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Welcome to The Sword & Shield, an official blog of Providence Academy! Join us for regular reflection on the true, good, and beautiful in the ordinary and extraordinary places. We'll be drawing from the annals of Church history, the pages of Scripture, the halls of our school, and the joys of our home. May our eyes be focused on our Lord Jesus Christ!

A Loving Father’s Call: The Crisis in the Wilderness

May 20, 2020
By Chelsea Carrier

Editor's note: Ms. Carrier’s article is a reflection on episode three (“The Crisis of the Wilderness”) of the Learning in Wartime podcast. Listen now! Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and Stitcher as well.

A few weeks ago in The Learning in Wartime podcast, Mr. Ballard reminded us that God often uses the crisis of the wilderness as a time to “set us aside to remind us how much we need the Lord.” This is not the same as punishment, rather it is a calling, a wooing we might say: 

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,

    and bring her into the wilderness,

    and speak tenderly to her.

And there I will give her her vineyards

    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,

    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-20)

You may remember the story of Hosea, the prophet whom God commanded to marry and later rescue a prostitute in order to serve as a living word to His people about their own spiritual adultery. The focus on sin may make you think of this wilderness reference as a punishment, but in context, we find this section is actually the turning point from God’s wrath to His redemption. 

Echoing Mr. Ballard again, we see that it is quite common for God to call His people, the ones He loves, away into the wilderness. Hagar. Joseph. Moses. Israel. David. Elijah. Job. John the Baptist. Paul.

Then we have Christ, driven by the Spirit, choose to withdraw into the wilderness. He does that for us. This is where, perhaps only second to the Garden and the Cross, we see so concretely Christ choosing to endure the crushing weight of the Fall and at the same time conquering it. These forty days are a picture of the wilderness He chose in coming to earth to dwell among us.

But as wonderful as these truths are, we still don’t like the wilderness. At least I don’t. I may cling to some of these stories, Hagar’s in particular, but if I’m honest, I don’t embrace them perfectly. Especially the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Even though I know the ending and the parallels with Christ, the story has always disturbed me, and I don’t even have children. When reading Bible stories to my younger siblings, this has been the one I hope they don’t ask me to read, the one in which I’ve wondered if I could, um,  “make” the pages stick together so they don’t notice I’m skipping it. Recently, I was required to mull it over for fifty-two pages.

My philosophy class read and discussed Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in which he meditates on this very story. One of his comments struck me in light of this past week’s podcast. Considering Abraham’s seeming moral dilemma and crisis of faith, Kierkegaard writes of what he thinks to be an often glossed-over event in Scripture:

If I were to talk about him, I would first depict the pain of his trial. To that end I would like a leech suck all the dread and distress and torture out of a father’s sufferings, so that I might describe what Abraham suffered, whereas all the while he nevertheless believed. I would remind the audience that the journey lasted three days and a good part of the fourth, yea, that these three and a half days were infinitely longer than the few thousand years which separate me from Abraham. (423, emphasis mine)

Three and a half days. I hadn’t noticed that detail before. Abraham traveled with his son for three and a half days in the wilderness, knowing that each step he took towards Mount Moriah was a step closer to the death of the son he has waited for so long. He had already banished his other son to the wilderness with his mother at the command of his wife, and for the express purpose of preserving this child of the promise who had by now probably grown to be a young man conceivably old enough to think about starting a family. 

What about God’s promises? What about His presence, if he dared to desire it by this point?

Yet Kierkegaard, really echoing Paul, reminds us that Abraham believed the preposterous, believed God, really, and he highlights this with a “what if?”

What if Abraham had sacrificed himself instead of his son? Sounds noble right? God gets his sacrifice, and you don’t do the dirty deed of killing your own child who also happens to be the child destined to bless all of the nations. But Kierkegaard writes, “He would have been admired in the world, and his name would have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired, and another to be the guiding star which saves the anguished” (409). Without unreserved obedience, Abraham would have missed the opportunity to point us to Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it well in The Cost of Discipleship “Only those who believe obey...only those who obey believe” (68). Every step Abraham took in that wilderness was a step of faith and obedience. This was where God had called him and his son, the place where God was to reveal Himself as Redeemer, to remind Abraham that He would do all of the work, sacrificing Himself, because He is a Good Father. The call to die, the call to the wilderness, was a call to rest in the I AM.

 

Works Cited

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Simon and Schuster, 1959.

The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Crossway, 2008.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Walter Lowrie, vol. 34, The Great Books 

of the Western World, 2nd edition. Edited by Mortimer J. Adler, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1990.


 

Chelsea Lee Carrier teaches eighth and tenth grade English at Providence Academy. She earned a B.A. in English from Union University and is studying in Faulkner University's Great Books Honors Program. She has six younger siblings and a cat named Strider.

