The Essence of Tragedy

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This post is inspired by a recent conversation I had with a friend in a Literature and Philosophy class about his assignment to write a paper about the essence of tragedy in the context of various works the class has read this semester.

I’ve been so inspired by that conversation as to write what I believe is the essence of tragedy, and how it has changed from the era of the Greeks until now.  Tragedy, as we know it, started as a genre in Greek drama.  Every Greek tragedy included a protagonist, often a hero type, struggling against fate.  Most of these tragedies involved a prophecy which the protagonist attempted to avoid, ultimately fulfilling it.  This fall was catalyzed by a fatal flaw, often hubris (pride).  The point of the tragedies, plays like Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, and Antigone was to cause the audiences to have a feeling of sympathy and reflect intellectually about their world.  Tragedy is thought-provoking because it reveals to us a key aspect of our lives, that we all have flaws.  Greek tragedies never featured hope, because the Greeks did not have hope.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23

This verse outlines tragedy.  We were created to experience the glory of God, yet sin pulls us away from that glory, it is the fate that we are tied to, it is our fatal flaw.  Throughout history, people have tried to escape sin, and the death it leads to, but all have fallen.  Not every culture had a name for it, but all humanity knows it.  We see the consequences of our choices and try to change our choices but in the end, they lead us back to the same pit of despair.  The Greeks and other cultures turned their attentions toward building character, wealth, and honor to distract from the futility of life’s struggle.  Those things were somewhat tangible, but they were not satisfying.

This tragedy of humanity was finally given hope at the cross, in God in human form, Jesus Christ.  As he bled and died, he took the tragedy of the world upon him.  That day seemed to be the peak of tragedy, as a man who seemed to be perfect, without flaw, hung dying.  Could there be hope for man?  An outsider looking at just this scene would not think so, but the outsider does not know the whole story.  “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” -1 Peter 2:24  Jesus took that sin upon him so that humanity might not suffer the ultimate consequence of sin, but that was not the end of the story.  “…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”-1 Corinthians 15:4

This is the ultimate joy and hope, the opposite of tragedy.  All who believe in Christ have hope in his resurrection!  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19  This verse is true, Christians, if Christ was not raised from the dead, have no more hope than the rest of humanity, in fact, it means that they suffer for nothing.  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead (verse 20).”  Now there is hope on earth for humanity.  One must ask; since hope has been brought to mankind, is there still tragedy?  The answer is yes.

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” -Romans 1:28  This is the essence of tragedy, when a person rejects God and the gift of salvation.  A man given the hope of the gospel who rejects it experiences a greater tragedy than the Greeks who did not know of God’s salvation.  The essence of tragedy in the modern world is the opportunity of redemption rejected.

 

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A Day of Ultimates

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The most intense twenty-four hour period in history.  To many in the Roman empire at that time, it was just an ordinary Thursday and Friday.  To the Jews that day it was one of many celebrations of the Passover.  To the world and history, it was the day of ultimate salvation.

A man, ultimately humble, yet ultimately powerful.  A simple carpenter from Nazareth who was the Son of God.  Fully God and fully man.  Tempted, yet without sin.  This was Jesus, the Christ.  “No form or majesty that we should look at him,” yet his name shall be called, “Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father,” “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.”

Jesus’ disciples did not know what was going to happen after that Passover meal, though they had been told by Jesus himself many times.  Their teacher, whom they respected above all men, got up from their feast and served them by washing their feet.  It was a day that they would never forget.

Then Jesus took them to the Mount of Olives to pray.  This was leading up to the moment of destiny, told about since the beginning of time, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  However, Jesus still prayed that the cup be taken from him.  When the mob came to arrest him, Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to slay them, but he did not.  This was the moment where the ultimate predestined event met the ultimate act of freewill.

With Jesus’ crucifixion, the cross, which was the ultimate symbol of torture, punishment, and death, became the ultimate symbol of grace, freedom, and life.  The perfect man, completely without sin, bore the punishment for the sins of the world.

In that moment, irreconcilable paradoxes were reconciled.  The greatest measure of God’s wrath, and the greatest measure of God’s love were poured out.  Wrath and grace were poured out on those undeserving of it.  No moment was more terrible, and no moment was more beautiful.

In that hour, the Trinity was broken, the Son cut off from the father, and man was restored to his Creator.  On that Passover day, a day on which the Jews remembered that they were set apart by God, the door of salvation swung open wide to the whole of humanity.  The curtain was torn.

