Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"The Thing My God Doth Hate"

The thing my God doth hate
That I no more may do,
Thy creature, Lord, again create,
And all my soul renew:
My soul shall then, like Thine,
Abhor the thing unclean,
And, sanctified by love divine,
For ever cease from sin.

That blessed law of Thine,
Jesus, to me impart:
The Spirit's law of life divine,
O write it in my heart!
Implant it deep within,
Whence it may ne'er remove;
The law of liberty from sin,
The perfect law of love.

Thy nature be my law,
Thy spotless sanctity,
And sweetly every moment draw
My happy soul to Thee.
Soul of my soul remain!
Who didst for all fulfil,
In me, O Lord, fulfil again
Thy heavenly Father's will.

This is one of Charles Wesley's shorter and simpler hymns and, perhaps with reason, one of his lesser known ones. A fairly good part of the reason for its forgotten status is our habit of identifying songs by their first line. "The Thing My God Doth Hate" is not a very encouraging beginning. If you were going to get modern people to sing it, you would have to entirely recast it. And add a chorus. Because choruses make everything better. Seriously.

However, whether anyone ever sings it or not, there is something of value to be gained from this hymn. And that something of value is the solution to one of the primary problems of modern Christianity--also, coincidentally, one of the central ideas of Wesleyan theology.

Modern Christianity confronts a serious problem as it tries to win the world (I would say the "modern" world, but I don't think this is a specifically modern problem). Many people do not believe Christ can really do in His people what His people claim He can--but this is not the problem I mean. The problem is that so many people do not want it done, even if it could be done. It is not just that people do not believe in God or His gift, but that they do not want the gift. Christianity claims broadly to give men the power to be "good." But who wants to be good? The tagline for a children's video game put the modern attitude very well: "It's good to be bad." The promised virtues of Christianity seem repulsive and distasteful and even, to some, positively immoral. The world sees traditional Christian ideals of good and right as irksome, meaningless burdens--and Christians, being the obliging people they are, often agree. The proud man calls meekness 'lack of spirit.' The vengeful man calls forgiveness 'weakness.' The egoist calls charity 'bleeding-heart liberalism' or, sometimes, 'hard-nosed conservatism.' (It varies.) And for every such man, there will be some Christians who will echo his cry out of social sympathy. To all such people, the whole Christian claim to allow men to become good seems a mockery. To them, even if it were possible, it would be a continual frustration of natural inclination, a continual quashing of their ideals, a sort of insane hypocrisy in which one pretends to hate what they love and love what they hate. They feel--and some Christians seem to feel--that even if we pursue virtue as a necessity, we ought to be able to have a holiday of sin every once and a while. I was recently in a service where a preacher was illustrating the armor of God by dressing his young son in pieces of armor. The piece representing the Breastplate of Righteousness was an over-sized, heavy net of chain mail, rather two large for the boy--and when his father asked if he wanted to wear it, he replied with a firm no. And many people today, when offered the Breastplate of Righteousness, respond the same way.

This is the present state of affairs in the world and the church and there is only one answer to it. That answer begins with God: "Thy nature... Thy spotless sanctity." God's nature is the source and standard of all things. We can make up our own terms for virtue just like we made up the names of the numbers, but we cannot change what virtue is any more than we can stop 2 and 2 from equaling 4. God's nature is the only standard by which anything can be judged and which predates all judgments. We can chose to dislike it, but we cannot rationally call it wrong or bad--since it alone gives a standard by which to call anything wrong or bad.

If there is a God--if there is a transcendent standard by which all things and all standards are judged--then our tasks, as contingent creatures, is to submit to and align with that standard. We ought to hate "The thing my God doth hate... Abhor the thing unclean." To do otherwise nearly amounts to a contradiction in terms.

But that truth is that we often don't see it that way. Often the thing God requires--the thing which is, therefore, in the nature of things necessarily required--seems hard and repellant. I am not talking about moments when there is an honest question about what is the right thing. Nor do I mean those time when some other thing interferes to make our task difficult, as weariness makes it hard to perform an act of charity which, otherwise, we would delight in doing. That is a a different matter. What I mean is that often the very essence of what God says we should do is not what we want to do, and may seems, superficially, like something we ought not to do. For instance, a man whose friends or family have been grievously hurt by someone may feel that to forgive the wrong doer is a sort of betrayal to those hurt. Or, again, to do an act of charity to someone who doesn't deserve it may seem like a kind of impurity, a defiling of value. (Remember how the Priest and the Levite refused to help the injured man on the Jericho Road?) Even if we do the right thing under these circumstances, it may seem like a burden and we just wish for one minute God would turn His back so we could do what we really want.

