Making Heads or Tails of It

A few months back, one of the sermons at my church was on Luke 14:25-33

25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

The same basic sermon I will relate to you now, I’ve seen it at least twice in the Men’s Sphere. It is, in my experience, very commonly heard from pulpits. The message of this sermon is that Jesus was telling us that it’s a matter of good judgment to be a good Christian. That if we do it wrong–if we aren’t living the Christian life properly–then there will be hatred between us and our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters because we have led them astray, or at least not been Christian enough for them to know that the Christian life would be good for them.

He went on to say that because we are sinners, this will happen sometimes, and these times will be like taking up a cross. We will not be able to avoid times when we have to choose between Christ and what our families want, and even between Christ and what we want. Yet, if we are careful to count the cost before we build our individual towers of family, of our professional lives, etc., then we won’t have to hate our fathers, mothers, and so on; that our careful consideration of how to live as a Christian will bring easy and solid construction of our lives.

It is then said that the fourth part of the parable is that in this world we are outnumbered; as the king of 10,000 is outnumbered by the army of 20,000. That the world’s king of 20,000 will wage war against us and try to destroy our individual towers with our individual troop of 10,000, and that we–as the religion of the Prince of Peace–ought to be ambassadors of peace to those kings of 20,000 troops. That if we make terms with the world, then peace will reign and we will be the blessed peacemakers that Christ spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Furthermore, that if we have counted the cost correctly, and built our towers accordingly, then we have nothing to fear from the king of 20,000 because our foundation is solid. The priest said this hearkened to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock, and the man who built his house on sand.

You’ll notice that there is some cross-referencing there (making peace, and peacemakers, tower foundations and foundations of rock versus sand), and this makes for a tidy sermon on how we ought to be good Christians. It also provides a test so we can know if we are good Christians according to this system of measure:

  1. Good Christians don’t hate their family; usually because they have Christian families.
  2. Good Christians should expect comfortable lives; inasmuch as they are doing things right.
  3. Good Christians’ towers are completed because they are well-built.
  4. Good Christians overcome the powers of the world by being kind to them, and so gain peace from the world.

Conversely, if you fail to pass this test–if you strive with family, or your situation is precarious, or people find you disagreeable–then that means you are a failed Christian, or a foolish Christian, or at least you still have a lot of work to do. And, because it is true that we are sinners who fail and are foolish who still have a lot of work to do, this all makes sense to us. Sound familiar?

I will tell you what I told our priest that day as I shook his hand after the service: “That interpretation is very wrong.”[1]

1. With the exception of husbands and wives, family are not chosen. Particularly with regard to fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters we have no control over who or how they are, and consequently no direct responsibility for how they behave or what they profess. If you choose Christ and they have not you will have to hate them. Hate, like love, being an action.

2. We should understand that “what you do is who you are” and so Jesus is also saying that our rejection of them will be hateful to them. You will end up being tortured (“on a cross”, at the least: emotionally, spiritually, and socially) by them because of Christ.

2. When you sit down to count the cost of building your tower of family, what you will discover is this: You are going to die, and it will be before your family is complete. You will be deserving of mockery if your plan is to build your own family or legacy because you will not see it through. Give up your plan to build your family, and make it your mission to build God’s family; Christ’s tower. He is the only one who will live to see it through to the end. So if you want your work to be completed and endure, then you can only being doing His work on His tower.

3. The king of 20,000 that is coming against you and who cannot be overcome is Christ. You cannot defeat Him and the only way your people will survive–the only way you can make peace with Christ–is to surrender yourself and your people to Him. If you do not: You and they will be destroyed. Your people will see this surrender as hate because submitting to Christ is not what they want to do. That hatred is evident in every child as they rage and cry whenever she is denied something that is not good for her, or whenever you discipline him for a wrong.

The key to understanding this bookends the text. Jesus starts and ends with the ultimatum: You either give up everything for me, or you are going to lose everything–now. This isn’t an argument the Greeks would have appreciated as it is utterly from the authority of Him who has power over life and death. It is a coin-toss by the Maker of people, coins, and tossing. Below are the rules of the coin-toss.