The Crisis of the Ordinary and the Mundane

April 22, 2020
By Chelsea L. Carrier

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…” (1 Cor. 1:26-27)

Editor's note: Ms. Carrier’s article is a reflection on episode two (“The Crisis of the Ordinary and Mundane”) of the Learning in Wartime podcast. Listen now! Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and Stitcher as well. 

 

We love it when the ordinary guy wins. Whether it’s Rocky Balboa, Rudy Ruettiger, Frodo Baggins, Atticus Finch, Anne Shirley, or George Bailey, many of our classic books and movies revolve around an ordinary protagonist pitted against the impossible. 

We love that the Word became Flesh, that we have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, our human limitation and daily temptation, though He did not sin (Hebrews 4). At Christmas we wonder at his humanity, and most of our imaginings deal with what it meant for Jesus to be God and man. How many times have people speculated about Jesus’ childhood and whether or not He had a favorite food or caught a cold or felt irritable? We may more often employ our imaginations when we think about His humanity, not only because we cannot quite conceive His Divinity but because we crave the closeness of Him in the flesh. It gives us hope. Both the bread and wine of communion and the waters of baptism are tangible reminders of this across the denominations.

So why do we struggle with the ordinary? Why do we dread the mundane? Is our faith that small? Or are we simply craving more than this world has to offer?

In our first podcast episode and related blog post, we established that the spiritual and the ordinary aren’t mutually exclusive. Jesus wasn’t a certain percentage God and then a certain percentage man. He was both to the full extent, which is quite scandalous. Paul, Plato, and the news reveal this scandal. The Incarnation perfectly demonstrates divine workings through ordinary means, and as Mr. Ballard mentioned in Episode 2, God didn’t stop there. Jesus chose twelve very ordinary men to follow Him and accomplish His purposes. 

Not only were these ordinary men, but these were ordinary men who had failed, who had been rejected, and these men would continue to fail and be rejected. They would question and even rebuke the One who chose them, and they would even attempt to assert themselves as the most extraordinary right before they deserted and denied the Almighty Creator of the Universe. But they would also see Him use everyday things like bread and fish, saliva and dirt, and even each other in order to reveal Himself to the world. The typical turning of man into dust? He would reverse that once again with His death, burial and resurrection. And they would marvel. Again and again and again.

We like that God uses the ordinary. We just don’t want to be ordinary ourselves. 

We want to see the spectacular ending of redemption now, forgetting that the majority of the story is those seemingly insignificant steps of the journey. I once had a student complain about The Fellowship of the Ring, “A whole lot of it is just them walking.” 

Yes, my friend. That is often what life is. Without “all that walking” Frodo would never have made it to Mordor—and I’m not only talking about Frodo’s walking, or Sam’s, or Gollum’s. Every step the rest of the Fellowship, and even characters without names took, were all directed towards Mordor and the destruction of the Ring.

But let’s be honest, many of us don’t see our callings as anything like a quest to destroy evil and save the world. 

I personally identify far more with Niggle, the silly little man from Tolkien’s short story that we discussed in the “On Story” section of Episode 2. I have great ideas (or at least they seem great inside my head), but I never seem to have time because there are so many interruptions that I feel guilty for calling interruptions because they are often little requests or expectations from others. Or, let’s face it, they seem too routine, too reminiscent of my dependence on simple things in order to survive.

But my so-called great ideas are of a relational and creative nature, one that explores and celebrates truth, goodness, and beauty, yet they don’t seem to carry the importance of all the other things that I must do each day. By importance, I really mean urgency. Then comes this feeling that I’m not doing what I really should be because I’m so distracted.

Now, this may partly be true—I may actually be distracted. But perhaps if I would remember to do all as to the Lord, then much would be redeemed. Maybe one day I would see, like Niggle, the workings of my imagination come to be through the everyday duties that I fulfilled. 

God wastes nothing: He is in the business of redemption. What condemns us is the belief that our moment by moment calling to love our neighbors is less noble than some grand act of charity.  Or to add to that the belief that our mundane tasks—or perhaps worse, the mundane tasks of others—do not really matter and that once we get them out of the way we can tackle the real spiritual work when the real spiritual work is right there before us.

 

Chelsea Lee Carrier teaches eighth and tenth grade English at Providence Academy. She earned a B.A. in English from Union University and is studying in Faulkner University's Great Books Honors Program. She has six younger siblings and a cat named Strider.

Uncertainty: Three Tactics For Fighting the Unseen Enemy

April 14, 2020
By Chelsea L. Carrier

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it….Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice….If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. (49)

“Learning in War-Time” by C.S. Lewis

Editor's note: Ms. Carrier’s article is a reflection on episode one (“The Crisis of Uncertainty”) of the Learning in Wartime podcast. Listen now! Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and Stitcher as well. 

