale. As you read The Handless Maiden ask yourself these questions. What are the similarities to Jephthah’s daughter? I think you will be shocked to see the amazing comparisons. What similar truths are these two stories addressing? Once again the teaching of these stories is very similar. Also, ask yourself if the fairy tale can help you understand the strange story of Jephthah’s daughter. What does it mean to read in community? It means to read things that are like us and very different than us. One of my mentors, Peter Miscall says “No text is an island.” This means that we are all connected intimately to all the stories of the world. Every story we read will aid us in understanding ourselves and our world.

And lastly, I bring my story to the stories of the Bible. The ancient story of Jephthah’s daughter has something to say to me today. As I read Jephthah’s daughter I see myself and my tendency to sacrifice others out of my own cowardice. I see how easy it is to be oblivious to everyone and everything around me. I see how easy it is to sacrifice relationship in the name of a rash vow. The more I bring my life, the lives of my clients, the lives of my acquaintances to this story, the better I understand it. We are not as different as Jephthah as we want to believe. If I understand Jephthah then maybe I will not destroy others around me like he did. So I read the Bible as a story, I bring other stories to my life, and I bring my life to the stories.

Let’s turn now to the exciting stories of The Handless Maiden and Jephthah’s daughter.

The Handless Maiden

A long, long time ago a miller had fallen upon hard times. All he had left to his name was his mill and a big apple tree behind it. One day he went to the forest to chop wood when an old man approached him. “Why do you exhaust yourself by chopping this wood?” he asked the miller.

“I will make you a very rich man if you give me what is standing behind your mill.” The miller thought to himself, “The only thing standing behind my mill is that old apple tree.” The miller agreed to the bargain, and the old man promised to return in three years and claim what was his.

The miller returned home and found abundant riches waiting for him. “Where did all this treasure come from?” asked the miller’s wife. The miller answered smugly, “I met an old man in the forest and he promised to make me exceedingly rich if I in turn would give him what was standing behind the mill. I can afford to lose the apple tree for all this, don’t you think?” “Oh you foolish husband,” scolded his wife, “that old man was the devil. Your daughter was standing behind the mill, sweeping the yard.”

The miller’s daughter was a beautiful and godly woman. After three years, when the devil was to come for her, she bathed herself and drew a circle around herself with chalk. The devil appeared to claim his prize but immediately grew angry because he could not approach her. “Do not let her near water,” he commanded the miller. The miller obeyed because he was fearful of the devil. The evil one appeared the next day, but this time she had shed tears on her hands, and so they were clean. The devil was enraged, “Chop her hands off so I can have power over her.” The miller was aghast with horror. “I cannot chop off my own daughter’s hands,” cried the miller. “If you do not do as I command, you will be mine, and I will take you away,” sneered the devil. The miller agreed to the devil’s demands. He went to his daughter and said, “My daughter, I must chop off your hands because the devil will take me away if I do not. Please help me in my dilemma and forgive me for what I am about to do.” “You are my father, do as you wish,” replied the daughter. She held out her hands and the miller chopped them off. The devil returned again, but she had wept on the stumps of her arms cleansing them. So the devil gave up and let the daughter go.

Then the miller came to his daughter and said, “Thanks to you we are abundantly rich. I will always care for you.” But she replied, “No, I must go away. There will be kindhearted people who will care for me.”

The next morning she set out for her journey. She traveled all day until she came to the king’s orchard at sunset. She was hungry and wanted some of the fruit but a moat surrounded the orchard. She kneeled and prayed to God. Suddenly an angel appeared and made a place for her to cross. She entered the orchard with the angel and ate from a pear tree. Unbeknownst to her, the gardener was watching but he was afraid to show himself for he feared her to be a spirit. The next morning the king entered the orchard to count his pears. He noticed that one pear was missing and asked the gardener what happened to it. The gardener recounted the whole incident to the king. “I did not question them because I was afraid,” explained the gardener. The king said, “If what you say is true, then I will stay and watch tonight.”

At dusk the king returned to the orchard with a priest to speak to the spirit. The three men sat down under a tree and waited for the spirit to reappear. Sure enough, the girl stepped out of the thicket and took another pear. The priest approached her and the angel and asked: “Are you from God or from another world?” She replied, “Oh no, I am a girl forsaken by everyone but God.” The king said to her, “Though everyone has forsaken you, I will not forsake you.” He took her into his royal palace, made silver hands for her, and took her as his wife.

One year later the king went to war. He placed his wife into his mother’s care. “If she gives birth, take good care of her, and write me at once,” he said to his mother. Soon she gave birth to a fine boy. The king’s mother wrote a letter to her son. But the messenger stopped to rest by a brook and fell asleep. Then once again the devil appeared to harm the queen. He changed the letter for another, announcing that the queen had given birth to a changeling. The king was horrified. He wrote back that they should graciously care for the queen until he returns. On his return to the palace, the messenger stopped to rest at the same brook and fell asleep. Again the devil exchanged the letter, commanding that the queen and child be killed. The king’s mother could not believe what the king had commanded. She wrote another letter but the answer always came back the same. The last letter explained that they should keep the queen’s tongue and eyes as proof of their obedience.

The old mother was horrified. She could not bear to follow the dictates of the king. One night she sent for a doe and cut out its eyes and tongue to keep. Then she demanded that the queen leave with her young son. “I cannot obey my wicked son, but you must leave and never return.” The queen and her son left the royal palace and entered the forest. In the forest she fell on her knees and prayed to God. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and took her to a small house. Over the door read this sign, “All are welcome.” A snow-white maiden came out of the house and said, “Welcome to my home, Your Majesty.” The snow-white maiden explained that she was an angel sent from God to care for the queen and her son. So they lived there for seven years and because God had pity on the queen her hands grew again.

Finally the king returned from his many wars. His greatest wish was to see his wife and young son. His old mother wept bitterly at his sight. “You wicked son,” she said. “How could you murder you own wife and son?” She showed him the letters and told him she had obeyed his commands. At this the king wept uncontrollably. When the old mother saw this she pitied her son and told him the truth. “Do not cry. She is alive. These eyes and tongue are from a doe I secretly killed. I sent her away and told her to never return.”

The king vowed to find his wife and son and so wandered for seven years. He did not take anything with him but God took care of him. At last he came to the forest and found the house with the sign, “All are welcome.” The snow-white maiden came out and invited him in. “Welcome, your Majesty, please come in.” He explained to her that he had spent seven years looking for his wife and child. The maiden offered him food and drink but he refused, asking only to rest for a while. He lay down and covered his face with a handkerchief.

The angel went into another room and got the woman and the young son she now called “Sorrowful.” “Bring your child; your husband is here.” She took them to the sleeping man and slipped the handkerchief from his face. The king awoke at their words and the queen said to the king, “This is your son Sorrowful.” He saw her hands and said, “But my wife had silver hands.” She replied that God had restored her hands. The angel went into the bedchamber and brought out the silver hands. Then the king knew for sure that this was his wife and son. He kissed them both and told them how glad he was to find them. They left the forest and returned to the palace where there was great rejoicing and the king and queen lived happily ever after.

AND NOW, Jephthah’s Daughter

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was the son of a prostitute but he was also a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife (Jephthah’s step-mother) bore him many sons. When his step-brothers grew to be older they cast Jephthah out of the family. They said to him, “You will never inherit anything from our father nor will you be a part of this family because you are the son of a prostitute.” At these words Jephthah fled from his family and his land to live in the land of Good. Jephthah the outcast gathered outlaws around him and they went on raiding parties together.

After awhile, the Ammonites warred against the Israelites. When the Ammonites came against Israel, the leaders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Good. They begged Jephthah to command the battle against the Ammonites. But this made Jephtthah curious and so he asked them, “Are you not the very ones who cast me out of my father’s house because of my mother? Why are you coming to me now in your moment of trouble?” The elders of Gilead agreed but they pressed Jephthah to be their leader nevertheless. Jephthah spoke to the elders, “If you will allow me to come home to fight, and if the Lord gives me victory, I will be your leader.” And the elders of Gilead promised Jephthah saying, “The Lord is our witness between us. We will certainly do as you say.” Jephthah departed with them and became their leader in battle.

Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites saying, “What do you have against us that you come to fight us?” The king answered, “Because your fathers, on their way from Egypt, took our land from us. Now please return our land in peace and we will not bother you.” This time Jephthah sent messengers back to the king telling him that he was surely mistaken. The messengers relayed the entire story of the exodus to the king of the Ammonites. They told him how two other kings acted toward Israel in that day. They finished their message by saying this to the king: “We are not the ones who have sinned against you, but you have wronged us in coming to battle us. The Lord will decide who is right in this matter.” But the king of the Ammonites would not listen to the messengers.

After hearing this the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went out to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. “If you will give me victory over the Ammonites then whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me shall be the Lord’s. If I am victorious I will offer that up to the Lord as a holocaust [burnt offering]”. So Jephthah went out against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave Jephthah a great victory.

Then Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah. As he approached his house, his only child, his daughter came out of the house to meet him with timbrels and dancing. When he saw his daughter come out of the house he was horrified beyond measure. He tore his clothes and blamed his daughter. “My daughter, you have brought me down. You are the reason for my great trouble today! I have vowed to the Lord and I cannot go back on my vow!” She said to him, “My father, do to me as you wish because you have opened your mouth to the Lord.” And she spoke to her father, “Let this thing happen to me. But give me two months to wander in the mountains and grieve my virginity.” So she departed with her companions and grieved her virginity in the mountains. When two months were up she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. After this it was customary in Israel that the daughters of Israel would mourn the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite every year for four days.

Reading Jephthah’s Daughter

Two stories-one a fairy tale; one a Bible story. Each story tells of a father who sacrifices his daughter. An insecure father who uses his daughter to compensate for his fear and shame. An insecure father who asks his daughter to perform the unique duty of a father. The miller, in his greed for riches and security, sacrificed his daughter through his oblivion and cowardice. Jephthah, in his fury to remove his shame, sacrificed his daughter through his rashness.

Insecure men are the most dangerous men in the world. The father of the handless maiden was tired of grappling with the frustrations of life, and so he jumped at the first opportunity to get rich quick. There was one problem with his get-rich-quick scheme though-something he failed to see. Like so many men, his vision for riches or just plain comfort (no more exhausting work) blinded him to the obvious wiles of the devil. He was not aware that he was bargaining with the devil. But his wife knew. Strangely, she knew without seeing the devil disguised as the old man or even hearing the conversation. Similar to so many women of the Bible, she saw better than her husband but was helpless to remedy her husband’s blindness. Because her husband was foolish to the schemes of the devil she had to suffer the awful consequences. The father could have been suspect of this old stranger so familiar to us all. He could have been suspicious of any bargain that promised to banish the chaos of life and remove the suffering of our existence.

But there is something more tragic than the father’s bargain with the devil. The fact that he cooperated with the bargain is mystifying. Remember in the story the daughter wards off the devil first by drawing a circle around herself and then by washing herself. Finally, the devil is rebuffed a third time and chooses to leave the maiden for the time being. Was it not possible for the father to slight the devil also? Or was he afraid of losing his riches? Or was he afraid of what the devil might do to him? When the father drew back from chopping his daughter’s hands off the devil threatened him, “If you do not do as I command, you will be mine, and I will take you away.” We have already seen that the daughter through her sorrow could renounce the terms of the bargain. Why didn’t the father? Maybe he was afraid to do what only a father can do for his children-that is give his life for his daughter.