Heads: Christ wins. Tails: You lose.

We can go a lot of different places from here, but what’s interesting to me right now is the question of why this triplet of parables is so commonly misinterpreted. I think the answer has to do with a desire for control; first and foremost. There is precious little control in those allegories.

Secondly, there is the misconception that we have something to offer that Christ needs from us. We labor under the delusion that we are in a position to make an exchange with God; that there is an economy between us. This is akin to saying there is an economy between parent and child when there is nothing the child owns (or is!) that the parent did not give him. Christ is not offering a trade, but reclaiming at sword-point what is His. This is what we mean when we say Christ redeems. Whoever gets in the way is a thief, and worse.

Third, there is genuine desire on our parts to be like our Older Brother; to be helpful, and to just want to be a part. It never sounds like being a part when the people you look up to tell you to get behind them. It just feels like they’re bullies, and this feeling keeps us from recognizing that we would be added to the throng of 20,000.

Finally, there is just plain confusion on our parts because Christ literally loves us to death, and it makes no sense from a material perspective. It is beyond logical; not illogical, but rational constructs cannot contain it. We try to work this out in our tiny little minds, and we can’t contain it all, either. There are days of insight and nights of near-complete black, but mostly we see in imperfect shadows and reflections.

Making too much of the patterns we only darkly see, these desires spin and rationalize until we contrive that there’s got to be some system at work, and that if we can just crack it then we could be really useful to Jesus, and the people around us. If we could just find the all the little reasons of why God does what He does, and the cosmic interworkings of how He does it, then we could rationalize it all and create a system of how to be good people.

How to really help people–Jesus-like–without actually relying on Jesus ourselves because we are deceived into believing we’ve gained an understanding, and that understanding from visions half-seen. The first part is Satanism, and and the second part is foolishness. It replays itself over and over again among God’s people; from the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, to the worship of the Golden Calf. From philosophy, to psychology. From theology, to evolution. From legalism, to libertinism. From the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, to the desire for relevance of the Emergent Church movement. From Girl Power, to the art of seduction.

That search for the system contains the contradiction that dooms us: Good people don’t need to be saved. Good people don’t need Christ. There is no such thing as a “good” Christian and a “bad” Christian; just as a person is either human, or not; just as he is either alive, or dead. There are only Christians, and those of the world. Work which you are through fear of the King who approaches your tower, and tremble at his might. Or die.

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

For in Christ is all the wisdom and knowledge of the world; among other things.

This is why I continue writing about the dangers of approaching personal relationships in secular terms. I don’t just write against Game, as I am commonly misrepresented. I’m writing against all those things I listed above, and more. These contrivances of men have long infected the church.[2] We live among a people where tomorrow is a holiday instead of a holy day, and that holiday is named after a saint who is a saint for reasons unknown to anyone. On this holiday we celebrate sentimental and irrational eroticism. We lie, and call these desires “love” instead of calling them desires, and therefore we do not even attempt to direct them as the will should always direct emotions.

That’s what adherence to philosophies, deceits, tradition, and rudiments (these are all tools) gets us. Don’t adhere to those things: Filter them. See through them, not by them. You and we will know what you see through and what you see by according to your praise.

Edit: This should have been added and addressed above:

A Song of degrees for Solomon.

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it:
except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows:
for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord:
and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

[1] I did continue and tell him this same gist, but I didn’t want to hold up the line. He agreed.

[2] I hope you understand that there is a starker difference between wisdom and science than there is between physics and biology. If you find yourself tempted to argue that one can’t learn algebra, or how to drive a car, from the Bible you have bigger problems than whether you can handle a woman.

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23 Responses to Making Heads or Tails of It

  1. I am constantly amazed by how modern Christians like the priest you mentioned can engage in hermeneutical gymnastics to the point of asserting that Jesus and Bible mean the exact opposite of what they say. Jesus says “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” The modern Christian somehow makes this say that Christians should not hate their families. Jesus says “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34).” Modern Christians assert that this means that Jesus came to bring peace. These only a few of the many, many examples. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like identifying myself as “Christian,” but rather say that I believe and follow the Bible, just because the word “Christian” has become so associated with blatantly anti-biblical positions.

