Crucification?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been watching old episodes of “Knight Rider.” I must say again that it’s great fun, not only for the horrible special effects and equally terrible dialogue but also for the 80s reminiscence it stirs. I say this mindful of a recent episode in which KITT, the show’s futuristic talking car, insisted on Christ as the only sensible reason for celebrating Christmas. Even better, a little further into the episode, Michael Knight, the main character, casually assumed out loud to another character that anyone unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible must be part of a very strange minority.

I found those perspectives refreshing. Although, when I returned to real life, I suddenly found them disheartening, having realized we’ve drifted far from such comfortable vantages. Today’s ethos makes 80s TV show language feel more like the vernacular of an alien planet than an echo of earthly history. If you think I’m exaggerating, then consider the Gallup poll from the 1980s that determined a little less than 75% of Americans were biblically literate. In 2021, the number came in at around 11%. That’s not an annoying but nevertheless inconsequential sign that we’ve lost our national footing in this regard. It’s an indication we’ve gone over the cliff and are in free-fall.

A passing conversation I had about two weeks ago with our Kantor, Keith Vieregge, comes to mind. We were talking about how so many words in the English language are mauled with regularity. When someone says “supposebly” in our presence, there’s a good chance we’re cringing internally. But it gets worse. Keith mentioned how words are being completely reconfigured, having recently heard the word “conversate” used in place of “converse”—as in, “The teacher needed to conversate with the parents regarding their child’s behavior.” I agreed and then volleyed with the made-up word “crucification,” which I’d recently seen used in place of “crucifixion” in an online forum.

So, where am I going with this? Well, I suppose one point of intersection is that not only are we thoroughly lacking in biblical literacy, but with our current culture’s reworking of words, we may discover breakdowns in the fundamental transmission of the Bible’s contents. Anyone who cares about language will tell you that when words become confused, the only way forward is chaos. I mean, consider the current confusion regarding gender. The terms “man” and “woman” mean different things to different people. In relation, the word “sex” no longer refers solely to biological gender and reproduction processes. It has become ideological, and as a result, no longer holds a firm footing for easy communication. I proposed not all that long ago that the practice of confusing terms spilled over from academia’s already-poisoned river into the streams and creeks of America when Bill Clinton, in response to a question in front of a grand jury while under investigation for perjury, said rather ridiculously, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Clinton went on to mumble almost unintelligibly, “If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement. Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

What a rambling word-salad of ridiculousness. If we don’t know how to properly handle the two-letter verb “is,” we’re in big trouble.

This reminds me of something else.

There is a memorable line in act 2, scene 3 of Macbeth that reads, “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” If you know the story, then you’ll remember these words being spoken after Macbeth murders Duncan, the King of Scotland. The point is to communicate the impending chaos on the horizon for a rulerless kingdom. When no one is in charge—when there’s no certainty for direction—things come undone very quickly. Maybe this line applies to 21st-century communication, too. When the crispness of language is murdered, regardless of the unkillable nature of objective truth, the ability to actually transmit objectively true things becomes untenable, burdened by the absence of universally accepted fundamentals.

Take for example the important topic of marriage. Marriage, and the families it produces, are the fundamental building blocks of every society throughout history. In a simple way, without the hardened commitment established by marriage, societies would dissolve into little more than chaotically self-indulgent gatherings overflowing with orphans. But how can you talk about marriage in any meaningful way if the variables of its equation are undefinable?

“Marriage is to be between a man and a woman,” someone might say.

“I agree with you,” is the possible reply of a transgender woman married to a man.

But they don’t agree on marriage. A transgender woman is a man married to another man, and by such a combination, cannot begin to meet the basic parameters of natural law God has cemented into marriage, one of which is the procreation of children. The frustrating breakdown here leads to giant tech companies, with all seriousness, creating emojis of pregnant men. It leads to schools teaching children gender dysphoria is something to celebrate along with phrases like “birthing person.”

In short, words matter. What’s more, holding the line on their structures and meanings matters, too.

Truth be told, I’m only sharing with you what came to mind after reading Proverbs 21:23 during my devotion this morning. The text reads, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” I suppose the text is somewhat relative to the direction of my thoughts. The word used in the text for “keep” (שֹׁמֵ֣ר) means more than just to control something. It means to guard it for the sake of preserving it. A commentary I visited with this morning compared the guarding to someone who cares about the language they use, inferring someone who says “no more than is right and fitting.” This is both contextual and residual. In other words, aware of the precise meanings of words, a righteous person also knows the long-term damage that comes when those words are misused. Misuse leads to confusion. Confusion can result in a tangling that brings incredible harm.

Come to think of it, Jesus spoke to these things in a way when He said in Matthew 5:37 to let one’s yes be yes and one’s no be no. In context, the Lord is referring to taking oaths. But His broader teaching is not only to understand what is meant by the terms but to be so certain about them that you can speak with simplicity in a way that has binding strength. You can say “yes” and be fully invested in your answer, or you can say “no” and never feel the tug to question your resoluteness.

I don’t know about you, but on my part, I’m not only doing everything I can to be careful with language but to protect the terms that make communication through language of any value, especially as it meets with God’s Word. I don’t want confusion anywhere near the Gospel. Confusion, as John Milton chimed so poetically, brings nothing less than “ruin upon ruin, rout upon rout.”

Darkness’ Tongue

Do you want to know something I learned this week? Well, maybe I’ve always known it and it’s that I’ve discovered a new way of understanding and then communicating it. I learned that both genuine Christian honesty and sinful dishonesty function in similar ways. I know that sounds strange, but what I mean is that they both engage in the search for mistakes made because neither can bear the burden of wrongness.

As this meets with dishonesty, a person committed to falsehood will actively seek out his or her shortcomings, but usually for the sake of defending them. The reason? Well, as I already said, they cannot bear the burden of being seen as wrong, and so they do all they can to recraft their wrongness to appear justified, or even worse, righteous. Christian honesty seeks out its mistakes, too, but it does so with a completely different goal in mind.

Christian honesty (which I’d say includes the barometric of integrity) is a direct descendent of truth, and as such, it digs deeply in search of its mistakes. When it discovers one, like a stone in the farmer’s field, it labors to dig it up and remove it. Why? Because like dishonesty, it cannot tolerate being wrong. However, instead of turning toward excuse-making, honesty longs for wrongness’ death. It wants to be uninfected by anything contrary to truth.

