Sorry this is so long, but many people have asked me about the prophecy of Daniel, Chapter 11.
Following, is the next two centuries of history as it relates to that prophecy. Hope it helps!
11:2 Three kings and then a fourth – After Cyrus –
Cambyses (Ahauserus of Ezra 4:6)
Smerdis (Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7-23,) Hystapes (Darius of Ezra 4:24) *Xerxes (Ahauserus of the book of Esther.
Xerxes was, by far, the most wealthy and powerful of all the Persian kings. He intended to become more powerful still by conquering Greece. He raised an army of 2,640,000 – an unheard of number for the day (480 BC). The great party of Esther was part of this effort. But his great army was crushed and he had to retreat to his own capitol – losing all the outlying territories. Persia was reduced to a petty kingdom.
11:3-4 A mighty king with a quickly broken kingdom
Alexander the Great (356-323) Continued the work of his father in expanding the Greek Empire and put Persia out of its misery. He also conquered Asia Minor, India and a bit of Europe before lamenting that there were no worlds left to conquer. Alexander seemed to be invincible and did exactly as he pleased, which, unfortunately, after his wars of conquest ended, mostly amounted to drunkenness and debauchery. He died young (32) with his empire at its peak. Alexander’s half brother Phillip tried to succeed him but was murdered at the instigation of Alexander’s (but not Phillip’s) mother, Olympias. Phillip’s supporters killed Olympias in revenge. Alexander’s first wife (Statia) was murdered by his second wife (Roxana) who was pregnant at the time and had thoughts of putting her son on the throne with her as the queen mother. One of Alexander’s generals (Cassander) was also his brother in law (Statia’s brother). Cassander captured and killed Roxana and her son. Alexander’s only remaining son (Hercules) either the son of Statia or, as rumored, the son of one of Alexander’s many mistresses but raised by Statia – was murdered by persons unknown. The result was that none of Alexander’s descendants survived to rule in his place. The kingdom was torn into quarters by his four generals (Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Cassander). Cassander took the old home grounds of Macedonia and Greece. Lysimachus took most of Asia Minor. Ptolemy took Egypt. Seleucus took Syria and the lower portion of Asia Minor.
11:5 The king of the south grows strong
The quarters of Alexander’s empire mostly began breaking into smaller pieces but two major powers remained whole – Syria and Egypt (the northern and southern parentheses around Israel). Seleucus (358-261 BC) first pledged loyalty to Ptolemy (367-283 BC) in exchange for being allowed to seize the province of Babylon uncontested by Egypt. Having obtained Babylon, Seleucus withdrew his loyalty and consolidated power in his Syrian holdings. This made Seleucus even more powerful than Ptolemy.
11:6 The Unfortunate Daughter
In the second generation of the kings of the north and the south – Antiochus *324-261 BC) and Ptolemy II (308-246 BC) decided continuing hostilities was too expensive and bothersome. Their truce included marrying Ptolemy’s daughter (Bernice) to Antiochus. Motivated by the promise of an enormous dowery, Antiochus divorced his current wife (Laodice) and disinherited her two sons. Ptolemy insisted on this. But Ptolemy died just a couple of years afterward and Antiochus repudiated his marriage to Bernice and brought back Laodice and her sons. Laodice showed her eternal gratitude by poisoning Antiochus and murdering Bernice and her infant son.
11:7-9 Bad Blood in the Next Generation
Seleucus Callinicus (246-225 BC) became king of Syria and was immediately faced with Ptolemy III’s (246-222 BC) desire to avenge his sister, Bernice – a desire which prompted Ptolemy III to launch a war. Ptolemy smashed the Syrian forces, seized the capitol, captured Laodice and drove Seleucus Calllinicus beyond the Euphrates. He carried off 4000 talents of gold and 40,000 of silver (a talent is about 90 pounds) and over 2500 molten idols. Seleucus Callinicus contented himself with this and stayed home to enjoy his wealth and power.
11:10-12 More Generational Bad Blood
Seleucus Callinicus died in a fall from his horse and was succeeded by his son, Seleucuc III (243-223 BC). Seleucus III rebelled against the Egyptian authority over Syria and died in combat. His brother – Antiochus III (241-187 BC) carried on the campaign. Ptolemy IV (238-205 BC) was a party boy and a lousy war time king, not realizing he was in danger until Antiochus III had reclaimed all of Syria and was actually marching an army into Egypt. Ptolemy quickly raised an army (mostly mercenaries) and drove the Syrians out of both Egypt and Palestine. Ptolemy IV annexed Palestine and horrified the Jews by entering the temple and demanding entrance to the holy of holies. On the threshold of the veil he had a seizure, fell senseless to the floor and had to be carried out. He declared a truce with Syria and went back to partying – though he hated the Jews and treated them harshly ever after because of his humiliation in the temple.
