The virtue that is laziness

A week or so ago I posted “The Faith to be Idle,” something Dan Kempin wrote about our need to stop working so much.  It provoked some good discussion also.  I want to call your attention to something Larry Hughes wrote in a comment, since I suspect hardly any of you are still following that thread:

Thanks Dan. I loved what you wrote. I read it to my wife because we’ve been on and off discussing this issue. It was so encouraging. I think, no rather, I know you’ve nailed it. That last sentence was golden, “do you have the faith to be idle”. It rings of Luther’s similar statements recognizing unbelief hidden inside “virtues”. Few between Paul and Luther, and damn few after Luther recognize the devil’s real tricks. Even a pagan recognizes the “black” devil as Luther put it, few recognize the “white” devil (the angel of light) as he also put it.

E.g. when Luther was once asked what he’d do if he found out Christ was coming today his reply was “plant a tree”. He recognized the unbelieving trap behind the question of Christ’s sufficiency. Similarly Luther points out numerous times the good works, that false piety or unbelief guised as faith would never in a thousand years allow as good works as being when the believer eats, drinks, sleeps, etc… Luther in kind commented on he and Phillip drinking beer while the Word delivered the blow to the pope.

An analogy might be a child completely secure in his/her home who simply eats an apple or play in the mud with great joy. They do not toil and spin in anxiety over satisfying their parents as if to “merit” their love, they believe their parents love them, so in this earthly faith over earthly parents they play and laugh in perfect secure faith in their parents supplying all they need. They believe their parents. They know supper is coming because they are children and not slaves or rejected whereby they must merit their meals, bed, clothes, shelter, etc…

The scriptures are pregnant with this. Christ Himself says the lilies of the field and birds of the air do not toil and spin but in perfect created placement know their heavenly father knows their need and gives to them. Jesus sleeping on a cushion as the storm waves rage about the boat in PERFECT faith, yet the disciples start to become anxious and then toil in their unbelief. It apexes at the cross where Christ on one hand cries out “why hast Thou forsaken me”, then “into Thy hands I commend my spirit”.

But we don’t do that, and America has become the nation now that is most unbelieving as a whole. Not so much by its immoral issues, but because of its virtues.  Iit thus toils and spins in rank unbelief. It eschews, in reality, its holidays, it’s restful weekends. Oh we give it “lip service” but we don’t really enjoy these gifts of God. Israel as the nation of God had entire feast months, seasons and years, forgave debts, etc…” This is unheard of in America. Decades ago the old Soviet Union early on attempted in its anti-christic state to shift to 10 day work week in order to grow the nation powerfully and be “more productive”. At length it found that diminishing returns increased as it exhausted itself. God has ordained 7 days with at least one day of rest, man in vain usurps this. Now America has never “officially” ordained a 10 day work week, but we all well know it de facto has gone there for the most.

This is no legalism on “you can’t do anything on the Sabbath” but recognizing the creature gift of God of rest and leisure. Luther comments in his LC on the third commandment for example: “But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment, note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.” . . .

Carl Trueman, I believe he is Reformed, writes well on this: “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.”

“… laughter in the face of adversity and hardship not only being vital in this regard but also, of course, an almost exclusively social phenomenon that requires company; drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.”

Who of us unbelieving workaholics among us exhausted by the incessant work we think is a virtue does not secretly feel deeply the need for this and laments its loss!

I love that line, “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness”, i’ts just like “do you have faith enough to be idle.”

via The faith to be idle | Cranach: The Blog of Veith#comment-128736.

Marriage that expires

Now that we can remake humanity’s most basic institution at will, or so we think, we can come up with all kinds of improvements.  Mexico City is considering marriage licenses that have an expiration date.

Leftists in the city’s assembly – who have already riled conservatives by legalising gay marriage – proposed a reform to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime.

The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

“The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends,” said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.

“You wouldn’t have to go through the tortuous process of divorce,” said Mr Luna, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has the most seats in the 66-member chamber.

Mr Luna says the proposed law is gaining support and he expects a vote by the end of this year.

via Mexico City proposes temporary marriage licences – Telegraph.

This in one of the most Roman Catholic countries in the world, though with a government tradition of anti-clericalism.  If this passes and catches on, it would mean that marriage need not be between a man and a woman but that it is no longer, even in principle, a permanent relationship.  Cohabitation would replace marriage.

Predator drones for bad guys

A predator drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, propagandist, and recruiter.  Complicating the matter is that he and one of his minions also killed in the Yemen attack were  American citizens.   Some are concerned that executing an American like this is a violation of our constitutional rights for due process and a fair trial.  Others say that al-Awlaki is a textbook example of a traitor who is fighting on the side of his country’s enemies and that being killed in this quasi-military operation is what happens in war.  It has nothing to do with the legal system.

Some of you have already been arguing about this is another post (rather than staying on topic), but let’s take this in another direction.  Do you think predators should be used in law enforcement?

In which of these cases would you support their use?

(1)  Against the Mexican drug lords who are terrorizing Mexico (in consultation with that country’s authorities)?

(2)  Against domestic organized crime leaders?

(3)  In situations that call for deadly force, such as against snipers or holed-up killers, as another weapon in the arsenal of SWAT teams?

(4)  To patrol dangerous neighborhoods?

(5)  As a high tech cop on the beat, used mostly for surveillance but carrying a weapon?

(6)  Used for surveillance but without the Hellfire missile?

How would you handle the constitutional issues?  Is this just another weapon or just another tool, or are there particular legal or moral problems with it?

Help us draw some lines.

via Anwar al-Awlaki: Is killing US-born terror suspects legal? – CSMonitor.com.

The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.

The first use of the Law

We’ve talked about the second use of the Law (which convicts us of our sin and drives us to the Gospel) and the third use of the Law (its role in the Christian life).   But we have perhaps neglected the first use of the Law, the civil use, which restrains external evil so as to make life in society possible.   The civil use doesn’t save anyone, and it isn’t even religious as such, applying to all people whether they are believers or not.  But the civil use would seem to govern the extent and limits of Christian political involvement.

We ARE to promote civil righteousness in the social order–opposing abortion, working for justice, fighting corruption, protecting families, etc., etc.  That does NOT mean we are trying to impose our religion on anyone, much less trying to seize power to bring on a Christian utopia.   It does NOT politicize the church.  In the civil arena, we battle abortion in an effort to restrain our sinful impulse to kill our own children; in the church, though, we bring forgiveness to women and doctors who have committed abortion.  Furthermore, believing in the first use of the Law does NOT mean just going along with whatever happens in the civil order, as some have mistakenly interpreted the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  Those who believe in no morality at all are not following the first use.  The first use of the Law would seem to govern issues such as gay marriage, legalized euthanasia, and other controversial issues in the public square.

This is my understanding of the first use of the Law.  Do I have it right?  Am I missing anything?   How else could this doctrine be applied?

Drones that kill on their own

On the horizon of military technology:  Drones that “decide” on their own whom to kill:

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

The Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target. . . .

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

via A future for drones: automated killing – The Washington Post.

The article alludes to “ethical” and “legal” issues that need to be worked out with this particular technology.  Like what?  Is automating war to this extent a good idea?  Does this remove human responsibility and guilt for taking a particular human life?  Might this kind of technology develop, eventually, into a military without actual human beings in overt combat?  How could this be abused?


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