Category Archives: Ethics

Who Heads the Church When the King Is a Heathen?

A question of political theology I have considered, I recently saw addressed by the German Reformer Wolfgang Musculus, translated by John Man of Merton College, Oxford, in Common Places of the Christian Religion (London, 1578), ¶ ‘Magistrates’, § ‘Whether that the Magistrate have authority to take order in religion or no’, pages 1303–1304. The question is this:

Some man will say: What if the faithful people have no faithful Magistrate, but are subject unto an ungodly prince and enemy of true religion, in whom shall then the power be for the charge of religion? When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt and Babylon, and subjected unto the power of those wicked kings, unto whose jurisdiction did the charge of the true Religion appertain to at that time?

It is easy enough to see, in Protestant political theory, that the Christian magistrate has cura religionis (care of religion) by divine ordinance; what some writers seem to say little of is the question relevant to Christians who face persecution, whether in China or in Afghanistan: When the chief magistrate is not even a professing Christian, is he the temporal head of the Church within his country? Who is in charge of true religion?

I answer: It did appertain unto the very kings of the Egyptians and Babylonians unto whom they were subject. It was their duty [i.e., the kings’ duty] both to understand and to serve the Lord, by whom they did reign, and also to have the care and order of his true religion. And whereas they did the contrary, it was an ungodly abuse of their good authority, whereunto the people of God was not bound at all to obey. So when Nebuchadnezzar did set up an image of gold, and commanded it to be worshipped, he was not to be hearkened to: but then men were bound to hearken unto him, when he forbade by open proclamation that no man should blaspheme the name of the true God, the God of Israel.

This is a hard saying; many cannot accept it. It is especially hard to those who come from cultures that speak often of ‘separation of chuch and state’, or of the autonomy of ‘the Church’ (read: the clerics) from the operation and even the jurisdiction of the magistrate. In support of the notion that Christian believers are a societas perfecta (complete society) that needs no magistrates, neither dependent nor bound to obey, Christians may even cite 1 Corinthians 6, where St Paul writes against the Corinthians’ taking each other to court in front of unbelievers. That is indeed the political theology promoted by Rome and, in their own way, the Anabaptists such as the Amish. It also seems pious to defend the rights of ‘the Church’ against the merely ‘secular’ hands of ‘the state’, and so papists and Baptists alike are prone to circling the wagons when (for example) a cleric is accused of sexual assault or the like. This is the logic of Thomas Becket, who was not martyred for the faith. Musculus, in contrast, exemplifies a different political theology that insists that the chief magistrate, even when he is a heathen, is temporal head of the Church within his own commonwealth.

Xi's Dictatorship Threatens the Chinese State - WSJ

Having upheld the temporal headship of the king even in ‘churchly’ matters, Musculus then describes a descending chain of authority, such as Charles Bartlett also described a decade ago in terms of the Church of England’s Litany:

When the kings are wicked and adversaries to godliness, the charge of religion comes to the priests and elders of the people, such as at that time Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, etc. were judges, priests, and elders of that people, after the captivity until the time of our saviour Christ. And when they also became corrupt, the power of the charge and order of religion was put over by Christ himself unto the Apostles, and to the ministers of the word, until the time that kings and princes began to understand the truth of God, to believe in the Lord, and to serve him. And how they used this power, we may perceive by their laws. But in case that neither kings nor princes, nor the priests nor elders, not the people itself, should taken upon them the care of well ordering religion, but should go out a contrary way from the word of God, so that the saying of Jerome should be fulfilled, ‘There are wonders and marvels done in the earth, the prophets do prophecy falsely, and the priests do clap their hands at it, and like it well, and the people do love such’: then there is no safety else, but that every husband and master of his family must practise the power of religion in his own house, and dispose and order the same, according unto the prescript of God’s word. So the matters were done in the times of the Fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So we see a chain of descending authority in the care of religion, from kings in the first place, to the priests and elders of the people, to extraordinary ministers of the word, to the people itself exercising authority on its own behalf, and finally to the patriarchs of every family. But the substitution was only ‘until the time that kings and princes began to understand the truth of God, to believe in the Lord, and to serve him’. When kings and princes began to believe in the gospel, they began to use their God-given supreme power to foster true religion in their realms. This is not a Constantinian stage the Church has grown out of, but the norm and the ideal to which God bids us aim in the conduct of temporal affairs.