11:13-19 The New Kid in Town
Antiochus III built strength and bided time for thirteen years until Ptolemy IV died and Ptolemy V (210-180 BC) became king at age 4. Antiochus allied with the Macedonians and launched a joint attack on Egypt. His army of over 100,000 included militant Jews who didn’t like the harsh treatment Ptolemy IV had dealt out after his humiliation in the temple. The Egyptians were driven from Palestine and the Syrians et al set up camp on the border of Egypt. Enter Rome. Rome had been growing in power for years and profited from the continual struggle between Syria and Egypt. Now it appeared that Syria was about to prevail and Egypt be utterly defeated. Rome threatened to ‘intervene’ if Antiochus III entered Egypt. Antiochus III negotiated a new treaty with Egypt including marrying his adult daughter (Cleopatra) to the child King Ptolemy V – the tribute of Phoenicia and Palestine to be Cleopatra’s dowery. Cleopatra, of course, was to be Antiochus’ proxy ruler. He was enraged when Cleopatra decided to rule Egypt in earnest and look out for the best interests of her (and her husband’s) nation. Rome still being a problem, Antiochus III raised a fleet to attack Rome’s holdings in the Mediterranean islands (the base from which they would police his behavior). This turned out to be a bad idea. Antiochus III was thrashed and subjected to humiliating terms of peace including that Rome held his son – Antiochus IV (215-164 BC) – hostage to guarantee good behavior. Rome also charged Syria very heavy tribute. Antiochus III took to looting temples and palaces in petty monarchies (to whose level he was now reduced) until, on one of these midnight raids on a temple of Zeus in a formerly Persian Province, he was caught and killed.
11:20 The Delegate
Antiochus III was succeeded by his second son, Seleucus whose entire career was dedicated to raising taxes to meet the demands of Roman tribute. He taxed the Jews most heavily of all. On one occasion, finding the taxes insufficient to keep up with the tribute, Seleucus sent his treasurer, Heliodorus to outright plunder the temple. Heliodorus was met at the door by some supernatural apparition unseen by others and turned back terrified. Rather than carry out his mission he went home and poisoned Seleucus.
11:21-28 A Big Mess
Seleucus’ son, Demetrius should have risen to the throne but he had been taken to Rome to take the place of Seleucus’ older brother (Antiochus IV – who now travelled about on official business for Rome) as hostage. Heliodorus seized the throne. This was contested by Ptolemy VI on the grounds that his mother (Cleopatra) had been the sister of the late King (Seleucus). Antiochus IV also sought to secure the position by means of bribes and Roman backing. Antiochus IV succeeded. He was a good administrator and a terrible person. He called himself Antiochus Epiphanes (the illustrious). Behind his back he was called Antiochus Ephimanes (the mad man). Ptolemy VI (186-145 BC) tried to regain Palestine from his Syrian/Roman uncle but failed. Antiochus signed a treaty with Ptolemy which he had no intention of keeping. Antiochus wheedled Rome, bribed the appropriate officials, ratted out key Egyptian players for real or imagined crimes, etc. until he was essentially the master of both Syria and Egypt. When Egypt was down to just Alexandria the Egyptians renounced Ptolemy VI and put his younger brother on the throne. Antiochus IV suddenly became Ptolemy VI’s best friend and set him up as a rival Egyptian ruler in Memphis. While the Egyptian brothers were duking it out, Antiochus waited to pick up the pieces. But there was trouble back in Palestine. A Jewish faction had actually captured Jerusalem! Antiochus stormed the city. Killed 40,000, sold another 40,000 as slaves. He looted the temple – EVEN ENTERING the HOLY of HOLIES – taking all the treasures home to Syria.
11:29-25 Wrapping it up- Sort Of
While Antiochus was busy in Palestine – the two dirty dog Ptolemys made an alliance and Antiochus had to stage another invasion of Egypt. The Ptolemys appealed to Rome. By the time Antiochus had retaken Memphis and was marching on Alexandria, Roman senators showed up – along with a large naval force. They instructed Antiochus to cease hostilities and leave Egypt immediately. Antiochus said he would consult his advisors and allies and get back to them. One senator took his staff and drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus. He said that Antiochus had best not step out of that circle until he had given a definite answer and if it was the wrong answer he would never step out of the circle anyway. Antiochus withdrew from Egypt and vented all his anger on Palestine. He outlawed the Jewish religion and killed Jews across the land when they tried to practice it anyway. He decreed that all Jews should conform to the Greek/Syrian religion and that the temple should be dedicated to Zeus. He attacked Jerusalem on a Sabbath day, killed men, women and children indiscriminately and posted decrees banning even circumcision and the use of the Hebrew language. He introduced the feast of Bacchus in place of the Jewish festivals to teach young Jews lewd ways. He dedicated the temple to Zeus and sacrificed the first pig on the altar. Sacrifices to Zeus continued for three years. Jews who tried to preserve their heritage and/or honor God, paid with their lives. The Macabees led a revolt, reclaimed Jerusalem and reconsecrated the temple. They maintained Jewish independence for a time – though ultimately all the Macabees were killed.