Oscar Wilde was a strange bird, and yet, he wrote something interesting about excuse-making. He wrote about how experience is often the name people attach to their mistakes. He scribbled those words mindful of the human capacity for dismissing bad behavior. In other words, we do what we do, good or bad. When things go well, we pat ourselves on the back. When things go awry, we chalk it up to the importance of experience—not necessarily saying it was wrong, but rather, it was a valuable lesson. Sure, there is some truth to that statement. “We’re only human,” we say, disaffectedly; or “Well, we learn from our mistakes, right?” And yet, where does this begin and end when we know full well what we’re doing is wrong? Is sleeping around until getting a venereal disease a valuable lesson learned by experience? Is your moment before the judge for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars the best moment for admitting theft is wrong. Will saying to the judge, “Well, your honor, I sure learned my lesson” really be worth anything at all?

In disgust for wrongness, genuine honesty is aggravated by excuse-making. As a result, it is completely unwilling to lend even its weakest finger toward dismissing one iota of its crimes, no matter their severity. Even further, its threshold for continuing in sinful behavior is proven minimal. Once wrongness is discovered, it wants to be rid of it—like, yesterday. And why? Because by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Christ, fidelity to Christ far outweighs fidelity to self, and so, as soon as the Christian realizes he has wandered into shark-infested waters, he begins swimming like crazy to get to safety.

Christians know well what I mean by all this. This is true because they know the sin-nature in relation to contrite faith. They know Saint John’s words from the first chapter of his first epistle aren’t all that complicated:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10).”

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie.

Saint John’s description of dishonesty’s will is emphatic. The word he uses here for walking—περιπατῶμεν (peripatōmen)—is an active subjunctive verb. It by no means allows for accidental or uninformed behavior, but rather communicates what the subject knows and wants to have happen. In other words, the willful desire to conduct one’s life according to darkness stands in contradiction to the God who is light. And so, to claim fellowship with God while willfully—intentionally, deliberately, consciously—pursuing what one knows without question to be Sin, and then even worse, to vigorously resist correction through excuse-making, is to stand before God as the worst kind of liar. I say the worst kind because as Saint John notes in verse 10, what we’re really doing by our efforts is staking God as the deceptive one—accusing Him of being the One who doesn’t understand the differences, of mistakenly mixing up good and bad.

“Sure, the Ten Commandments are helpful,” we say, “but what God doesn’t realize is that they’re often not very practical.” Continuing, we explain using darkness’ tongue, “I mean, sometimes abortion is the better solution, especially when chances are greater the child will be born into an unloving family.” Or perhaps we suggest with shadowy sincerity, “We all know it’s best to test-drive a car before buying it. It’s the same with a potential spouse. We need to test-drive him or her in every way possible before marriage. Shouldn’t we want to steer clear of making a mistake? Shouldn’t we want to learn by experience if he or she is truly the right person for us?”

And the list goes on and on.

Foolishness. Plain foolishness.

How about this instead: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

Simple. Better.

Why is this better? Because even as you may not understand the finer, and sometimes more difficult, details of God’s gracious leading by His holy Law, He certainly has already proven His pathways worthy of trust. Knowing we could not save ourselves from Sin, He didn’t have to reach into this world to save it. But He did. His first inclination toward us was love. From this love, He sent His Son to win us back from darkness (1 John 4:19). By the power of the Holy Spirit for faith in this sacrifice, we love Him in return, and we are convinced that His will for our lives—no matter how any particular aspect of it might seem out of step with the world around us—it will always be best. Planting our flag in this promise, more often than not, we’ll find ourselves at the top of Mount Honesty. From its peak, we can search for and discover our mistakes, not for the sake of running down the mountain to hide or defend them, but to target and uproot them—to actively flex the muscle of the saintly nature against the sinful nature, doing so with the knowledge that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So, consider my words. Where you are apart from God’s holy Law, repent. Turn to the One who loves you for eternal relief. He’s no liar. He’s truth in the flesh—the kind of truth that will set you free (John 8:32; 14:6).

Musk, Depp, and the Final Court

There’s quite a lot happening in the news these days. Do you have some time this morning for thoughts on some of it? Go get some coffee, because I have a few.

Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter was accepted. Admittedly, this was a bright-beaming ray of sunshine in my newsfeed. A few more beams poked through the dreariness of April’s war between chill and warmth when I saw the mainstream media folks throwing fits on live TV over Musk’s stated intentions, which were, essentially, that he wanted Twitter to be a true public forum for free speech. An important lesson here: the folks at MSNBC, CNN, and other such drivelous news agencies betrayed their ideological innards when they became enraged over Musk’s determination to halt the banning and shadow-banning of alternative points of view (namely, conservative viewpoints) so that genuine conversation can once again occur.

I mentioned online earlier this year—much to the repulsion of some—that I was starting to admire Elon Musk. This is one reason why. He may be eccentrically different from me in so many ways, and yet, he seems to have a good grasp of certain fundamentals that matter, one of which is the First Amendment. Yes, the Gospel will go forth with or without the freedom of speech. Still, the First Amendment is in alignment with Saint Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy 2:1-3, which includes engaging in the public square for the sake of maintaining a civil context that preserves the freedom to preach and teach Christ crucified. That being said, we should be on the side of anyone pulling for the First Amendment.

Interestingly, a few days after Musk’s purchase was announced, the Biden administration established the DGB or the “Disinformation Governance Board.” Hmm.

Political Commenter, Steven Crowder, pointed out another notable government in history that did the same thing: The Nazi Party. Crowder didn’t mention the Nazi board by name, but students of history will remember it as the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Public Relations). It was established in 1933, not long after Hitler came to power. Its stated goal was to “protect” Germans from disinformation. Joseph Goebbels was the ministry’s director. If you’ll recall, Goebbels was a principal architect of the “Final Solution,” that is, the extermination of the Jews. In other news, and perhaps strangely relevant, Holocaust Remembrance Day was this past Thursday in Israel. The whole country came to a literal standstill to remember the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime. I watched a video of the event. It was eerie; cars stopped on the freeways and their occupants standing outside the vehicles perfectly still. On the sidewalks, people stopped mid-stride, as if frozen. Maybe someone could do a quick PowerPoint presentation on this at the next DGB meeting.

