Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Work of Art

The Song of Solomon is getting a great deal of attention as of late. It's meaning, once shrouded in the mystery of allegorical interpretations preferred by many of the Puritans, had many of God's people simply not knowing how to read and understand it. Yet this poetic book, containing a running, romantic, Romeo-&-Juliet-style dialogue between a groom and his bride (punctuated by a chorus urging them on to wedded bliss), has had an unveiling of sorts in recent times. Many contemporary interpreters have seen it to be what it appears to be - a highly charged, sexual interplay between a man and his wife. Perhaps none have done more so than Mark Driscoll, the charisma-filled, Calvinistic pastor of the megachurch known as Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Indeed, Mr. Driscoll has been so explicit in his teaching about sexuality, particularly from the Song of Solomon, that he even has warnings about the mature content on his website; a Nightline report on him said two words are associated with his name - "sex and Jesus;" Pastor John McArthur has responded with a series of articles whose main title let's us know what he thinks of Driscoll's interpretation - "The Raping of the Song of Solomon;" an article in WORLD magazine similarly questions the wisdom of Pastor Driscoll being so specific in his instructions on sexuality. Others defend him, citing the open sexuality of our culture demands that we need pastors like Driscoll giving specific instructions on these issues. With his boldness in testifying to Christ and his giftedness in teaching and reaching thousands for Him, we certainly should be thankful in many ways for how the Lord is using Driscoll's ministry.

In God's providence, having read again through this book in my daily reading program recently, I wanted to add this thought or two to this discussion based on a verse I meditated on that day. It is from Song of Solomon 7:1, where Solomon says to his bride:

The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist.

Just as the Lord fashioned Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:22), so the Lord shapes each man's wife for his enjoyment. When one thinks of how a master craftsman pays close attention to every detail of his creation, we would do well to recognize that a display of the Lord's master handiwork, attentive care, and gracious nature is the designing of a wife as a gift to her husband. And remembering that the Song of Solomon is poetry describing a work of art might guide us in how we are to teach it, as well as how we are to practice its teachings.

For have you ever noticed in art museums how quiet it is? Why does loud noise always seem out of place? Does not a reverent hush fall over the admirers when they encounter a glorious piece of work because they are quietly, appropriately appreciating the genius of the sculptor or painter? And are not the best works of art, poetry, music and stories those that reveal - but not too much? That create suspense and mystery? That encourage a maturing wait for the unveiling?

Like the work of art it is, pastors and teachers should treat the Song of Solomon and its teaching with awe, not coarseness; with quiet appreciation, not raucous description; with careful handling, not crude references. Hearing things from the pulpit that would make us blush in a men's locker room is not manly boldness with the Scriptures, but a teenage handling of them. A pastor should recognize there are quiet places to counsel on necessary specifics, whereas in more public venues he can speak in such a way as to leave things to people's imagination. He needs to handle his messages like a work of art if he wants the men to do the same with their wives.

As an example to the flock, he also should treat his wife like the work of art she is. Those who think they can talk or write openly about sex with their wives because of what is contained in the Song of Solomon miss a basic, important aspect of its interpretation. It is a dialogue between the groom and bride. Keep it there! I said recently to a group of men that many books and talks on this subject need to be labelled "TMI" for "Too Much Information." Men are unnecessarily revealing intimate details about being with their wives. Just because the culture is crass does not mean we need to be. Perhaps they are afraid of being viewed as puritannical.

Why not just tell men to go home and, without telling another soul, run their hand gently over God-designed curves and whisper what great works God has done? I think their people are "hip" enough to figure out the rest.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Summer Fun

Nothing like the warming days and sticky nights of summer to encourage us to slow down a bit and see all the blessing and chuckles the Lord has bestowed upon us.


My summer started with our church's annual Memorial Day Picnic, which despite the showers did not keep us from enjoying a cookout, remembering those in our armed services, and playing a vigorous and slippery soccer game. The next day I took off with Dave, Jack and Jared to the Banner of Truth Minister's Conference in PA. Three days of great discussions, fellowship, and buying books! Yet the highlight was the searching and masterful preaching. Alistair Begg's messages on "Persuasive Preaching" had us at times laughing uproariously (Can Reformed folk do that?) over his insights into Biblical characters even as he fired our hearts to be clear, authoritative and bold in our own preaching; Sinclair Ferguson had me in tears as the Holy Spirit applied his teaching on our union with Christ to sensitive areas in my own life. Thank you, Lord, for starting my summer this way.


A baby robin fell from a neighbor's tree and was adopted by my daughter. Emory researched on the internet how to care for it, learning to feed it sugar water with a syringe and, of all things, moistened cat food. He began chirping and opening his mouth when she came near, and we laughed because Emory's nickname has always been "Birdy." Over a period of a few weeks it went from being barely alive to being able to fly, of living in a cardboard box to having its own birdcage (donated by Emory's violin teacher).