First, let me apologize for the long blog vacation. That was partly due to my personal vacation, preaching revival services at another congregation and partly due to returning from those adventures to the garden ministry in absolute full swing! I will try to do better. That said and the new school year just about to begin: I remember clearly going off to first grade (no kindergarten in my locale in those days). I remember being nervous and excited. My parents had already taught me to sing the alphabet, count, tie my shoes and write my name. They taught me other things too but those stick in my mind. I knew my colors well, even some of the more exotic ones, from a childhood game called colored eggs (The mother hen and the wolf are designated. The wolf stands apart while the mother hen whispers assigned colors in each chick’s ear. The wolf shows up and demands eggs. What color eggs? All we chicks would ask in unison. The wolf began guessing colors. When and if your assigned color was guessed you took off and the wolf gave chase. If the wolf caught you, you were devoured – in the imaginary sense. If you completed a lap around the yard without being caught you were safe again with the mother hen. We learned quickly that red and blue were easy guesses. After a while, aquamarine and turquoise ceased to provide safety too. Puce?) Anyway – I was all over knowing my colors – and shapes and… The result was that my first day of school was academically non-challenging. My second day was plenty challenging – still not academically – I learned to sound out basic words in about five minutes and reading came easy. The challenge arose in that I hadn’t realized there was going to be a second day. I don’t know how I had got the idea. After all, my one-year older sister had disappeared from my life for hours each and every day the year previous. But, despite any academic promise I might have shown, I was one of those children that spent most of my time oblivious to reality. Somehow, I thought that when I came home from first grade that day – I was done. I guess my life was filled with events that seemed that way. You went to church. When you came home you were done. I mean, I know now that you were going back the next Sunday but at the time a week was such an impossibly long time it didn’t merit keeping track of and I wouldn’t even particularly know it was Sunday until I was wakened and told to get ready for church. Things like Christmas were even more that way. Christmas was great but it was one day once a year and if you think a week is a long time, a year is virtually incalculable! When I discovered that I would be COMPELLED not only to return to first grade the next day – and the day after that but for a number of days beyond conception – 12 whole grades - I was dismayed, appalled, shocked. Why hadn’t someone told me? Was there some way out? Not, as it materialized, until you were at least 16 and, unless my parents had a significant change of heart, not even then. If you had told me then that I would ultimately, willingly, VOLUNTARILY – expand my educational sojourn for six years beyond the twelve I had just found out about and earn a Master’s Degree, I might just have ran away, found the nearest railroad and taken up the life of a hobo. I had, after all, learned the previous Halloween how to produce a burnt cork beard, don a battered hat and tie a handkerchief onto the end of a stick so I had the fundamentals down. And why not? The life I knew, the life I had assumed was going to go on perpetually had just been buried under a mountain of compulsory learning anyway! Well, we all learn the difference between our early childhood conception of life and what it’s really going to be like. It just hits some of us harder than others. The lesson I learned from this turned out to be solid Biblical teaching. Don’t begin adventures, projects, processes, etc. without first counting the cost – have at least a fairly accurate reckoning of what is going to be required. And Jesus taught this lesson primarily about our decision to follow Him. There is a cost. To be clear – the cost is not the price of salvation which we could never pay no matter what. The cost is reckoned in the coin of what we become after we are saved. When we have named Him Lord and His purposes for our lives (even if He requires they be spent outright and all at once in a violent bloody end) are reckoned to be more important than whatever purposes we might once have held for ourselves. The second day of first grade taught me this lesson and I never forgot it. I have always found the cost to be small compared to what I have gained from knowing Christ. But each of us must count it for ourselves. Pretending (worse yet, leading others to believe) the cost doesn’t exist – is a crime.