In this story it is the women who are discerning and nurturing. The maiden discerns that Satan can be thwarted, and foolish bargains are just that-foolish. The mother of the handless maiden discerns the true nature of Satan. Both the mother and daughter see through the illusion of evil. In the end, the miller did not keep his bargain but the devil was left powerless anyway so his power really was illusory. The mother of the king was not a literalist. In other words, she was horrified at the seeming demands of the king so she did not obey him. Satan used cunning to attempt to destroy the maiden and her son. The king’s mother used cunning to preserve the live of the maiden and her son. Both angels were messengers of God who ministered tenderly to the maiden. For some reason Satan seeks to destroy this beautiful and godly woman. He is obsessed with obliterating the feminine.

In this story, it is the men who are absent. They are greedy, oblivious, fearful, distant, and sleeping. This story answers the question of what happens to a society, a family, a woman when the men disappear, when the masculine abdicates. In the way of the Old Testament, when the men disappear the women are forced to wander as aliens and the children become orphans. The Handless Maiden teaches us that the devil does his best work when men are fearful, absent, or asleep. The father harms his daughter through his cowardice; the king harms his wife through his absence; and the messenger harms his queen in his stupor.

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is not unlike The Handless Maiden. Jephthah was born in shame. His nameless mother was a prostitute. As we begin the story of Jephthah’s daughter we find another absent father. Gilead, the father, has relations with a woman outside of marriage. From the point of conception Gilead disinherits his son. Like so many men, Gilead probably thought that his tryst did not matter. He was oblivious to the eternal ramifications of his moment of illicit pleasure. When the legitimate sons of Gilead cast Jephthah out of the family, Gilead was silent. And his silence disinherited his son and like the father in The Handless Maiden, caused his child to wander as an outlaw among outlaws. Jephthah’s was a double shame-no family, no inheritance. Thus he must have been an empty, insecure man.

Jephthah’s story takes a turn for the good though. His brothers seek him to be the mighty warrior for them. Jephthah makes a strange request in return for battling the Ammonites. He doesn’t ask for his inheritance-he asks to be their leader. This is significant in the book of Judges because most of the men are reluctant to be leaders (Barak, Samson, Gideon) or they are obsessed with leadership (Jephthah, Abimelech). Just like our present day, the men of Judges do great damage through their silence or violence.

Now, notice what happens before the battle. Jephthah makes his vow after the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. Why did he make this foolish vow after the Spirit visited him? Was he, like Gideon, afraid to battle without manipulating God? Was he, like Barak, afraid to battle unless he invoked the feminine? Or was he, like Manoah, oblivious to the presence of God?

Whatever the reason, Jephthah made a foolish vow. What did he expect to come out of his house? Just like the father of the handless maiden, he made a vow, a bargain without being aware of the consequences. His shame and insecurity led to the death of his daughter. What is more horrifying though is that he did not put an end to his devilish vow. As with the father of the handless maiden, he assumed the reality of the vow to be more than the reality of relationship. Both fathers disinherited their daughters. Both fathers sacrificed their daughters out of greed and shame. Jephthah perpetuates the cycle of abuse that damaged him.

These two stories teach us one important truth: insecure men are the most dangerous men in the world. And I am one of those men. I can see myself in both stories. I feel insecure, disinherited, and I am already weary from the battle of life. When I act on these feelings I use people, or I neglect my family so that I will be successful, or I ask someone else to be courageous when I am fearful.

Reading The Handless Maiden helps us better understand Jephthah’s daughter because it gives us categories to think with and look for. It teaches similar truths. Both stories captivate me. I want to know how the story ends, how the conflicts are resolved, so I read on. Both stories expose me. Do I use people to fill my emptiness and remove my fear? Am I sacrificing the ones I love out of my own sense of inadequacy. Both stories encourage me. They give me insight into my own soul and the human condition so that I do not have to perpetuate the sins of the father. I can be different because stories change my life. Story is that eternal moment that reminds me of the past which gives me insight into my present relationships and thus a vision for the future. Maybe these two stories will prevent me from doubting God and thereby prevent me from damaging my children.

Story is about people and God and how people and God come together. The Bible story is a beautiful romance in which God beckons our wayward hearts to join him. It’s about being little children, embracing mystery, seeing the unseen, and growing old with delight, not despair. It’s about where I came from and who I am and thus who my children and grandchildren will be. And I suppose it’s also about faith, hope, and love. Faith that remembers, love that connects, and hope that tells me I’m going to be okay.

But story is God’s quiet intrusion into our frantic lives; it is the small, still voice that whispers in the caverns of our darkness. God has intruded into my world through story. And so it is the story of God that gives me comfort and brings change to my life.

When do we, like Jacob, see that our demand to know the name of God is our feeble, but arrogant attempt to master God? When do we walk away from Scripture with a distinctive limp because we came as one person but left as another? It is the mystery of the story of God that draws us in to peak behind the curtain of the tabernacle, but it is also the story of God that breaks us and redeems us into someone we would never be without that story. So come, bring your story to a good story that is true and speaks to our lives in meaningful ways.


The VALUE project: Video Games and Archaeology at Leiden University


The VALUE project: Video Games and Archaeology at Leiden University

ASOR June 2017

“What do video games have to do with archaeology? The worlds of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario Bros., or Tetris seem a far cry from anything archaeologists usually work on. But both involve imagining and visualizing worlds populated by humans, with human behavior and culture (and sometimes with mutated humans, aliens, the undead, and giant gorillas throwing barrels). VALUE (Videogames and Archaeology at Leiden University) began two and a half years ago. One of our many goals is to show the great potential video games have for archaeology in terms of public outreach, heritage preservation, and education, but also for actual research.”

The Dance of Truth: Postmodernism and the Evangelical

The Dance of Truth: Postmodernism and the Evangelical

Melville: Imagine someone who, finally, takes up the sword or the harpoon to begin a combat with God himself.

Hawthorne: One must not believe— Melville: In who?—

Hawthorne: In God.

Melville: On the contrary, for then what would be the merit? Hawthorne: Or the madness.

Melville: Or the madness if you like. No I think on the contrary of someone who saw God as clearly as the nose in the middle of a face, as the saying goes, as clearly as the white whale above the water, and who, precisely, seeing him in all his glory, knowing him in all his mysteries, knowing how far the delirium of his force may go, but not forgetting—ever—the wounds inflicted on him by this God, nevertheless launches himself at him and throws the harpoon. I believe you are writing a fine book, said Hawthorne, after a silence. . .


We want God to make sense, to be reasonable, to act according to how we think God should act. This kind of thinking, though, is not far from where we live today. If I give money to the church, then God will bless me financially. If I have my “quiet time” in scripture, then God will bless my day. If I raise my children right, then surely they will turn out right. In themselves these actions are good and right; however, we have to ask ourselves, “Do our motives emerge from the desire to give a place to the mystery of faith, or, rather, to conquer mystery?”

I am troubled by a movement very common in Christian circles today called “Raising Kids God’s Way.” Even the title smacks of modernist arrogance—that the method I use to raise my children would be God’s way. It is tragic enough that the authors of this training method use scripture in egregious ways, encourage dubious medical practices, and promote the deadening of passion and imagination in our children. But more sadly, they are teaching the quintessential promise of modernism: If I do A, then God will do B.

Terrified, bewildered parents want a guarantee. I know this passion for a guarantee by personal experience. I want something in my life that will guarantee me that if I do this, then God is obligated to do such-and-so. Thank God, though, for our five year olds whose unrestrained passions remind us that God is whimsical and untamed. Thank God for our “foolish” teenagers who drive the foolishness out of our hesitant, fearful hearts. If you want a good picture of postmodernism, then think of the five year old who disrupts the best laid plans of the family or the teenager who begins to question a parent’s faith. This is why the postmodern moment is so terrify- ing to us. It is a reminder that we are out of control, and a place where we are invited to trust a God who is beyond our comprehension. We want guarantees, and conveniently for Christians, we can “invent” a God who gives such a guarantee. In other words, Christians can use the methods and the thinking of modernism to project an image of a God who removes questions and doubts. Modernism, then, becomes a way of think- ing which attempts to tame and reduce God to logical categories so that our worlds will be predictable. It is the quest for the absolute presence of God—we can use our minds, our reason, to prove the existence of God. Modernism at its extreme is the belief that the human mind can comprehend reality whether it be something as lofty as God or as mundane as weather patterns. Referring back to Melville’s quote at the beginning of this essay, just as Captain Ahab madly hunted the great, mysterious white whale, modernism has been the furious pursuit of God in order to conquer the ultimate mystery.

If we can say that modernism is the delirious launch and thrust of the harpoon at the God who has been sighted, that frenzied quest to pierce and capture the incomprehensible God, then perhaps we can say that postmodernism is the appalling, haunting moment when the harpoon misses the target, we have launched ourselves into the howling maelstrom, and the sighted God has disappeared into the deep blue sea. Thus, we no longer live in a culture which promotes this naïve assumption of modernism: that we can actually comprehend God. Most likely, modernist arrogance reached its height, the top of Babel, in the thought of Hegel, the German philosopher. Incredibly, Hegel actually believed that his philosophy had finally solved the mystery of the trinity. Listen to the words of Gadamer, a more contemporary German philosopher: “Hegelian philosophy claimed above all to have comprehended the truth of the Christian message in conceptual form. This included even the deepest mystery of Christian doctrine, the mystery of the trinity.” Hegel could actually believe in his idealistic, but naïve, philosophy because he was a child of the nineteenth century. Little could he have known what lay in store for the twentieth century. Little did he know that his positive philosophy would be a major force that would lead to the Holocaust.

As we approach the twenty-first century, our postmodern culture asks a very different question than our modernist ancestors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: We are asking, “Where is God?” You promised that God would be there. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. My Lai. You said we could prove God’s existence. Mao Tse-tung. Pinochet. Pol Pot. You said that God made sense. The Cultural Revolution in China. The Red Terror in Ukraine. Stalin’s bloody purges in Russia. You said that God has spoken in history. Prague 1968. Chiapas 1996. Laramie 1998. You said that we were getting better and better, that “even God could not sink this ship!” The finality of the German gas chamber. The isolation of the American prison cell. The horror of the Chilean torture chamber. “Where is God?” Indeed. “Man of sorrows, disappearing into the crowd.”

But there is another disappearance here at the end of modernism, one just as insidious as these physical manifestations mentioned in the previous paragraph. This other disappearance is the loss of meaning. We are deluged with data. Never in the history of humanity have there been more words, more images, more sensory data than in our time. Everywhere we turn, we are assaulted by images without substance, advertisements without ethics, and words with- out meaning. How does the church speak about the tragedy of the twentieth century? How does the church speak to this postmodern world?

We are at the end of the modernist experiment, and we have forfeited, we are missing, truth and goodness. Only beauty remains, but beauty appears to be dislocated and homeless, because, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there” anymore. How do we reconcile beauty and Auschwitz; how do we reconcile beauty and vacuous Madison Avenue? We have launched out into the deep and cast our harpoon, but we have missed, we are missing God. We miss God: we have missed in our attempt to grasp the incomprehensible, and thus we are missing, we are yearning and are pining for God. If modernism was the confident demand for the presence of God, the building of Babel, then postmodernism can be the passion to sift through the ruins of the twentieth century, the rubble of Babel, in a search for the absent God. It is no secret that our culture is experiencing a profound sense of alienation. We are alienated from ourselves, from others and from God. This is what I mean by the absence of God—not that God has abandoned us, but that we are estranged from God and others.