There are two solutions to this attitude. One is intellectual and primarily involves reading the Bible and blog posts like this one. But the other side is the deeper and more fundamental side--and it is the side which this hymn speaks of. We naturally have some knowledge of and desire for virtue (=Preveneint Grace), but the natural man's knowledge is spotty and corrupted by his nature. The only solution is a whole, new start. "Thy creature, Lord, again create,/And all my soul renew." This is the promise of Christianity and, especially, of Wesleyan theology--that we can be remade like God; that we may be "sanctified by love divine." Mere conformity to the law, even when possible, would be misery. Paul makes this clear in Romans 7. Whether Paul speaks there of sinners or Christians is irrelevant--probably he means both--the point is simply that merely having a law of right and wrong is not enough to change us and make us obey the law and, certainly, not happy in obeying it. There is only one answer: "That blessed law of Thine,/Jesus, to me impart:/The Spirit's law of life divine,/O write it in my heart." Our only hope and duty is to be filled with and transformed into the image of God, so that we love what God loves and hates what God hates.

Many people have understood that man, as a transitory, contingent creature had a duty to align himself to transcendent, objective reality. But the message of Christianity is something more than that. We do not conform to reality by our own efforts nor does impersonal reality somehow coerce us. Our power is Jesus--"Soul of my soul." In His life and death He "didst for all fulfil"--learning obedience by what He suffered, doing the Father's will. If He is born in our hearts, then in "Thy heavenly Father's will" will be done, in us as it is in Heaven.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Physical Resurrection

In a previous article, I spent a good deal of time discussing the significance which the future resurrection has for our present life--it occurred to me afterwards that it might be necessary to say something in defense of the doctrine itself. Is there sound reason, biblically, to believe that such a thing as a physical resurrection is going to happen at all?

First of all, let's clear a few misunderstandings out of the way. The physical resurrection does not necessitate the old physical body as a starting point--it is not a simple metamorphosis. There is nothing in scripture to say that the resurrected body will take as its starting point the same atoms that the old body had when it died. Wesley argued somewhere that since God is omniscient, He could gather together the scattered remains of the body--and He could. And He may. More likely God will use the old body as a starting point if it's still intact and start from scratch when it is isn't. But this is all speculation and it does not affect one way or the other the doctrine of the resurrection itself. Just because we do not know where the resurrection body comes from is no proof that it cannot come at all.

Secondly, the resurrection of the body does imply some kind of a world. A physical body must have a physical world to inhabit. It might be something more than physical, but it could not be anything less. However, this does not mean that the present physical world will simply be “freshened up a bit” as, apparently, was the view of some Christians in a previous century. The Bible makes it very clear that the entire world as we know it--the entire time-space-matter continuum--is going to be destroyed. Destroyed but not, perhaps, annihilated. The case can be made that nothing is ever really annihilated and that the world will not be taken out of existence but rather experience something analogous to being melted down and reforged--or, better, of dying and being resurrected. In my previous article I said that the world would sink like a ship beneath the waves and then “will rise a new ship, gleaming in the sun.” That is one picture, but sometimes the Bible seems to imply a different one. Jesus told the disciples in the paschal discourse that He was going to prepare a place for them--not that at some point in the future He would transform the world into a place for them. The same picture seems to be in John's sight of New Jerusalem descending to earth from heaven. It may be symbolic, but symbols point to something. It is as if Christ is preparing something for us which will someday be joined to this world, transforming both into something new. Paul does not say that this mortality will give way to immortality nor that this mortality will be transformed into immortality, but that this mortality will “put on” immortality. But, again, all this is speculation and the truth or falsehood of any of this does not impact the doctrine of the resurrection itself.