I have always been a catcher. I do not refer to baseball – in which case I have almost always been a second baseman. I catch things. I always have. I spent most of my sixth-grade recess periods catching grasshoppers because our science teacher asked for them. I would bring them in by the jar-full and he would dump them into a bigger jar filled with formaldy…formaldi…formalda… chemical preservative. Later in the year the high school biology class would dissect them – the school saved money by virtue of my tendency toward catching. Not counting lots of other insects or animals I caught be setting traps, I have, bare handed, caught snakes, birds and fish, no end of frogs, toads and lizards and hundreds of crayfish which are, by the way, delicious! In the same bare handed fashion, I have caught young groundhogs and racoons, kept them for a while and let them go. I have caught adult groundhogs and racoons too but you have to exercise more care with that. On the other hand, adult opossums are easy to catch and I have caught several, some baby opossums too. I have caught a lot of young rabbits bare handed and a few chipmunks. You may find this hard to believe but I still have all my fingers and the only wild thing from the list above that ever managed to bite me was one of the chipmunks. Once, I tackled a full grown white tailed deer. I have a photo! It was an unusual circumstance in which the deer nearly ran me over. And, I have laid hands on several snapping turtles – from fresh hatchings about the size of walnuts to 25 pounders that could probably have bitten a finger off if I were less careful. Every adult snapper I ever caught certainly wanted to bite me!
Once, when I lived in Tennessee, I caught a large snapping turtle crossing the parsonage lawn – no doubt headed from one body of water to another as snappers occasionally do. I knew a family that ate all things wild (big 4th of July groundhog BBQ!) and especially loved turtle. I snagged the snapper, threw it in a box, closed the box tabs in the usual crosshatch fashion, hopped in the car and took the turtle to their house. The father was a hard old man with a great resentment of the world invading the remote mountain valley in which he had lived all his life. He had worked on US 421 back in the day, scooping earth with a mule and said he regretted that more than anything else he ever done in his life as the highway let all the foreigners in. (I lived there for six years and never completely overcame my status as a foreigner but my country ways – including catching things – helped.) The house was out of sight of the road, up a hollow, across a home-made bridge. I knocked and no one answered. If the father were home alone he might not have answered either because he was never anxious for company or because he was nearly completely deaf. I left the box on the porch and almost as an afterthought, wrote across the top – Caution, live snapping turtle.
I thought no more about it until a few weeks later I went to the little community store and found one of the boys from the family holding forth in a tale that obviously had the complete attention of a fair crowd (there was always a ‘hunker’ at the store.) As I approached, I caught this portion of the narrative. …and whoever the fool was just left it on the porch and wrote on it – caution, live snapping turtle – just like they thought dad could read! It turned out his father had been nipped on the knuckle when he inserted his hand between the tabs of the box. I saw no need to confess to being the fool who had done such a thing.
Assumptions! Generations of men before my time have forgone education in favor of work. My paternal grandfather never finished high school because he wanted a year to hunt, fish and trap uninterrupted before he married and spent the rest of his life farming. But we constantly do things making the assumption that all the other people around us share our background and experience. No wonder they regarded me as a foreigner! The incident taught me this. Sometimes we can relate the gospel to people based on our similarities. But sometimes, it pays to consider the ways in which we are different!
Here it is – Independence Day – our national celebration of America’s historic transformation from a British colony to a sovereign nation in its own right. The Declaration of Independence laid out the rational for the change; i.e.
These conditions providing the justification, and appealing to God to support their cause, the states renounced the government of England and set up shop as an independent nation. England, of course, disagreed and there was a skirmish over the matter.
Most holiday celebrations leave me sad – not because I don’t like a good celebration but because the celebrations so frequently miss the point! I find this true in both religious and secular holidays. In the case of July 4 (assuming we don’t just celebrate another long weekend as an excuse to overindulge in food and booze) we celebrate national independence as a given and take no thought at all about the rationale for that independence. I would be surprised if the majority of our population could quote the first line of the Declaration of Independence much less summarize it. The endowments of God, the larger purposes of government and the gauge by which governments may be deemed legitimate or illegitimate are lost in the process.
Without understanding these core principles in the original organization of America, we do not even really recognize competing theories of governance and human rights. When we don’t know the differences – well, what’s the difference? When ‘independence’ is valued on the basis of ‘indulgence’, liberty becomes license and no longer worth defending anyway. Take a moment between hot dogs and fireworks this July 4 to remember what it’s really about.
A friend of mine lost both his adult sons to Covid last winter. Then, the week before Father’s Day he lost his dad. When Father’s Day came, he found himself for the first time in his life without father or sons in this world. I say I understand how horribly downcast he is – I probably don’t. It’s appalling to be suddenly so – unmoored. I pray for my friend. I pray for his comfort. But I know some wounds cannot be completely healed this side of eternity. The situation sparks several thoughts.
