Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

When Jimmy Carter confessed to adultery-of-the-heart in 1976 he uttered a commonplace (and false) assumption that an unexpressed desire is equivalent with actual sin:

Carter:  “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times [cites Matthew 5:27-28].  This is something that God recognizes that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it… Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us.”

Impossible standards? Well yes, if Carter seriously believes that the profound teaching of Jesus at Mt. 5:27-28 applies to unexpressed desires, or to feelings of attraction or arousal in the act of looking at a woman. A little exegesis, however, should show that Carter has allowed a widespread misinterpretation of the Bible to create the illusion of impossible standards – and the illusion of sin.

I say give Jesus a break! Look for the true point of his teaching by seeking a true moral principle in connection with the true Biblical meaning, and not in a ridiculous evangelical can of corn like ‘psychological sin.’

In Mt. 5:28 Jesus’ meaning comes to us on the back of two Greek words: blepon, watching or looking on; and epithymesai, evil desire, lust, covetousness.  But these two words possess a common meaning tone that make it impossible to equate adultery with every feeling of desire at the sight of a woman’s beauty.

First, look at the scripture meanings generally conveyed by forms of the Greek word epithymesai:

Epithymesai is rarely used of a merely passive desire – it always gets or seeks its fill of its object – it’s not just an empty wish that you had something that was someone else’s – it’s the way the wicked covet other people’s fields before they seize them, as in Micah 2:2, cf. Ex 15:9, where we read, “My desire shall have its fill”

Not only does Epithymesai enthrall the subject, it finds ways of testing its object to see if it will deliver its craving unto it, as in Ps 78:18, “demanding the food they craved” (as a test)

It requires the hands to reach out and get a hold on its object, implied in Prov 21:25-26, “desires kill the sluggard, for his hands do not choose to do anything”

The key to understanding this kind of desire is that it is not random or unconscious or accidental but is headstrong and has a selfish plan of conquest, like the “stubborn hearts” in Ps 81:12, “which follow their own counsel” (see also Ex. 20:17; Ps. 10:3; Acts 20:33; Col. 3:5; 1Tim 6:9-10; Jas.  1:14-15; 2 Pet 1:4).

Now look at the second word, blepon.

In three significant places in the Greek Old Testament, the word used by Jesus is not used to signify ‘looking upon’ nakedness:

Gen 3:7 – blepon is not used where there is a need to express the way Adam and Eve ‘look upon’ each other’s nakedness after the fall.

Gen 9:22-23 – blepon is not used to express the way Ham ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of his father Noah.

2 Sam 11:2 – blepon is not used to express the way David ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of Bathsheeba.

Check it out. The word family chosen by ‘the 70’ wise translators was idein and not blepon.

Why?  Because blepon is used in OT and NT not so much for a ‘seeing’ of things in front of you in space but more often for a foreseeing of things, a looking ahead to a situation that is not yet realized in time, such as things seen in a vision – or in a wicked plan (like a seduction).

So Jesus was indeed talking about a sin that is committed in the heart before it has been enacted, but it involves the kind of looking forward with wicked desire to possess that implies overt action with intent to seduce or allure someone, and not simply the childish indulgence of ‘a look.’

But beware, because Jesus has chosen his words so well that they clearly imply that this flirtatious action with intent to seduce is ‘adultery’ even in cases when it is unsuccessful.  If the targeted partner rejects your tacit invitation, or if your aims are frustrated by the least miscellaneous condition or event – Jesus is saying that is still adultery.  You’re liable even if you failed in your aim.

I think this is quite a serious and godly warning against sin, and doubly effective, since it applies to women as well as to men.

What about pornography?  Well there are issues of involvement that make it sin, but I would argue it is not mortal sin on the level of adultery.  Comments about that?

(to be continued)


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I think Mary Daly over at Notice the Universe rightly says Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, is oddly titled for a work claiming (as she says) “…that the universe will create itself, out of nothing, in an infinite variety of forms; and that, given an infinite variety of forms, a segment or sub-universe friendly to mankind is bound to develop,” which is the same as to say, as Mary points out, that there is “no design needed, grand or not.”

“Even supposing that Hawking is correct and that gravity and quantum physics suffice, that’s a pretty large “given”a little like the old joke in which a scientist challenges God to a creation-of-life competition and then, like God, picks up some dirt to start his work. ‘No, no,’ says God. ‘Go get your own dirt.’

“It seems as if the physicists have started saying that the math is the physics. But math is only a pattern; it is not a reality. Even such a simple mathematical entity as “two” is not real. There is no “two” in the world. There are two apples, two waves, two stars, two electrons, but no “two.”  Believing that the patterns are “real” and the physical things just odd shadows of those patterns has a name in philosophy: idealism.  Reducing the study of physical reality to mathematics is a philosophical decision, not a scientific one; it is philosophical idealism.

Agreed.  It’s one thing when a physicist, with an assist from the mathematician (identified by Daly as “the physicist’s alter-ego”) is able to construct a mathematical system that seems perfectly parallel to the patterns he’s seeing in the universe.  The problem arises when the system starts to imply things that are not even potentially observable and do not resemble either the visible universe or the original pattern that was seen in it – and yet the physicist has so much faith in the math that he finds such oddities to be real as well.

Daly:  “As every detective knows, having a solution that accounts for the facts is not the same as having the right answer.”

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image by Tom Lowe, NMM 2010

It is an ancient practice to lay out a church building so that altars and great-windows are oriented to the east.  The original meaning of the word ‘orientation’ is derived I think from the architectural fact of this preference for an east-facing on the ‘business end’ of temples and churches.  There’s an obvious attempt to make the most of the morning sunlight, but there are other, more ancient associations which imply that east is the direction of divine presence and power.