  2. Cane Caldo says:

    @MNM

    Part of what I’m saying is that this exact same message–the idea that success is the reward of virtue-is RAMPANT in the Men’s Sphere. It is the fuel of its self-esteem engine.

    Do you then equally reject the foolish labels and sophistries of the Manosphere, or do you reserve your disdain for fellow Christians only? If so, why?

  3. David J. says:

    Excellent, Cane. Excellent.

  4. @Cane

    The idea that success is the reward of virtue is common among those who do not follow God, because, in the absence of a a war being fought between two unseen and powerful beings, it makes sense–the better you get at something, the more success you are likely to have. The non-Christian adopts this idea because he does not recognize that he is nothing but a pawn in the grand scheme of cosmic conflict.

    Christians have less excuse, yet the spread of Calvinism has led to the acceptance of the same view. I am Arminian rather than Calvinist in my views, and would point to Jeremiah 12:1; Job 12:6, 21:7; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Habakkuk 1:4, 13; and Malachi 3:15 as evidence that God’s followers throughout the ages have recognized that the eventual recompense of both the righteous and the wicked may not happen on earth.

    All that being said, I’m not even sure exactly what constitutes the “manosphere.” For example, do you consider yourself a part of the “manospere” the “orthospere” or both? Regardless, I can answer your question of what I accept and reject. I reject–no matter the source–that which disagrees with Scripture. Whether the error is taught by the church or the world does not influence whether I reject it. However, I do hold those who claim to be Christians–and thus exercise some level of spiritual authority–to a higher standard than the world. Why? Because the one who receives God’s warnings, and does not pass them on is responsible for the iniquities of those who would have heeded his warnings if he had done his duties (Ezekiel 33:1-9).

  5. Cane Caldo says:

    @MNM

    For example, do you consider yourself a part of the “manospere” the “orthospere” or both?

    Whoever wants to claim me is welcome to it.

    I’m adding you to “Blogs I Read”.

    You’ve been warned. Ha.

  6. Chad says:

    @ Cane

    You may like or hate this, but I think you’ll find it interesting either way

    http://homepages.gac.edu/~ecarlson/Reformation/COLET.htm

    A sermon I ran across today that predates the reformation and is speaking against the evils within the church that led to it. We see many of the same evils across all denominations today. I found it an interesting read.

    [CC: I'll definitely read it. All the reform-minded priests (a lot) were connected to Rome once. It wasn't Luther or Henry VIII who kicked them out.]

  7. Dalrock says:

    I read that parable differently. As I read it, He is warning us that if we are in (following Him), we are to be all in and we should carefully ponder/weigh the magnitude of this. It appears to have a deliberate contradiction in challenging us to count the uncountable, but this I suspect is the message. The part about hating brothers, fathers, mothers etc. would seem to be an allusion to His words on bringing division just a bit earlier in Luke (12:49-53). This isn’t a command to hate, but a warning that division even with those we are closest to is a price we must be willing to pay when following Him.

  8. @Cane

    I consider it an honor.

  9. Chad says:

    @ Dalrock

    Interesting.

    I was always more along the lines of interpreting it that we should hate within those we love all that is unGodly and of the world. If that is all of them through a great attachment to the world, we need to be prepared for that. But that we should still love them by looking for ways to bring them to be more in line with God’s will. That we should be prepared to pick up our crosses and leave them behind should they ultimately chose not to follow Christ as we do, and that we must trust God to finish working salvation with them, because all things come through him.

    It is a long way of saying not to be attached to things of this world, but to God, and that if your loved ones be of this world, you need to be prepared not to be attached to them either.

  10. Cane Caldo says:

    @Dalrock

    As I read it, He is warning us that if we are in (following Him), we are to be all in and we should carefully ponder/weigh the magnitude of this. It appears to have a deliberate contradiction in challenging us to count the uncountable, but this I suspect is the message.