However, this robin apparently was born with one deformed leg (perhaps the reason it was pushed out of its nest) and broke the other in its fall. So it had to flutter around quite a bit just to gets its balance. Various names were given to it, such as Squirt (don't ask) or Winchester, but it was eventually dubbed Mephibosheth for obvious reasons. Spiritual lessons were gained from Mephibosheth. He served as an object for a children's sermon: "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father...So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." Twice while caring for him outside he flew away and escaped, and was thought to be lost. Yet within an hour or so he was relocated and returned to his cage, begging for more cat food. The sparrow has her place of rest...Thine altars as my rest I sing, O Lord of hosts, My God, My King.

Rightly knowing Mephibosheth would be neglected by me when she went to Michigan with the children last week, Miriam took him with her. A wildlife enthusiast neighbor of her parents was going deep into the woods to release some box turtles he had raised, and offered to release Mephibosheth there as well. Despite a tearful protest or two, we concluded this would be in Mephibosheth's and our best interest. Just as his name sake enjoyed, what better place to sit at the King's table than the swamps of northern Michigan?


Ran across this this short poem from Robert Frost called Fragmentary Blue. Reminded me of Colossians 3:2, which encourages us to set our minds on heavenly things, not earthly ones.
Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)--
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Lizards have returned to our household. Hopefully Scooty and Sneaky will last longer than Spiffy, Squishy, Speedy and their other predecessors. But it will take some doing. Besides trying to keep them off exercise bikes and trees, sometimes they have to be saved from attempts of too much care. Yesterday Scooty was shedding his skin, and I had to admit he did look rather silly with it flopping about. Celia, abhorred by its looks, asked - no begged! - to please let her peel it off. Foreseeing that perhaps a leg or tail might come off with her attempts to peel the lizard, only telling her that it would be more fun to watch Scooty eat its skin convinced her to leave things well enough alone.


One of the things I dislike most is for people to ask me to smell something. Nine times out of ten it is to sniff something disgusting, such as whether the milk is spoiled or food has rotted in the frig. Usually it is Miriam that asks me, and I would much rather walk by faith than by smell in these situations. "Honey, I love you and utterly trust you that it stinks. Consider the length of my nose and how much bad smells especially pain me." So when Miriam called me to one of the closets and asked me to smell it, I knew it was not the odor of perfume or roses that would greet me. And was I correct! The sharp, acidic aroma brought to mind P.G. Wodehouse's description of the smell of Lord Emsworth's prized pig: "Emperess' rich bouquet." We concluded this rich bouquet must have been from the cat secretly urinating in the closet, and so we quickly ripped out the small piece of carpet that covered the floor and I took it out to the trash.

However, upon returning to the room Miriam asked me, to my utter dismay, to employ my nose once again. Seems that the aroma was wrongly labeled "Cat on the Closet Carpet." Instead, it should have born the tag "A Certain Son's Soccer Shoes." A shoe bin we had taken out of the closet to rip out the carpet had a pair of soccer shoes in it that were rain-soaked, sweaty, and smellariffic. But with every cloud of odor comes forth a rainbow. The floor underneath the carpet proved to be hardwood, so a certain son is helping us refinish it today.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dr. William Provine

Earlier this year, our apologetics class watched parts of the movie Expelled in order to discern the presuppositions people use in explaining their worldview and to discuss how we might respond. During one clip, producer Ben Stein interviewed Professor William Provine of Cornell University. Dr. Provine explained his evolutionary views, but it was the personal conclusions he drew from them that shocked our class. We were grieved to hear him say that if a brain tumor he had successfully fought off a decade earlier returned and was inoperable (which the movie said had returned), he would take a gun to his head and blow his brains out. Since there is no afterlife, he stated, it made little sense to him to prolong his suffering.

As my class of high school students discussed this, we decided we ought to write Dr. Provine, express our concern, and ask him to reconsider his worldview. To our further surprise, he ended up calling the church, getting my e-mail address, and responding to me and the students. What follows is first his letter, which despite his atheistic worldview reveals through his "gracious inconsistencies" he is made in the image of God. Then I have posted a letter my daughter Emory wrote in return (reviewed but unedited by me) after I assigned my students to read and review the chapter of the book Dr. Provine sent.


Dear Pastor York,

I have received 10 lovely letters from the following students:

Gabrielle Schwartz, Andrew Swinehart, Rachel Visser, Orlena Faris, Emory York, Trevor York, Moriah Fisher, Grace Harmon, Melanie Marcisz, and Abbie Marcisz.