An Unprecedented Time?

Many people, myself included, have referred to life during the COVID-19 pandemic as an “unprecedented time,” and that would be true in many respects. How many of us in America, especially under the age of say, sixty-five, have witnessed stores running out of toilet paper and posting signs limiting the number of bread loaves per person? When have we seen schools and churches nationwide close their doors and conduct lessons and services online? When have we been faced with a possible and actual shortage of PPE, tests, ventilators, and hospital beds? How many times have we given serious thought to a virus with no known cure or vaccine actually affecting those we know and love? It sounds like a nightmare from another country, another time, another world.

Yet there is a sense in which this time is not unprecedented at all. In the midst of uncertainty, those of us who use the word unprecedented are also making use of wartime language to describe this crisis, and even more so, many of us continue to look back to a specific war, namely, WWII. Perhaps it is due to the international scope of both eras, or perhaps it is due to the character of “The Greatest Generation” that many of us wish to emulate as we contemplate the question: How, now, shall we live? The first step might just be what many have found natural— to go back in time, and we do that in order to gather intelligence.

1. Go Back in Time

So let’s go back to WWII, to a middle-aged bachelor and Oxford don caring for the mother of an old friend and several evacuees from London, all little girls. In the midst of work and family, C.S. Lewis delivered a series of broadcast talks for the BBC that would later become the classic Mere Christianity. Less popular were his talks for men in the RAF and his own students at Oxford. In a lecture to his students, “Learning in Wartime,” Lewis points out the reality that despite the seeming nuances of wartime, we have always been faced with our own mortality. 

We are all going to die. It is in times of crisis that we actually become more conscious of it, and we don’t like that very much.

Paradoxically, none of us are “mere mortals” but potentially either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendours” (46). Often we fall for the misconception that the spiritual and the ordinary are mutually exclusive, but as Lewis reminds us, it is the spiritual that gives breath to our everyday actions, and we should regard our most mundane performances as worship.We know this to be true, but it is hard to remember and live accordingly. It is at this perceived juncture between spiritual and ordinary that the ultimate invisible enemy attacks, and it is in these attacks that we often lose sight of the true enemy. Now it’s time to gather intelligence on enemy operations and align ourselves with our Warrior King.

2. Gather Intelligence

While recording the broadcasts that would become Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in which a senior demon named Screwtape writes to the young tempter Wormwood on the best way to claim a young man’s soul. In response to Wormwood’s excitement regarding the onset of WWII, the elder demon laments the loss of tactics implemented during peacetime: “...how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever” (24). Perhaps it is peacetime that should give us more pause. 

In a subsequent letter, Screwtape explains the real strategy during wartime: “We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty…. [God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them” (25).

Might this time of uncertainty be awakening us to truths we ignored only weeks ago? We’ve seen the ugly truths of our selfishness, from reported cases of hoarding and exploitation in the news to our own irritableness with those closest to us. But we’ve also witnessed Christ-like sacrifices from medical workers and others performing their daily jobs with inventiveness and perseverance. We’ve watched churches employ creative means for sharing the Gospel. And suddenly we are living a life of simplicity and solitude in which our families are our new community. Clearly we can see God’s faithfulness as He continues to awaken us despite the attacks on our souls during this time.

3. Align Yourself with our Warrior King

As Mr. Ballard said in our first podcast episode, it may feel cliche to say we need to pray more during this time, but it’s absolutely essential to combat the enemy’s tactics of distraction. When Paul writes to the Ephesians about putting on the armor of God, he says to do so, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18 ESV). Prayer not only provides us with a refuge, but it renews our minds as we think God’s thoughts after Him. Praying Scripture during this time might help us not only when we lack the words but to help us focus on the certainty of who God is, which brings us to our closing truth.

The Father’s love for us is so deep that Christ came in the flesh, experiencing human limitation and enduring (and conquering) every temptation that we have and will experience (Hebrews 4). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8), and He is our Comforter (John 15 and 16).

Our Good and Sovereign God is not surprised by attacks physical or spiritual. He has experienced no ambush, and though He commands and equips us to fight, He does not place the burden of the outcome on our shoulders, for the battle belongs to our Warrior King who reigns victorious, even over death, hell, and the grave. 

 

Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. “Learning in War Time.” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Harper Collins, 1980, pp. 47-63.

————— The Screwtape Letters. Harper Collins, 1996.

————— “The Weight of Glory.” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Harper Collins, 1980, pp. 25-46.

 

Chelsea Lee Carrier teaches eighth and tenth grade English at Providence Academy. She earned a B.A. in English from Union University and is studying in Faulkner University's Great Books Honors Program. She has six younger siblings and a cat named Strider.