What, then, is the doctrine of the physical resurrection? It is simply this: at some point in the future, those who have died in Christ will receive, in some manner, a body, physical in its basic composition and yet somehow different from the old body. For that matter, those who are alive in Christ will also have the privilege of being resurrected without going through the bothersome preliminary of dying. The wicked dead and (if there are any by that point) the wicked living will also be given a resurrection body at that point or at some later point--but about this we are told next to nothing in Scripture, not even enough to say how similar it will be to the resurrection body of the Christian.

The reason for the physical resurrection is obvious. God made man as a physical/spiritual being. That is what it means to be a man--it means to have a body and to have a soul, just as it means to have two legs and two arms. A man can live without two legs; he may do great things and be a useful member of society. But he is not, in one sense, a complete man. And man as a disembodied spirit may do good things and have good experiences--but he is not a complete man. “Human beings are... intended to be the meeting place of matter and spirit, and a human without a body is not fully human.” (Purtill, 126) That is why both the wicked and the righteous will be raised and judged and in their body suffer their punishment or reward--because that is the end fitting to our species.

Now, it is clear that the resurrection body will not be exactly the same as the present body, any more than a flower is exactly (or even remotely) like a seed. It will be similar and yet have a distinct glory, just as the sun, the moon, and all the stars are broadly similar and yet distinctively different. (1 Corinthians 15:35-41) We might compare this present body to an artist's sketch and the resurrection body to a completed masterpiece. The two are very different in detail and composition--they may exist in entirely different media--and yet they are also obviously the same thing.

However, one primary objection surfaces. Wayne Jackson comments that at the resurrection, the “dead bodies that come forth from the grave will be 'spiritual,' and not 'physical'” and cities as proof 1 Corinthians 15:44, where Paul states of the body that “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” This concept--that our future hope is that of a body that 'spiritual' and not 'physical'--is fairly common, if not explicitly spelled out, in modern Christianity and is worth looking at. (Indeed, I am somewhat confused on this point. Sometimes modern Christianity speaks of the Heaven as being entirely spiritual and sometimes as being entirely physical--either both views have their proponents or many people confusedly hold both or people hold one view but fall into the language of the other or perhaps they have found some deeper synthesis.) In order to do so, we will have to look at the whole New Testament concepts of flesh and Spirit, which is important enough to merit discussion anyway.

First, it may be helpful to put in clear terms what we generally mean by the difference between physical or material and spiritual. The following summary from Richard L. Purtill puts it fairly clearly. “Rocks and rivers are purely material; they occupy space and are subject to such physical laws as gravitational attraction. God and angels are purely spiritual; they have no location in space and are not subject to the laws that govern the behavior of matter. Human beings are both material and spiritual... Activities such as running require a body; activities such as thinking requires a spirit. Human beings can both run and think. Angels can think but not run, rivers can run but not think.” (126) It may be that these categories of our are completely wrong and do not correspond to reality. But it is from within such categories that the discussion about the physical resurrection takes place.

There is a fairly common idea that states, usually not in exact terms, that our physical bodies are the organs of sin or at least temptation and that when the Bible tells us to walk after the Spirit and not after the Flesh, it is speaking of some conflict between our spirit and our physical body. Immediately we think of how sins such as gluttony, drunkenness, and fornication are linked to our bodily natures--to the functions we share in common with the animals. It is compelling point of view--until one stops to think about it steadily for about five minutes. And then you realize just how absurd it really is. It may be true of the three sins above mentioned, but when Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, he mentions other kinds of sin too--social sins like hatred, emulations, and strife; intellectual sins like seditions and and heresies; and spiritual sins like idolatry. And even in the case of drunkenness and fornication, the body is the means of the sin and the source of temptation, but it is not the sin itself. Indeed, even as the source of temptation I think it may be overrated. I am doubtful as to how many people become drunkards merely out of physical thirst, and I am next to positive that nearly as many people are led into fornication by societal expectations, corrupted mental imaginations, and hubris as by merely physical lust. Clearly, by flesh, the New Testament does not, at least in every case, mean physical or material. And if it does not, then Spirit (which is usually put in opposition to flesh) should not be understood as nonphysical or immaterial, either.