Making Excuses for Divorce


May be an image of 1 person and text that says "Jory Micah, M.A. Christian Doctrine... @jorymicah I guess there is no better time to say this. My husband & I are officially separated. I'll always love & respect him, but bc our fundamentalist background, our marriage has been rocky since the beginning, but man did we fight for us. Now it's time to fight for ourselves & heal. 8:25 a.m. 11 Aug. 21 Twitter for iPhone 6 Retweets 4 Quote Tweets 1,360 Like"

Ungodly woman does not want to obey husband, uses psychobabble (e.g. ‘fight for ourselves’, ‘heal’) to justify divorce. Many such cases.

I pass over the fact that this woman præsumes to ‘teach’ in the Church, something clearly forbidden according to Scripture. The healing that this character needs will come only through repentance.

Why Secondary Burial? Tradition, to Stand Against Globalism

A master of disposal of skeletal remains demonstrates the meticulous sequence for placing the remains in the ‘golden pagoda’ (urn). Photo by 陳亮華, for Apple Daily.

Some people may ask, Why? I ask, Why not? I don’t even care why we deep-southern Chinese originally began to bury the dead and collect their bones seven years later for secondary burial 執骨: if it’s lawful and not burdensome, it should be done, because it’s been done for more than 2000 years, before the region was even Chinese. If we Christians need to, we can invent new Christian reasons for maintaining or reviving the practice. My instinct is just that we have to do this kind of thing to stand against globalist forces bent on destroying our culture.

Immigration, Citizenship, and the Law of Moses’s Discrimination Among Nations

Deuteronomy 23 discriminates among several nations and their relation to the congregation of Israel and its covenant:

He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.

An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.

Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation.

Draw your conclusions from this example from the word of God, concerning what laws are lawful according to nature.

Ancestral Religion v. Marketplace of Ideas

On the one hand, some people wanting a religion to practise (or else just affiliate with) go with what their ancestors have done; on the other hand, some go with what appeals to them, with no regard for historical connexion. Many Christians today are likely to think the latter is better, but I disagree. It’s natural to start with the deity worshipped by your ancestors and try to understand that thoroughly first. I have less respect for people who judge all religions on an æqual footing, trying to choose as if religious belief is a ‘marketplace of ideas’. After all, the instinct that your ancestors were probably right about something in religion is a pious one. It’s just that, when the word of God himself comes to you, you must kowtow, because he is the God who made and sustains this whole world, not a god of some but the one God.

This is true even of someone from an Islamic or Hindu or Sikh background: rather than treating all religions as æqual and starting from nowhere, he must start from somewhere, and humanly that somewhere is whatever religious tradition his family and his nation already have. When the ray of God’s word pierces into the darkness, then either he will love the light and discard what’s wrong in his religious tradition, or he will hate the light and set himself against the gospel, to his own destruction. But a person purporting to judge religions out of nowhere, even if he does outwardly become a Christian, will have much difficulty in the Christian life because of his impiety toward his parents and his forefathers. Indeed, such a convert may make shipwreck of his faith and show himself to be reprobate and destined for hellfire. But if God has chosen him to be saved, the word of God is enough, and encouraging him to pose in a false neutrality will tend toward impiety rather than genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

Sing ‘America the Beautiful’ in Church? Don’t Complain About Marian Songs

If your church is going to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ during worship, praising America and expressing a wish for a generic ‘God’ to bless that nation,

then don’t complain when other Christians sing theologically sound songs during worship that praise Mary the Mother of God for the part she had in bringing God’s salvation into the world through her womb:

By all means sing ‘America the Beautiful’ after church, but unlike the excellent British song ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’ it does not have specifically Christian content that makes it suitable for Christian worship. I would be the last to discourage patriotic sentiment, but ‘America the Beautiful’ does not belong in the Lord’s sanctuary.