I wish to thank you, and each of these wonderful students, for caring about me.

I gather that you showed the movie, Expelled, to these students. The folks who made this movie did so under false pretenses. They promised a movie with no bias. But the ID view dominates the movie. Had I known this, I would have refused to participate. The moviemakers cut the video shot to place all the evolutionists as mean and nasty people. I had to call them, and threaten a lawsuit, before they put in, near the end of the movie, that I never discriminate against any student, including the most religious. I adore my students, one and all. I work with Cornell United Religious Work to be a part of a secular group devoted to sane and equal society.

I hold atheism the same way I hold biological theories: as the best hypotheses we can see right now. I do not know that all gods are impossible.

My brain tumor, at the end of the editing of the movie, seemed to be growing fast to a neurosurgeon in Rochester, NY, and he recommended immediate chemotherapy in May, 2008. I did not trust him very much, because he said the tumor had been growing since 2004, and many neurosurgeons had told me that was untrue. My usual neurosurgeon in Syracuse retired, and I found another one there who actually was part of my operation in 1998. He asked for an MRI in October, 2008, on the same machine and gadolinium dye used from 2002 to 2006. The result was that he could not tell the difference between this scan and the one in 2006. There was no evidence of growth.

I still plan to teach my last semester before retirement in the fall of 2009 (retirement scheduled for June 30, 2010, when I will be 68 years old. I never expected to live to 65.

So your students can understand why I believe as I do (no gods that count, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will, same as Charles Darwin), I attach an article I wrote for the Handbook of Religion and Science, published by Oxford University Press in 2006. I wrote this for high school students who can read it easily. If any of your students wish to answer that document, I would be delighted to reply.

Thank you again,

Will Provine


Dear Professor Provine,

Greetings! I must first say how delighted and overjoyed I was to hear that you had responded to our letters! Your schedule must be full and it was very thoughtful of you to take time to reply. Rest assured that your kindness did not go unappreciated. Thank God that He has spared you from the possible growth of your brain tumor! I pray that His provision of your life will give you time to rethink your beliefs. You most graciously invited us to respond to your article and my fellow classmates and I are going to happily take up this offer. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to practice our apologetics!

As I stated in my previous letter, you must realize that my commitment to Christ and His saving grace is at the core of my being and argument. You were quite correct in saying that my belief in an intelligent designer, namely God Almighty, stems from my religious beliefs. I in turn can say that your evolutionist/atheist beliefs come directly from your refusal of God. In your considerate letter, you wrote that we were wonderful students, a very true statement. But sir, later you state that you believe in no ultimate foundation for ethics. Was not this previous statement concerning us rather ethical? What basis/foundation did you have for saying this? Also, I would like to ask, if there is no foundation for ethics what exactly is your idea of a sane and equal society? Towards the middle of your letter, you make this statement, “I do not know that all gods are impossible.” Yet, all your arguments are based on the fact that you believe or rather state there is no God. Excuse me for asking so boldly, but are you not grasping after straws?

In your article, you use the argument that the loss of species and bacterial attacks point against Intelligent Design. But how in the world can this be pointing to evolution? My understanding of evolution was that through natural selection, the species on this earth would be perfected. The strongest and fittest would survive, leaving us with a ‘super’ society. This idea is embodied in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. (Few people know this full, racist title.) Your argument claims the exact opposite, that there is a decline. In fact, this seems to fit better with the picture of Christianity than anything. All of creation groans under the affects of the Fall and sin. The whole earth longs for the second coming of Christ and His salvation.

Sir, with all due respect in mind, why are you so adamant in your arguments when there is no “Ultimate meaning in life”? If you did not know deep in your heart that there is a God who judges and rules his people, you would not be trying to defend your position. It is completely futile. There is nothing after this life in your empty beliefs. Though I am just a child before you, I have to say you are being arrogant, wanting to be in control of your life, but not wanting to be held responsible by an awesome Being. You cannot escape His righteous judgment no matter how much you reject Him. Professor, say you witnessed your one and only beloved son suffer an agonizing death to save the life of someone else. Then this rescued person turned around and despised the life that had been offered freely for him. He was thankless for what your son had done. Can you honestly tell me you would not have any feelings, any ethical pains? Well, this is a small-scale example of what you are doing to God and His Son, Christ Jesus. He is longing to bring you to Himself, yet you revile this offering. Please, repent from this denial and turn to Christ.

Well, I have bothered you long enough. Thank you once again for your cordial response. I hope that none of the contents in this letter have seemed too forward or brash. I mean no disrespect, but merely seek to share God’s wonderful gift with you. You are ever in my prayers.

In His Incomprehensible Love,

Emory York