Simply put, the question is this. How, then, does one talk about this search for the absence of God? How do we represent the Deus absconditus, the hidden God, who in Flannery O’Connor’s terms is the ragged figure who runs from tree to tree in our minds? How do we represent the God who got away? What place does modernist thought give to the person of God much less the hiddenness of God? We must ask and attempt to answer the question: how does the absence of God play out in our theology and in our culture?

Enter postmodernism. Postmodern thought comes upon the scene to remind us that faith is the dance of presence and absence, grace and tragedy, assurance and doubt. Perhaps the postmodern moment is the most effective way to reveal the hidden God. In this issue we want to argue that postmodern thought critiques the arrogance of modernism, and in so doing, offers the church one of its greatest opportunities to present the gospel. In other words, postmodern thought does have something to offer the church. Unfortunately though, there is a quite a bit of confusion going on in evangelical circles around the word “postmodern.” If the “new age movement” was the heresy that bedeviled the evangelical church in the eighties, then postmodernism is supposedly that new heresy creeping into the church as we move into the twenty-first century. Within the last two years I have heard and read many of the standard evangelical responses to postmodernism, and quite frankly, I have been shocked not only by the strident, reactionary tone but, more so, the obvious superficial misreadings and misunderstandings of what postmodernism is all about. When most evangelicals speak of postmodernism they use all-encompassing words such as “relativistic,” “nihilistic,” or the “death of truth” (as if truth could really die). But we must examine this issue carefully.

More times than not, we do not expend the energy to carefully, thoughtfully understand and explore views with which we disagree, i.e. postmodernism. As a result, whether implicitly or explicitly, we end up rejecting opposing views out of cozy ignorance rather than costly study. More tragically though, the theology of the church can inadvertently reflect worldly thinking rather than solid, scriptural thinking. Evangelical seminaries emphasize rationalist, analytical methodology over relationship; the Religious Right pushes morality rather than holiness; the church is in the business of recruiting more soldiers to defend the truth rather than sending believers out into the world to love and care for those who cannot care for themselves; mission organizations send out missionaries to save the pagans with the implicit message that the ones who are being saved must be delivered not only from their sins but their culture; some parachurch organizations present the gospel to others in a way that seeks to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christ rather than inviting them to a significant relationship with Christ.

Quite frankly I am concerned that certain pockets of evangelical Christianity have uncritically cast their lots with modernist think- ing. I recall the first time I attended a class in what many evangelicals would call a liberal seminary. This particular seminary was reputed to be an “open” institution, but I was astounded by the arrogance and intolerance of both the instructors and a number of the students. What terrified me the most, though, was the shock I felt when I began to realize that I was back in a “fundamentalist” institution. At different times in the class, I thought I had come upon a more dangerous fundamentalism—the tyranny of seeing through the eyes of tolerance. Same hermeneutic as fundamental- ism, just different theology. Years previously I had left a fundamentalist institution for the purpose of finding teaching that would not place God in a box, an institution whose sole purpose was not to build fences around the untamed God.

One of the basic problems with the postmodern debate is this: more times than not, some evangelicals are viewing postmodernism from within a modernist worldview. Postmodernism begins, though, by questioning the entire modernist enterprise while at the same time bringing forth new ways of thinking and inviting new voices to the discussion of faith. It is important to understand that my intent is not to throw out the advances of modernism and turn wholeheartedly toward postmodernism. In the end, both are human philosophies which emphasize certain aspects of truth while at the same time harboring serious errors. I would be the first to agree that postmodernism must be critiqued, but we have much to learn from the postmodern spectacle. As we begin, let me venture forth my very simple definition as long as we understand that my definition is not all-encompassing: postmodernism is a reversal in rationalist thinking which opens the door to mystery.

The Postmodern Spectacle

 It would be impossible to even begin to present a comprehensive view of postmodernism, so allow me to mention a few integral elements to postmodern thinking. I will discuss four categories: the postmodern moment is a turn, a downturn, a re-turn, and a ride in the rumble seat.

In the first place, postmodernism is a turn in language. The Italian author Umberto Eco, claims that postmodernism is “a way of operating” or simply, an entirely different way of thinking about language and reading. Essentially, postmodern thought would argue that God cannot be encircled, surrounded, or encompassed with language. As humans this side of Paradise, we can never know God perfectly; thus we never have an unadulterated, privileged view of God. Luther said a long time ago that there is a problem with the interpreter—we are blind to truth (John 9:41: “If you were blind, you would not have sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”). Yes, the postmodernist would say, but there is also a problem with language. Language communicates, but language also confuses and thus invites interpretation at every reading. Language is mysterious and calls for a profound humility on the part of the reader.

Modernism, and I must add, evangelical seminaries, have taught that the right methodology will correct wrong readings of the Bible. But most postmodern thinkers would argue that the strong arm of methodology merely sets up the reader to exit the text just as he or she entered the text. In other words, methodology does not critique the interpreter—the reader’s prejudices and arrogance. As the German philosopher, Schleiermacher, said a century ago: “You can have all the right tools and right beliefs and still miss the meaning of the text.” Postmodern thinkers would merely say that the process of reading is not as innocent or as unbiased as modernist thinkers have contended.

Let me turn to one place in the Bible that has been consistently misread with modernist prejudices. Judges has been and continues to be a very difficult text in the Bible. There is one place in particular that frustrates the reader. Judges 1:8 states that Jerusalem was destroyed by the tribe of Judah and Judges 1:21 tells us that Jerusalem was not destroyed by the Benjamites but in fact, “the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjamites to this day.” What are we to do with these contradictory statements? Must we agree with the modernist historical critic that what we have here is an editorial discrepancy of the first order? Evangelicals, in defense of the text, have joined the interpretive fray but have done so with a similar modernist, historical methodology in the attempt to explain away the problem. Modernism (evangelical or liberal) states that contradictions like this cannot exist in the Bible or in a “good” story. In doing so, both interpretive schools, under the influence of modernist presuppositions, have missed the meaning that this troubling gap is signifying.

A postmodern reading would ask instead, “Why is the text presenting two contradictory views within the same chapter?” “What message does this gap signify and how does this same thing happen somewhere else within the Bible?” Modernism, whether liberal or evangelical, asks the question, “How can I resolve this discrepancy?” In other words, the text is illogical or seemingly inaccurate so I must somehow make the text work. If I’m evangelical, I assume that God would only use that which is logical to reveal truth. Thus I would turn to history or archeology in my attempt to resolve this discrepancy. Furthermore, as an evangelical, I assume that God writes stories that are linear and logical. Postmodernist thought, however, asks this question to the evangelical: “What if the way I read the Bible is more modernist than biblical?” Postmodernism would say that there’s a fox in the hen house and that fox could be the evangelical’s uncritical modern way of thinking. Perhaps God reveals himself in mysterious ways that I could never imagine. When I read the Bible, I need to think how God would write the story more than how I think God should write the story.

Furthermore, postmodernism asks the question: “Are there other places in art and literature where the same thing is happening?” In other words, maybe the same thing appears in other stories and art forms outside of the Bible. These other places can inform my understanding of the scriptures. It may be that the narrator of Judges desired to present two disparate views simultaneously much the same way that Picasso painted. Picasso, in order to present a new view of reality, used Braque’s concept of simultaneity to reveal multiple meanings within the one text. Thus, his painting, Woman Seated, displays the profile of a woman and a frontal view of a woman. The two overlapping images of the women in reality represent one and the same woman. Picasso wanted to portray multiple perspectives of this woman so that we as the readers/viewers may see a fuller picture of this woman. Thus, in the book of Judges, the success of Judah in 1:8 and the defeat of Benjamin in 1:21 reflects a profound tension in the rest of the book: Judah will be successful; Benjamin will be passed over. In 1 Samuel there is this same ten- sion: David from the tribe of Judah will rule Israel; Saul from the tribe of Benjamin will not. Here in the same chapter are two perspectives of Jerusalem that provide a fuller picture of God’s work in Israel.

Reading, then, should be the radical expansion of the interpreter’s horizon, not the modernist limiting of the horizon. What postmodernism calls for is a new way of thinking about biblical theology, a postmodern biblical theology that emerges from the shift in language that this new turn in language brings. Modernism encourages us to come to the text as a blank slate. Postmodern biblical theology encourages the interpreter to bring his or her life (world) to the text because the interpreter brings a wealth of culture that will aid our understanding of the Bible. Every voice is important as the church reads the Bible. Postmodernism invites us to listen to the voice of the other, the ones we have historically exiled because of our selfish prejudices—women, African-Americans, Asians, the poor. . . . Are we not truly the relativists and the nihilists when we refuse someone else’s readings, when we refuse to listen to the voice of the other? Postmodern reading occurs in the community of others not just in the confines of my safe, narrow world. Wittgenstein has warned us that the limits of our language will be the limits of our own worlds.

Secondly, postmodern thinking is a downturn, an overturning of the way we see, a radical disruption of the way we think. This is the mission statement of a postmodern biblical theology: “Thus says the LORD, ‘My ways are not your ways’.” As humans, we are finite in our thinking, and there is no possible way that we can have a “total” view of reality. I will never forget a lecture by one of my favorite professors, Dick Averbeck. He was teaching a class of semi- nary students and began to list his rules for reading the Bible. “Number one,” he began. With pen in hand I was eagerly waiting to hear the first principle of interpretation. “I am wrong,” he said. We all sat there in class staring blankly at him. I was thinking to myself, “OK, get on with it, let us hear the first principle.” He repeated his statement, “I am wrong.” Then he proceeded to remind us of our human limitations and our propensity to sin so, of course, when I come to the Bible, “I am wrong.” Dick went on to explain that we are also right because we are redeemed and have the Spirit working within, but I have never quite recovered from Rule #1. He was inviting us to live in the tension of being right and wrong in the same moment. What, though, places us on this path of humility? I would argue partly that tragedy, disruption, and the discovery that I have been blind are the first steps to relation- ship with God. The postmodern moment can usher in a critique or crisis to the modernist promise that correct doctrine alone will lead to salvation. I would be the first to say that correct doctrine is essential to the Christian life, but I would also remind us that cor- rect doctrine (thinking) begins not with the assurance that I am right, but with the humility that I am wrong, or perhaps better put, there are many things in life and faith that remain a mystery to me. The German poet Rilke told the young poet to “love the questions.” Time and again, I have seen Christians use logic, or the rule of noncontradiction, or “evidences” in the attempt to prove the truth of Christianity. The postmodernist would say that all these “proofs” are merely subjective projections of the way I believe the world should work. Further, the postmodernist would point out that my supposed “objective” interpretation is, in the end, just another example of circular reasoning. I see what I want to see. I create God in my own image.

Most importantly though, the postmodernist would say that this modernist way of thinking puts an end to mystery by bringing closure to the questions—ending the story. In the end, the extreme of modernism teaches me to hate and take flight from my questions. Once again, our Lord said it best. “If we think we see, then we are blind. If we know that we are blind, then we see.” There is an infinite paradox here in these words. True sight does not begin in sight. True sight, the sighting of truth, begins with the acknowledgment that I am blind.