Today, a higher cosmological perspective suggests (to me anyway) the need for a galactic rather than geographic orientation to divine presence and power.  The photograph above of the massive starry plane of our home galaxy shot from the White Mountains of California, might be called a view through the new East Window.  It makes no difference that the subject of the above photo may be lying to the west – the new ‘East Window’ always opens up in the direction of the galactic center.

I don’t think it idolatrous to view the galactic plane as a kind of focus for the localized universe presence of God.  Because it’s not easy to imagine how God’s existence could mean anything at all to the galaxy if no framework for sovereignty, ministry, mercy, or justice were stretched out upon it.  Moderns love to deny that God can actually be ‘out there’ somewhere – Sorry, for me this photographer captures, among the fingers of the ancient bristlecone pine, the starry path to the center of Light and Life and the eternal mansions of the God of love.

There are two primary theological orientations of ‘the eye of faith’, and this post is about only one of them – the outward, universe-oriented direction.  Augustine wrote of the other orientation in a well-known soliloquy which I will not here repeat.  And of course that second theological orientation tracks to an inward center rather than an outward center.

Various frightful and utterly spiritless depictions of the great outer centers (and the inner centers)  have been suggested by different human minds.  This is to be expected, since the measurable energies proceeding from the unseen center of our galaxy register (by definition) only a monstrous quantitative value – the instruments of choice are not made for the task of elaborating the strictly qualitative mystery of religious consciousness.

If some of our great scientific men suppose ‘a monstrous black hole’ or some other shocking thing at the center of their home galaxy, it is only their personal best in response to the quantities which dominate their analysis.  I would only expect that the theory by which they explain the numbers might sometimes resemble the featureless nightmare of a homeless child.

NOTE:  The photograph, “Blazing Bristlecone” is by Tom Lowe, the winner of the British National Maritime Museum’s 2010 competition for Astronomy Photograph of the Year in the Earth and Space category (the photo also gained him the award for best overall).  Thanks to Deskarati for the link.

Below:  The East Window of Glasgow Cathedral (for comparison)

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“The human capacity to enter into the eternal, in a limited degree, is what characterizes our religious life and our participation in spiritual reality.  It is the sin qua non of theological insight and conceptualization. …However, the very necessity for interpenetration of divine and human minds places an unavoidable limitation upon revelation in the classical sense, precisely because of the limited capacity of the human mind to transcend its temporal conditions.”  – G. D. Yarnold, The Moving Image, 1966, pp. 201-2

Time and eternity have been my chief objects of philosophical concern recently, a spin-off from recent reading of Kant and Plato on the subjects.  On that same line of thinking I watched the Stephen Hawking documentary film “History of Time” last night

But does anybody else think it seemed a very arbitrary thing when Dr. Hawking rejected his early view that time must have a beginning?  Too easily, I think, he retreats from the necessity of postulating an origin of time in what is clearly an expanding universe.  What will a theoretical physicist not do to prevent the embarrassing impotency of mathematics at singularity?  Plato might have told him that mathematical truth is not nullified simply because it cannot generate a universe out of a theoretical singularity.  It is eternally true that 2+2=4, for example, even if the poor scientist can only use this truth to unpack motions prevailing after the beginning of time.  And there are still greater truths, which also show their independence of time.

“The prophetic figures of the OT provide the most notable instances of the human mind being drawn into an understanding of things divine. … What is vitally important from the point of view of revelation, however, is the bridging of the gap between the eternal and the temporal by the entering into history of One who, while being fully human, comes to the rescue of the limited human capacity for transcending temporality.”  – Yarnold, p.202-3

“At three crises of the national and religious life three voices came to guide it.  Before Samaria fell in 722BC, Hosea came to gather up the life of the past and preserve what was of eternal remembrance in the thought and deed of Israel.  Before the collapse of Judah in 586BC, Jeremiah handed on to a people now without a state the truths by which their souls might still live.  Finally, before the Temple disappeared in 70AD, a greater than both conserved for the world through his living church the enduring things which could not die.”  – Adam C. Welch, “Jeremiah,” The Abingdon Bible Commentary, 1928, p.677.

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“Beauty is … a word with which the philosophical person does not begin, but rather concludes … a word from which religion, and theology in particular, have taken their leave and distanced themselves in modern times by a vigorous drawing of the boundaries. … It is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another.  Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness.  No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Seeing the Form (1961, 2nd 1967, ET 1982, pp. 17, 18; vol. I of The Glory of the Lord)

I made a start on Balthasar’s opus this weekend, a good slow read of the long Introduction and on into “The Light of Faith,” in Part II.  Balthasar is one of those writers whose work seems to reflect the product of an immense luxury of both time and intellect.   Notwithstanding these summary lines from the Introduction, the author manages to indulge a rich style without descending to rhetorical flourishes to get himself around a difficult problem (a characteristic I dislike in both Karl Barth and P.T. Forsyth).  I’ve had the book from the library since March without much penetration, but was moved enough by brief glances to renew it a couple times.  Now that I have a glimpse of what he is up to, I feel I should persist at least as far as his discussions of faith and of revelation.  Failing in that, I fear I will be bearing his ghost around with that haunting feeling I buried him too fast.

“Yet if the philosopher cannot begin with this word, but can at best conclude with it, should not the Christian for this very reason perhaps take it as his first word?  And since the exact sciences no longer have any time to spare for it (nor does theology, in so far as it increasingly strives to follow the method of the exact sciences), precisely for this reason it might be high time to break through this kind of exactness, which can only pertain to one particular sector of reality, in order to bring the truth of the whole again into view … not only man’s truth and that of the world, but the truth of a God who bestows himself on man, the truth not only of the historical Gospel and of the Church that preserves it, but the truth of the growing Kingdom of God …”

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