Jesus cry, “It is finished,” was the ultimate cry of surrender, and the ultimate cry of victory.  He died, and in his physical death, man was saved from eternal death.  The world mourned and the sky grew dark, and all was still.  The earth held it’s breath as its savior, for the glory set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and died.

But the story wasn’t over….Sunday was coming.

Reflections on 2014

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I know that this post is a little late since it’s already January 2, 2015, but I thought I should write it anyway as the new year is still young and the past year is fresh in my mind.

Two-thousand fourteen was a big year for me, as I started my junior year of highschool, got my first job, my drivers licence, and my first car.  There was some tragedy, some good, and a lot of grace.  My overall experience this past year can be summarized pretty well by two songs.

First, “Keep Making Me,” by Sidewalk Prophets, summarizes my growth in my relationship with God this year.  There are several convicting lines in this song which can definitely relate to me this year.

“I want to run to you with heart wide open

Make me broken”

Though I did not have any huge breakdown in my life this year, I have had mini struggles with feeling like my life does not matter.  I also mourned the loss of a friend this spring, and saw those close to him brought closer to God.  This was the first of many events this past spring and summer which changed my outlook on life.  The second huge struggle I had this summer was when one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer.  This friend loves the Lord so much and has always been healthy and active like any other teenager.  I could not believe it when I learned he had cancer, and I remember crying out to God that day for strength for my friend and for trust.

God has been so gracious and faithful, my friend has gone through months of chemo, and now his cancer is mostly gone! Praise be to God!  The greatest part of this trial was watching many of my friends, including my brother, grow in their faith.

Make me empty, so I can be filled. 

‘Cuz I’m still holding onto my will.

And I’m completed, when you  are with me. 

Make me empty.”

Confronted this summer with the prospect of choosing a college major, school, and future job, I was scared.  I know it is only my junior year, but it’s a time to start thinking about life’s big decisions.  I had no idea what I wanted to do as a future career, other than being a wife and mother.  I was worried about the load of homework I would have to face this year, as I’d heard junior year is the toughest in work load.  I also had to start thinking about a part-time job, so that I could start saving for college.  All of these piled up on my mind this summer, making me pray a lot.  Always having been so confident, I was definitely emptied and humbled.  God has been so gracious to me in so many ways concerning these issues, and now I have some direction.

Make me lonely, so I can be yours,

‘Til I want no one more than you, Lord.”

Being a very relationship-focused person, I have always valued my friends above a lot of other things.  There were times throughout this year where certain circumstances made me feel less included than usual, or isolated.  This was not done by my friends purposely, but was more of an emotional projection.  I like to go deep in my closest friendships, and when I felt I had lost some of that depth with a few of my friendships, it made me break down several times.  This is a struggle that I have trouble sharing, and have always had trouble sharing.  I guess it reveals that I’m more insecure than people might think.

One particular day, I was crying as I wrote in my journal about the possibility of losing friendships to time after high-school, when the realization hit me that I would never lose my relationship with God, and that one relationship would only grow deeper, even after times of distance from God.  My relationship with God is a treasure laid up in heaven, as well as all the other Christ-focused friendships on earth.  Even if those friendships are not forever, they will benefit me so much more than any other relationship, no matter how long it lasts.

The second song that could summarize my life this year is “Overwhelmed,” by Big Daddy Weave.  There have been so many ways I have seen God’s power and grace  this year, that I truly have been overwhelmed.  These include my friend’s healing from cancer, getting my first job (!), finding a general career path for my future, bonding within my class at school, getting a (free!) car, and looking at Creation.  I have been blessed beyond measure, and often forget that or take it for granted.

Overall, the biggest lesson I learned over 2014 was to trust God, that those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame. This theme started at the beginning of this year, but really was made clear to me early this summer, through a short passage in Isaiah 17,

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, 

And is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

            –Jeremiah 17:7-8

Here is quite a lengthy summary of my year, but it hits all the most important points.  It’s amazing what can happen over one year and the places I went with my life that I’d never imagined I would.

Clearing the Christmas Stage

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Right now much of the world is celebrating advent, especially in the United States, even if the people don’t know it. Advent, coming from the Latin word meaning “to come to,” is a season of waiting. Specifically, waiting for the coming of Christ. It is the season leading up to Christmas, a time of preparation.