I generally avoid outright political material on this blog and perhaps this is not really political either though it has certainly been turned into an area of overlap! At any rate, it appears now that apple pie is racist. So, at least, says Raj Patel – noted academic often referred to as the Rock Star of Social Justice. Perhaps I overstate Mr. Patel’s case. His concern with apple pie in particular arises from the popular conception of the dessert as a distinctively American treat – As American as Apple Pie! But, he insists, any nostalgic connections of our national identity to this bread and fruit concoction relies on a sort of cultural amnesia regarding apple pie’s colonial roots. Shucks – even the traditional artistic representations of a hot apple pie, perhaps accompanied by a fired earthenware pitcher of fresh cream, resting on a gingham cloth atop an ornate walnut table with hand chiseled details – hearkens back to a New England era that reeks of land stolen from the Native Americans and labor appropriated from African slaves!
Well, OK. I guess apple pie is off the menu. But, by the same logic, so is turkey – at least insofar as I understand the historic recollections of the first Thanksgiving. And why stop with food? Never let your children play on swings hung with chains. Chains, after all, featured pretty prominently in the whole slavery debacle. And how about boats? Those patriarchal, racist colonials got here on boats and slaves arrived the same way. All you boat owners have some ‘splainig to do! And, even if you don’t own a boat – or ever ride in one (cruise ships count!) – just think of all the goods we consume that were transported by boat! Did you think all those big steel cubicles on those huge container ships were filled with air? Wait – air! Oh no! The people of the colonial age breathed air! That’s it! No more racist air for me! I’m holding my breath starting right now! …….. Wow, that was harder than I thought. Curse those colonials for sticking me with the need to breathe air fouled by their constant wretched inhaling and exhaling!
Perhaps that’s enough to make my first point. In case you missed it I’ll try to be more clear. Slavery was a terrible unjustifiable moral wrong. There was also much evil in the treatment of the Native Americans. There were other failings as well. But it’s – I’ll just say it – STUPID to cast blame on any particular combination of fruit, flour sugar, butter, lard and water! The people who committed those evils ate many things, used many tools, and partook of the goodness of creation as all peoples of all times have done. Apple Pie is not racist. Apple Pie is not virtuous either. It’s – pie.
Second point – perhaps it would be more profitable to address the ACTUAL evils of our own time than to ceaselessly vilify inanimate objects because or either real or imagined tangential connections to the evils of the past. Slavery does still exist in the world. And I’d be willing to bet there are real present-day racists who don’t eat apple pie! If you care to make the case that some particular product we all take advantage of is the actual result of actual slave labor today – I’m ready to listen to that! But you needn’t waste my time with historic ‘pie shaming’.
Third point – and perhaps the only one I needed to make at all. Mark 7:15 (re: food)– There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
The Women’s Ministry barn sale has come and gone again and we always have the same basic question. Where did all this stuff come from?! Well, we know where it came from. it’s just always amazing that a big barn full of stuff can appear each and every year without eventually cleaning the community out. It always starts with a few big loads. A woman dear to the congregation passed away last year and her children wished us to take a great many of her things for the sale. The grandmother of a member of the congregation moved to an assisted living facility and, following a yard sale, the family donated a lot of the items from her full-sized home for the sale. One neighbor’s mother passed away. Another neighbor’s father passed away. Books, clothes, and other such things moved into the barn. And then, people who know about the sale give us the fruits of their spring cleaning. So it goes until by truckload, trunk load and arm load – in bags, boxes and baskets – stand-alone furniture items – both levels of a good sized barn are full to the point of overflowing.
There is always a good supply of clothing. There is often a lot of furniture. There will be a toy department. Some years there is a good selection of tools. We generally get a lot of glassware and kitchen stuff. This year there was an enormous cache of high-end Christmas décor. We also got a great big chaise lounge like I haven’t seen since I was a kid! For the second year in a row we had a nice working hospital bed. And It never fails that there will be a few items we have sold in past barn sales come back around.
As the stash builds up through the winter, some items will be distributed to folks whose needs we become aware of. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty when barn sale season arrives! Somewhere around the first of May the ladies start sorting and organizing (and also pre-sale buying) even as more is coming in daily. As the sale date draws near, all pray for good weather so we’ll be able to put a lot of things outside. Otherwise, it will be really tight in the barn! Somehow or other, it all comes together and the community shows up hunting bargains.