Therefore, this crisis of vision should not end in nihilism, but instead, lead to the yearning for more, a revelation of the presence of God. Out of the absence of God emerges the yearning for the appearance of God. Disruption should lead to change. Tragedy is a doorway to redemption, and judgment is a prelude to salvation. My questions, rather than resulting in idleness and despair, should lead me to an intense relationship with God and passionate care for others. These words recall Jeremiah’s central purpose of his prophetic calling, “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10). The day-to-day work of postmodernism is to overthrow the arrogance and narcissism of the self. This newfound humility will compel me to not only search for truth but also to seek the face of God. Our postmodern generation easily recognizes the tragedy and emptiness of the twentieth century. But if the American evangelical church remains squarely within a modernist theology, essentially turning a blind eye to tragedy because we offer glib answers to deep and disturbing questions, then for the first time in the history of the church we might find ourselves entirely irrelevant.

Thirdly, postmodernism is a re-turn to the past. Postmodernist thinking does not throw off the past but returns to the past for the purpose of finding meaning for today. This is what Umberto Eco says in the postscript to his brilliant postmodern novel, The Name of the Rose: “But the moment comes when the avant-garde (the modern) can go no further. . . .The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently.”

This is one of the great ironies of modernism, that at its most extreme, it ushers us down the exhausting path of subjectivism and nihilism because its critique of the past throws out the past. Simply put, we must abandon the past (tradition) to live well in the pre- sent. As we have seen, postmodernism welcomes other viewpoints to approach the interpretive table even when those views and texts hail from the past. The past is not to be thrown off as something which has no meaning for today, but rather, something that is evoked and reinterpreted for the purpose of discovering meaning in the present. This means, then, that tradition is not to be thrown off, nor is it to be accepted slavishly without careful thought and criticism.

Finally, a ride in the rumble seat. Postmodernism is play and the postmodern moment invites us to play with the text and to dance with God. Postmodernism is “irony, metalinguistic play, enunciation squared. Thus, with the modern, anyone who does not under- stand the game can only reject it, but with the postmodern, it is possible not to understand the game and yet take it seriously.” Umberto Eco’s words here are full of insight. In the end, the modernist enterprise is a failure to laugh—the refusal to play. Has the modernist agenda taken away our ability to play with the text and to take great pleasure in our readings? Have we as evangelicals surreptitiously rejected the game because we cannot admit that at the end of the day we, like the moderns, really don’t understand the game? In our obsession for truth we have lost the delightful quest for meaning. Postmodernism recognizes that mystery is not the death of truth but the playground where truth can swing. Again, lis- ten to Eco’s words, “Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.” It was our Lord who said it best: “Truth shall set you free.” Free to read with questions and imagination. Free to reach out to others in love and compassion rather than attempting to prove that we are right. Evangelicals are defending truth more than they are dancing with truth. We already believe in truth. Then let truth compel us to God and then propel us into the world. We cannot comprehend God. Then let us dance with God. We do not under- stand the other. Then let us dance with the other because our truth has set us free. I think Norman Maclean’s father said it best: “You can love completely without complete understanding. That I have known and preached.”

Truth in Motion

 In conclusion, allow me to call us back to the Old Testament. The people of the ancient Near East (including Israel) wanted a king who would banish all the chaos of the world. They wanted a modernist king. But, in the Old Testament, God had a different idea. The godly king will not be one who rules by worldly wisdom or sheer strength, but the king who cares for the widows, orphans, and aliens by the pouring out of his broken, crushed body (a foreshadowing of Christ). In Judges 9 the good king is the vine, the olive, and the fig. The bad king is the thorn bush. The good king will give life by being crushed (grape, olive) or broken open (the fig). The bad king will refuse to be broken and thus rule by terror and bloody violence. In the Old Testament, the “power” of the king or the queen was not to be used to expand the boundaries of his or her own kingdom, but instead, as a force to guard the boundaries of others.

What if the evangelical church reflected this postmodern king of the Old Testament? It is encouraging to see that a few churches are seek- ing racial reconciliation and therefore recognizing the value of hear- ing “other” voices from other cultures such as African-American, Asian, Hispanic, etc. Some in the church are beginning to take women seriously, to let them speak, and the results are quite refresh- ing. For the first time in the history of the church, because women are gaining a voice, we have a chance to see the full image of God (male and female) work out salvation. Postmodernist thinking critiques the modernist tendency of limiting the voice of God to one voice and instead calls us to listen to the ensemble of many voices. Modernist thinking attempts to remove difference; it uses the thorn to oppress others into obedience. Postmodernist thought emphasizes difference by recognizing that many perspectives give us a better view of God even though this cacophony of voices decreases my power and infuses my community with unruly chaos.

Many of our evangelical churches and seminaries today are experiencing the crisis of irrelevance and at the same time our postmodern culture is forcing us to rethink the educational model of the last century. In the past, seminary has focused on training the mind to think well, and in so doing learn to read the Bible well. The overarching goal in seminaries has been one of intellectual assent and comprehension. In other words, if you can demonstrate the right knowledge (proper doctrine), then you are ready to enter the field of ministry. But there is an alternative. Seminaries that embrace some aspects of postmodern thought encourage both knowledge and relationship, for they understand that truth without relationship is irrelevance, and irrelevance is the most insidious error of all. We are beginning to see a few new seminaries that understand the importance of training the mind and the soul.

If modernism at its extreme can result in the triumph of reason over ignorance at best, but at worst the triumph of reason over mystery and faith, then postmodernism can be the invitation to mystery alongside reason and thus the fresh opportunity for faith. Absence compels presence. Sometimes what we think is death, the end, therein lies life–deeper and more meaningful, In that appalling, haunting moment of God’s absence comes the long- ing for the presence of God without the illusion that we will ever comprehend the glory of the Lord.











Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

Gobekli Tepe 24
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 3
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 4
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 5
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 6
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 7
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 8
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 9
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 10
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 11
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 12
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 13
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 14
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 15
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 16
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 17
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 19
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 20
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 21
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 22
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 23
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 18
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Gobekli Tepe 2
Gobekli Tepe Sanliurfa, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD

Hagia Sophia: March 2015

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 9
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 7
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 4
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 6
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 2
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 8
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Hagia Sophia 3
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD

South Holston Flyfishing May 2015

SoHo Flyfishing 5
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 3
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 4
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 9
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 7
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 2
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 6
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD
SoHo Flyfishing 8
Floating the South Holston Don Michael Hudson, PhD

The Blue Mosque: March 2015

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Don Michael Hudson, PhD

The Glory of His Discontent: The Inconsolable Suffering of God

The Glory of His Discontent: The Inconsolable Suffering of God

By Don Michael Hudson, PhD

 He who is satisfied has never truly craved. And he who craves for the light of God neglects his ease for ardor.

— Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel

“What have you done with the Holocaust?” I asked.

The man sitting across from me resided squarely within the traditional evangelical attitude toward pain and suffering. Forty-five

minutes earlier, I had invited him to tell me his life story. And he did—he told me of a very painful, tragic story. But there was something unsettling about the way he spoke of his life. Simply put, this man’s mood and manner did not match the suffering in his life. His eyes glazed over as he methodically recounted some very tragic scenes. His words were as vacant as his eyes, and he laced his stories with occasional hollow clichés and platitudes. “But as you well know, ‘all things work together for good.’” “God is good, but he’s not safe,” he would say. With every incident I heard from his life, I felt a connection to this man and was drawn to him with a deeply felt empathy. Yet each “Christian” cliché brought the conversation to a grinding halt and pushed me away from any connection with this fellow human being.

Every time he came to great tension in his story, he would relieve the moment by using some phrase to dismiss the tension. It was as if his soul were a balloon: as the tragedy would well within him, just at the right moment he would take the pin of Christian cliché and let the air out. “But what was meant for evil, God meant for good.” “The Lord has healed me from those memories now.”

I have seen those same eyes many times before and listened to the same soul-deadening words. It’s not that I differ with the words that this man used to make sense of his life; but I strongly disagree with the way this man used his words. His demeanor—and thus his words—disturbed me for this reason: there was something inhuman in his response. I use the word “inhuman” because there was nothing that engaged me or gripped me about what he told me. He wasn’t even a good reporter. At least a reporter has the instincts to make you feel something in the story reported. As I listened to this man, it was obvious that he was asking me to feel nothing. He was speaking in a way that asked me to join him in his distance.

 In so many ways, this man cannot tell a true story because he has never truly engaged the conflicts and questions of his life. Christianity has become for him a system of dismissing doubt rather than embracing paradox. Like many modern Christians, he uses “truth” to deaden his emotions, dispel his questions, and distance himself from anything vaguely human. A good and true life story, however, never dismisses conflict but invites it, even welcomes it. Any story worth its salt does not begin until tragedy steals in.

A Terrible Beauty Is Born

Compare the story of the Bible. If we as Christians are to model our lives on the very fabric of the Bible story, then let’s see how God tells a story. Would God tell a story the way the man sitting before me did?

First, the story that God tells begins in an innocent world, i.e., the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, the Almighty God confronts the chaos of nothingness and fiercely imagines a paradise. Adam and Eve live within this paradise totally unconscious of guilt or suffering. They do not know good from evil, and they stand before one another and God unaware of themselves. “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2: 25, NRSV). In the garden, man and woman are present with God, but I would argue that their presence is unaware of God’s world, just as infants would be of their parents’ world. For centuries the church has taught that the Garden of Eden was perfection, with no sin, no tragedy, no disillusionment. True enough. Yet existence in Eden was much more than perfection; life was also innocent. In other words, perfection had its glory—communion with God’s person—and perfection had its price—ignorance of God’s world.

So far so good. Up to this point in scriptures, the story that God tells is very similar to the story that the man sitting across from me recounts. Both begin in the innocence of Eden. But then we see a subtle difference. God’s story moves out of innocence; the Christian man’s story returns to innocence again and again. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (3: 4-5, NRSV).

Now think of the rest of the Bible story. Do we see innocence or tragedy? For years I have thought it quite strange that only two chapters in the Bible are devoted to Eden, that innocent land. It is extremely important to note that the Bible story, from Genesis to Revelation, is framed by Eden and heaven. The first two chapters are devoted to life in Eden, and the last two chapters to life in heaven. What then is the rest of the Bible—everything else in between? The rest of the Bible is tragedy. Tragedy and redemption. Redemption of tragedy, but tragedy nonetheless. If the Christian life is a sojourn, which I believe it is, then the pilgrim on the way (Homo Viatoris) is moving from the innocence of Eden to the joy of heaven while trying to make sense of a tragic, suffering world.

It should be obvious to even the most casual or disinterested reader of the Bible that one tragedy follows closely on the heels of another. Indeed, beginning with Genesis 3, tragedy seems to waylay every traveler in the journey of faith, hope, and love. Tragedy intrudes into the lives of the Bible characters as easily as it does in our own lives today. Adam and Eve lose their first son at the hands of their other son. Noah trusts God wildly, and God delivers him, but soon thereafter gets drunk and indirectly curses his own grandson, Canaan. Moses, the great prophet, is not allowed to enter the promised land because he petulantly strikes the rock in rage. The kings of Israel lead the Israelites into great success one season and into utter failure the next.