Anyway, I could go deeper into this, but let’s just say for now that I hope Musk’s effort with Twitter is a success. What’s more, I may even rejoin the platform. I left Twitter a few years ago not only because I was being shadow-banned, but because Twitter was taking it upon themselves to delete my followers. I had several thousand, and then one day the number was cut by half. The very next day, the remaining followers were cut by half, again—and so on. On top of that, the “cancel” brigades were becoming exceptionally wily with my account. Believe it or not, the final straw for me was when Donald Trump’s account was permanently canceled, while Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran (and visceral sponsor of global terrorism and hatred toward America and Israel), his account was preserved. It remains to this day.

I’m also hoping that what Musk is doing with Twitter makes the folks at Facebook at least a little bit contemplative, if not nervous. Facebook owns Instagram. Right around the time I left Twitter, I was permanently banned from Instagram for posting a meme that stated men are men and women are women. Someone reported my post as hate speech. I was jettisoned from the platform. I tried opening another account a few weeks ago, but somehow, they knew it was me. I received messages reminding me I’d been banned permanently for violating platform policies.

I’m not so worried about this stuff, which I’ll get to the reason for in a moment.

So, what else is in the news?

Well, believe it or not, I’ve also been following the court case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. I don’t normally care all that much about celebrity trials, however, this one caught my attention. Why? Because while we hear so much about abusive (toxic) masculinity (i.e., the “Me Too” movement, and other default mantras), Johnny Depp was insisting on an alternate narrative. After a bit of reading, my gut began telling me we were finally seeing a man in Hollywood push back against abusive femininity. Having listened to several hours of the broadcasted trial (which is far less than the content of what I’ve read), I’m definitely rooting for Depp. He isn’t perfect by any means. He’s wrestled with drugs and alcohol. He’s been a neglectful father on far too many occasions. Admittedly, He’s been a lousy husband. But among these things, he’s never been one to abuse a woman. He appears to be the kind of man who, when verbally and physically abused, will never respond in kind—even if it means being belittled daily or having one’s fingertip sliced off.

Heard, on the other hand—someone who was known by her bodyguards to destroy Depp’s personal belongings, put feces into his bed, and whose friends testified that she hit them, too, for seemingly no reason—has been tested psychologically and deemed quite the opposite. I’m not surprised. Her documented behavior is hard to explain away, no matter how skilled the attorney may be. Perhaps worse, a recording played before the court proved her willingness to abuse Depp all the while hiding behind the current Hollywood (and dare I say, worldwide) mentality that men are, by default, toxically abusive and overlording. Heard’s recorded words were chilling. She implied that everyone would believe her before ever believing Depp simply because he’s a man and she’s a woman. In other words, he should just expect by default that her testimony would be considered true and his would not. She accentuated her arrogance by insisting that no judge or jury would ever side with a man in such a case, saying, “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence… And see how many people believe or side with you.” When asked by his lawyer about his response to Heard’s taunting, Depp said rather simply, “I said, ‘Yes, I am.” What he meant was that he was, in fact, a man who was also a domestic abuse victim.”

Depp’s lawyer described Heard’s behavior as gross bullying—the kind that was only fed by Depp’s already burdensome sadness over his failings. It reminded me of Publius Syrus’ words: “Cruelty is fed, not weakened, by tears.” Indeed, Depp was already hurting. Heard used the tears of that hurt to increase her cruelty’s potency.

Shannon Curry, a clinical psychologist, testified against Heard using the term “code 36” to assert she has a personality disorder. Curry described this code, saying, “The 36 code type is very concerned with their image, very attention-seeking, very prone to externalizing blame to a point where it’s unclear whether they can even admit to themselves that they do have responsibility in certain areas.” She went on to say Heard is self-righteous, judgmental, and full of rage, with all these characteristics emerging from a deep, inner hostility. I think one place to see this is in the difference between Depp’s defamation suit and Heard’s countersuit. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, which is what he believes he’s lost as a high-profile actor now considered toxically unemployable by most film studios. Sounds fair. Heard, however, is countersuing for $100 million, which is Depp’s total worth. In other words, Depp wants justice. Heard wants to completely decimate Depp. When someone can’t just walk away, but rather seethes with the desire to destroy another person’s life completely, that speaks volumes about what’s going on inside them.

As I said, I’m rooting for Depp. Equally, I’m hoping that the judge mandates for Heard to get treatment. Although, narcissistic personality disorders like hers are hard to cure, mostly because the one bearing them typically refuses to admit to needing help. Either way, and as I like to say on occasion, “The divine lights always come on in the end,” which means, do and say what you want now, but remember, the time will come for settling scores. That’s why I mentioned earlier that I’m not so worried about being slighted or maligned. God, namely, Christ Himself, will be the Pantocrator occupying the bench in the only courtroom that matters. It’ll be just as the Creed declares: “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” He’ll settle things according to His standards, not ours. And no matter how right anyone thought they were, His “right” will be the final rule of measurement for all things and all people of all time.

That might sound scary to some. It probably should. That’s the benefit of God’s generous forewarnings. However, it doesn’t have to be menacing. Through trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, believers can only ever be found guilty of one thing: saving faith. Jesus said as much in John 16:8-11 regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. He mentioned that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will bring three distinct counts of conviction. Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (v.8). The conviction in sin is an easy one. Jesus explained this will happen to those who “do not believe in me” (v. 9). In short, unbelievers remain trapped in sin. Skipping ahead to the last one mentioned—judgment—the Lord takes direct aim at the devil, saying that we can count on final judgment being leveled against Satan once and for all. It’s right in between verses 9 and 11 that the Lord says the Holy Spirit will convict “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v. 10). In other words, we can’t see Jesus, and yet, we believe. These words Jesus is speaking on Maundy Thursday sound an awful lot like the ones He spoke to Thomas a few days later on Easter Sunday:

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).

The points here: Firstly, saving faith is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, on the Last Day, all believers in Christ will be accused and found guilty of faith in Jesus before the highest court in heaven and earth. And so, if you’re going to be convicted of anything before God, let it be that.