On this Lord’s Day and on every day when we worship the Lord, may the purity of the Lord’s sanctuary be kept, to the praise and glory of his holy Name.

Property Rights in the Law of Moses Oppose Capitalism

It is curious that property inheritance in the Law of Moses should be seized upon by capitalists as vindicating their view of the absolute rights of that historically very contingent thing which they now call ‘private property’.

Under the Mosaic Law, land (which we call real as opposed to moveable property), once alienated by sale or seizure for debt, was to be restored to its original owner in the year of jubilee, once in 50 years. In an agrarian society, land was the most important productive property. If we transfer the jubilee’s principle to modern times, capital and other productive property is to be redistributed from those who have acquired it by sale or seizure between jubilees, and debts are to be cancelled. Thus, between jubilees, all sale of land and other productive property is actually leasehold. The Mosaic Law’s property régime renders relative, rather than absolute, any attempt to claim ownership and dominium by virtue of acquisition by sale or seizure.

While the Mosaic Law is not obligatory upon us, nor should we try to replicate it, its moral principles are abiding, and no Christian is free to call its œconomic provisions for the disadvantaged unjust. This is a truth that ostensibly those who point to Mosaic Law to justify capitalism have recognized. Alas for them, if they with their moral and œconomic principles encountered a society following Mosaic Law, they would condemn its property régime as theft. This is because the Mosaic property régime is opposed to capitalist principles.

‘Virtual Communion’ an Invention in Place of the Lord’s Institution

‘Virtual communion’ is not the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not even by Zwingli’s theology. But modern memorialist churches go beyond Zwingli, and they don’t see Holy Communion as the sacrament. That’s why they invent things in place of what Christ has instituted. It’s almost as bad as this:

‘Blessing of the Wheat Fields’, Jules Breton

Neither adoration of a wafer held in a monstrance and carried in procession under a canopy, nor attempts to have virtual communion with bread and wine not originating from the Lord’s Table after the prayer of consecration, are acceptable worship. We in the Church must insist on using the Lord’s own institution, that those things which we do may be pleasing to him by his own word of promise.

If we are to have the sacrament – and we may not be able to do so, but let us then ask the Lord for deliverance from this want – then it is to have both bread and wine consecrated, it is to be both seen and heard by those who are to take it, and the bread and wine are to be brought straightaway after the service to the homes of those who have attended the service virtually. Let us not in any way mutilate the Lord’s word, but keep it.

What Kind of Man Do You Serve?

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast:
but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
– Proverbs 12.10

This proverb speaks to those who are tempted to serve the wicked, and to bow to their wills, merely because the wicked are in power. While our Lord tells us to render unto Cæsar what is Cæsar’s, and Sts Paul and Peter both instruct us to obey our magistrates and masters in this life, the proverb seems to warn us against entrusting our hearts to these people set over us.

Many Christians are unable to deal with the cognitive dissonance of the duty to work for our masters as unto the Lord on the one hand, and on the other hand the fact that many masters are in fact wicked even if we took degrees from Princeton hoping for good jobs with good masters. For those whose careers depend on their not seeing certain things, things their hearts might not be able to bear, it may be far easier to avoid heartbreak and be apologists for the practices of their employers, even the crimes that cry out for vengeance.

But Solomon here advises us to be wise, to have hearts of hearing, and not to shut our eyes against the truth. Even if we must serve others who do not have our best interests at heart, we must not serve them as gods who hold the ultimate power of life and death over us, as if the God of justice and compassion were not sovereign over every creature of his; still less must we lie to our own hearts in defence of such gods.