In the New Testament, Paul and Barnabas are at each other’s throats so badly that they can not work together. Most enlightening, though, is the story of Christ, the journey of the gospel. Christ, in his first coming, does not intrude into our history to be triumphant but to be humiliated at the hands of his own creation. This is the scandal that his disciples just could not, would not grasp. In the eternal scope of the gospel, the crux of the cross is tragedy. For the love of the world, the omnipotent God takes on tragedy in the torture and death of the cross. God does not see tragedy as some cosmic Freudian slip but as essential to the story of the ages; he does not step into the history of this world to be victorious only, but to be crucified.

This truth is quite overwhelming to admit. The church—that is, Christianity—is suspended in tragedy. We live between Eden and heaven, the God who was and the God who will be. In the story that God is telling in our lives, he asks us to live in the stark reality of the cross while we sight the glimmer of the resurrection. Suffering calls attention to God’s silence and his absence. We do not know for certain that this life is more than tragic; we believe, we hope, we yearn, but we do not know without a doubt. Certainty destroys faith by distorting hope into presumption. And presumption subtly but obsessively seeks to eradicate suffering from our lives because it is suffering that ushers in the deepest questions of our existence. Suffering, like no other reality, demands that we live in the not yet. Indeed, we will not know until the end of the world whether or not tragedy or beauty wins in the end. We wait and yearn for the day that is not yet. “God is the beginning and the end. The middle of the day is ours.”

Christianity, then, in its very essence is a religion of the discontented. How can we be content with a century that includes the Jewish Holocaust? How can we be content with the modern century that has slaughtered more than 100 million people in the name of ideology? How can we be content when children in the world’s wealthiest nation are starving? How can we be content when AIDS is ravaging the gay community? How can we be content when nearly seven out of ten women in our culture are sexually abused as children? How can we be content when God is not content? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “We Christians need not be ashamed of showing a little impatience, longing and discontent with an unnatural fate, nor with a considerable amount of longing for freedom, earthly happiness and opportunity for work.”1

 Closing our eyes to the suffering of this world is choosing to live in an innocence that God does not live in. The serpent in the Garden knew all too well what he was inviting Adam and Eve to— tragedy and the suffering that ensues. Tragedy did as tragedy still does today: it wakes us up from our innocent stupor. The serpent promised Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit, they would know as God knows—that they would know sin and suffering. One of the most intriguing ironies of the fall is that we now know as God knows because we know sin and suffering. The serpent understood all too well that the fall would bring tragedy and death. But inherent within evil is one fatal blind spot: evil does not see that tragedy compels beauty and evokes repair (tikkun).

The intimate knowledge of suffering, which is a loss of innocence, constrains us to fiercely imagine truth, beauty, and goodness just as God did when he confronted the chaos in Genesis 1. God’s imagi- nation in the face of chaos resulted in the creation of heaven and earth. Acknowledging the suffering of this world places us every day in the image of our Creator—we can create beauty out of nothing or we can repeat suffering in an endless cycle of destruction. Confronting suffering in our world becomes the fulcrum between ultimate tragedy or redemption. So every Christian every day stands on the razor’s edge of destruction or redemption. The truth is quite simple: the one who is content does not love. The one who is discontent loves, and the one who loves attempts to eradicate suffering by entering it rather than denying it. To suffer as God suffers is to refuse to accept life as it is. But we must be careful here. There is a world of difference between being discontent and being malcontent. One who is malcontent refuses to hope in a world beyond this world and so lives out hatred, despair, and cynicism. A person who is malcontent heaps suffering upon suffering. The discontent hopes in this world because there is a world beyond and so he or she lives out faith, hope, and love in the lives of other people. The discontented person is not a whiner who fails to imagine, but one who sorrows unto joy.

A few years back when my son was just a few months old, he became increasingly sick. He was not eating well, and as a consequence he was losing weight rapidly. For one week my wife and I were sent back and forth from doctor to specialist in an attempt to find the cause of his sickness. Each time we visited these physicians, we heard more discouraging news. At the time I was commuting between Denver and Philadelphia, where I was studying at Westminster Seminary. At one point, I needed to fly to Philadelphia for one day to take an important mid-term. My wife and I debated whether or not I should go, but in the end we decided I needed to take the exam; I could do very little back in Denver until we found out what was wrong.

I planned to fly into Philadelphia in the morning, take my exam, and catch the 5:35 p.m. flight back in time to join my family for dinner. With ten minutes left on my exam, I saw someone enter the front of the classroom and give a note to my professor. My heart sank and then began to pound as he made his way back to me. The note stated matter-of-factly that I needed to call home because the doctors had to rush my son to surgery to repair an intestinal blockage. I left immediately and tried to call home, but I could not reach anyone, even at the hospital. To make matters worse, I missed the direct flight back to Denver, so I had to be routed through Chicago on a later flight. I have never had a longer flight in my life. Finally, when I reached Chicago, I was paged and told where to call my wife. The good news was that they did not have to operate. The bad news was that they thought they had found the problem: the doctors thought that my son had a rare disease that might require removing his colon. We were to report to Children’s Hospital the next morning for tests.

I was not prepared for what happened the next day in the hospital. After a battery of tests, we were told our son did not have the disease and probably had some kind of block that had worked itself out. Great news. But I will never forget the day for a very different reason: while waiting for his tests, we saw some very sick children—children who would not get well. The children had a deep sadness in their eyes, and their parents wore exhaustion and terror on their faces. Maybe out of weakness or maybe out of fear, I could no longer endure staying in that waiting room with those children. I left the room, found a hidden place, and burst into tears. For a few seconds I felt an inconsolable, desperate sadness. But within a very short time, my sadness turned to rage and rage toward God. How can you look down on those children and not do something? 

Could you look down on the Holocaust of your chosen and their children? Why won’t you do something? I walked away from that day joyful that my son was well but deeply troubled over those children in the waiting room. Strangely, I also walked away thanking the God I doubted for the medical staff who had the courage to be discontented, to be present day after day in a starkly tragic world.

The Tragedy of Christianity

Northrop Frye says that tragedy in the Bible is “ironic,” which means that tragedy is never an end in itself but always leads to a subtler, unforeseen truth. Thus when I speak of tragedy, I do not speak of tragedy that is final, ultimate, or the only stage in life. Ultimate tragedy is the evil one’s story; redeemed tragedy is God’s. Our lives then, if they reflect the big picture of the Bible, journey though a tragic, suffering world while yearning for a perfect world. But then, this is the theological rub, isn’t it? We sit around waiting for a perfect world or we miss the city built without hands because we are so busy building it here on earth. Much of the way we think as Christians attempts to bring heaven to this earth right now and in every situation because we deny the very real tragedy of suffering.

How should we live in tragedy then? If you agree with my foundational premise that God invites us to live as he does-in the full reality that tragedy is everywhere and a necessary part of the story-then we must answer the question, “How do I live well in this life?” Most importantly, we are discontent because our world is not as it should be. As we have seen, this means that we do not accept life as it is. Living back in Eden or ahead in heaven is ultimately an unreal life that saps the passion from our lives. This theology makes us content and calls us to nothingness. A Christian who is discontent, on the other hand, desperately seeks to join God in redeeming a tragic world, not dismissing a tragic world. When we are content we are satisfied, and this satisfaction ultimately slips into despair and arrogance. We lose moments of passionate connection and creativity. God invites us to live the questions and to yearn for resolution without dismissing the questions. Someone once said, “You can easily recognize false teachers by the fact that they know the answers to all the questions.”

Let me offer a very simple statement: suffering is the gateway to heaven. And I mean by heaven more than we normally think of suffering heaven. If we cannot accept suffering and the grief that accompanies it, then we are saying that grief is greater than the gospel. Yes, I am taking up an age-old topic that seems to be quite manageable by any moderately well-read Christian. But I want to approach the issue of human suffering from a very different vantage point-one that we rarely think from. When we speak of suffering, most of the time we mean human suffering. I want to think of suffering in this essay from God’s view—quite a presumptuous, prodigious task, yet I believe our view of God’s suffering will ultimately determine and dictate our view of human suffering. Our view of tragedy in God’s purview will guide our own view of personal tragedy. The most pressing need here is to say that in the discussion of human suffering and tragedy we have invented a comfortable God who thinks of tragedy the way we do.

The problem is that most of us have a very skewed idea of how God looks at tragedy. We think of God very much the way the ancient Greeks did. He is the unmoved mover, the apathetic God. It is not that he does not care, but that he does not really care in his care. “Christian theology acquired Greek philosophy’s ways of thinking in the Hellenistic world; and since that time most theologians have simultaneously maintained the passion of Christ, God’s son, and the deity’s essential incapacity for suffering—even though it was at the price of having to talk paradoxically about ‘the sufferings of the God who cannot suffer.’”2 We think of God as supremely rational, but rarely do we think of him as emotional. Even more so, we believe in a God who is quite content. In our obsession to create God in our own likeness, we have fashioned him to be a God who looks down on us with glib contentment. Our theology of suffering is really a theology of nonsuffering.

Have we American Christians very subtly replaced the God of the Bible with the Aristotelian god, the unmoved mover, the dispassionate god, the god who does not suffer? If this is true, is it because we are scandalized by the God of the Bible, the God who suffers, the God who is moved by our passions? Is this not the truly ironic tragedy of the Bible—that we have a God who not only allows or brings suffering into the world but also brings suffering into his heaven? God as the passionate God, then, is very discontent and his suffering is inconsolable. He is the God who lowered himself to the depths of suffering.

So how is it that our God can look down on us with contentment? I do not believe in a God who merely observes our tragedies with a cold reserve. I believe instead that he is a God who participates in our sufferings while we participate in his suffering of the cross. Does heaven really cancel out the suffering of the moment? Should we use the future to remove us from the present, or should the future increase the yearning for the day of the Lord?

Far too often our “faith” has neutered us, stripped us of passion, turned us into white-fleshed, pallid Christians who blithely accept the future as determined beyond us. The secular world understands a neglected truth that we do not: the world is potential, not just obstacle. Is this not the great sin of the contented modern church? It is the reason why I do not enjoy most Christian fiction. Such fiction is unsatisfying because most Christian writers weave the story with a heavy hand. It’s the same feeling I get when I go to the movie theater and guess the plot in the first ten minutes. I know the ending, and immediately I am bored. Therefore conflict (which drives any good story) is hollow and fails to grip me. In the end, there is very little tragedy in American Christian fiction. Or perhaps there is tragedy, but the tragedy is resolved superficially.

This is one reason why I return to Dostoyevsky’s writings. He does not bring tragedy to a closed, naïve resolution which in the end shuts down the questions of and yearning for God. He knows that the more a Christian grows, the more he or she feels the suffering of the world, and the more he or she searches for God and anticipates the day that is to come. Until that day, we are discontent over suffering and our sorrow is inconsolable. It is at this very juncture in our faith that we participate with God and he participates with us. It is here that we incarnate Paul’s longing, “That I may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”

A Harmony Too Expensive

In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan is the modern, rational atheist who rejects God because he rejects God’s world. Ivan’s atheism rises out of his constant struggle with God. He refuses to accept God but he cannot escape God. The spectacles of suffering and a God who would allow the suffering of children haunt him. He will not accept a harmony of life that justifies a child’s tear.

In the final analysis, I do not accept this God-made world and, although I know it exists, I absolutely refuse to admit its existence. I want you to understand that it is not God that I refuse to accept, but the world that He has created—what I do not accept and cannot accept is the God-created world. However, let me make it clear that like a babe, I trust that the wounds will heal, the scars will vanish, that the sorry and ridiculous spectacle of man’s disagreements and clashes will disappear like a pitiful mirage . . . at the moment universal harmony is achieved, something so magnificent will take place that it will satisfy every human heart . . . and enable everyone not only to forgive everything but also to justify everything that has happened to men. Well, that day may come; all this may come to pass—but I personally still do not accept this world. I refuse to accept it!