Between you and me, knowing my many failings, I’m counting on God’s justifying promise found in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Confessing my sins and clinging to His righteousness, even as things could be rough in this life, I know everything is going to be okay for the next when the divine lights come on and all is revealed.

Apologizing to Thomas

There is the rather elementary saying that one thing leads to another. It’s elementary because it’s true, and I have the perfect example to share.

You may or may not know this, but I’m a fan of 80s and early 90s sci-fi and horror films. I’ve seen them all, both the A and the B list—from Academy Award winners like “Silence of the Lambs” to straight-to-VHS gems like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Watching them now, I have to say that many are still very good. They’ve stood the test of time. Others were trash before they ever became a script, and they remain trash long afterward. The special effects were terrible, often intentionally. The dialogue was just as bad. It’s easy to tell that many were made just to be made. Trust me, “Friday the 13th” could have been put to rest after “Part IV, The Final Chapter.” Still, they gave us seven more and an attempted reboot. The same goes for the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series. “Dream Warriors,” the third movie in the series, was the last of the franchise’s serious attempts. But the thing is, even the cringe-worthy sequels remained great fun. Their hokeyness only made the good films seem better.

Not long ago I was watching a documentary series called “The Movies that Made Us.” One episode focused on James Cameron’s masterpiece “Aliens.” Anyone who’s been in my basement will confirm the film as an absolute favorite of mine. I mean, it did win seven Academy Awards, one of which was for best visual effects.

Anyway, after watching the documentary, I did a little reading about James Cameron. In comparison to his accomplishments, I was fascinated with his beginnings. Interestingly, after seeing “Star Wars” on the big screen, he was inspired to leave his job as a truck driver and take aim at making movies in Hollywood. Personally, I’m glad he took the chance.

Reading about his life, I came across a TV interview he did with a California news station in what I believe was the early 2000s. During the interview, he said something along the lines of, “If your goals are set ridiculously high and then you fail, you’ll already be well past everyone else, having failed well above everyone else’s successes.”

Remember how I said one thing leads to another? Well, here’s why I said it. That comment reminded me of the disciple Thomas. By the way, apart from Jesus, Thomas is the most important character in the resurrection narrative from John 20:19-31, which is also the appointed Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter. Essentially, Thomas is the one who continues even now to get a bad rap for doubting the Lord’s resurrection. But the thing is, his seemingly greatest failure was far above the successes of everyone else in the bunch. Here’s what I mean.

All the disciples deserted Jesus. Peter denied the Lord. Still, it would appear that after the crucifixion and burial, all but Thomas were gathered together in the upper room. The narratives say this happened because the disciples were afraid of what the Jews would do to them, too. But where was Thomas? I’m willing to bet that the answer is assumed by the ease with which the disciples retrieved him after the Lord’s first resurrected appearance among them. They went to where they knew they’d find him—at home. Thomas went back to his life, apparently having already accepted his fate concerning a failed messiah.

But Jesus hadn’t failed. And so, the disciples went to Thomas to tell him the Lord had risen. What were Thomas’ words in reply?

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

These words prove Thomas’ failure was well above everyone else’s successes. While everyone else was stowed away in fear and asking questions bent on self-preservation, Thomas had subscribed to his fate. But he did this bearing the embers of a faith that was asking for the only proof Jesus had ever promised to give. In other words, Thomas knew (whether consciously or subconsciously) that his faith could only be rekindled when he met a living Jesus with crucifixion wounds.

I was asked a few weeks ago who I’d like to meet first in heaven. Apart from the Lord Himself, and then my brother, I hope to meet Thomas. I intend to apologize to him on behalf of any human in history who ever used the title “Doubting Thomas” to describe him. Indeed, Thomas’ failure was well above the rest of our so-called successes. In the darkest hour of Good Friday and Holy Saturday’s deepest confusion, Thomas was asking the right questions. Everyone else was asking for personal safety. Thomas was asking to see the One who would eventually say by Revelation 1:18, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” He believed as Saint Paul would eventually preach foundationally: faith in Christ crucified and raised (1 Corinthians 1:23, 15:1-26).

If only we could be as clear-sighted for receiving the risen Christ as Thomas, who is also the same one who gave what is perhaps one of the most moving confessions of joyful faith ever recorded in the scriptures. When Thomas took the strangest of chances at rejoining his fellow disciples in the upper room, the Lord gave Thomas what he asked for—the opportunity to touch His wounds. And again, what were Thomas’ words?

 “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

I dare say that as we so often live our lives beneath a shroud of deeper doubt than even that of Thomas, not trusting that the Lord will care for us as He’s promised, there will come the day when the Lord shows us His wounds in the glories of heaven—wounds that will forever be the proof of His triumph in and over all things. I’m guessing there’s a good chance we’ll sound a lot like that one disciple with the millennia-long bad reputation.

They Saw Jesus

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

There is a special sort of energy to this saying, isn’t there? When a believer says it, there is a sense of the world spinning in the opposite direction, as if what was once undone is now being turned back, as if our view of Eden has become a little less blurry.

Amen. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

“He is risen” is the cheering of the Church of all ages. She sings out to the world in praise of her Savior who died, and yet, did not fall short of His goal, no matter the apparent dreadfulness of the Good Friday wreckage. Jesus gave Himself over into Death. He did it willingly and without our asking. He turned His face toward the events with an unmatchable steadfastness, and like a juggernaut, He could not be stopped. He pressed through and into Death’s deepest hideousness, ultimately defeating it for all time from the inside.

Saint Paul makes clear for those who may still be wondering what the resurrection has to do with God’s plan of redemption, saying, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). He says this so his readers will know there’s nothing left to be accomplished between sinners and God. Christ has done it all.

How do we know? Indeed, Paul warns of the concern if Christ hasn’t been raised, having already announced, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17).

But Christ has been raised. Paul is a witness. And not only Paul but hundreds of others were visited by the bodily-resurrected Jesus (15:3-8). Would Paul lie? Would he trade his life of promise and ease for prison and execution? Would they all lie? Would they all be able to maintain such deception, keeping the story straight among such a large number? Perhaps like Paul, when the lives of these firsthand witnesses, and the lives of their families, were found teetering at the edge of grisly death, with their only safety being found in recantation, would courage built on a lie be able to see them through the moment?