Of course, for Paul, Spirit is not a name for an immaterial substance in philosophy--it is the name of a person, the name of God. It is not merely spirit, as such, but the Spirit of Christ. We have two choices, Paul makes clear--to follow our “flesh” or to follow the Spirit of Christ. In other words, flesh is not the opposite of spirit, as such, but of God. Flesh, for Paul, does not mean our physical body but our unregenerate nature, our “old man”--the man we were, all of us, before we came to Christ and which we will be again if we turn from Christ--the old usurper who had seized the throne and will seize it again the instant the King departs. That is why we must be continually filled with the Spirit--for if we aren't, we will fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

It is in light of this that we can understand Paul's comment that the resurrection body will be a spiritual body. It should have been clear from the outset that this does not mean a immaterial body, since a body “that is unextended and intangible would have been a contradiction in terms for the apostle.” (Craig, 157) What do people mean if they say the resurrection body will be spiritual and not physical? I am afraid they are thinking in comic-book pictures--of a body drawn with dotted lines to show that it's invisible. If Paul had meant to speak of a non-physical immortality, he would have just talked of a spiritual spirit and not dragged the body into it at all. A nonphysical resurrection is not a resurrection at all. Paul is following his usual wording--the resurrection body (of the righteous, for that is what Paul is speaking of here) is spiritual in the sense that it submitted to and empowered by the Spirit of God. It is “'spiritual' in the sense of orientation, not substance. The resurrection body will be an immortal, powerful, glorious, Spirit-directed body, suitable for inhabiting a renewed creation.” (Craig, 157)

However, there is a stronger case to be made, and it goes back to the very essence of Paul's argument for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15--and to the central Biblical case for the physical resurrection. And that is the connection between our resurrection and Christ's resurrection. Rather, Paul's argument seems to be that there is no “our resurrection.” There is only Christ's resurrection, and we share in it. (And perhaps the wicked are caught up unwillingly and hatingly in the outermost rim of that Resurrection? But this too is speculation.) Paul's whole contrast between the natural body and the spiritual body follows through with a contrast between the first Adam, with whom we share our natural life, and the second Adam, Christ, who was a quickening spirit and whose image we will bear. But Jesus' resurrection was clearly physical--He told Mary Magdalene not to touch him which would have been pointless if He couldn't be touched; He told Thomas to place his hands in His scars; and He even ate with His disciples, specifically to prove that He was bodily present and was not a disembodied spirit. No doubt His body was different from His old body. Most likely, His body will different from ours (since He is the captain and we only His followers). But if we share in His Resurrection, then our resurrection must be of the same essential type with His. He had a physical body--but He has it still--and so will we in the resurrection, for we will be made like Him.

Craig, William Lane. “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” 141-176 in Jesus Under Fire, Wilkins and Moreland, ed., Zondervan, 1995.

Jackson, Wayne. "Will Heaven Be on Earth?" ChristianCourier.com. Access date: May 27, 2017. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1353-will-heaven-be-on-earth

Purtill, Richard L. C. S. Lewis's Case for the Christian Faith. Harper and Row, San Francisco: 1985.

"Jesus Under Fire"


Jesus of Nazareth. He is one of the most well known people in history. Even though he had no great political or literary role in life, countless people know His name and even recognize His words. His life and ideas have permeated our world and are still the source of reflection and interest. Some people hate Him, some people revere Him, and some worship Him as God and believe He is the focal point of reality and the only hope here and hereafter. But all of this presupposes that we know something about Him. But do we--can we know anything about Him? Was the the real Jesus of Nazereth someone completely different and unlike from the picture preserved for us in the writings of His followers? That is to say, was the Jesus of History someone different from the Jesus of Faith? Some scholars claim that He was--that the Jesus we know is not the Jesus who really lived (just as,if King Arthur actually existed, he was probably someone very different from the King Arthur we know and love from the traditions and legends that grew up about him.) The book Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Wilkins and Moreland, Zondervan, 1995) is an attempt to answer such questions, to show that there is valid reasons for supposing the Christian scriptures and traditions accurately portray the historical Jesus.

There are two opening notes that need to be made about this book. First, it is a collection of individual chapters or articles written by different people, including Darrell Bock, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig. The variety of authors makes it difficult to say anything in general about the style. Some of the chapters are in a more, easy popular style while some (Craig's in particular) are very technical and perhaps a little dry. Moreover, while there is a general outline of the book, there is some overlap because of the varied authorship. So, for instance, there are three separate (though essentially similar) discussions of Josephus's testimony about Jesus.

