The Cardus Daily

Living the Paradox

Ray Pennings  |  December 21, 2011  |  Culture, Religion

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief

He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not his face from shame and spitting.

My wife and I recently attended the Calgary Philharmonic’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah. It was probably the twentieth or so time that we have attended a live performance, and the music is very familiar. But we both agreed that this particular rendition, under the direction of Baroque conductor Ivan Taurins, was perhaps the most compelling we have ever heard. I am no music critic, but the sometimes surprising places where the accompaniment was lighter than usual, allowing the voice to more dominantly carry the music, brought lyrical clarity to help me think about the words in ways I had not previously.

During Meg Bragle‘s singing of “He was despised,” the “spitting” and “plucking” were vivid reminders of the ugliness of sin that the Saviour endured and from which he saves us. My mind wandered to Cardus’s work of implementing a public theology for our times. When trying to sort through an issue, I systematically try to ask myself four questions.

  1. Where do I see the created purpose and normative law of God in the world?
  2. What part of this problem is the result of sin?
  3. How might the principle of redemption and the application of gospel obedience make a practical difference in the situation?
  4. How might I learn or be inspired by this situation and its solution to think about what might be when God restores His creation and life is lived in accord with its created purpose?

For most issues, the answer to the second question is the easiest one to sort through.

Sitting in the auditorium, my mind segued to a paragraph from Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. “We are confronted with a paradox,” Crouch says. “Culture—making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility—is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission to the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do.”

By the time we came to “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” my wandering mind was fully absorbed again by the music. Brett Polegato‘s rendition had me rapt. We were sitting in Orchestra Row L, close enough to see him with a riveting seriousness deliver the recitative “Behold I tell you a mystery.” But as he came to “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” his face lit up and his smile echoed the message of the words.

The work of Cardus involves the nitty gritty of contemporary history. Beneath everything, we are a bunch of idealists who are trying to make the world in which we live a better place, contributing the wisdom gleaned from two thousand years of Christian social thought to the challenges we face today. On some days, it can be a pretty depressing business: plucked hairs and spittle are good metaphors for the brokenness of life. But public theology also takes place in a context of hope, the hope found in the Incarnate child in Bethlehem’s manger who is also the one we expect to come again. Our hopeful confidence is that there is more to life than meets the eye, that there is a purpose to our existence below, and that history is unfolding to its’ glorious conclusion.

I know that my Redeemer liveth,and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And tho’ worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

I know that my Redeemer liveth: For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.



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