When it’s all over the ladies will have raised a few thousand dollars and a lot of stuff will have been carried out – nevertheless, the barn is still pretty full. Some of it will be recycled as paper and scrap metal. Remember all that Christmas stuff I mentioned? We became aware of another congregation in the community that has a Christmas Store kind of rummage sale as a fund raiser. We took them a big truck load of Christmas goods – and we sold about half of what we had! Most of the rest goes to other local ministries (This year three big truck bed and twenty-foot trailer loads) where it will be distributed to folk who can use it. A little bit of the right kind of thing will go to the Habitat for Humanity Re-store.
To quote Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together!
A good friend recently pointed me to a song about a place from my past. The name of the (sad/miserable but compelling) song is You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive. The reference is to Harlan, Kentucky and the woes of the early coal mining industry. You might give it a listen. But – my mother’s folks are from the area – mostly the neighboring community of Hazard but spread all over Pike County. I was there off and on as a child up to about twelve years of age. One of my haziest memories is of a conversation with my great great grandmother (Sis-Maw) who lived with her daughter – my great grandmother (mommy Duff). The vague memory of Sis-Maw included an Indian Head-dress and a little hidden closet/pantry where, she said, they used to hide the children during feuds. It’s the only memory I have of her. Mommy Duff, of course, I remember a good deal better. And, then, there was my great Aunt, Martha who ran a small general store and was quick to give us kids treats from the candy shelves. Coal was still the life blood of the community at that time – or so I judged by the number of big dump truck loads constantly going by. The house and the store sat next to each other right off U.S. 421.
I caused a great deal of consternation one day by scaling the rock wall left where they cut the mountain to put the road through some time in the dim past. Relatives emerged from the house in time to look across the road and see me about 50’ up, reaching for the roots of a stump that dangled from the top. The relatives, all being female, insisted I climb back down – a good deal more risky than simply pulling myself over the top. In their efforts to prevent a repeat performance my mother and various aunts all assured the stump was no doubt the site of a multi-generation den of copperheads and that a crazy man lived on top the mountain who was better kept clear of. Fine by me – because they neglected to tell me to stay away from the railroad tracks where, just a few bends from the house there was the neatest trestle spanning a deep gorge – but that’s another story.
It’s all gone now. Mommy Duff passed away a year or two after that last visit when I was twelve. Martha moved to Indiana and the state of Kentucky decided the property was needed for their road expansion project – no doubt intended to make for better transport of all that coal. The state – like most states – had written the law of Imminent Domain into its charter which meant that when the state wanted to buy – you sold – at the state designated price. Most of the family was pretty unhappy about that. But the law is the law and imminent domain is the law. The house and store went away – the road expansion went through.
Many families can tell a similar story somewhere along the way and we can all agree or disagree on the merits of Imminent Domain. But I will tell you this – The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof. And God has a highway project in mind. He will level mountains and use the rubble to fill up valleys and gorges and build His highway straight and level. He said so in Isaiah 40 – A voice is calling, clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a path and the rugged terrain a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
The passage probably refers to God steering governments and civilizations, causing the rise and fall of kings and nations to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the world. That’s what I think anyway. But: If the prophecy extends further and God intends to knock down any actual mountains and level up any actual gorges – He isn’t going to get any arguments from me! It’s all His anyway AND I have a vested interest in where that highway leads. I plan to get there after all.
Many years ago I made an evening run to the hospital with friends/members of the congregation to which I then ministered. I rode with them. It was early in the course of treating a lung cancer that turned out a year or so later to be fatal. There were complications with the treatments. There needed to be tests for blood clots and so forth. The doctors wanted the man to check in. His wife wanted him to check in. He didn’t want to check in. At one point we left the hospital and got halfway home before turning around and going back. He checked in. It was all a process. About 3 AM it was decided I would take their car and go home. I would make sure their kids were about their day, get on with my own schedule, and wait to hear what developed. I was familiar enough with their old beater car (one of a series of beaters my friend used to deliver newspapers – a task not suited to nice cars) well enough to know that the hinges on the driver’s door suffered from metal fatigue. You had to lift the door to open it. I did and the door began to open but stuck. This was a new kink. On my knees in the dimly lit hospital parking garage, working the handle and craning my neck to stare at the exposed inner edge of the door, I determined that the latch was stuck. I had no tools. I looked around the garage a bit and found, of all things, a spoon. Using the tip of the spoon handle as a prying tool I managed to trip the latch and open the door completely. The fatigued top hinge chose this moment to give way completely. As I was unprepared for the sudden addition of several pounds of weight, the latch pulled from my fingers and the lower rear corner of the door crashed to the concrete parking deck. After a little head shaking and a long exhale, I got in the driver’s seat, rolled down the window, grasped the door by the top frame, lifted and closed it. Sort of. I could not get the latch to engage. This was in the pre-cell phone era. I could have gone looking for a pay phone and gotten my wife to come get me but it’s not in my nature. I decided I would drive home (a mere fifteen minutes) holding the door shut.
