Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Because I Said So

In the book of Leviticus, we read...

I know, I know, everyone hates reading Leviticus, that great derailer of Bible-in-a-year plans everywhere. I'll keep it short, I promise.

Anyway, Leviticus has numerous laws for Israel to obey, covering everything from the sacrifices to mildew. Once you get to chapter 18, you may notice an interesting phenomenon. Many commands from there on are punctuated with the following explanation: I am YHWH.

Why should we have only appropriate sexual relations? I am YHWH.
Why should we leave some of our crop for the poor and sojourner? I am YHWH.
Why should we honor the elderly? I am YHWH.
Why should we have just balances? I am YHWH.

And on and on it goes. Do this, because I am YHWH. Live like that, because I am YHWH.

Why follow that law? Because God said so.

So here's your deep thought for the day. God is the one being for whom "because I said so" is always a completely legitimate reason. And here's a bonus corollary: to demand more explanation than that is sin.

Digest and discuss.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Politimical Aside - Taxes

Since today is tax day and all, I figured I would throw out my crazy two-step solution to many of the problems in our tax/political system. Overspending, budget woes, abuse of the tax code for social engineering/punishment? Two simple steps can make a major dent in these issues and more. The first idea I hear fairly often, the second I don't recall hearing many rants about. Here goes.

1) Move tax day back six months, to October 15. Keep elections the first week of November. Anyone need the logic of this one spelled out? I've heard numerous people recommend this or something similar (move elections to late April) over the years, but by itself it wouldn't be nearly as effective as you would think. I suggest adding the second step to really keep them in line...

2) End backup withholding. Depending on how you look at it, backup withholding is either truly brilliant or devious. I believe that this, more than any other single factor, has allowed tax rates to rise to the current ridiculous levels without the wrath of the electorate being unleashed. Consider the following two cases:

Person A makes $5000 a month, or $60,000 a year. Every three months, he writes the government a check for $3000 (by April 15, he must have paid the government a total of $12,000).
Person B also makes $5000 a month, or $60,000 a year. He has taxes withheld at a 25% rate ($1250), taking home $3750 a month. Every year around April 15, he gets a check from the government for $3000.

Both of these people earn the same income, and pay the same net taxes. However, their feelings about their tax bills will be completely different. When it's time for A to do his taxes, he will be rather upset at having to write such a large check. When B does his taxes, however, he'll most likely be thrilled to be 'getting' so much money from the government. He has grown used to living on the smaller take-home amount (smaller than A, who takes it all home but has to set aside the 20% for taxes), and while he may see how much is withheld from his paycheck, it lacks the emotional sting of having the money, then having to write the check and send it away. Plus he has come to see the tax refund as a gift of the benevolent government (don't ya know how much the generous IRS is stimulating the economy by giving your money back?), and sadly many view the tax refund as a sort of savings account!

People in category A include those who have to file quarterlies (small business owners, self-employed, etc); they get their money without withholding, but have to set it aside to cover the tax bill. Shockingly, these people tend to be the most upset at tax increases - and since they are generally society's producers, they also are the target of the taxes. Category B people are generally less upset at tax increases, having been conditioned to the lower take-home pay and the 'gift' of a refund, the repayment of an interest-free, mandatory loan to Uncle Sam.

End backup withholding and put tax day and election day close together, and not only will tax rates drop, but absurd spending (such as the government-funded Ponzi schemes) will be dramatically and immediately reduced, as elected officials will finally be held to account for every dollar they waste.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For - The Hallelujah Chorus

The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah is one of the most striking musical numbers ever written, and it's now one of the most recognizable. Every December this chorus becomes nearly ubiquitous, appearing in numerous Christmas movies and specials, being performed by 'flash mobs', getting played on PA systems in malls throughout the land, and of course being used to hawk all sorts of stuff in commercials of all types. Luxury cars? Discounted name-brand clothing? Lottery tickets? If the commercial airs in December, they just slap the Halleluah Chorus in there and roll with it. Now I'm even hearing it forced into service hawking - are you ready - turkey cold cuts. The song is treated as if totally pliable, performed by anyone, for any purpose, to get a cheap laugh or celebrate the majesty of a 3-day carpet sale. The term "hallelujah" itself is used as a throwaway exclamation, a sacred version of "sussudio".

I would just like to caution those who casually toss around "hallelujah" or break out the chorus - be really careful what you wish for.

Let's take a quick look at the term hallelujah. It basically means "Praise God!", from the Hebrew hallel (praise) and Yahweh. So it's not just a generic exclamation or to a general 'god', it's specifically an acclamation of the greatness of Yahweh. That should be plenty of warning to those who deny or rebel against him, but there's more.

Consider that hallelujah is only used four times in the entire New Testament - all of which are in Revelation 19:1-8:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
   for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
   who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

Once more they cried out,

"Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever."

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!" And from the throne came a voice saying,

"Praise our God,
   all you his servants,
you who fear him,
   small and great."

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
   with fine linen, bright and pure"—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

So the term "Hallelujah" is directly associated with the following things - the judgment and destruction of Babylon, marked by such a great outpouring of God's wrath that the smoke rises forever and ever, the final union of Christ with his church, and the accompanying destruction of Christ's enemies, where he is completely exalted to reign over all forever. The prospect of this does not seem like something that those who set themselves as enemies of God should celebrate.

Oh, and what comes immediately after the four hallelujahs? You really, really, really do not want to be on the wrong side.

So please, for your own sake, if you're foolish enough to have not repented and placed your faith in Christ alone, do yourself a favor and stop exclaiming 'hallelujah!' Because the worst thing that could possibly happen to you is that God could hear you and grant your wish.

The Marvel of the Gospel

R.C. Sproul:

God set forth Christ as a propitiation by his blood through faith that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). There is no such thing as cheap grace. The gospel is not simply an announcement of pardon. In justification God does not merely decide unilaterally to forgive us our sins. That is the prevailing idea, that what happens in the gospel is that God freely forgives us of sin because he is such a loving, dear, wonderful God, and it does not disturb him that we violate everything that is holy. God never negotiates his righteousness. God will never lay aside his holiness to save us. God demands and requires that sin be punished. That is why the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. Christ had to die because, according to God, the propitiation had to be made; sin had to be punished. Our sin had to be punished.

In the drama of justification, God remains just. He does not set aside his justice. He does not waive his righteousness; he insists upon it. We cannot be justified without righteousness, but the glory of his grace is that his justice is served vicariously by a substitute that he appointed. God's mercy is shown in that what saves us is not our righteousness. It is somebody else's. We get in on someone else's coattails - that is grace. That somebody, our Redeemer, is perfectly righteous and has fulfilled the justice of God for us perfectly. That is the glory of justification. God demonstrates that he is both just and justifier. If all he did was maintain his righteousness without extending the imputation of that righteousness to us, he would not be the justifier. He is both just and justifier, which is the marvel of the gospel.

(Sproul, Romans, page 104)

Friday, April 8, 2011

New Glasses

Last week I got some new glasses. It had been a few years, and during that time my prescription had gotten somewhat worse. So the new glasses obviously allowed me to see better - just the same up close, but much sharper at a distance.

Funny thing, though. When I first put on the new glasses, my body had a hard time adjusting to them, even though they were helping me see better than I had been for years. They were good for me, a significant improvement over what I had been doing, but it still hurt a little bit to wear them at first. I got a little bit of a headache, and my eyes strained to make the adjustment. Although the new glasses were instantly and obviously better, my eyes had gotten so used to the old, inferior way that the improvement hurt.

There just has to be a lesson in there somewhere, I know it.