The proverb’s contrastive parallelism, I think, works in more than one way: we can look at the contrast in terms of whom to serve, but we can also look at the contrast in terms of who to be. Do not entrust your heart to someone whose ‘tender mercies’ themselves are cruel, but look for the righteous man who cares even for the life of his beast. And be this kind of righteous man yourself, loving from the heart even those who cannot lift up a heel against you, lest you become a wicked master whose heart is cruel even in what his heart and mouth call ‘tender mercies’. The Lord teaches us to be full of truth in all our ways, that we may prosper according to clear sight of the people we meet.

Sowing Generously in Local Mission

There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth;
and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
– Proverbs 11.24

I think this proverb applies to churches that are trying to start or sustain ministries to university students and young adults. Often, immigrant churches in America begin to feel the need to do these ministries because otherwise they have a demographic gap between the adults and the children; sometimes, they find themselves unable to retain the second generation’s young folk as they leave for university. For a church trying to maintain itself, how to reach and retain young adults is an important question, and I think God has intended for this need to encourage us to sow generously, knowing that those who do so with a strong sense of God’s righteousness will also reap generously, as St Paul says.

Unfortunately, Christians in a congregation often are thinking first about how to build their local temple (in membership and in building size) rather than the temple of the Lord. What does not appear to help them recruit people into their temple, to sit in their pews and (they hope) to give money to the organization and attract more people, they do not readily do. It does not help matters that people tend to think of ‘missions’ as something that happens away from home, and even abroad they tend to restrict their imaginations to attracting people to the events that are held in a church building. So, rather than trusting God to provide when we yield ourselves to the Great Commission rather than the mandate of the building and the state-registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Christians may be very reluctant to use for local mission (sometimes ‘parachurch’ evangelistic ministries) the people, time, and money they ‘cannot afford’ unless they can see how it translates into higher attendance in their own Sunday morning congregations.

Sometimes, this way of doing things leads to poverty; conversely, liberality for local mission, looking beyond the immediate needs of one temple and to the broader mission needs of the local church more broadly defined, is an openness to God’s work which may lead to both more people and more money for a temple to not only maintain its existing ministry, with new manpower, but also expand it to the lives of more people. The proverb’s contrastive parallelism draws attention to the ends of the alternative paths we can follow, encouraging us to be motivated not by fear of loss but by confidence in God’s work.

Crowns of Honour and Books of Wisdom in Job

In Job, certain themes emerge in particular images related to the head which connect the prose frame (Job 1–2; 42) and the poetic centre, and two parts of the poetic centre.

In Job 2.7, Job is stricken with boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (עד קָדְקֳדֹֽו, LXX ἕως κεφαλῆς). As we see later in Job, what has happened to Job has ruined his reputation and dishonoured the crown of his head, even though he retains his integrity (2.9; 27.5; 31.6). He says in 19.7–9,

Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard:
I cry aloud, but there is no judgment.
He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass,
and he hath set darkness in my paths.
He hath stripped me of my glory,
and taken the crown (עֲטֶרֶת, LXX στέφανον) from my head.

In fact, Job has literally shaved his head (1.20), so he has indeed been stripped of his glory, and had his crown taken from his head (cf. 2 Samuel 14.25–26; 1 Corinthians 11.1–16). Socially, too, he has been made an alien to everyone who was close to him, because of the dishonour God has allowed to befall him, and he supposes that his friends wish to ‘magnify’ themselves against him (19.5); ‘yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me’ (19.18). If there was a crown for wisdom, or if wisdom were itself a crown, it seems that God has stripped Job of this crown; for Job cries aloud like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs (19.7; cf. Proverbs 8.1–4), but ‘there is no judgement’ (19.7; cf. Proverbs 8.16, 20). Yet Job wishes that his words were written, inscribed in a book (בַּסֵּפֶר, LXX ἐν βιβλίῳ, 19.23), that he might meet God. For his wisdom is this: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me’ (19.25–27).