As I write this, I am taking a break from doing my homework, part of my crazy, busy life. I have not posted a blog in a while, especially since I started my first job. This, on top of all my other activities and school, makes my life really busy. Isn’t everyone super busy during this time?

My new favorite song is “Clear the Stage,” by Jimmy Needham. The first line of the song is, “Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze if that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols.” This line references the typical Sunday setup for “worship.” All the extra stuff is great, but it’s worthless, even an idol, if it distracts from its true purpose, to usher people into worship. The same could be said of the business in preparation for Christmas.

Christmas is the season of giving, hence all the rush for the endless list of Christmas presents and groceries for Christmas meals. What most of us forget, however, is how Christmas became the season of giving. It started with God, who gave his only son to ransom men from death. He did not come as he should have, a king demanding worship, but as a tiny baby, born to a poor Jewish girl of Nazareth. More than that, he was born in a stable, among the animals, and his first visitors were shepherds, the lowliest of all working men.

With all our shopping lists, planning, and parties, do we take time to stop and prepare our hearts for the savior? Jesus came two thousand years ago, yes, but during advent, Christians and everyone else should be preparing themselves for his second coming, when he will come as a triumphant king.

Can we each take a moment and reflect on God’s many gifts?  Can we remember that night when the most high God came into the world in the form of a helpless infant?  True, December 25 is not Jesus’ actual birthday, but it is the date on which we choose to celebrate it.

Can we replace our Martha attitude of crazy business in preparation for a holiday with a Mary Magdalene- like spirit which is content to sit for a while at the feet of our Savior, listening to His word?

I believe that the best thing I can do this Christmas season is to take some time to spend in quiet reflection over my Bible, journal, even this blog, and think about what God did.  I hope you take some time this season to clear what can become idols of business and stress out of your heart and replace them with the peace of the Savior, Jesus Christ as we wait to celebrate His coming.

Merry Christmas!

A Lesson From the Smokies

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My family recently when on vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  While there, we went on a hike in Smoky Mountain National Park.  It was a beautiful hike, and on the way up, I thought about how similar the hike was to the spiritual walk of a Christian.  I am not the only one who has made this sort of comparison.  Paul did in Hebrews 12, when he says “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”(ESV).

The mountain itself could be considered time and life, so hiking up the mountain would be walking through life.  The steep upward trails represent the hard times and the trials, which make the level and downward paths so much sweeter.  Furthermore, with a backpack to carry, it makes the upward hike so much harder.  The backpack could represent a struggle or spiritual burden, weighing down the believer to the point of exhaustion.  When a friend carries that burden with you, through prayer and fellowship, it makes the climb so much easier.

One could be so focused on climbing up the trail and making it to the top, that he or she might not stop to see the beautiful view.  Just because we have to go through life, which takes work, does not mean we cannot stop for a minute and look at the big picture.  In fact, if one does not stop to see the big picture, the distant mountain which reflects the one which he is climbing, one would become frustrated by the difficulty of the climb and would be tempted to give up.

One might also be tempted to give up if one hikes up the mountain alone.  Without encouragement from others, a person would feel lonely and have no one to share struggles with, or to lean on when he gets tired.

The climb is tiring and difficult, but it is worth it.  At the top of the trail, our party sat at a beautiful waterfall, a place of rest.  From there, we could see the other mountains.  This place of peace could represent the end of life, as a believer slips from this life into the arms of Jesus.  He is the one who gives his children energy to climb the mountain and the perseverance to finish the hike.  Without the struggles, his people would not realize how sweet rest with him is.  This is why he lets them go through struggles and hard times, for it draws them closer to him.

This is the lesson that I learned while hiking in the mountains, to persevere through trouble, for at the end of this troublesome life is perfect rest.

Emma 

Outside: A Tribute to My Childhood

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With summer just around the corner, green is seen everywhere and the temperatures are rising.  Yesterday, my family decided that it was time to do some much-needed yard work.  We pulled weeds, pruned the hedge, and mowed the lawn.  My final job was to clear out an area in our backyard that was overgrown with new trees and bushes.