    The part about hating brothers, fathers, mothers etc. would seem to be an allusion to His words on bringing division just a bit earlier in Luke (12:49-53). This isn’t a command to hate, but a warning that division even with those we are closest to is a price we must be willing to pay when following Him.

    Jesus spends a lot of time drilling into us that love is obedience, and hate is disobedience. He’s not talking about feelings, and He’s not talking about doing them evil. If anyone is disobedient to Christ, then he is the kind of people who calls good as evil, and evil as good; who love (do) what is evil and hate (don’t do) what is good. Doing good to such a disobedient person is then hateful to him. It’s both a warning AND a command. It’s not a different meaning, but a fuller one. The pulpits get the warning right, but then miss or ignore the command.

    At the same time, our charity (actions of love) may just encourage them to look again at why we do what we do; to see through us (the 20,000) to Christ that they might be saved by Who they saw through us and before us at our head. The army of 20,000 is the glory of the King; a living testament and sacrifice to His power. They are not the source of His power as it is with the kings of Earth. This is what those who think they are going to save themselves or civilization with proper practice miss. It is the mistake of making success in this life the reward of virtue in this life.

  11. Dalrock says:

    @Cane

    This is what those who think they are going to save themselves or civilization with proper practice miss. It is the mistake of making success in this life the reward of virtue in this life.

    I think I get what you are getting at here. However, this doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have much to account for by failing to abide by the commands of marriage. Titus 2:5 says that wives are to submit to their husbands (among other things) “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” Christian’s not being faithful to the commands on roles within marriage causes harm to non Christians, and I think you could make a parallel to the kinds of stumbling blocks Paul writes about in Corinthians (I believe). Conversely, it has been argued that part of the appeal in the Roman world to Christianity was the beauty of the Christian family and the wisdom of Christian sexual morality; by being faithful to the Epistles of Paul, Peter, etc in that regard early Christians helped spread the Word by walking the walk. How many congregations take that seriously today?

  12. Cane Caldo says:

    @Dalrock

    However, this doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have much to account for by failing to abide by the commands of marriage. Titus 2:5 says that wives are to submit to their husbands (among other things) “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” Christian’s not being faithful to the commands on roles within marriage causes harm to non Christians, and I think you could make a parallel to the kinds of stumbling blocks Paul writes about in Corinthians (I believe). Conversely, it has been argued that part of the appeal in the Roman world to Christianity was the beauty of the Christian family and the wisdom of Christian sexual morality; by being faithful to the Epistles of Paul, Peter, etc in that regard early Christians helped spread the Word by walking the walk.

    That is all true. This post is in fact a response to those Christians; like (one of) my priests. I told him to his face, immediately after the service and he acceded. That is remarkable in the best way!

    How many congregations take that seriously today?

    We don’t know. Whatever the answer is, it’s less than there should be.

    But more importantly: That question distracts us from our actual responsibilities. All we can concern ourselves with is our neighbors wherever we go. That Sunday, I was at a church. Last week I was among coworkers.* Today I am “in” the Men’s Sphere.

    *(Considering a post on my coworker. He shot my wheels off.)

  13. Cane Caldo says:

    Added a passage from Psalms at the end of the post.

  14. Cane Caldo says:

    @Chad

    I liked it very much, and am now looking into John Colet.

  15. Oscar says:

    4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
    so are children of the youth.
    5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:

    I’m at eight, already past the New York limit, working my way towards a high-capacity quiver!

  16. Pilgrim of the East says:

    Jesus spends a lot of time drilling into us that love is obedience, and hate is disobedience. He’s not talking about feelings, and He’s not talking about doing them evil. If anyone is disobedient to Christ, then he is the kind of people who calls good as evil, and evil as good; who love (do) what is evil and hate (don’t do) what is good. Doing good to such a disobedient person is then hateful to him. It’s both a warning AND a command. It’s not a different meaning, but a fuller one. The pulpits get the warning right, but then miss or ignore the command.