In his final speech before the entrance of Elihu (31.35–37), Job picks up the images of a book and a crown once more, and here in his thought and his words they have become one:

Oh that one would hear me!
behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me,
and that mine adversary had written a book (סֵפֶר; LXX συγγραφὴν).
Surely I would take it upon my shoulder,
and bind it as a crown (עֲטָרֹות, LXX στέφανον) to me.
I would declare unto him the number of my steps;
as a prince would I go near unto him.

Here, the book of the Almighty, whom Job here imagines as an adversary in argument, is something that Job would bind to himself as a crown. Though God has stripped him of his head’s glory, Job would take God’s answer as his glory, indeed as his crown, so certain is he that God will answer and justify him.

So Job belongs very much in the ministry of the Church, especially as a type of Christ and the faith that he exercised in suffering blamelessly and coming out the other end justified by God. In Byzantine lectionaries, indeed, Job is read during Holy Week. Even for those who do not have Job in their Holy Week lectionaries, I think it useful to reflect on Christ’s suffering for us through the figure of righteous Job, who suffered not for a sin of his own but for the higher reasons of God, and by maintaining his integrity clung to God’s wisdom. Only through this understanding of Christ’s suffering in love can we apply the truths of Job to the deaths of other people, whether for those who are dying or for the survivors who mourn them when they have died. Preaching Job to those who are suffering is not a matter of comparison, of belittling anyone’s suffering, but of encouraging others to cling to the justice and wisdom of God in the face of suffering we cannot understand, in the hope that his book will be our crown.

Mammon Sniffs in Hong Kong at the Lands Resumption Ordinance

Hong Kong is infamous for its lack of housing, its expensive real estate, its subdivided flats in which people are packed like sardines. Everyone is compelled to agree, at least with his lips, that this is one of Hong Kong’s pressing problems.

SCMP reports on a proposal to use the Lands Resumption Ordinance to gain land on which to build public housing: ‘Hong Kong developers are estimated to own a huge land bank of 1,000 hectares of abandoned farmland. If the government seizes 150 hectares of usable land, it would [sic] be able to build 170,000 public homes within 10 years.’ I would ask how private developers came to own – or hold, anyway – so much abandoned farmland. If it was by occupying or claiming what others had vacated, in the fashion of squatters, then such developers should have no complaints about squatters coming onto their land and living there rent-free; but even if it was by buying land from farmers who could no longer use the land in profitable ways that could sustain their families, surely it is not only legally valid but also morally sound to compel developers to sell this same land to the state for a crucial public interest, namely the interest of providing 170,000 public homes in a city where average wait times for public housing have grown to ‘5.4 years, up from 2.7 years in 2012’.

Raising the spectre of ‘socialism’ and speaking of seizures without acknowledging that developers would be justly compensated is a scare tactic, not an honest concern. In America, except among radical œconomic liberals, the state’s right of eminent domain has been disputed mostly when the interest in which land is seized is arguably not public (e.g. Kelo v. City of New London); in Taiwan, where the vast majority of the land was once held by 20 families, Chiang Kai-shek forced landlords to sell their land to their tenants in exchange for shares in new light industries, and thus paved the way for a prosperous Taiwan. Allodial title to land belongs to the state because the land belongs to the people. In Hong Kong itself, SCMP says, ‘From 1997 to 2017, the government used the [Lands Resumption Ordinance] 154 times, including 13 times for building public housing. There were eight judicial reviews but none was successful.’ That someone has cried ‘socialism’, and appealed to the Basic Law in support of a hypercapitalism that gained wide currency only by the fall of the Soviet Union, is no reason to sympathize with private land-developers against the needs of the many in Hong Kong who are still waiting for public housing.