Of course not, because they saw Jesus.

So, rejoice. It’s all true. Christ is risen, and your Easter faith is secure. You have staked a claim in the Lord who faced off with Death and won. His labor removed your Sin, and His resurrection victory justified you before the Father (Romans 4:25), granting to you the first-fruit spoils of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20).

God bless and keep you in this peace, not only today but always.

Sure of His Courage

There is the saying that goes something like, “Until it matters, no man can be sure of his courage.” I appreciate those words. Indeed, one can hardly be considered courageous from ease’s protective tower. Knowing this, I suppose that’s why each year on Good Friday, the words by the Gospel-writer Mark to describe Joseph of Arimathea are piercing. Each year they find their way deeper into my contemplation of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross.

It’s not long after the Lord’s final breath that we read:

“And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (15:42-43).

Why are these words so resonant? Because they describe a man who, for the most part, has kept his faith in Jesus an unchallenged secret. And why would he do this? Because as a member of the Sanhedrin—the primary human force in opposition to Jesus—Joseph knew what would happen to him if it was ever discovered. He and his family would be utterly undone economically, socially, and religiously. But then suddenly, none of these things appear to matter anymore. Mark writes that Joseph “took courage,” having been moved to act beyond the boundaries of his fears and request custody of the Lord’s body from Pilate.

What caused this? He witnessed the death of His Savior, Jesus.

The actual deed—the very intersecting act of God’s redeeming plan in this world—that’s what sits at the heart of faith. Joseph saw it. Whether or not he fully understood what had happened, it would certainly appear that his faith knew the significance of the gory details. In that moment, his faith became a daring powerhouse more than ready to flex the divine muscles the Holy Spirit had granted it. It moved him to go before Pilate and do something that would very soon thereafter become public knowledge.

What does this mean for us?

If anything, it means none of us ought to take Good Friday for granted. It means there’s something to be said for a day that’s spends itself thinking on the epicentral event of our Lord’s work to win us back from Sin, Death, and the power of the devil. It means if ever there was a day for doing something that might unmask our oft-hidden commitment to Christ—such as missing an extra-curricular activity or asking for time off from work to attend worship—Good Friday is that day. In one sense, that’s what the Greek word for “took courage” (τολμήσας [tolmēsas]) insinuates. At its root, it means to take a chance, to dare, to be bold in a way that lowers one’s defenses, maybe even in a way that provokes evil to attack.

Joseph took courage. He did this knowing that to do so could result in trouble. But he did it, anyway. Maybe you can, too. You certainly have less to lose than Joseph, even if only to give up some time to attend one of the two services occurring here at Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. The Tre Ore service occurs at 1:00pm, and the Tenebrae service is at 7:00pm. I’m preaching at both, and I can’t wait to do so.

God bless and keep you by His grace.

Pay Attention to Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday, also called “Passion Sunday.” Palm Sunday is the doorway into the arena of Holy Week. For those who know, today is a pivotal day in the Church Year. By “those who know,” I mean those who know what’s coming. They celebrate by waving palm branches. Later today, some will fold those branches into the shape of a cross while studying the worship schedule and making plans to return for services during the week. They do this because they’ve learned the value of pondering each of our Lord’s words and actions as He makes His way to the cross and empty tomb—even the ones that may seem inconsequential. From His washing of the disciples’ feet to a mid-trial glance at Peter, everything becomes important, and believers don’t want to miss any of it.

The first few days—Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—are days of intense preparation underpinned by a passionate awareness of what’s looming. Then comes the holy Triduum—the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

In the evening on Maundy Thursday, our Lord knows He’s in the final hours, and so He establishes His Holy Supper, a divine meal that both gives and assures us of His presence and forgiveness. Establishing this, it truly is as the Apostle John describes:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Indeed, He loved them to the end. If we somehow get distracted from this on Maundy Thursday, it’s likely we won’t on Good Friday. Good Friday demands the attention of all. It is the battle royale—the conflict of all conflicts on a cosmic scale. Jesus goes into the powers of darkness, not for Himself, but for us. It’s there that our salvation is exacted. Moving into the evening of Holy Saturday, or the Vigil of Easter, believers endure the darkness of what appears to be the Savior’s terrible defeat. And yet, they do this by holding to the ancient promises given throughout the scriptures, finally coming face to face with an angel who declares, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7).

Easter Sunday is the first step from Holy Week into an entirely new season—one of victory, one that celebrates the conquering of Sin and Satan, as well as the death of Death itself; all of it accomplished by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was dead but is now alive, and who now reigns for all time.

Today, Palm Sunday, we celebrate. Again, we wave palm branches. We sing with festive voices. Next Sunday we celebrate, too. We’ll sing just as brightly. Our Easter suits and dresses will match the day’s tenor. In between these two Sundays, things aren’t so easy. Holy Week isn’t easy. Rest assured Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan, is a church that’s mindful of this. Knowing this, you’re invited to be present for each of the worship opportunities provided. You’re invited to hear the Word of God read and preached. You’ll want to hear this Word. It saves. You’ll want to take in the rites and be immersed in the ceremonies, all of which are born from the devotion of countless generations of Christians before you who knew something in particular about Holy Week.

And what was it they knew so well?

Well, as Pierre Corneille once observed, “We triumph without glory when we conquer without danger.” This saying is useful to Christians if only to remind us of how easy it is to be robbed of something’s truest value when we don’t know its truest cost. Holy Week spends itself revealing the cost. Without taking time to consider the immensity of it all, without taking at least a few strides alongside our suffering Savior, it’s possible to arrive at Easter without a sense of its worth.

Don’t do that. Pay attention to Holy Week. In my many years as a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who has regretted it.

Credibility

I coined a phrase a few years back, one I’ve never heard anyone else say. Since its realization, I share it with regularity among the students in my theology and catechetical classes, both young and old. It almost always comes up while studying the 8th Commandment and its explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism.

Before sharing it with you, I think the best way to tee up the phrase’s instantaneous formation in my mind is to compare it with the process of information transference in the film “The Matrix.” If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know what I mean. In one scene, Neo doesn’t know Kung Fu. In the very next, he’s a Kung Fu master. Everything necessary was instantaneously downloaded to his brain.

