The Back Page – Time

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Time frazzles physicists and philosophers. What is it? How is time interwoven with space? Why do
some hours zip by, while others drag on and on? How can we best use our time?
Some people live in the past, pining for the good old days. “Long ago it must be, I have a
photograph; preserve your memories—they’re all that’s left you.” Such people forget that the good old
days might not have been as idyllic as imagined—often we edit out the evil. We can never go back. Such
people forget Ecclesiastes 7:10: “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For
it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”
Some people, often religious types, focus wholly on the future. As one jihadist said, “You value life,
we consider worldly existence a transition.” For him, taking and losing present life is inconsequential,
because only future paradise matters. Christians sometimes adopt this mindset, considering earthly
existence merely a vale of tears, with little or no value in itself.
Others live only for the present. They don’t care about anyone or anything or any idea more than five
minutes old, or any consequence that might ensue five minutes after the pleasure they seek right now.
Such insistence on immediate gratification often characterizes the young, but unfortunately infects many
who are older.
The wise embrace all three times, each in its appropriate way. We contemplate and learn from the
past. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us … I shall remember the deeds of
Yahweh; surely I will remember your wonders of old.” We anticipate and make plans for the future. “Our
citizenship is in heaven … Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy
… The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it.” But we live
very much in the present moment, for that is all we have. “Seek [right now] God’s kingdom and his
righteousness … do not worry about tomorrow … Now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of
salvation … We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no
one can work.”
That is the key: we learn from the past, and lay up treasure for the future by living wisely and
enthusiastically in the present.

The Back Page – Birth and Death

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Birth and Death

Imagine you could communicate with an infant in the womb:
“Any day now, you are going to be born.” “Born? What do you mean?” “I mean you will leave this
—the only world you have ever known—for a new and bigger place.” “But I like it here. I’m comfortable
here.” “Yes I know. But you were never meant to stay here forever. In this new place you will be able to
see.” “What is ‘see’?” “‘Seeing’ means you will be able to perceive of things from a distance, without
touching or hearing them. All kinds of things—a friend’s face, sunsets, mountain peaks, kittens
playing….” “That’s impossible! How can you perceive without touching or hearing?” “It is possible! You
just don’t yet have any space in your brain to allow you to conceive of such a thing. But it’s true! You just
have to believe me. And in color, too!” “‘Color’? You sure are throwing a lot of new words around today.
What do you mean by ‘color’?” “How can I explain color? You’ll just have to wait until you get here.
And smells—you’ll be able to smell. And run and play and love other people….”
“I would say, ‘Horse dung!’ but I don’t yet know what that is. How am I supposed to get to this new
place anyway?” “It will just happen. It’s called being born. You are going to be squeezed into a narrow
place—so narrow that it may contort your head for a few days. Then you will come to where you are no
longer surrounded by warm fluid but by air, they will cut your umbilical cord, you will be forced to
breathe….” “Cut my cord! But that’s what nourishes me! You’re talking about the end of me! I think I’ll
just stay here, thank you very much, and forget about this seeing and smelling and running stuff you’re
talking about.” “Sorry, you can’t stay there. All of us are born sometime. Being born is indeed a great
unknown, the process is sometimes painful, and you can never go back. But get yourself ready, because
birth is coming.”
Human death resembles birth. It does not end our existence, merely transitions us to a new and
greater life, the one we were meant for. We cannot avoid death, though it may intimidate and is
sometimes prolonged and uncomfortable. A whole new species of experiences awaits on the other side.
“Eye has not seen nor ear heard the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”

The Back Page – Children

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Old Testament people valued children. After Adam abandoned innocence and was exiled from
Eden, Eve exultantly exclaimed, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of Yahweh!” Abram plaintively
asked, “What will you give me, since I am childless?” Rachel remonstrated, “Give me children, or else I
die.” Strong sentiments indeed. King David took it too far when he wailed, “O my son Absalom, my son,
my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” In the New Testament,
God resembles a father who cuts short his contrite kid’s confession to kill for him the fattened calf.
By what means was Yahweh to redeem Israel? “Unto us a child is born.” The young sometimes
serve as examples for the old: “Unless you repent and become like little children you will never enter the
kingdom of heaven.”
Spiritual blindness sometimes prompts adults to devalue their children. Israelites were not above
incinerating their sons in idol worship; women ate their infants during sieges.
But spiritual blindness can also lead to the opposite error. Some parents and grandparents all but
worship their offspring. Some equate loving children with granting their every whim, forgetting that
“folly is bound up in a child’s heart.” The best way to drive out such folly is with “the rod of discipline.”
“Do not hold back discipline from a child,” but by using it “rescue his soul from she’ôl.”  Adults
demonstrate their own inner emptiness when they try to live vicariously through their children.
We love our children and grandchildren best when we “bring them up in the nurture and admonition
of the Lord,” diligently teaching them God’s word “when we sit in the house and walk by the way.” Great
things can happen when we start this process early —from infancy Timothy knew the sacred scriptures. A
man’s fitness to serve the Lord is determined in part by how well he has led his family.
Real men, real women, real churches, real societies, love their kids. But they do not necessarily
practice their love in ways current culture counsels, but instead as the Bible directs.