And while there is still time, I want to dissociate myself from it all; I have no wish to a be a part of [the] eternal harmony. It’s not worth one single tear of the martyred little girl who beat her breast with her tiny fist, shedding her innocent tears and praying to ‘sweet Jesus’ to rescue her in the stinking outhouse. . . . And those tears must be atoned for; otherwise there can be no harmony. But what could atone for those tears? How is it possible to atone for them?3

Worthy Is the Lamb

In the video interview, Facing Hate, Bill Moyers interacts with Elie Weisel about the age-old problems of evil and hate. Weisel, as you may know, is a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust. He was forced to the Nazi death camps in 1943 and was the only member of his family who survived. Probably his best-known work on the Holocaust is the small, harrowing volume called Night. Though I mention the Holocaust in this essay, I do not want to dwell on it for the simple reason that it has been seen as more of a media event than the horrifying tragedy that questions the very essence of humanity in the twentieth century. I encourage all Christians to grapple with the reality of the Holocaust in their own lives—and reading Night would be a great but distressing beginning.

At one point in the video, Weisel tells the story of his release from the concentration camps. When certain Russians were released from the camp, they went into the nearest German town and waged a personal vengeance on the people there. Weisel states that he could not judge the Russians but retribution against the Germans was not his way. He instead gathered with fellow Jews and prayed the kaddish, the prayer for the dead. (Incidentally, they could not find the requisite ten people to pray the kaddish.) During their prayer, Weisel confesses that he had a question of God: “Is God worthy?” After the death and dismemberment of six million of God’s own children, is he worthy to hear the prayers of these survivors? To this day, I remember my thoughts of Weisel’s question. At first I winced and immediately said to myself, “You can’t say that! Of course he is worthy.” A few seconds later, though, a more troubling thought hovered around the edges of my mind. Deep down in my heart, I have asked this question many times. Weisel had the courage to ask it aloud and struggle with its implications. Is this not the question we all really ask: Is God worthy of our suffering?

My theology tells me, yes he is worthy—but what part of my theology tells me this? Is my answer to this question an effort to defend a God who does not defend himself from this question? My answer comes from a theology of suffering. The Father is worthy because he delivered his own son over to a world unworthy of his love. The Father did what in time past he had stopped Abraham from doing: he sacrificed his son for an undeserving people. But this is the story of the trinity. The Father gave himself by divesting himself of his son. He became destitute on our behalf. I have seen enough of the world and the people who inhabit it that I can answer quite candidly and forthrightly that the world is not worthy of my son. I have argued with a number of good people that had I been a father during the Vietnam War I would have begged my son to go to Canada—in fact, I would have sent him there. But this vigilant protection of the son was not the view of the Father. He gave over his own son to unjust war, a reprehensible cause, a civilization not worthy.

If in eternity one day is a thousand years, then God is still suffering the crucifixion of his son. Because we as humans live temporal lives now, we can forget and move on and not necessarily live in the moment if we choose not to. Not so for God, who lives in eternity. He must suffer every pain of humanity every moment of his existence, and yet he enjoys every moment of joy. We have believed that for centuries the crucifixion is over in God’s mind, and that the resurrection has canceled the cross. But this would mean that God lives very differently from the way he asks us to live. He asks us to live our lives taking up the cross while we rush toward the resurrection. He asks us to live as he does—with the suffering of the cross and the ecstasy of the resurrection in our hearts, not allowing the joy to resolve the sorrow or the sorrow to drown out the joy.

You needed his incarnation as much as I need it, though for an altogether different reason. You have always known man as he looks from the perspective of Godhead. But this does not give you the whole truth. It is suffering that teaches us to be human and from here we lead on to be godly. To be Christian means our godliness helps us come to a fuller expression of humanity—not to limit the image, the desiring, our inherent, inevitable humanity. From the cell on the other side of me a former judge tapped through the wall how he regrets all the prison sentences he has ever given. He passed sentence without knowing what it was to spend years in prison. You judged men without having lived and suffered and been tempted. You needed the experience of manhood. You were enriched by the experience of your Son becoming man.4

 There will be remembrances in heaven. More importantly, there will be sorrow in heaven. The book of Revelation tells us that God will wipe away all tears in heaven, which means there must be tears there in the first place. All too often we project childish, naïve fantasies on heaven. We see heaven through the lens of Eden. Many of us want to return to Eden, when in truth God is calling us to heaven. With Eden there is no tragedy, no sorrow, no suffering. As a result, many Christians handle tragedy nobly but not with dignity, and we ask the same thing of our grieving brothers and sisters. With heaven there will be suffering, but it will be a suffering remembered and redeemed, never forgotten or denied.

This may be one of the most important distinctions between paganism and Christianity. A pagan mindset cannot handle a world full of guilt and suffering. The pagan must either deny it or revel in it. These philosophies are as old as Epicureanism and Stoicism, Isis and Osiris, Baal and Ashteroth. Thus every religion attempts in one form or another to return to the innocence of Eden again and again. Yes, Christianity began in Eden, but it ends in heaven. And heaven will not be innocence and naïveté. Heaven will be the fullest expression of truth up to this point in the journey of humanity—which now includes the knowledge of good and evil.

In conclusion, I return to Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan throughout the novel battles wits and soul with his brother, Alyosha, the mystical man of faith. As we have seen, Ivan very honestly reaches a terrifying conclusion in his discussions with Alyosha. He wants to believe in God, but how can he believe in a God who allows or creates such suffering in the world, especially the suffering of innocent children? Ivan, the nonbeliever, leads us into the right question: It is not “Where is God?” but “Who is this God?”

My own personal answer is multifaceted, and some days my questions overwhelm my answers. But in the midst of my questions, I do believe God s a suffering God and that his suffering is infinite as much as his joy is infinite. Therefore, he is a God who is discontent, and his suffering—at least for now—is inconsolable. Just like us, he too waits impatiently for the day that is coming. Perhaps as God participates in our lives, he refuses to be consoled until we are consoled. My image of God is as one who impatiently and dramatically paces back and forth as he longs for that day even more than we do. He is the Father who rises before daybreak and looks for the final return of his children. He will not sit still, he will look over the horizon again and again for the faint shadow of the returning one. In the meantime, even though he knows the scope of the human drama, he weeps with the Mary’s and the Martha’s of this world who weep over death. He does not let his knowledge of the big picture wipe his tears away.

But what do we do with our suffering in the meantime? Once more I return to Dostoyevsky’s Ivan. In the beginning of the novel, he does not accept a suffering world, nor merely waits for a future that would make sense of a hideous past. He wants to make sense of suffering in his lifetime; he wants to see the end now. “No, I want to see with my own eyes [italics mine] the lamb lie down with the lion and resurrected victim rise and embrace his murderer. I want to be here when everyone understands why the world has been arranged the way it is. It is on that craving for understanding that all human religions are founded. . . .”5 Tragically, this is where American Christianity and atheism join ideological hands. The problem, though, is that demanding to see with our eyes now breeds cynicism in the atheist and contentment in the Christian. The atheist uses nonbelief to build a naïve world and the Christian uses faith to inhabit a naïve world. In both cases we do not care for our fellow human beings; we are not intimately responsible for the other. Ivan, the “humanitarian,” would not step out of his way to help another human being. Ironically, Ivan had taken on the image of his own God—one who is apathetic and uncaring.

In the end of the novel, however, Ivan comes to some kind of terms with his rationalization of a strange God. After seeing his rationalism run its brutal, irrational course, on his way back to his house he stumbles over a beggar freezing to death in the snow. He does something very unlike his nature: he stops and picks up the beggar, and he takes him to the nearest house where pays a man to help him carry the beggar to an inn. Ivan goes so far as to pay any expenses the beggar would incur. This subtle but moving scene evokes the memory of the good Samaritan.

The agony of suffering is a razor’s edge. On the one hand, the profound mystery of suffering can lead to passivity arising out of cynicism or contentment. Or, it can make us mean-spirited in our attempt to force a more just world. In either case, we bring more destruction to a ruined world. We become the religious leader or the rationalist who passes by on the other side of the beggar. On the other hand, the mystery of suffering can lead to an active pouring out of ourselves. Is not this the madness of the gospel—that the destitute victim would be generous with other victims and even with enemies? Is this not God’s approach to suffering? Out of the crucible of suffering emerges beauty, truth, and goodness. “No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world means living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored.”6 But for now we fiercely imagine great art in the lives of others by binding the wounds of our neighbors and repairing the world around us.

And then one day . . . one day we will surge toward the Father with the loss of Eden, the ache of the all the ages, and the desperate yearning for home in our hearts. And he too will surge toward us with the loss of Eden, the ache of all the ages, and the desperate yearning for home in his heart. Blessed be his name.



This Essay is my memorial to one man who did not accept life as it is.

I miss you—

Y viveré esperándote, Esperanza.

And I shall live in hopes of you, Hope.









































The Land before the Kingdom of Israel: Asking New Questions of Old Data

The Land before the Kingdom of Israel: Asking New Questions of Old Data

ASOR June 2017


“Reevaluating the social and political landscape of the Late Bronze Age Levant provides a fresh understanding of Israel’s origins and nature. Rather than a distinct ethnic group founded upon a unique set of social and political principles, some of its constituents emerged out of the sociopolitical milieu of the Late Bronze Age. It also sheds light on the process of centralization that occurred with the formation of the monarchy.”

Map of Ancient Canaan Amarna Tablets 14th Century BCE


El Amarna text 161, Correspondance of Aziru, the king of Amurru

Pair of Deadly Terrorist Attacks Hits Iran

This is huge–sorry to sound like Trump on this one. But Da’esh is not taking on Tehran in a big way. This is a Sunni attack on Shia at their very core.

Pair of Deadly Terrorist Attacks Hits Iran


Here’s the Deal With the Saudi-Qatari Breakdown

Something very important happened this week in the “Sunni” Islam world. Qatar has been and continues to be a major problem. Interesting that the Sauds are “cracking down” on Qatar. Here is an excellent summary:

Here’s the Deal With the Saudi-Qatari Breakdown


Summary of the US Intelligence Community’s Assessment of the April 4 Attack


Please Note: Before you wig out and reach the stratosphere in a ranting screed, please read this. I am not making a statement pro or anti-Assad or Syria. It is well-known that I have been pro-Assad even to the point of visiting Syria with his protection. Here is ONE assessment with evidences. If we are going to understand this Middle East conflict then we must view all sides and examine all the evidence. Only the cold, hard truth will lead to resolution. I have been shocked that opinions on both sides have defended their positions without any evidence whatsoever.

Michelangelo’s Pietà


Michelangelo’s Pietà

Previously published as “Michelangelo’s Pietà,” Christianity and the Arts, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Fall 2001), p. 24.

It was the summer of ’84, the American dollar was strong, and this was my first venture to  Europe. I found her and didn’t even know I was searching for her. Mysteriously she crossed my path one day in Rome. I should confess though–at this point in my life, I am an uneasy Protestant.

