Day of Atonement: Its Importance

Yesterday was the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the term for followers of Judaism. Christians, on the other hand, understand that the only atonement for sins was/is the atonement of Jesus Christ at Calvary in Jerusalem in the 1st century. No other high priest ever atoned for sin. Why? Because all other high priests are sinners. Only Jesus was/is sinless. Hence, his expiation and propitiation satisfied God’s holy standard.

Why should Christians understand the Day of Atonement? Because it was ordained by God as a temporary practice. It never atoned for sins at all but it did point forward to how God as high priest would atone for the sins of his people.

Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one, the final high priest, the Anointed One, was the final high priest whose sacrifice–once for all at Calvary–accomplished redemption for all who would ever believe upon him for salvation.

Where is it in the Bible? Two main places:

  1. Leviticus 23:26-32
  2. Leviticus 16:1-34

Significance of the Day of Atonement?

It pointed to Jesus Christ who was to come. The whole of the Bible makes this clear. Jesus, not any sinner who has to atone for his people’s sins, and even his own, over and over again, year after year, is the final high priest.

Hebrews 9 is explicit in its explanation:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification on the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV)

All three persons of the Trinity are referenced here: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And who gets sole credit for atoning for sin? Christ. Not any sinful human high priest. Christ alone.

In Romans 3 the Bible is again explicit regarding the atoning work of Christ alone:

God put forward as a propitiation by his [Christ’s] blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26, ESV)

It is remarkable when you consider that this was written by the Hebrew of Hebrews, Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. He was a pride-filled legalist (Philippians 3:4), a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), a persecutor of Christians (Philippians 3:6; Acts 8). But God gripped him and gave him eyes to see the truth of the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-22).

Takeaway/Encouragement: So much in the observance of holy days can lead to pride if we misapply observances and their designed lessons. The Day of Atonement can lead to trusting in the works of men to atone for their own sins. They cannot. Only Christ can and did atone.

Temporary biblical rituals can lead to pride if we misapply ordained rituals by not understanding how the high priesthood pointed to Jesus, the final high priest, whose sacrifice was once for all at Calvary.

So much of the Bible can be misunderstood if we miss this fundamental: Scripture does have a hero, but it’s not us; it’s God:

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, ESV)

And There Were Colors

Sometimes I think what it would be like to be blind after having had sight.

This evening as I went for a walk (it was very, very slow, as I’ve an ankle injury, but I can get along slowly without crutches now). I walked. And saw. Perhaps the better word is, I beheld.

Small things, yes?

No. Not really.

Not when you see them with gratitude.

Gold, halcyon, roaring.

And the way oak limbs bend towards the light like old men’s skeletal frames.

And the way cicadas thrum and the last doves streak gray-winged rockets across the sky solo, and bats flitter seemingly half-mad after moths.

But one must see. Truly see.

The School of Humility with Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow is probably best known for his novels. Some of his masterpieces follow:

  1. Seize the Day

2. The Adventures of Augie March

3. Henderson the Rain King

4. Herzog

5. Humboldt’s Gift

But Bellow’s short stories are gems, too, especially “A Father-to-Be.”

Bellow’s giftedness is arguably best evidenced in his dramatization of man’s blindness to his own nature. Like Bellow’s main characters, we tend to be much more skilled at seeing the specks in other people’s eyes than seeing the logs in our own eyes.

You recall Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there i sthe log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, ESV)

In “A Father-to-Be,” a short story about Rogin, a 31-year-old chemist living in New York City, who is engaged to Joan, Rogin is a worrier. He feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries–most of all–about money, about being able to provide for his future, and about whether he and Joan have children, what would they be like?

Rogin is the literary trope of the urban Jew whose worldview is almost completely consumed by thoughts of money. (Bellow was Jewish, of course, so this is not meant as anything other than calling attention to the story, and its literary trope.)

Here’s the way Bellow describes Rogin early on in the story:

“While the woman in the drugstore was wrapping the shampoo bottle, a clear idea suddenly arose in Rogin’s thoughts: Money surrounds you in life as the earth does in death. Superimposition is the universal law. Who is free? No one is free. Who has no burdens? Everyone is under pressure. The very rocks, the water of the earth, beasts, men, children–everyone has some weight to carry” (504).

Rogin is quick to judge others and quick to think he has all the answers, and that he is therefore somehow superior to the rest of people.

Again, look at how Bellow reveals Rogin’s character through his (Rogin’s) thought life:

“Rogin’s illuminated mind asked of itself while the human tides of the subway swayed back and forth, and cars linked and transparent like fish bladders raced under the streets: How come he thought nobody would know what everybody coudn’t help knowing? And, as a chemist, he asked himself what kind of compound this new Danish drug might be, and started thinking about various inventions of his own, systhetic albumen, a cigarette that lit itself, a cheaper motor fuel. Ye gods, but he needed money! As never before. What was to be done? His mother was growing more and more difficult” (507).