In Hong Kong are many, rich and powerful, who do not want to lose what they have. Whether developers who keep farmland idle to make a killing or speculators who buy up flats and keep them vacant to make profits from sales later on, they are the kind of people of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke: ‘Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!’

The judgement of God comes,
 But the wicked erect excuses;
The living God will judge,
 And as nothing are they swept away;
Like sticks in the torrent of his righteousness
 Or ashes of a forest fire,
When the Lord in his anger appears,
 To purge the earth by his grace,
Their bones are broken like matchsticks,
 And like wax melt their joints,
Before the coming of the Word,
 The judgement of the Holy One.

YouTube Censors as ‘Hate Speech’ Any Discussion of Legitimate Discrimination

‘Censored’ stamp.

Today, YouTube speaks of updates in its ‘ongoing work to tackle hate’. It lumps together a great deal of discourse with ‘videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology’ and ‘content denying that well-documented violent events, like the Holocaust or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, took place’:

Today, we’re taking another step in our hate speech policy by specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.

Given the vague language, these are potentially sweeping prohibitions. To assert one individual or group’s superiority over another is basically meaningless unless one specifies – or unless context specifies – in what respect. This is why most people do not assert general superiority, because God alone is superior in every way.

What YouTube has done is either to prohibit virtually nothing or to announce censorship against even the consideration of ‘age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status’ as relevant bases of rational distinction between people for any social end. If YouTube’s prohibition is not to be practically meaningless, it will by its own discretion censor discussion of any of the listed things as criteria. What YouTube lists as hate speech, then, encompasses many legitimate areas of public deliberation. To support upper or lower age limits for a public office, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support prohibitions against ordaining women as deacons and priests, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support keeping only a nation’s royal family eligible for the crown, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support England’s old exclusion of Papalists and sectaries from public office, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support exclusion of men from women’s washrooms and women from men’s washrooms, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support exclusion of sodomites from the military or from adopting children, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary; to support exclusion of children from sexualized clothing and other sexual exploitation, according to YouTube, is hate speech unless arbitrary. All these discussions we may expect YouTube’s prohibitions to reach.

This would be censored on YouTube:

Or else only speech that glorifies one group as a god above another is prohibited, and most of us are untouched by the new prohibitions.

Which is it?

God’s Love in a Stillborn Child’s Life

Not having attended many funerals recently, I do not well remember a particular passage of Scripture I have seen used with a tender sense of the circumstances and to good effect. But I did last year attend a viewing for the death of a child who had been born dead, though I was unable to attend the funeral itself. I did not get to hear the funeral sermon, but I think in the preacher’s position I might have chosen Ecclesiastes 11.5 as the sermon text:

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

The wording of this verse alone leads us to think of both the stillborn baby girl herself and the child’s mother in whose womb her bones grew. Rather than speaking of a child and a womb only, this verse bids the hearer attend to the relationship between the mother and the child. This relationship, of both mind and body, of living soul and living soul, is what the mother has had cut off in death, and through her all the mourners. With a child who was born dead, there is not a full life from which to draw examples and testimonies of the Lord’s work, yet in the very relationship of the mother and her child we feel that work of the Holy Spirit. The kingly Preacher speaks of bones growing in a womb, as an incarnation of the relationship between the child and her who was with child, and invites us to feel that concretely: bones and womb. This was no mere shadow of the imagination, but someone who was intimately within the life, within the very body, of the one who lost a part of herself and delivered a child born dead.

We know not which way the wind wends, and we know not how the child grew bones and how the child died: the wind that blew was the Holy Spirit, who gave and took away. We know not his works, but we know that he lovingly knit together the bones of the child that now is dead. The Preacher tells us that we cannot make the Spirit’s way ourselves, but we can observe – even without seeing – the care with which he put together the body of the beautiful child who died even before she ever saw the light of day. It mattered not to the Spirit, as it might matter to us, how long the child would live to use her bones; the Spirit knew the child would die and gave her the gift of bones, that she might show a childlike love before that love was even born. This is the Spirit to whose love we entrust the baby and all the love she ever gave and received.