In my case, the phrase came to me in the middle of realizing a troubling situation had grown beyond my abilities to solve it. All along the way, my intentions were good, even Godly. I had followed the Word of God the best I knew how. I’d maintained confidences. I’d spoken to the right church leaders. I’d reached to both friend and foe alike through steady communication, all along the way doing what I could to navigate toward peaceful shores. But things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. The harder I tried, the worse things seemed to get, eventually coming undone altogether. As it would go, there was one moment when I knew I’d become infected by the undoneness.

It happened in a small meeting room in our school. It involved me and three other people. In short, what started as a calm conversation became heated, and at one point in the fray, a rather nasty word was used to describe my wife, Jennifer. Almost without hesitation, I rose from my seat, put my finger in the face of the person who’d spoken the word, and with a shout, I warned that if such a word used to describe my wife ever passed through the lips of that individual again, the results would be unforgettably severe.

In all my twenty-three years in ministry, that was the first and last time I ever lost my cool and shouted at anyone.

Unfortunately, the room and its uninsulated door are along a primary thoroughfare for church and school staff traffic, and it just so happened that a longtime staff member was passing by the room. Having no idea what I said or why I said it, but only that it was me who was shouting, the word spread quickly among my detractors, serving as evidence that I was a ruthless dictator more than capable of measuring the pastoral office against others in a threatening way. Less than a day later, when I realized what that single moment had produced among the people I was attempting to bring to repentance, a thought surged into and through me as if I’d touched an electrified wire. I was alone in my office when I heard my voice say as if in conversation, “Chris, your reputation is the only thing you own that everyone else keeps for you. Guard it.”

Since that moment, I fight for my reputation and the integrity that underpins it as if they were gold. Say something nasty to me. No problem. Post derogatory comments about me across the span of social media. I’ll brush it off and continue forward. But recast my credibility in a way that undermines my ability to serve, and things are going to get rough between us. Why? Well, not only because God’s Word describes pastors as ones who must be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), or because one of the lessons I’ve learned in ministry is that the people willing to exert energy in this way must be dealt with firmly, but primarily because, as I already said, if my credibility becomes questionable, who am I to bring God’s authoritative Word of correction to anyone? For example, who am I to say that shouting at someone in anger is sinful if I live my life doing the same thing? With that, I’m a firm believer that one’s credibility is tied to his or her own integrity; or as I was moved to write on social media this past week in response to Will Smith smacking Chris Rock, “An act’s integrity is relative to the moral soundness of the one performing it.” I wrote this because Will Smith hit a man who insulted his wife, Jada. And yet, Will Smith lives in an open marriage, meaning he and Jada allow one another to have sex with others. Because of this, I’d say Will Smith has very little credibility when it comes to defending his wife’s honor.

This is an incredibly important thing for all of us to consider as sometimes we, too, discover ourselves required to rebuke someone else’s behavior in defense of what’s right. What’s more, it has me thinking about something else.

Do you remember that commercial from the 80s in which a mother shouts at her son after discovering drug paraphernalia in his room? Essentially, she asks him in a rage where he got the stuff, but more importantly, how he learned about any of it. Frustrated by her hypocrisy, the boy shouts back, “I learned it from you!” The camera then pans and refocuses on her bedroom, revealing a bag of marijuana beside an ashtray full of ashes. For as hokey as the acting in the commercial was, the message was stingingly true. If you’re doing it, you have no credibility for dissuading a child from doing it, too. And this matters to more than just drug use. If you are willfully living together with someone outside of marriage, don’t be surprised or angry if your child does the same one day. And if you try to dissuade them from doing it, what can you say to them when they reply, “I learned it from you”? Not much, that’s for sure. The list goes on from here. If you swear a lot, don’t be surprised or angry when your children swear a lot, too. If you speak abusively to your spouse, don’t be shocked when your daughter-in-law reveals the man she married, your son, is verbally abusive to her.

By now, I’m guessing that some, if not all of you have already whispered to yourself something that sounds a little like, “But I’ve done these sorts of things, so what credibility do I have for steering anyone else toward what’s right?”

Well, the answer to this is relatively simple. When your sinful deeds are your only history, then you have no credibility. However, when through confession and absolution your sins are snatched away from you for all time, having been instantaneously consigned to the shoulders of Christ through faith in His sacrifice on the cross, you are no longer who you were before. Things begin again. You are remade. Or better yet, re-created as one whose credibility is not his or her own history, but Christ’s. Such newness has no baggage, at least nothing God could ever conjure up to use against you. Don’t believe me? Listen to the Psalmist speak of God’s forgiveness in a remarkable way, saying, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:12). Just as potently wonderful, God reminds us by His Word that when He forgives us, He also forgets the sins completely (Hebrews 8:12). Do you know what that means? It means that the only way for God to recall them will be for us to remind Him. And why? Because He looks upon us through the blood of His Son. He sees us adorned in the white baptismal garment of His love fashioned from the threads of the Law-fulfilling credibility of Christ’s perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:27; Revelation 7:14).

Knowing this, no matter what you’ve done, through humble contrition met by God’s mighty redemption, you can say to an onlooker accusing you of having no credibility due to the same sins, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that. It was a sin against God and the ones involved. I know this. Thanks be to God that my Lord paid the price for this and all my failures by His death and resurrection. Now, by the power of His Holy Spirit, I want to be faithful to Him. This faithfulness moves me to want to warn you from falling into the same destructive traps I fell into. I don’t want that for you in the same way Jesus doesn’t want that for you.”

Believe it or not, such a confession can be disarming.

Of course, even such sincere communication might not win the heart of someone holding tightly to his or her transgressions. Trust me, I get it. And yet, that’s where the right handling of God’s Word, the divine courage promised to believers by that same Word, and the viscera for trusting that God will bless your efforts for faithfulness all come into play.