Again, we readers see Rogin, but Rogin does not see himself. And we get the sense that a moment of illumination is coming. Surely an epiphany for Rogin neareth.

And it does.

Rogin watches two friends get into a dispute in the subway when Friend A makes a confession to Friend B, and says in effect, “I betcha didn’t know that about me, did you?” and Friend B, without missing a beat, says, “Of course I did. That was obvious.”

And can you guess Rogin’s response as a spectator? How silly of both men. See, Rogin thinks to himself, how little people know of each other! If only folks were as insightful as Rogin.

By the time Rogin has gone by the pharmacy for a bottle of shampoo, and gone by the deli for some roast beef and other items Joan had asked him to pick up, he is incensed. He feels he has penetrated into the mysteries of life whereas most others only skate upon life’s surface, unreckoning and unaware of life’s deeper truths.

Finally when Rogin arrives at the apartment, his kind fiancee Joan greets him.

“Oh, my baby. You’re covered with snow. Why didn’t you wear your hat? It’s all over its little head”–her favorite third-person endearment (511).

And Joan washes her fiance’s (Rogin’s) hair, notices his scalp is pink (like a baby’s), and Rogin is undone. She bathes his scalp, shampoos his hair, tends to him:

Then Bellow brings it all home:

“But there’s abosolutely nothing wrong with you,” she said, and pressed against him from behind, surrounding him, pouring the water gently over him until it seemed to him that the water came from within him, it was the warm fluid of his own secret loving spirit overflowing into the sink, green and foaming, and the words he had rehearsed he forgot, and his anger at his son-to-be disappeared altogether, and he sighed, and said to her from the water-filled hollow of the sink, “You always have such wonderful ideas, Joan. You know? You have a kind of instinct, a regular gift” (513).

Rogin sees, perhaps for the first time, he’s the child. He needs to be mothered. He is the one longing for love. He’s the one in need. Actually, there is debate about whether or not Rogin does actually grow up and come to see that he’s been the child. I kind of think, in fact, that he has not come to himself yet. Rogin was humbled, yes, a lesson we need more than we usually realize. But usually we’re the last ones to know. Others see our need first, kind of like that penchant we have for seeing those specks in other people’s eyes.

A Book Recommendation on C.S. Lewis’ Theology & Worldview

Why C.S. Lewis? Because I think it is clear he’s the 20th century’s most read, most written about, most enduring Christian thinker/writer.

Three Gems about Lewis’ Insights in Wilson’s Book: 

  1. How could we not be story-tellers? We worship God the Writer, God the Written, and God the Reader. How could we not create? We are created in God’s image, and He creates. He created us so that we would do this. He came down into our world to show us how it is done; His name is Immanuel. God loves cliffhangers. He loves nail biters. On the mount of the Lord it will be provided. Exile and return stories are everywhere. So are death and resurrection stories. So are the-elder-shall-serve-the-younger stories. And the whole thing will come together at the last day, as promised in Romans 8:28, with trillions of plot points all resolved, and no remainder. And the great throng gathered before the throne will cry out, with a voice like many waters, saying, “That was the best story we ever heard.” 

2)   Having said this, in The Screwtape Letters, Lewis took a jab at modern man who is accustomed to carrying around a mass of contradictions. “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together in his head” (The Screwtape Letters, 11). And Owen Barfield once said that Lewis himself was utterly unlike this, saying that what Lewis thought about everything was contained in what he said about anything.

3)   A blind, purposeless, and material process does not and cannot know that it is blind, or purposeless, or material. It cannot know anything. If thought is simply the froth on the waves of our brain activity, then one of the first things that thought loses is the ability to know that there is even such a thing as brain activity, or froth for that matter. If human argumentation is simply the epiphenomena that our brain chemistry produces, then there is absolutely no reason to trust human argumentation—including any arguments that urge us to believe that argumentation is simply the epiphenomena that our brain chemistry produces.

 I have read C.S. Lewis probably as much as I have read anyone except perhaps Jonathan Edwards, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and J. Gresham Machen. And there are some excellent bios of Lewis out there. I wrote about one just last week. But Wilson is a Lewis of today, in my view. He is courageous. He is not content to seek the applause of men. He is, like Lewis in his day, or like Calvin in his day, and Machen in his day, a biblical thinker, a wordsmith, and a man of courage. 

We have a lot of men who began well but who have stumbled and made shipwreck of their professed faith. Very often, the men of the hour fell away because their idols were cultural relevance and men’s applause rather than the crucified and risen Savior, the Christ.