It is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun; but the days of darkness are many, and in those days we have nothing to trust but the one who gave us both light and darkness. The Preacher says,

Cast thy bread upon the waters:
for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight;
for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

Everything can change, and everything did change for the mother and her baby girl. Yet God, in the child’s life and death, showed in the darkness a patience and a love that the mother could only feel but could not see. This God judges what the eyes of man do not see, and because of his righteous judgement he knows our sorrow, knows it better than we. But this same righteous judgement, who judges what our eyes cannot see and took the child away from the sorrow of sin, calls us all to remove that sorrow from our hearts and put away evil from our flesh. He calls us to know his love in the valley dark as the womb, that we may feel his tender warmth in the darkness of the womb.

Stillness in Companionship with the Bereaved

In companionship with the bereaved, as Alan D. Wolfelt says in Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers, a most meaningful principle is being still; it is not about frantic movement forward. This is something I have yet to learn well, even though I acknowledge its truth. We might fruitfully compare the mourning of death with the mourning of sin; and this not only because the wages of sin is death, but also because many people today are averse to mourning of both kinds. It is far harder to sit with an awareness of one’s own sin, and to acknowledge that things are not all right, than to strain forward toward God-knows-what; the same is true when one feels a piece of his heart broken by the death of one he loves. Who wants to own himself incapable of righting something wrong with him, and to acknowledge his own dependence on someone to save him? Much rather would he say it pro forma, to ease his own feeling of the moment enough to just move on. Even he who does so by reason, then, is loath to sit with the thought, and with the feeling, to sit on the ground with the truth about himself. We fear being crushed by the truth, and yet we need the truth to open our hearts to the purifying love of Christ, and this truth is what the Holy Ghost whispers in the stillness of Mount Sinai.

Yet the Chinese once knew that nothing but time, dedicated time, would be sufficient. Mourning for the dead cannot be hurried. In the idealized past, a Chinese scholar-official whose father or mother died would take leave from his post and mourn for three years, eating nothing but gruel, avoiding delights of the world, and every now and then wailing in a shack behind his house. For other relatives, within the five degrees of mourning, he would do similarly, though for a shorter time and with finer sackcloth. The ritual was systematic, even if it was an ideal to which not everyone would practically attain. We may not do exactly the same, but we may practise these things in spirit as much as we can.

To our loss, Christian Chinese seem to have given these things up. Perhaps in the rush to modernize by the latest Western standards, and to leave the old behind, we have forgotten the wisdom of the ancient paths. To be ruled by someone else’s race, rather than to be like the pole star, fixed in the heavens, is to forget where God is. What does God say? ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ To cease from striving, to know one’s abjection and yet to rest in God’s love, is to find the presence of the God who has always been here. This is the presence we share with those who have lost those they have loved, and this is the presence we desire them to know with us, and us with them. Man fears time, and time fears the pyramids; but after all things have passed away, even the pyramids, do we not find our value in being loved by God, and in loving him? When we give ourselves the space to mourn, and when we give others the space to wear sackcloth and mourn for three years upon the death of a parent – to turn their harps to mourning, and their organs into the voice of them that weep – we show respect for their pain, that they may allow themselves to acknowledge in their hearts, and before the face of God, what they have lost and how desperate they are for God. To dwell in the moment is good. We live in light of the Resurrection, and because of it we are justified, but to God the time of death is real as well. To see the light of Christ in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death is not to be out of that valley, but to be encamped there and dwell in the hope of God’s healing and deliverance; for we walk by faith, not by sight. For this reason we cling to the holy Cross. We pause in the unresolved dissonance. By putting on sackcloth for our own mourning, we are not forgetting the grace of Christ and turning back to pagan sorrow, but we are remembering the meaning of mourning as those who are doomed to die and mourn with hope. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.