I need to remind myself of this regularly, especially as one who works to guard his own credibility with ferocity. The fact remains that no matter how hard I try, I won’t always succeed. I’m a sinner. But through genuine confession resulting in absolution, the script gets flipped and I can keep on keeping on. As I do, I know there will always be people out there laboring to defame me, doing all they can to bring me into the same state of despair and lostness in which they dwell. In the end, I don’t have to take it sitting down. But I also know that no matter what happens, ultimately, God’s forgiveness cements my credibility to Christ. With that knowledge, my work becomes less about trusting myself, and more about being confident in Christ, the One who’s always running point. From my perspective, that’s an impenetrable place from which to launch an offensive against this world and its terrible armies.

I’m Not Buying It

I probably shouldn’t admit to it, but I’ve been watching TV, mostly Netflix, far more than I should these days. Honestly, I should be working on homework, or perhaps, looking ahead to the sermon texts for Holy Week and Easter. I have a couple of papers coming due at that time, so it would be wise to get a jumpstart on sermon preparation. The problem is, by the time I roll into the garage most evenings, the level of my zeal only seems capable of a routine involving a two-finger pour of whisky, a seat beside Jennifer, and an hour-long visit before bedtime with TV shows of the past.

For the record, our current reminiscence is Knight Rider.

I loved Knight Rider as a kid. Watching it now, I can attest to the terrible acting, not to mention the very little effort that appears to have been placed on the scripts and special effects. Apart from the real reason Jen and I have gravitated toward such shows, we’re also watching them for amusement. The dialogue is hilariously hokey. The storylines are riotously worse. And as I hinted, the special effects are often laughable. Take for example a particular scene that sees K.I.T.T., the artificially intelligent car, driving itself into a parking lot. As K.I.T.T. comes to a stop beside Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff), it’s easy enough to see that the car isn’t driving itself, but instead, the driver’s seat has been removed, and a man dressed to look like the seat is in its place. The man’s hands can be seen on the steering wheel.

Jen and I rewatched and laughed at that scene a few times.

In another episode, Michael gets shot in his left shoulder. While pursuing the bad guys, he covers the wound with his right hand. The scene shifts to the dashboard as K.I.T.T.’s blinking voice indicator encourages him to go to the hospital. The scene turns back to Michael still nursing the wound, except now it’s on his right shoulder and he’s using his left hand.

We re-watched that scene a couple of times just for fun, too.

I suppose apart from the humor, nostalgia is the real reason we started watching the show. We long for the days when television scriptwriters, directors, and producers knew better than to allow certain words or behaviors to be portrayed as normal. We miss the time when shows had a clearer understanding of right and wrong, truth and untruth, good and evil. I say this thinking that perhaps like me, you were troubled by the news that a man won the women’s NCAA 500-yard freestyle championship. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. A man won the women’s title. And by the way, a man won the distinction of USA Today’s “Woman of the Year.” Yes, you read that sentence correctly, too. And so, how are these things possible? Well, Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas) and Rachel Levine (formerly Richard Levine) are both transgender females. Or is the term “transgender male”? I don’t know, anymore. It’s becoming rather difficult to keep pace with the latest wokisms being imposed upon us by this Sin-sick world.

But for all I don’t understand, what I do know is that Lia Thomas, someone who is dominating women’s competitive swimming, and Rachel Levine, Joe Biden’s first and favorite choice for Assistant Secretary for Health, are both biological males in every way. For starters, I can say this because when Thomas and Levine die, if their mortal remains were ever exhumed, two male skeletons would be discovered. How do I know this? Because, apart from the fact that these two men’s biologics are written into every bit of their DNA (the distinction being that male DNA contains one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, while female DNA contains two X chromosomes), but also that without some seriously inventive reconstructive surgery, a male’s bone structure is very different from a female’s. In other words, gender isn’t a system of belief. It is an objective, biological fact, no matter the clothes worn, or the hairstyle donned.

You may dress yourself to look like the seat of a car, but you aren’t a car’s seat. You need special effects and the world of fantasy to be a car’s seat.

Interestingly, Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, was asked this past Tuesday by Senator Marsha Blackburn, “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” Jackson’s answer: “No, I can’t. I’m not a biologist.”

Three quick observations in this regard. Firstly, Jackson is a woke progressive Democrat. There’s no hiding that fact. She’s on record for stating such things rather proudly. Secondly, if the term “woman” is undefinable to anyone other than biologists, then how do we know for sure she holds the honor of being the first black woman nominated to the Supreme Court? Even further, why is everyone everywhere using feminine identifiers like “she” and “her” when referring to her? Lastly, for as much as she wants to allow for truth to be anything to anyone, her answer affirmed gender is rooted in biology rather than an individual’s perception of “self.” If it weren’t this way, her answer would’ve been, “No, I can’t. I’m not a psychiatrist.”

Still, Thomas and Levine continue believing themselves to be women, which, as it meets with basic human autonomy, is tolerable to some extent. I suppose this is true in the same way that mental illnesses must be mildly accommodated during treatment. However, the problem is no longer that they’re convinced of something that isn’t true, but that they’re insisting the rest of us believe and live according to this untruth, too. Thomas has imposed his fantasy upon the entirety of women’s sports to the detriment of genuine female athletic achievement. Levine, on the other hand, has not only forced his fantasy on the entire nation, but as one of the first-face representatives of health science, he embodies the acceptance of pseudoscience. Perhaps worse still (albeit expected), the LGBTQ militia, along with its compliant voters and media, are jackbooting through America insisting that we allow ourselves to be assimilated into the mental constructs of these two very confused men. And if we refuse—if we speak up, if we push back, if we share opinions counter to the acceptable ones—we’re labeled as loveless bigots worthy only of cancellation. You should read some of the things that have been written about Senator Blackburn since Tuesday’s hearing. It’s telling if not also frightening.

For the record, I’m not buying into it. I discourage you from buying into it, too.

Last Sunday was a powerful day for understanding this here at Our Savior, especially considering the Epistle lesson from Ephesians 5:1-9, which is a text that doles out uncomplicated instructions to Christians for handling situations of sexual immorality. After six descriptive verses, in verse 7, Paul speaks prescriptively:

“Therefore do not associate with them.”

In the Greek text, the word translated as “associate” is συμμέτοχοι(symmetochoi). However, I’m not so sure “associate” is the best interpretation. συμμέτοχοι means “co-partaker.” “Associate” conveys a simple connection to someone or something, but συμμέτοχοι implies a link that includes willful engagement and active participation.