I have been warned about Mary; and yet, I am drawn to her. But I was different back then. Standing before Michelangelo’s sublime interpretation of the Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica–there she was. Until then, for me, Mary was a point of division between Protestant and Roman Catholic worship, a theological construct to propose or denounce. I was really there to see Michelangelo and his High Renaissance masterpiece. More secular than sacred, Michelangelo tempers his grand and majestic vision with a sensual grace. I was struck immediately, though, by the simple elegance of his vision. The folds and the flows of the garments articulate the irrepressible tragedy and rhapsody in a single, holy moment.

I noticed that this Pietà is not about the grand war between good and evil but rather the simplicity of human passion. She is not concept but rather flesh and blood. Flesh and blood crossing flesh and blood. Here before me was a mother and her son. For the first time in my life, I began to gain an intimate glimpse into the private saga of Mary and the incomprehensible death of her child. She tenderly bows her head with eyes closed, or at the least, eyes downcast. Is this a gesture of reverence? Of humility? Of grief? Does she bow her head to this moment or the God of this moment? Michelangelo’s rendering spurred my perennial question, “Where is God?” I began to understand that she is a trace of my answer. On the cross, God turned away from the suffering son, the crucified God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, with arms wide open, embraces her son of sorrows. Arms full of the death of God. Holding the rejected son–rejected by God and human alike, Mary holds her child not only with arms but also with the strength of her body.

And yet, her body slumps. If she is holding him up, who then is holding her?

On Mary we can see no tensely defined muscle–merely graceful folds. With Christ, we encounter a dissonant vision. His body, almost nude and fully exposed, ripples with muscular vitality. Who has truly died in this scene? Can child die and mother continue to live? There is complete acceptance of her misery, but then, her left hand stretches out to supplicate the Father who abandoned her son. She will now be the mediator; the human strand between the all-Powerful Father and every human loss. We look upon her as one who ascends, as one who rises above suffering. But she remains there in the darkest hour. And she embodies the presence of compassion. She is the only human to suffer the death of God and the loss of her son in the same moment. Perhaps her grief IS her faith and so faith can leave grief alone.

Who better than Mary to intercede on our behalf? That day in Rome I walked away a different man, a different son. Mary rounds out the picture of redemption for us–we can retain our deepest sorrows and still yearn toward the all-powerful Father.

Michelangelo’s Pieta

The High Price of Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Life

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Bertrand Russell

“Shmuly had known he wanted to go to college ever since he was sneak-reading $7 best sellers he found on the rack at Duane Reade. He loved the story “The Cop and the Anthem,” by O. Henry; he read the abridged version of “The Call of the Wild” over and over. But his school would not release his transcripts for college applications, and so he spent a year of intense study in the computer labs at Footsteps, starting with the English language and basic long division and ending with his G.E.D. He couldn’t learn enough about philosophy and art. He loved the 20th-century avant-garde, like secessionist art and Dadaism; he loved the tension between the old and new ideas of the art world, and how certain art was rejected as if it were corrupting or dangerous. He enrolled at Hunter College to study art history.”

In historic report, U. N. agency says Israel is imposing an “Apartheid Regime” on Palestinian people

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 5.41.11 AM

In Historic Report, U.N. Agency Says Israel Is Imposing an “Apartheid Regime” on Palestinian People

“What the report argues is that Israel has pursued a policy of fragmenting the Palestinian people in order to maintain the domination of a Jewish state over these different categories of Palestinians, and has done so in a way that is systematically discriminatory and is responsible for deep suffering over a very long period of time, with no end in sight.”

Turkey Seeks Alliance with Russia in Syria

Turkey seeks alliance with Russia in Syria


“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to build cooperation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin Friday over military operations in Syria, as Turkey attempts to create a border “safe zone” free of Daesh (ISIS) and the Kurdish YPG militia.”

“Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting an insurrection on Turkish soil for 30 years. Washington, like Ankara, considers the PKK a terrorist group, but it backs the YPG.”

“Asked by a reporter whether Moscow and Ankara shared the idea that Syria and Iraq should be preserved within current borders, Putin spoke of “the complex situation” and “contradictions” in the Syria peace talks.”

“The cooperation on Syria between Russia and Turkey marked a sharp turnaround for the two nations. The conflicting interests led to the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish jet at the Syrian border in November 2015, which led Moscow to bar the sales of package tours to Turkey and halting imports of agricultural products.”

U.S. troop increase risks entanglement in Syrian conflict

U. S. troop increase risks entanglement in Syrian conflict


“Dozens of Army troops, riding Stryker armored vehicles waving American flags, drove outside the Syrian town of Manbij in a mission aimed at keeping U.S. allies Turkey and Syrian Kurds from fighting each other and focused instead on the fight against Daesh.”

But the Americans are stepping into a crowded space in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed Kurdish groups, Turkish and Russian troops, Syrian government forces and Daesh militants are all within firing range of one another.

Beirut, Lebanon: March 04, 2017

Beirut, Lebanon

March 04, 2017


The Light Is Clear In My Eyes: Damascus, Syria

Damascus, Syria: Day One

“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind.”

After an intense few days traveling from Beirut to Latakia then Yazdieh and Mharde and then a few days in Homs we awoke in Old Damascus to soft, warm sunlight. Many of us on the team had only dreamed of Damascus, and here we were here waking in one of the loveliest hotels in the world, Beit al-Wali. And this would be our home for the next four days.


After breakfast we began our morning walking through the old city. Immediately it was obvious that Damascus evokes Jerusalem. Homes centuries-old, fabled stone streets and narrow, clamorous streets. With our able guides–Nuhad, Bashar, and Tarek–we set off to see the sights.

The morning was dedicated to the Apostle Paul. We made our way to the Street Called Straight, Paul’s destination in his state of blindness. We passed shuttered shops, elegant homes and ruined homes, and it seemed that we were the only ones on the street. Our guides told us, “Before the Syrian crisis this street would have been full of people and tourists from around the world.” Now we had the city to ourselves.

Turning left on Straight Street, also known as the Roman Decamunus Maximus, we could see a good portion of the ancient city East and West. It was difficult to take it all in because of the whirl of times and eras, nationalities, religions, and cultures. Damascus is a not as much a destination as it is a nexus.

We were met with groups of young people going to school, and they stopped and joked with us even though they didn’t know English, and most of us didn’t know Arabic. But of course we could still communicate, and they were thrilled to know that we were Americans, and we were there in Damascus. “Welcome. You are welcome here.” How many times had we heard this in Syria from just about everyone we met, and here we were hearing it again in Damascus.




As we approached the renowned but tattered Eastern Gate, we turned left into a narrow and so beautiful street–Ananias. Of course this street is named after the Ananias spoken of in Acts, “The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” This street ended at the tiny St. George chapel, and we descended 5-6 meters below to a cramped, shadowy grotto. This is traditionally viewed as the place where Paul regained his sight. The deeper we descended into the dark chapel the quieter we became. We found a small space lit warmly with candles while a few devotees prayed or sat quietly in the muted light.


As soon as we left the chapel we went from the sublime to the monetary stopping to shop in Tony’s Anania Oriental Gifts where Nuhad and Marilyn helped us bargain and purchase some lovely gifts. Across the street we drank coffee and tea in a wonderful little cafe owned by an old friend of some of the team members.

We returned down Anania street and headed back to the Bab Sharqi (the Eastern Gate) this time to exit and walk along the ancient walls of Damascus paralleling the busy modern road. I have seen innumerable walls and ruins but nothing like this. The walls of the city are a random patchwork of ancient stones, a kaleidoscope of eons. In some sections I saw Roman, Byzantine, Mamluk, and Ottoman splayed in random patterns. My dear friend, Father Khalife tells me that the most impressive walls remain unseen and below the ground. We finally made our way to one of the most treasured sites in Christendom–the gate that commemorates Paul’s clandestine escape from Damascus. Ironically, Paul entered Damascus blinded by a brilliant light, but he would leave in danger under the cover of darkness. And lowered in a basket. The great apostle, the founder of Christianity, is let down by others in a basket, in the dead of night, only to disappear for years.

Entering the gate we found a simple but elegant Greek Catholic Chapel memorializing Paul’s departure. While we were there we learned that the Christians here ran an orphanage. While standing in the courtyard we were greeted by church officials leading children who greeted us with big smiles and shy curiosity. “Welcome. You are welcome here,” we heard once again. We could see the trauma in the children’s eyes, but there was light still, and the priest and nuns cared for them deeply. I wanted to stay and take photos and talk to them, but we had to move on.

For years now, I have watched the news about Syria on television and asked repeatedly, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” I found some of my answer here, in that courtyard, in the broad daylight of one of Paul’s darkest moments. In the midst of Syria’s dark night, there are priests and nuns and pastors and leaders and volunteers caring for these abandoned children and bringing hope where there is no hope. Millennia later, the apostle of the basket is caring for these most vulnerable.


We continued our walk through Damascus by heading back to the Bab Tuma (Tuma’s Gate) toward the Syrian Multimedia Youth Team (or SMYT) led by the kind and talented Badih Koudmani. We met him in his artistic space and viewed his presentation and heard his vision for Syria and its youth. Once again we were able to see the imprint of the Outreach Foundation because this is just one more organization supported by Outreach. I received more of my answer: there are people doing something in the midst of chaos. Christian brothers and sisters, though worlds apart, unite in a common vision.

After an afternoon rest, we had the honor of meeting the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church based in Damascus–Ignatius Aphrem II. Most of us had no idea what to expect, but we were quickly relieved to discover a kind, warm, affable man who spoke directly to us and answered our questions with alacrity.


But then something remarkable happened, something I shall never forget. In many ways this capped our remarkable day tracing Paul. The patriarch, within a few minutes of our meeting, mentioned that there was someone else here and perhaps we could meet him. He mentioned his name, but I had no context. Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf was visiting. Bishops Sharaf. The Bishop of Mosul.


He entered the room and sat a few seats down from the patriarch. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He said nothing, but his presence was solid and reassuring. He has this strange eternity in his eyes as if he has seen things most humans have never seen. The Bishop of Mosul? I couldn’t believe it. While we sat there with him in Damascus what must be going on in Mosul as we spoke? What this man has been through. What this man has seen. How many modern Christians have stared into the dark and glimpsed the deepest human abyss? I dare say, the Bishop of Mosul is one.

Then it happened. Coffee was served to everyone. As the patriarch was talking, and we were asking, the Bishop of Mosul was watching something intently to my right, his left. He waved the assistant over and whispered in his ear. What on earth? The Patriarch’s assistant left the room and returned with another cup of coffee. My friend and colleague, Ron Gatzke, had been missed. But the Bishop of Mosul caught it. He saw what we all missed.

Silly, I know. But this vision of the Bishop will not leave me alone. Who sees such things? Mosul is a burning hell on earth, and the Bishop was returning the next day, but he saw the tiniest lack and cared for those within his purview. Once again, I received another answer to my question, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” He does–he’s here–the Bishop of Mosul. Down to the smallest detail with the least of these.


Given God’s resolute absence, the church is alive and thriving in Syria. Our brothers and sisters there remind us that true faith is possible even in the midst of darkness.

Faith is blind if faith is only bright light. Paul, on his way to Damascus to destroy the church, is blinded by the light, and it is within in this darkness that he begins to see what is real and true. The destroyer of the Church leaves Damascus as the founder of the Church. Paul, in Damascus, becomes the embodiment of “invisible things confounding the visible.” Sadly and inexplicably, Syria has seen some of its darkest days. But this day in Damascus reminded me that, in the Christian Gospel, darkness is not destruction. Death is not the end. Because darkness traces the light just as absence evokes presence.