    I don’t think that this interpretation, unlike Dalrock’s, can explain that part about “hating own life”.
    And whole idea of Jesus commanding us to hate our family, while only speaking about loving our enemies seems wrong… I think that translating “hate your brother” as “do good to your brother, which he’ll perceive as hate” needs too much of mental gymnastics…

  17. Cane Caldo says:

    @Oscar

    You are blessed!

    If you need anything, let me know. I don’t know what I can do, but then who does?

  18. Cane Caldo says:

    @Pilgrim

    I think that translating “hate your brother” as “do good to your brother, which he’ll perceive as hate” needs too much of mental gymnastics…

    I take it you were never spanked as a child; never denied any treat; never reproved by your teachers; never admonished by your elders; never turned down an advance from a woman; never refused to join in bullying; never refused to join in a conspiracy; never refused to hear a rumor about another; never refused ill-gotten gains; never refused to do the cool thing you shouldn’t do; never stood up for the loser against the cool kids…

    Discipline as love isn’t hard to figure out; it’s just hard to accept. No one likes to be told “no”.

  19. Velvet says:

    That search for the system contains the contradiction that dooms us: Good people don’t need to be saved. Good people don’t need Christ. There is no such thing as a “good” Christian and a “bad” Christian; just as a person is either human, or not; just as he is either alive, or dead. There are only Christians, and those of the world. Work which you are through fear of the King who approaches your tower, and tremble at his might. Or die.

    I appreciate this personally, and also on behalf of the average human – there’s no time for waiting around for profound behavioral transformations. You have to go all in, and once there, you practice the forms so that the transformation can be accomplished. Christians are supposed to be aware of the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically be “better” than any other person walking around. Do you know and believe God, or do you not? This MUST be the deciding factor, or God is mocked.

    It drives me nuts when people wonder “Is Ghandi in Heaven?” He was such a “good” man. Well, as a Catholic, I will let God do His own work on the soul of a man, but I am inclined to believe no, he is not. “Fear of the King”, as you put it, is central, and he did not observe that as necessary to an eternal afterlife. It is sad, but the Body and the Most Precious Blood were there before him, his to reject or accept. He was a smart, good man who failed to accept the Truth.

    OT, sorry, but this is why I REALLY love confession as not only a means of reconciliation, but as a tool for better behavior. I absolutely detest admitting what a loser I can be. It makes me want to be less of one.

  20. Pilgrim of the East says:

    @CaneCaldo:
    I have no problem with “do good to your brother, which he’ll perceive as hate”, your examples are spot-on , what I disagree about is calling it “hate your brother”. And speaking of spanking, when I look at Proverbs 13:24 I really find hard to believe that God would call the same thing “love” one time and “hate” the second time.

  21. Dalrock

    Christian’s not being faithful to the commands on roles within marriage causes harm to non Christians

    You betcha. That circle is complete. The harm is done, the circles from the pebble dropped into the pond a few decades ago are tsunamis now, where folks don’t just yawn at church, don’t just disdain some faux legalism of Christians, don’t just find the sale of prayer pocket wedges the stuff of shysters, don’t just loath the idea of thinking introspectively and seeing filth inside (well, this applies to believers as well as un’), no, they think the church is gone stark raving mad much because of the juxtaposition of stated social beliefs and demonstrable social actions, their sweeping effects, and the absurd doubling down on stupidity as a corrective.

    To stay married and wear it righteously, to have a batch of kids and raise them and love them, all amongst cohorts with all manner of familial collapse, its so uncommon that where it once would have been seen as hateful because people would condemn themselves, its now so rare it seems like a circus, something a bit off and not even worthy of the effort to conjure a smart alec joke.

  22. Cane Caldo says:

    @Pilgrim

    what I disagree about is calling it “hate your brother”

    If you ever have the chance to commit felonies with a group of friends and associates, and then–having been arrested by the police–confess your crimes and cohorts, I assure you that your betrayal of them will feel like hate to you and them.

    That is our situation.

  23. Pingback: 144 hour creation? Maybe. | Moose Norseman

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