Wilson’s book is an impressive book about one of church history’s greatest minds, C.S. Lewis, but it also encourages me that God has raised up Doug Wilson, too, one about whom others will hopefully write biographies. Both men deserve to be heard and read and reread. 

1 Douglas Wilson,  The Light from Behind the Sun (Moscow: Canon Press, 2021), 110.

2 Ibid., 98. 

3 Ibid., 54-55. 

Attestations

I have a love affair with the word attest. It means “to bear witness to” in the verb form. The noun form is attestation.

My friend Jim sent me seven more pictures–seven more attestations–bearing witness to their and our Creator.

Enjoy.

On Richard Ford’s “Nothing to Declare” Short Story

Last year I came across a book of Richard Ford’s short stories, Rock Springs. From the first sentences of the first story, I knew I had discovered my kind of writer.

Many critics like to box writers in, place them in neat comparments, and Ford is placed by many critics in the school of Dirty Realism. The critics view Ford’s worldview as similar to that of Raymond Carver, Larry Brown, Harry Crews, Tobias Wolff, and Cormac McCarthy. I am quite familiar with all of those authors, and I do recognize some of Carver’s understatement, some of Larry Brown’s focused emotional unravelings and longings of his protagonists, some of Harry Crews’ elements of fleeing one’s childhood environs but never succeeding, and perhaps some of Wolff’s tendencies to reflect upon contemporary American moral decline, but I see little of McCarthy in Ford. McCarthy is an idea and word-saturated writer. Ford is a wordsmith, too, that is evident, but he’s a minimalist unlike McCarthy. McCarthy is, in my view, America’s most important literary writer of the last fifty years, but McCarthy is no minimalist. Reading Suttree is as demanding as reading Ulysses. Both are far removed from minimalism.

Ford’s skill is best revealed in his character studies. Like in many of Hemingway’s best short stories, Ford’s characters are emotional tempests inside. Their paucity of spoken words camouflages inner turmoil.

In “Nothing to Declare,” the first short story in the Sorry for Your Trouble collection of short stories, the two main characters are a man and woman who have had an affair when young, traveled to Iceland from America together, learned about sex and adulthood via one another, tested ideas with one another, and tried to find the way forward for their lives.

But they separate, return to America, go their separate ways, marry other people, and find themselves both–years later in life–in a kind of world weariness and existential malaise. They are bored with life, with their respective spouses, with their careers, etc.

By chance their paths cross again–years later–in New Orleans at a bar. They notice one another and the old attractions remain. They walk together; the man records mental notes of the woman’s beauty. He kisses her. But it goes no farther than that. Again they separate and we readers are given the impression they’ll not reunite anymore.

The title of this story says it all: nothing to declare seems to be a resignation to which their former great expectations have come. Now it seems that what lies ahead is a sort of acceptance, a kind of sad acknowledgement that they’re both still longing but mostly just deeply dissatisfied.

Why C.S. Lewis’s Works Always Matter

Recently a friend from church gave me a biography of one of my favorite thinkers and writers, C.S. Lewis. When I read the introduction by Lewis’s step-son, Douglas Gresham, and read what he had to say about Brown’s bio of the intellectual titan C.S. Lewis, I knew I would devour this book.

In it Brown traces the theological and spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage of Lewis from his earliest years in Belfast to his boyhood years being shuffled from one English public school (what Americans would know as private schools) to another, to his being tutored by Mr. Kirkpatrick (among others), and of Lewis’ voracious reading. He learned Greek, Latin, the Classics, mythology, philosophy, history, and on and on. His lone weakness was mathematics. But his learning and his self-discipline to learn were absolutely formidable.

We read of Lewis’ struggles between materialism/atheism and theism/Christianity. We read of how little glimpses into beauty pricked the facades of intellectual hubris Lewis adopted at various stages of his growing. We read of the vast amounts of reading Lewis inculcated his entire life: G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, Latin, Greek, the Bible, medieval and Renaissance literature, George Herbert, Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Euripedes, Bunyan, the history of philosophy, Dante, Augustine, and on and on.

But Lewis’ thinking was refined over and over again. God was on his tail, he’d later write. Lewis began to see that one’s worldview must necessarily be either materialist/atheistic or theistic/supernatural. Here is the way Lewis put it himself:

Long before I believed theology to be true, I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. . . . Unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one. (122)

Lewis’ works matter because they clarify what’s at stake. If materialism is true, how would men know it to be true? After all, to posit truth is to, in some sense, step outside of the system one is critiquing. But materialism is just that: material. And why should material imagine itself capable of thinking? When’s the last time a rock wrote a poem or sand wrote an opera?

