Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thoughts On Dispensationalism

Some people think that the Old Testament God and the New Testament Christ are so different in word and deed that they believe God may change the way he deals with mankind during different eras. It seems to them as though God reveals certain aspects of himself, and blesses mankind with particular gifts "when we're ready for it." That is, when we've more or less evolved to a certain state.

Now there are some people who believe just the opposite. They think that mankind has devolved over the years. That he once had certain gifts and abilities (usually psychic phenomenon are mentioned) which he has now lost. They often point out that the human race now uses only a small portion of our brains, and this is especially true of the frontal lobe of which little is known, and very little brainwave activity emits from that region.

I for one would also point out that anyone who has truly studied Greek, Chinese, and Jewish philosophy will recognize right away that those ancient super-thinkers were way ahead of anyone who has come down the pike since. Reading Kant, Berkeley, Descartes, and Kierkegaard may be a pleasure. But reading Plato, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Aristotle, and the words spoken by Jesus Christ is a revelation.

I probably fall into this latter camp of unbelievers for the most part. Still I hold onto the possibility of what may be called limited dispensationalism. But I see no big changes in mankind or God's relationship with man that appear to be in an ever evolving manner. I'm going to include the following letter to a gentleman named Adam who recently wrote to me, asking what both George MacDonald and myself had to say on the subject.

Hi Adam,

Nice to hear from you again. I don't remember GMD ever actually using the term Dispensationalism or anything like it. I may be wrong, but I really don't think he ever thought anything along those lines. But then again, I don't think it was a very widespread teaching until the 20th century (you probably know better than me though).

There are times I've wondered if perhaps God had carried out such stages in a sort of evolution of man, but it seems that every time I begin to think along those lines, something will happen to swing me back to where I started. For instance, I recall skimming through a book at the store one day by what I believe was an anthropologist who said that it seemed clear to him that mankind didn't become a self-conscious being until around 13,000 years ago. And this is about when the first civilizations that we know of came into being. People started farming and breeding livestock. Villages were built. Building projects as a group began for things like ziggurats and mounds. It sort of made sense that it took some kind of self-consciousness to allow people to think like this, and I wondered if it was a stage of development that God put into the mind of man.

But then I remembered GK Chesterton's comments in The Everlasting Man about the 35,000 year old cave paintings found in Lascaux and what wonderful works of art some of them truly were. Some were indeed quite good and showed that "feeling intellect" which Wordsworth so aptly named. These paintings weren't the work of a person or persons without self-consciousness. They showed a great ability to reflect on one's emotions, particularly one painting that showed a bison looking back over its shoulder.

I found The Everlasting Man online and copied what I thought was pertinent:

"They were drawings or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist. Under whatever archaic limitations, they showed that love of the long sweeping or the long wavering line which any man who has ever drawn or tried to draw will recognize; and about which no artist will allow himself to be contradicted by any scientist. They showed the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempt difficult things; as where the draughtsman had represented the action of the stag when he swings his head clean round and noses towards his tail, an action familiar enough in the horse. But there are many modern animal-painters who would set themselves something of a task in rendering it truly. In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure. In that sense it would seem that he was not only an artist but a naturalist; the sort of naturalist who is really natural.... So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces of the past, that human character is quite human and even humane.... When the psycho-analyst writes to a patient, 'The submerged instincts of the cave-man are doubtless prompting you to gratify a violent impulse,' he does not refer to the impulse to paint in water-colours; or to make conscientious studies of how cattle swing their heads when they graze. Yet we do know for a fact that the cave man did these mild and innocent things; and we have not the most minute speck of evidence that he did any of the violent and ferocious things."

So, to bring an end to a long winded letter Adam, it seems to me that mankind has not really changed all that much no matter how far back we look. We might be a little less violent now, but that's about it. I see changes in science and its influence upon culture in every age, but I don't really think this has touched the heart of man. We certainly see a NT Jesus doing things very differently from the OT God, but I'm not convinced this has to do with the development of mankind and any sort of special dispensation. I have a lot of thoughts on that, but it's too much to go into presently.

I don't think I'm a believer in dispensationalism just yet. But who knows what the future may bring?


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Mom I Never Knew

I was on my way out to the back-roads and wooded areas Friday night looking for something interesting to videotape when I noticed there was some kind of parade about to start in town. I had no idea what it was about but decided to stick around and shoot some video of it, partly for kicks, and partly with the hope of selling some footage (that's always the hope!) to one of the local TV networks. Well, I wasn't able to get any of the news stations interested in my footage this time, but the outing wasn't completely wasted.