It turned out the whole sequence of events to this point had been observed by a very interested police officer whose current job it was to watch over the parking garage owing to some recent crimes there – specifically, people breaking into cars and stealing stuff. He fell in behind me as I navigated the spiral ramp downward and pulled me over just as soon as I got on the street. He asked for my license. I’m sure he appreciated the way I dug my wallet out and extracted the license with my right hand, never taking my left hand off the driver’s door. He then asked for the car’s registration. This was more difficult as the glove box was a stretch to reach without releasing the driver’s door. That difficulty was compounded when I unlatched the glove box and it fell to the floor. But I gathered up the handful of papers and sorted them – one handed – handing the registration to the officer. He disappeared to his car for a bit and when he came back he noted grimly that the names on the license and registration were not the same, that the plates were expired and instructed me to get out of the vehicle. I complied but first warned the officer – you might want to step back. He did, resting one hand on the butt of his pistol. I released the door and gave it a nudge outward. It crashed to the street.
The officer stood there a moment in silence and then said – ‘You want to tell me about it?’ He listened patiently as I recounted the details of the situation – all the time wondering who was going to feed my children while I was in jail. When I was finished, the officer grinned and shook his head. He returned my papers, allowed me to get back in the car and helped me get the door in place. He advised me to stay on the surface streets and go slow, got back in his cruiser and re-entered the parking garage.
I suppose that my friend’s beater would be an unlikely selection for a car thief. Beyond that, if a person was going to make up a story – they probably would have made up a better one. The truth has a ring to it. It explains the context without straining it. It’s usually simple. And the truth will set you free.
It’s been a while since I delved into another historical episode so, here goes. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) remains my perennial favorite among the ‘Church Fathers’ (I named a character after him in my first novel). For one thing the man showed such dogged persistence and devotion to duty it’s hard not to admire him. He began as something of a hermit monk who loved monastery life and lived to study and pray. His favored life though, was not to be. Recognized for his diligence, integrity and intellect he was called upon to serve beyond the monastery – ultimately becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm didn’t want the post – or any of the lesser posts that led to the greater post. But the church NEEDED him and he answered the call.
It was not a great time for a man of integrity to step up to the plate – or perhaps it was the best possible time for it. What I mean is – the times were characterized by rough and tumble power struggles, political intrigues, land grabs, financial swindles, back-stabbing, patsy making, tangled romances, etc. It was even worse outside the church!
It is difficult to explain in just a few words how charged the atmosphere was. Pope Urban II initiated the first Crusade. He secured the papacy largely because the French bishops wanted the crusade. But the church was deeply divided on the subject – and almost every other conceivable subject. The struggle became bad enough that Guibert (former bishop of Ravenna) held Rome for a time – declaring himself the anti-pope. This chaos provided opportunity for already existing corruption in the priesthood to run wild. Things were no better in the secular realm and incentive for improvement shrunk with Urban’s declaration that anyone who served in the crusade would automatically have all their sins (past, present, and future) forgiven.
In the midst of all this, Anselm was called to be the Abbot of Bec. He quickly whipped the place into shape and (remember – at heart Anselm was an academic) Bec soon become the foremost seat of learning in Europe. This (unfortunately from Anselm’s point of view) led to promotions until he was called from his native France to England as the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the plus side, this gave Anselm an opportunity to implement reforms on a much bigger scale. On the minus side – the bigger and more corrupt the institution, the more it hates and resists reform.
And corruption in the English Catholic Church was rife, partly because the English monarchy was in a huge debate with the pope over ‘homage’ and ‘investiture’ ‘Homage’ concerned whether Catholic Church officials (like Anselm) owed any allegiance and obedience to the country – specifically to the king or government of the country – in which they served. ‘Investiture’ concerned the question of whether the king of a country could seat (invest holy authority in) his own bishops and clerics or had to settle for whoever the pope and his delegates chose. To both questions, the pope said ‘no’. William and Henry (the two kings under which Anselm served) both said ‘yes’. Henry in particular quit waiting for agreement and began investing his own bishops and clerics and insisting on their loyalty. It was the kind of controversy that got people killed. It got Anselm exiled – twice. But Anselm was never deterred. In office or in exile he worked steadfastly to lead both church and state through the strife and to some kind of peace. He did this without ever sacrificing his personal priorities of higher learning and reform.
Although Anselm was not fond of politics he proved quite adept at the game, equally handy with the carrot and the stick. He was particularly good at building chutes (ideological and legal chutes rather than physical ones) slowly narrowing the walls until he had herded everyone to the end he had in mind. Neither exile nor trial for heresy nor bribery (which was tried) nor anything else thrown at him could make him cease these efforts.