Verse 7 sounds like Saint Paul’s way of saying, “Don’t buy into it.” I’d say he gave us a hint to his seriousness in this regard when he back in verse 3 that sexual immorality “must not even be named among you.” The word for “named” is ὀνομαζέσθω (onomazesthō), which carries the sense of not even mentioning such things out loud. Paul wants Christians to stay as far from sexual immorality as is humanly possible, which means we shouldn’t even leave the slightest impression we might be okay with it. Instead, we are to give a clear enunciation of truth while also making an effort to bring the errant back into the boundaries of God’s moral and natural laws. Paul aims in this direction for a reason. Right after warning against being co-partakers, he reminds Christians in verses 8 and 9:

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”

Paul’s words echo the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16. He teaches that because of who we are in Christ (Matthew 5:14-16), we can bring the light of goodness, rightness, and truth right into the middle of the darkness. Continuing to verse 11, we hear Paul add:

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

It’s not a Christian’s role to be silent, but rather we are called to expose the darkness. How is darkness exposed? Light. When the lights are shining, darkness is dispelled. When the lights are hidden, darkness maintains its grip.

The photo I’ve shared here, especially the uppermost image, hints at everything said so far. In it, the three young ladies who competed against Thomas have elected not to be associated with Thomas’ meritless victory. I like that image a lot. I may even get it framed. Why? Because these girls have earned my respect. Risking their reputations, they’ve communicated the difference between right and wrong in a stunningly visual way. They’re not being cruel. They’re not being bigoted. They’re conveying truth adorned with smiles to a confused and erring media that’s applauding a confused and errant man.

I’m hoping these girls, their families, and all their friends will continue along in stride with Saint Paul’s words, eventually finding the courage to put their concerns into words.

I ask the Lord for this courage almost every day. I ask Him regularly to provide the same courage for you, too. I know so many of you are enduring challenging situations in your own families, friendships, and workplaces. As you stand in the middle of these things, I pray the Lord will strengthen you to be lights in the darkness, not seeking to disown anyone, but instead, to beam brightly for all the truth of God’s Law and Gospel—both His loving warning against Sin and His incredible promise of forgiveness and restoration through faith in Jesus Christ.

Predictably Unpredictable

My daughter, Madeline, mentioned being tasked by one of her teachers with reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Having two editions in my office, I shared one with her so that she wouldn’t need to wrestle with acquiring it from the school library.

I adore Charles Dickens—his skill with characters, his dexterity with language, and his prowess for telling a good story. Few writers compare. Maybe I’ve shared with you before that I have a first edition set of his complete works in my office. My favorite of his volumes is The Cricket on the Hearth. If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so, especially if you’re a fan of his infamous A Christmas Carol.

In my humble opinion, pitched against the ever-growing list of worthless garbage our present-day public schools are calling literature, Dickens’ works are golden. I was glad when Madeline told me the assignment, and I knew if she could just get through the first few pages of the story, she’d be in for a real treat. Among all Dickens’ works, it’s one we might call a thriller. It’s very much a three-part story held together by perilous action, and it all ends at the guillotine.

I remember watching a film version of it when I was a kid, except I didn’t necessarily know what I’d seen until I read the book in high school several years later. As a bored eight or nine-year-old who was, as you’d expect, thoroughly unappreciative of the value of Sunday afternoon black-and-white matinees, I recall tuning in and sticking with the film only because, as a fan of scary movies, Christopher Lee was in it. As it would go, he played the cold-hearted Marquis St. Evremonde. To this very hour, I can imagine the possibility of a fanged Christopher Lee emerging from his horse-drawn carriage to bite someone’s neck. Of course, He didn’t. But I do remember a stake-through-the-heart moment his character experienced while sleeping. Either way, the film, like the book, had an aura of unpredictability.

I like unpredictable storytelling. Just ask Jennifer. The movies I find myself enjoying most are ones that keep me guessing. When it comes to all others, I’m as annoying as annoying can be. I think this is true because, as Hollywood continues to sew its recycled and under-considered plots into the sleeves of fast-food characters, there’s a good chance before a movie’s end that I’ll have already shouted out what’s going to happen. I’m not always right, but I certainly am more than the people sitting beside me would prefer. Annoying? Yes. So be sure to commend Jennifer for enduring my predictability.

Speaking of predictability, there’s an oft quoted opening line from the third chapter of the first part of the book. It reads:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”

In a volume filled with twists, Dickens refers to something in humans that’s universally predictable. Strangely, he points to every person’s hidden, namely, unpredictable side. In other words, the only thing you can predict with humans is that they’re unpredictable. Or to dive a little deeper, for as well as you might know someone, there will always be the side you don’t know and couldn’t have expected—the secret self that would surprise you if it were suddenly revealed.

As this meets with the season of Lent—a time when we’re exceptionally attuned to our need for a Savior—my Christian mind wanders to what this means for me. As it roams, I discover how I’m more than capable of concealing my sinful tendencies. And yet, the writer to the Hebrews untangles all misconceptions of this in relation to God when he offers that “no creature is hidden from [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:13).

And therein is a path to something incredibly wonderful that we may not have predicted.

Yes, God knows the real you. He knows everything you’ve done. He knows all your horribleness. He knows all your dreadfulness. He knows your soiled intentions. He knows the worst of your thoughts, words, and deeds. And yet, even with all these horrendous things on display before His divine omniscience—things that He knows and sees and has every right to account as hell-worthy—still, He tells us by His Word that He looked on us in love and sent His Son to save us (John 3:16-17). He makes clear that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The predictability of God’s right to judge us accordingly is unpredictably turned on its head by His divine passion for our rescue. He does not give us what we deserve. Instead, He heaps our unfortunate dues upon Jesus, and by His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

I already told you just how much I love an unpredictable story. Well, it doesn’t get any better than the Gospel. And by this, I not only mean the death of God’s innocent Son for the dreadfully guilty, but also the unpredictable nature of the resurrection. That itself was a world-altering event. No one expected an empty tomb. No one expected to see Jesus alive. Not even the disciples. And yet, there He was, is, and remains. Sure, I like Dickens. But his stories are fiction. The Gospel is real, which makes the Bible that carries and communicates it, with every twist and turn of both the Old Testament and New Testament, the greatest volume in human history.