Thursday, December 09, 2010

My favorite word in the Bible

My favorite word in the Bible is not "Jesus" (although he is far and away my favorite Bible character, if that's even an appropriate way to talk about him). Neither is my favorite word "love," or "faith," or "cross," or a word with similar spiritual overtones.

Instead, my favorite word in the Bible is... (drum roll, please)...

"BUT"

That's right. The oft-maligned, under-appreciated, over-used little word "but" is my favorite word in the Bible. Why, you ask? Take a look at some of the places you find it in the Bible:

  • Genesis 50:20 - Joseph, speaking to his guilty brothers, said, "You intended to harm me, BUT God intended it for good."
  • Psalm 30:5 - Here's a double dose: "For [God's] anger lasts only a moment, BUT his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, BUT rejoicing comes in the morning."
  • Psalm 73:26 - The psalmist Asaph wrote these words affirming the faithfulness of God: "My flesh and my heart may fail, BUT God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
  • Acts 3:15 - Peter, preaching on the streets of Jerusalem, proclaimed to the city, "You killed the author of life, BUT God raised him from the dead!"
  • Romans 5:7-8 - There is hardly a better summary of the gospel than this one from the apostle Paul: "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. BUT God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
  • Romans 8:32 - Paul went on to explain, "He who did not spare his own Son, BUT gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
  • Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 - Doctor Paul first gives the diagosis, then he follows it up with the prescription: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.... BUT because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."
  • Hebrews 2:9 - The writer of Hebrews asserted that at the present time we don't see humankind in their place of dominion over creation. "BUT we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor...."

As you can see from this little survey, the word "but" holds a place of great honor in the Scriptures! It is often the key to gospel hope. It is often the bridge between problem and solution, the pivot upon which the promise of forgiveness turns. May we never ignore or belittle the "buts" of the Bible.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

127 Hours

The movie 127 Hours is the true story of Aron Ralston's five-day, "between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place" ordeal in a Utah canyon back in 2003. You can read about the ordeal here.

Ralston is played with excellence by James Franco. He ought to win an Oscar.

Most of the movie's 94 minutes are occupied with Ralston's thoughts while trapped in the canyon, his recollections of the past, and his efforts to free himself from the boulder that fell on his arm. In a way, 127 Hours resembles Cast Away, the 2000 movie starring Tom Hanks about a man trying to survive on a deserted island. Nearly the whole time, it's just Franco, the canyon, and the sky above. But director Danny Boyle relies on more flashbacks, music, and sentiment in 127 Hours than Robert Zemeckis did in Cast Away. For the most part, it works splendidly too. There's a lot of angst in this movie, a lot of regret over selfish actions and lost relationships. All this leads up to one of the most dramatic, excruciating movie scenes I've ever not watched.

The spiritual implications of 127 Hours are many and deep. During his five torturous days deep in the canyon, Ralston discovers the depth of his sinfulness. He has been a thoroughly self-centered man. He has ignored his parents' love, used his girlfriend, and refused to let anyone really help him or know him. He didn't even tell anyone where he was going that fateful day. He is Adam hiding behind fig leaves. He is Samson - proud, boastful, self-sufficient. He is David before his downfall with Bathsheba. It took the trauma of 127 lonely, painful hours for Ralston to come to the end of himself.

In the most memorable scene of the movie for me, after he obtains his freedom he looks at the boulder that fell on him and says "Thank you." He is now free indeed - free to love, free to need. But to get to this new place he had to repent. He had to (literally) obey Christ's words in Matthew 5:30 - "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." Ralston had to throw away his idol if he was ever to be truly alive.

Another significant moment in the movie comes when the truth about providence and the sovereignty of God is revealed to Ralston. (Of course, whether Ralston ever submitted to that truth I cannot say.) About the boulder, Ralston/Franco says something like, "That boulder has been waiting there for centuries until I happened to fall into this canyon. It was waiting there just for me." Ralston is right. Nothing happens by chance. If not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29), so not one stone rolls down upon the arm of a mountain climber apart from the sovereign plan of God. That boulder was a "severe mercy," intended by God to bring Ralston to faith.

The story of Aron Ralston is still being written. I hope it ends in God's glory and Ralston's joy.