The Back Page – Fear of God

The Back Page

The Fear of God

We talk about love for God, trusting God, walking with him, listening to him, resting in him…. But
when was the last time we spoke of fearing God? Our failure to do so weakens both our understanding of
the Lord and our Christian walk. The Bible alludes to the fear of God at least 170 times. What is the
beginning of wisdom (Ps 110:11)? Why did Yahweh descend on Sinai the way he did (Ex 20:20)?
Some people try to soften the concept by saying, “The fear of God in the Bible does not mean ‘fear’,
but something like ‘respect’.” But is that so? Although the fear of the Lord may indeed at times connote
“respect” or “worship” (as in 2 Ki 17:34–39), the basic denotation of both yārē’ (Heb) and phobeō (Gr) is
“to fear, to be in an apprehensive state, to be afraid.”
What prompts a healthy fear of God is not simply that he is bigger than we, but that he is holy and
judges sin. We should fear falling afoul of such a righteous, all-seeing, impartial judge. The role that this
fear of God plays in dissuading us from sin runs through many of the 170 references (as, e.g., Ex 20:20).
“But,” you say, “that is not for Christians, because we have Jesus as our savior.” Really? When
Ananias and Sapphira died “great fear came over the whole church” (Act 5:11), which later went on “in
the fear of the Lord” (Act 9:31). Since we stand by faith we must “not be conceited, but fear” (Rom
11:20), and work to perfect holiness “in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). Believers should “be subject to one
another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21). Since God judges impartially, Christians should conduct
ourselves “in fear during the time of our stay on earth” (1 Pet 1:17). The “eternal gospel” is to “fear God
and give him glory” (Rev 14:6–7).
In one of the curricula Second Cape uses, children are asked, “Why should we obey God?” The only
answer the lesson offers: “Because we love him.” True but incomplete. God has shrunk if he need not be
feared. We are weaker and our resistance to sin lamer if we fear fearing God. I have no desire to be
crushed by an 18-wheeler. This kind of healthy fear does not keep me off the road, but it does encourage
me to obey traffic laws. Biblical fear drives us not from God but toward him for grace and help.

The Back Page – Translation

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“Translating is like chewing food for someone else to eat. If a person has no teeth, he must swallow
what another has chewed for him. Though most of the nutrition may remain, the food is bound to lose
something of its taste and texture in the process.”
Most Christians rely on translations so they can read the scriptures. How can we make sure that as
much as possible of the original nutrition, taste, and texture survive the translating process and get
through to us? What principles guide good translation? Two overarching desiderata are 1) it must
accurately reflect the original and 2) it must communicate well in the target language.
By “accurately reflecting the original” we mean that a good translation neither adds to nor detracts
from nor colors the source document. In that sense, all good translation should be “literal.” But “literal”
must not be understood as “word-for-word.” No good translation can be word-for-word. In Spanish, when
describing the weather, one might say, “Hace calor hoy.” Word-for-word would be “It does (or makes)
heat today,” but in English we say “It’s hot today.” This is translating sense-for-sense.
Translation must guard against bleeding into interpretation. Ambiguities in the original are best
rendered as ambiguities, rather than interpreted. For example, 2 Cor 5:14 begins, “For the love of Christ
controls us.” Does that mean “the love that Christ showed us,” or “our love for Christ”? The Greek
original could be interpreted either way. So it is best to translate with the ambiguous “the love of Christ”
rather than the interpretive “Christ’s love” or “love for Christ.” The exegete can then take over the job of
Modern translations often smooth over what we consider awkwardness or embarrassments in the
originals. For example, six times the Hebrew Old Testament speaks of a person “that pisseth against the
wall”(KJV). We don’t often use the p-word in polite society today, or even talk much about urinating
against a wall. So most newer translations render the phrase as “male.” That is OK, since that is what the
phrase means, and “male” makes for more comfortable reading from the pulpit. But by translating this
way we lose something of the earthiness of the Hebrew, and so something of its taste and texture. In this
case, that may not be all bad.