Just to reference a single chapter in this episode, Anselm travelled to Rome to argue for a special dispensation for Henry and the king’s right to insist on some degree of loyalty from bishops in English territories. Whatever Anselm’s arguments on the matter, the end result was the excommunication of three English bishops ‘invested’ by Henry. Note: investment/investiture referred to investing a man with sacred authority but ‘investment’ in terms of bribes, lands, important wives (Henry thought clergy should marry) were all part of the program in Henry’s attempts to win clerics over to his side. When Henry received word of the decision he refused Anselm permission to come back. For Anselm to defy Henry’s order represented the very real possibility of execution but his bigger concern was that even if he survived a defiant return to Canterbury, it would deepen the hostility between Henry and Urban.
Anselm bided his time while Henry slowly discovered that he needed the approval of the church more than he had supposed. As more and more bishops and prelates were excommunicated, confidence in the efficacy of the rites – including marriage, baptism, confession, penance, and last rites - administered by a shrinking number of clerics willing to serve under Henry and in defiance of the pope, regardless of bribes and incentives – fell. These days we would say Henry’s poll numbers fell as well and even a king needs the confidence of his people. When Henry finally got around to requesting Anselm’s return so as to have a reliable envoy to the pope again, Anselm declined the invitation and hinted at his own willingness to work for not only the excommunication of more bishops but perhaps of the monarch himself. This resulted in Henry travelling to France to meet Anselm on Anselm’s terms where it was agreed that Henry would forsake investiture if clerics appointed by the pope were allowed to express at least some degree of allegiance to the government of England.
Back in office in Canterbury and enjoying peace for a time, Anselm was finally able to institute his reforms including that English clerics ceased to marry, tax-bribes/extortion of church officials was done away with, and several other matters that lessened the king’s power over the church. It took Anselm most of his life to accomplish these reforms but there was no quit in the man.
As mentioned earlier, Anselm accomplished these reforms and all the political steps necessary to broker peace between Henry and Urban without giving up his cherished studies. Anselm staked out a position that seems common sense to most of us today but which was unheard of at the time. He held that while faith necessarily precedes reason, once faith is established – reason can expand it. (it is necessary to point out that Anselm correctly separated ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ – something we too often fail to do. Anselm believed that any intelligent person could reason their way to accepting that there is a God. Faith – putting yourself in the hands of that God and trusting Him implicitly – is something else.) In other words – you can’t reason your way to faith in God but once having received faith from God you can strengthen that faith by means of reason. Reason supports faith once realized. There is no need for the faithful to fear the pursuit of knowledge and reason. This thought won Anselm the title – Father of Scholasticism and his work is the prelude to the broader work of Thomas Aquinas. Anselm is also the first to formulate the Ontological Argument. It must be noted that the Ontological Argument is based upon Aristotelian logic which often makes my head feel like there are snakes crawling around in it. But the argument still has force all these years later and those who think they have easily dismissed it (Richard Dawkins et al) generally manage to show that they never understood it in the first place.
*Even an atheist can imagine a being than whom none could be greater.
*However, if such a being’s attributes did not include existence, a still greater being could be imagined with all the attributes of the first – plus existence.
*Therefore, the truly greatest possible being must exist.
The third step seems too easy. But, it begins with this: an existent being is greater than an imaginary being therefore, whatever may be known as the greatest of all beings must be one that exists rather than one that is imaginary. Thus far, we go without problem. And there must be a being who comes in first in the competition for greatest. Still so far so good. The greatest being exists. Behind this lies a layer not easily included in Anselm’s simplified proof. By what standard do we judge beings to arrive at a decision as to which is the greatest? Why, by those characteristics it is better to have than not to have. Whence do we arrive at such concrete and comparative values and virtues? How can we hold beings we see to exist to a standard higher than themselves if that standard is derived from the realm of the imaginary and anything extant is greater than anything imaginary? Feel those snakes yet? To Anselm it seemed clear that the ideal which represents the standard must exist else it could not be the standard. It’s a difficult argument to wrap your head around but easily dismissed.
Based on his ontological reasoning, Anselm was the first to state that God neither invented nor conforms to the ideal standard of morality but embodies it!
Some of you may well be asking – Can’t we just go back to his political accomplishments? But I admire Anselm for his studious philosophical efforts as well and especially for his insistence that faith need not fear learning.
This is all probably all more than you asked for – since none of you asked me to write anything about Anselm – but there you are. Something more light hearted next time.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church