Lewis finally came to understand that the biblical view of man is the true one. The biblical view of man explains why we suppress truth in unrighteousness. It explains how pride besets us. It explains why the world hates Jesus the Christ, because he told and lived and died for the truth, and because even when Satan and his legions tried to bury the Christ by murdering him, Christ was raised bodily for all to see. Aslan was on the move, you see. That’s why Lewis’ works matter.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explantion is that I was made for another world. (1)

Lewis’ works matter because he saw that man is not just a random, meaningless, cosmic accident of material in motion. That’s the materialist’s view. (Isn’t it interesting that materialists write books trying to persuade people of the truth of their position? Hmmm. Seems odd if they believe what they profess.)

Lewis’ works matter because he saw and heralded the realities that we all know. We sense that some things and moments and pictures and novels and plays and operas and songs and sunsets and vistas are beautiful.

And we also recognize that hypocrisy and lies and unnecessary cruelty and betrayal are ugly.

Why do we recognize these things? Because we are more than mere matter, because God exists, because beauty and truth exist, because God has created us to know him and his creation and our fellow creatures and Christ whom God has sent. These are all reasons Lewis’ works still matter.

Like thousands who have come before me, I have read and reread C.S. Lewis’ works for years, and I discover more wisdom in them and from his own spiritual awakening through Lewis’ own works and through fine biographies of Lewis like the one referenced here. Take up and read–both Lewis’ oeuvre and this bio of him in particular.

From These Stones

Slice of Life: It is not unique to me, of course, but this week has been a very long week. Where I have been, the weather has been nearly perfect. I have had many pleasant conversations. I have been able to hang out with some people from work for whom I have great respect and affection. I have been able to jog in some of my preferred places beneath hardwoods. And I have trekked around ponds and creeks and the river–all of which surround me. So, I have experienced blessings, too–numerous blessings.

Perhaps meaning more than almost anything, I have spoken to my bride of several decades, and she has reminded me that she is praying for me. Because I’m military, we suffer a lot of separations due to my career. But I love to call her and/or text her in the mornings, when I know she is in her chair, with her Bible open, and she is reading it, and her little notebook will be near her wherein she writes her prayer requests and even dates them. She is specific in her prayers; I love that: specificity. Details.

And because I know she is praying, I smile to myself, as if to say, “I am to expect things now.” No, this is not some superstition I have. And no, she is not magical or anything like that. It is much simpler and more profound than that: it is that she just lays matters out plainly before herself and before the Lord in her heart’s cry to the God who hears his people.

It is possible to theologize rather than just to pray. Theology, done biblically, is of supreme importance. But if theology does not lead you to the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12::2), then it can be made an intellectual idol. Perhaps you know the struggle.

This week especially, I have had a lot of things that needed to come together. And those things did not come together in my timing. In fact, they seemed to frustrate me at every turn. But when I’d be at my wits’ end, I’d receive a text or a voicemail: “Praying for you” or “God has you” or “I trust the Lord” would come to me from her and/or from others.

And you know what? Things did come together. At the last minute. Literally. But they did. And I am now reenergized, focused, and most of all, grateful.

Segue: I know few people read Scripture with the discipline and love that some of us do, but I want to share an encouragement I received from Matthew’s gospel this morning. I am a morning person and I read, think, and write best in the mornings. This morning, I was reading Matthew. When I came to Matthew 3, I read of John the Baptist. He was a striking Elijah-like figure, a fiery man, unafraid to tell the hard truths about the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God.

And then I came to one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10, ESV)

Isn’t that amazing? From these stones. That’s the image John the Baptist used. It was a figurative way of teaching a fundamental truth about God: God is able. He is the Creator. He makes ways when men let you down. He is faithful when we sinners are unfaithful. He is consistent. God can, John the Baptist was teaching, create a people for himself who are not consumed with their genealogy, their spiritual resume, their legalism, their facades. God can create worshipers in spirit and truth from the very stones. Why? Because he created them, just like he created all things.

Takeaway: It is easy to forget, to underestimate the God of Scripture, the only God who is. There are, of course, lots of non-God gods, targets of paganism, but they’re crafted of wood, hay, and stubble–idols fashioned by fallen sinners longing to escape the holiness of the triune God who is.

Isaiah put it this way:

They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I , the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. (Isaiah 45:20b-21, ESV)

The axe is laid at the foot of lies, in short. That was one of John the Baptist’s messages. God is not mocked. The God of Scripture is grander, better, more beautiful, more loving, more grace-bestowing, more creative, more willing to show mercy to us fallen repentant creatures, than I often appreciate.

But when one has a long week, when one has fretted and tossed and paced and exercised and gone without sleep … and then finds–once again–that God has shown him grace and mercy and favor, he cannot but appreciate the fact that … from these stones, God is able.