I parked a couple of blocks away from the city square and walked the remaining distance to the front of the courthouse lawn which sits right across from it. Actually, "square" is a bit of a misnomer since ours is a roundabout with a large fountain at its center. There were people lined up all around the fountain and main street, most with beach chairs they had brought, while others just sat on the curb or used blankets spread on the sidewalk.

I couldn't believe my luck! The courthouse front lawn rises above the sidewalk some ten feet or so, giving a perfect view down upon the street below. It's beautifully landscaped and shaded (this proved to be of some importance since it was over 90 degrees that evening) and has about a half dozen benches along with a most pleasant little water garden. For some odd reason, most folks had taken to the street and left the courthouse lawn nearly vacant but for a few young people mulling around. I noticed a pair of benches facing one another at just the right spot to set up my tripod. There was an elderly couple seated on one of them, and I began to chat with them as I set-up the rest of my gear.

The parade turned out to be one for the Shriner's Circus that will be here over the weekend they told me. They had a nephew who would be in the parade, but I think they mostly were just looking for a night out and something to do. They were quite friendly, although the woman was a little on the quiet side and seemed content to let her husband do most of the talking. I soon found out that this man, Bob, was originally from the same nearby town that I was from and where my dad grew-up as well, so we had a lot in common and did a good bit of reminiscing about the old days. At some point I made mention of something that one of my uncles used to do, and Bob realized I was talking about someone he knew. Once he realized what my last name was, and then found out who my parents were, his face began to beam a bit.

(Bob accidentally steps into a frame.)

It turned out that Bob knew almost everyone in my family from childhood and was once very good friends with both my mom and my dad when they were all three just teenagers. Actually, Bob and my mom were much more than friends. Apparently she was the "one that got away," and Bob was very nearly my father. Mom was very young at the time. He knew things about her childhood that I didn't. But there were also some things she didn't tell him.

My mom's parents divorced while she was very young. Both remarried. Her dad was a poor Tennessee share cropper and remained in the same small town all his life. Her mother remarried a man from Indiana and they eventually made their home there. But immediately after WWII, they lived in some other parts of the country, and one of them happened to be the same nearby town that my dad grew-up in. After a series of events (which I'll get into momentarily), mom decided to move in with her mother and stepdad here in Illinois when she was fourteen, while her brothers and sisters stayed behind in Tennessee. She had dropped out of school and was working as a cashier in a big St. Louis department store. It was during this time that she met Bob.

It was easy to tell that Bob really loved my mom. They dated for about a year until he joined the Navy and had to ship out. He wanted to pursue the Navy as a career (which he did) and was too young to get married he thought. So it was best to break thinks off and leave mom behind. I'm not sure how old he was then, but he told me that mom was still only fifteen. He said she cried and cried and begged him not to leave her there alone. He said the reason she felt alone was because both of her parents were terrible drunks. To make matters worse, they weren't getting along at the time. He told me that when they came home from work, grandma would leave the house headed for a bar in one direction, while Renos (her husband) would head for a different bar in the opposite direction, while mom was left to herself. They also had many terrible fights.

Mom had told me that her parents spent a lot of time in bars when she was younger, but I had no idea how bad it really was. Bob said it was about as bad as it gets. Quite honestly, I never knew what to believe half the time. Mom could embellish the truth with the best of them. But the more I learn about her, the more I can see that her lies were a defense system for her. She had a lot to be embarrassed about, including one important thing that she never told Bob.

Mom quit school in the 9th grade after she turned fourteen and ran off to get married to a Tennessee boy. It only lasted a couple of months and the marriage was annulled. I guess mom felt foolish and wanted to basically get out of town, and that's why she moved to Illinois with her mom and stepdad. Bob looked genuinely shocked when I told him that. Apparently she wanted to keep her short-lived marriage a secret. Who cold blame her?

The following year, mom started dating my dad while Bob was away, and the rest is history as they say. The one thing I can't get over is Bob sitting on the bench next to me, shaking his head, saying, "I felt so sorry for her." I never I my life heard anyone say they felt sorry for my mom before. She could be your best friend or your worst enemy. She had a temper and could be as selfish as any other woman, but she could also be very compassionate at times. She had a bad side, but I'm slowly beginning to see how the events in her life brought that out in her. The older I get, the stranger the world is.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That's an absolute lie. A day doesn't go by that I don't learn something new, or see an old thing in a new light. If it's like this now, I wonder what it will be like in Heaven where all things hidden are revealed? I'm sure that the afterlife will be full of new things and many surprises. But I suspect seeing the world we left behind through the eyes of God will be the biggest revelation of all.