I have basically grown up in this house, and I have loved the yard.  Me and my siblings would crawl behind the hedge and play hide-and-seek, and we used to have a swing set.  I spent hours outside in later elementary and middle school.  Those hours were filled with tree-climbing, basketball, exploring, swinging, and singing.  That little wooded area in my backyard formed a little tunnel through which I would duck and be transported into a magical world of my imagination.  I though of all of this I cut down that very tunnel, creating a hole where there had been life.  It felt like I was destroying the wardrobe to Narnia.

My backyard’s landscape sparked many adventures throughout my childhood, and it was a little sad to watch it get cleared up.  However, there was something beautiful about watching this landscape change.  It reflects how I myself have changed over the years.  Once, my life was cluttered by selfishness, self-love, rebellion, and many other sins.  Since my salvation, the Spirit has removed those, cutting down one weed at a time to turn me into a beautiful garden of grace.  It is not easy, but it is good.

I will be an adult before too long, and I’ll have more responsibilities than ever.  It will not be easy, but it will be good.  This is a short tribute to my childhood, to the fun I had, my joys, and my struggles.

Emma

Too Modest?

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I once asked a few of my girl friends, “Can you be too modest?”  All the girls agreed that yes, one can be too modest.  They thought that one could be too modest by being covered up from head to toe.  This, they explained, was too modest because at that point a girl is drawing attention to herself, at least in American culture, by being so covered up.  However, by drawing attention to herself, is a girl being truly modest? I disagreed with my friends, I believe that one can never be too modest.

Dictionary.com defines modesty as, “the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.”  The definition that I want to focus on is “freedom from vanity.”  True modesty is humility. Typically when people think of modesty, they think about girls who wear full-length, hideous dresses.  This is sad because it distracts from the fact that true modesty is undenyingly beautiful. Modesty is beautiful first in a person’s heart.

The only human being who was truly modest was Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Though no other human beings are perfect, when a Christian is following hard after Christ, he or she can lose herself and be humble. When that Christ-like humility flows out of one’s heart and into one’s words and actions, people notice.  When a boy or girl talks to others in a humble manner, others are attracted to Christ.  Denying oneself for someone else is another expression of that modesty.

Finally, our clothing should be modest.  If a person is truly humble, he or she will want to glorify God in his or her dress.  This means dressing beautifully and modestly.  Do not sell yourself short, but do not purposely dress to impress either.  Think of your brothers and sisters in Christ when you dress, because honoring Christ should be your first thought and honoring your Christian brothers and sisters your second.

There is my opinion on modesty, hope it made you think!

Emma

You Can’t Deny It

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Throughout their lives, many people deny various truths.  They do this because they are uncomfortable with or threatened by the truth.  In the end, it helps no one to deny the truth.

A truth that people have denied throughout the ages is that there is a fundamental problem with them and the world around them, the problem of sin.  Even if they acknowledge this truth, they deny that sin has consequences, or even if they accept this truth, they deny the way to be freed from the consequences of sin.  In short, people deny the gospel.

Men deny the gospel because of their hardened hearts, they do not want to have to admit that they have to rely on a savior, Jesus Christ, for salvation.  This is why, people over the ages have denied that Jesus is truly God.  If Jesus is truly God, then men must acknowledge that they are sinful and that they need the salvation of Jesus.  People just say that Jesus was a good man.  One should automatically know that this statement is false if one knows anything about Jesus or what he said.

Jesus claimed to be God, so he could not simply be a good man.  He was either lying, and was therefore a bad person, not God but believed he was, thus insane, or he was telling the truth.  This is the simple argument put forward by philosopher and apologist C.S. Lewis.

Was Jesus a liar?  Besides claiming that he was God, all of Jesus’ statements have been recognized as truth.  Furthermore, Jesus was a humble and truly good person.  Liars are not humble people, nor are they known for doing good deeds.  What did Jesus have to gain by claiming to be God?  In fact, he made a lot of enemies and was eventually crucified because of this claim.  A wise man would have recognized the consequences of such a claim.

Was Jesus crazy?  Afterall, he claimed to be divine!  Surely that is an insane statement.  However, Jesus showed himself to be wise in his discussions with the Pharisees and Saducees.  He was able to answer every one of their challenges.  Jesus also performed astounding miracles, miracles that would have to come from God when put with such truthful teaching.  Therefore, it does not make sense that Jesus was a lunatic.

In conclusion, one can see that Jesus fit one of three categories, he was either a liar, insane, or God.  As shown above, Jesus was neither a liar nor insane.  Therefore, Jesus must have been and still is God.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” -John 8:58