“Why doesn’t somebody do something?” They are–they are there. And they see.

“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.”


Fly Fishing Instruction at Dobyns-Bennett High School: December 5-6, 2016


Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School Mikaela Carter
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School Robert King
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School Hunter White
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School James Reed
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School Emily Robertson
Don Michael Hudson
King University Fly Fishing Instruction DB High School James Reed

Continue reading “Fly Fishing Instruction at Dobyns-Bennett High School: December 5-6, 2016”

King University Archaeology of the Bible Conference: Lipschits and Gadot


King University Archaeology of the Bible Conference

November 14, 2016

King Philosophy and Relgion

Ramat Rahel in the Persian Period, Professor Oded Lipschits

Tel Azekah After Five Years of Excavation, Professor Yuval Gadot

•       Dr. Oded Lipschits is a professor of Jewish History in the Biblical period at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where he founded the International MA and PhD Program in Ancient Israel Studies within the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. He also serves as the director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology. He is the co-director with Manfred Oeming and Yuval Gadot of the Ramat-Rahel Archaeological Project since 2004, and since 2010, he has been the co-director of the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition. He has authored numerous books and papers. His book “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah Under Babylonian Rule” is one of the world’s most popular sources on the Biblical period.
•       Dr. Yuval Gadot is a senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He also directs the University’s excavations at the City of David and co-directs the Ramat Rahel Excavation project, and since 2012 of The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition. Gadot holds a doctorate from Tel Aviv University where he studied the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Israel’s central coastal plain. His work includes the first full publication of the excavations at Tel Aphek and a regional study of trends in the material culture as they understood in relation to historical events. Currently, he leads an archaeological dating project involving the introduction of agricultural terraces in the Jerusalem highlands, a project that carries cross-cultural significance.

Continue reading “King University Archaeology of the Bible Conference: Lipschits and Gadot”

Forsaking Your First Love by Melissa Ferguson

Another thoughtful blog post by our very own Melissa Ferguson.


Melissa Ferguson is an adjunct professor for New Testament at King University. She’s quite fond of her twins (and soon-to-be baby girl!), iced lattes, jogging with a good audiobook, hiking the AT outside her door, living in the charming town of Bristol, and her one-in-a-billion husband.

Forsaking Your First Love by Melissa Ferguson

Archaeology of the Bible Conference, Nov 13-14, King University


Archaeology of the Bible Conference, Nov 13-14, King University, Bristol, TN

We want to invite you to join us this fall on Nov. 13-14 at King University to convene with leading scholars from around the world to hear their latest research about archaeology and the Bible. This is our largest, and very popular, once-a-year seminar series designed specifically for the interested academic. This year’s conference is in conjunction with King’s Department of Philosophy and Religion. We would like to invite you to join this conference with your students and colleagues.

Sessions over the two days will cover topics from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the latest Biblical archaeological discoveries by eminent Syro-Palestinian archaeologists. Regions of interest include Jerusalem, Judah, and Azekah which overlooks the Valley of Elah where David fought Goliath.

This year’s conference theme “What’s Going on with Biblical Archaeology in Israel?” will include sessions with three renowned scholars and archaeologists including:

•       Dr. Manfred Oeming is a professor at the University of Heidelberg in Germany for 20 years, serving for the last decade as the University’s dean of the Faculty of Theology. He is considered an authority in the areas of exegesis of the Hebrew Bible, Biblical archaeology, and hermeneutics. A noted scholar and lecturer, Oeming has taught Old Testament theology and Biblical archaeology in Mainz, Osnabrück, and Heidelberg, and has written and edited numerous books and articles. He is also co-director with Oded Lipschits and Yuval Gadot of the Ramat Rahel Excavation project, and since 2012 of The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition.
•       Dr. Oded Lipschits is a professor of Jewish History in the Biblical period at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where he founded the International MA and PhD Program in Ancient Israel Studies within the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. He also serves as the director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology. He is the co-director with Manfred Oeming and Yuval Gadot of the Ramat-Rahel Archaeological Project since 2004, and since 2010, he has been the co-director of the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition. He has authored numerous books and papers. His book “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah Under Babylonian Rule” is one of the world’s most popular sources on the Biblical period.
•       Dr. Yuval Gadot is a senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He also directs the University’s excavations at the City of David and co-directs the Ramat Rahel Excavation project, and since 2012 of The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition. Gadot holds a doctorate from Tel Aviv University where he studied the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Israel’s central coastal plain. His work includes the first full publication of the excavations at Tel Aphek and a regional study of trends in the material culture as they understood in relation to historical events. Currently, he leads an archaeological dating project involving the introduction of agricultural terraces in the Jerusalem highlands, a project that carries cross-cultural significance.
This fall conference will take place at King University’s main campus in Bristol, Tenn., and First Presbyterian Church of Bristol, which is adjacent to the campus. The conference will open at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13 at First Presbyterian with a panel discussion to include Dr. Oeming, Dr. Lipschits and Dr. Gadot. The preeminent scholars will address current Biblical archaeological endeavors in Israel/Palestine and will be willing to take your questions. A reception will follow at 5 p.m. At 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, the following keynote lectures will be presented in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian.

4 PM lectures and Q and A: (First Presbyterian Bristol Fellowship Hall)

Prof. Oded Lipschits: “The Age of Empires”: Ramat Raḥel as the Centre of Judahite Administration under Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Rule (20 minutes)

Dr. Yuval Gadot: Jerusalem and It’s Hinterland in the Late First Temple Period (20 minutes)

Panel Discussion (20 minutes)

5 PM: Reception (First Presbyterian Bristol Chapel)

6 PM: Keynote Addresses (First Presbyterian Bristol Sanctuary)

Prof. Oded Lipschits: Archaeology: New Methods and New Discoveries that Changed our Understanding of the Biblical Period (30 minutes)
In this lecture, Prof. Lipschits will present the modern methods and the new discoveries in modern archaeology of the land of the Bible and the way these discoveries shed new light on our understanding of the history of the Biblical Period. He will demonstrate many discoveries from his excavations and from excavations of other colleagues, and he will discuss many of the well-known periods and events described in the Old Testament.

Prof. Yuval Gadot: “Taking out the Trash”: Life in Early Roman Jerusalem as Seen through its Garbage Disposal Layers (30 minutes)
In this lecture, Prof. Yuval Gadot will present his findings from the recent excavations in the City of David in the many layers of trash from the 1st Century CE and what these excavations can teach us about life in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus.

Prof. Manfred Oeming: “The Stones and the Word”: The Importance of Archaeology for the Interpretation of the Bible” (30 minutes)
Prof. Oeming will provide a short survey of different positions regarding the connection between archaeology and the Bible and will demonstrate how both elements should be combined.Prof. Oeming will utilize the results of excavations in Tel Azekah, Israel. Most importantly, he will present many supports for the biblical record (Canaanites, Joshua, Sennacherib, Nehemiah?). He will also discuss the current debate concerning King David. We are still missing essential evidence especially regarding David’s time. Therefore, we MUST continue to excavate, to attain more results, and continue with attempts to learn the history of the biblical period.

15 minutes for Q&A:

Monday 9:15 AM – Lecture in the Memorial Chapel, King University Campus

Oded Lipschits: “Excavating Paradise”: The Ancient Palace at Ramat Rahel and its secrets (25 minutes)

Yuval Gadot: The New Excavations at Tel Azekah after 5 Seasons (25 minutes)

10 minutes for Q&A:

This unique international conference on the outstanding findings and discoveries from archaeological excavations that have taken place recently in Israel/Palestine will enable participants to better understand the ancient world of the land of the Southern Levant. For anyone who is interested in the land and history of the Bible, he or she will enjoy this conference immensely and will gain a greater understanding of the Bible.

Archaeology of the Bible Conference
We look forward to seeing you at this year’s conference at King University in November. For details, contact me at or 423.652.4154.

Don Michael Hudson, PhD

The Topic Google Missed

The Topic Google Missed

“Why is it that I can google the anatomy of a seagull and find 1700 diagrams in .00002 seconds but cannot get a single quality article about some biblical passage I’d like to study deeper? I mean, when a few taps on the computer can pull up twelve videos on how to break into my neighbor’s house, why on earth is decent commentary of the Bible lacking?”

Melissa Smithlin Ferguson, King Philosophy and Religion

God Creates by Speaking Into the Chaos

God Creates by Speaking Into the Chaos

Screenshot 2016-07-08 22.21.52

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All Time


Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All Time, Rolling Stone July 01, 2016


“You kill my dog, you better hide your cat.” Ali standing over Sonny Liston

“I strongly object, Ali said, ‘to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand–either I go to jail or go to the army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice.”

“I represent truth. The world is full of oppressed people, poverty people. They for me. They not for the system. All the black militants…all your hippies, all your draft resisters, they all want me to be the victor.”

Charles P Pierce: “Ali was a better American citizen than were the people who denigrated him for his brashness, who spat on his religion, who called him a coward because he wouldn’t be an accessory to mindless slaughter.”

Interview with Emanuel Tov on the Septuagint

Great interview by a world-class scholar. On the Septuagint–the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Evangelicals’ support of Trump shouldn’t come as a surprise

Here is a great analysis of American Evangelical-Fundamentalist Christianity by Randall Balmer


Evangelicals’ Support of Trump Shouldn’t Come as Surprise

“America’s evangelicals have become secular, more interested in the pursuit of wealth and political influence than fidelity to the teachings of Jesus.”

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

“Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.”

Charles Darwin in 1881
Charles Darwin resting against pillar covered with vines.

Love in the Ruins: Homs, Syria

In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death,” according to AFP photographer Joseph Eid. Here, Nada Merhi, 18, and her husband, Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a series of wedding pictures amid heavily damaged buildings in Homs on February 5, 2016.

Love in the Ruins: Homs, Syria

Foundations Peer Mentors January 16

Foundations Peer Mentors 16

This is our first meeting with everyone–students and TAs–for Foundations of Christian Thought and Practice. Spring 2016. We have a fantastic group of TAs once again this semester. This is a course that we have designed at King and now teach to all traditional students. The class is unique in many ways: led by student leaders, co-taught by peer mentors, heavy on digital media, discussion groups, and an academic approach to the study of a Judeo-Christian worldview. Have I mentioned how much I love my job?

Taanach (Tell Ta’nik)

A beautiful day in Taanach. I have read about this site for years and finally visited a few days ago. The site stands at the threshold between the Valley of Jezreel and the northern hill country. Archaeologists have discovered insightful finds including cultic artifacts. Particularly, one of the most important, complete cult stands was discovered here. This stand exhibits 4 registers dedicated to Yahweh and Asherah, god and goddess, male god and consort demonstrating once again that Iron 2 religion in Israel  (Canaanite/Israelite) was polytheistic and syncretistic. We know very little about the cult in Iron Age Northern Israel so this site is supremely important for us to understand their religious practices.

Here is a link to a map and overview: Map Link

And here is a great link exploring the role of Asherah and Asherim: Asherah and Asherim

Further information about Yahweh and his Asherah (Kuntillet Ajrud): Yahweh and His Asherah (Kuntillet ‘Ajrud)

Here is a passage from the Hebrew Bible in Judges 1: 27-28:

“But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.”