The second note is that this book is largely written in response to the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who attempted to rethink and publicize a new image of Jesus, claiming that the version of Jesus known by most modern people is not the “the real Jesus” (2) A significant portion of the book is directed against the Jesus Seminar and some of its leading figures, such as J. Dominic Crossans and Marcus Borg. The authors of this book specifically challenge the Jesus Seminar on several counts: they are not (as they claim) representative of Biblical scholarship (19-20), they employ arbitrary and unrealistic standards in their study of Jesus (20-21, 127-128), and they contend that the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas is not only as accurate as the canonical gospels but significantly earlier (22). A large part of the book seems intended to “cast serious doubt on [the Jesus Seminar's] claims to speak for a consensus of modern scholars.” (25) This is an important part of the book, firmly dating it (the book is over twenty years old and the Jesus Seminar is ten years older). Thomas Oden is quoted on the back of the cover as saying: “The Jesus Seminar is the creation of a media-culture looking for a story.” As such, it was destined to be a brief sensation and, so far as I know, is no longer a vocal or especially relevant force. As such, there are some portions of this book which are somewhat irrelevant. However, the central question the Jesus Seminar raised and the question this book seeks to the answer--can we know anything about the Jesus of History?--is still very much alive and the insight the book gives us on that is still relevant.

What can we know of Jesus? We do have testimony about him from early Jewish and Roman sources which establish the some facets of his life. (These are dealt with throughout, but especially in chapter 8). We have evidence that he was the brother of James, that he worked miracles, and that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. However, the main the source for information is the early texts written to record his life and actions--the four gospel. Craig L. Blomberg, in the first chapter, deals with the reliability of the gospels. He argues that there is good internal and external evidence for dating the synoptics, at least, “within about thirty years of Christ's death... and well within the period of time when people could check up on the accuracy of the facts they contain.” (29) The rest of book seeks to examine the nature of and evidence for the record of Christ--the works He did, the words He said, the miracles He performed and His Resurrection from the dead.

Perhaps the most interesting and important part of the book is that it tackles head on the question: Are the Gospels intended to be accurate history and, if so, in exactly what sense? It seems that the gospel did intend to record accurate history (as Luke makes clear in his preface). The fact that the gospel writers wrote for a specific religious purpose does not undermine their ability to write history. Most history in the ancient world was not “dispassionate history;” men recorded events that they believed were significant for some reason--if there was no significance, “why bother to record and pass on the story”? (36-37) Since they were written for a purpose, the authors used their own judgment to summarize and arrange material, but that does not mean they simply made things up as they went along.  The fact that there are slight differences between the Gospels does not destroy their historical nature--they are only to be expected and in some cases were intentional as the various writers told the same story for different purposes, highlighted one aspect or another. “In the beginning there were no tape recorders, but that does not mean that the oral transmission of Jesus' words in the Gospels was haphazard and uncontrolled.” (94)

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Haunted Galaxy: Chapter 9


[White's Journal. Sixth of Epiphany, Anno Domini 3172.] Our mission in the Altayra System was going badly. We escaped the Nadirite trap at the Guidance Beacon, but I was forced to face the realization that there might be a traitor among us, though Gold was still unconvinced. Hoping to find the materials we needed to fix the Guidance Beacon, we traveled to a nearby village, where we were caught in the middle of a local riot. We were just getting ready to fly away, when the scene was interrupted by Altayra's ruler, Princess Valencia.

Clearly, the last thing anyone expected was the appearance of the princess. The guard took a step back and for a moment seemed unsure whether he should kneel or not--the next, he rushed to stand protectingly at her side, but she waved him away. The crowd froze for just an instant, and then as one man moved back from the entrance.

“Your highness!” one of them exclaimed in surprise and something like awe.

“We are fully aware of your concerns.” Valencia spoke clearly, her voice carrying like a tolling bell in the silence of the night. “Justice will be done. Your complaints shall be vindicated--You have our royal word for that. But this kind of riot will solve nothing. Injustice cannot bring about justice. You know that.” She raised her head. “If you fight the law in Altayra, you fight me, as your princess.”

For a moment or two there was silence. Then, with a strange quickness, the crowd melted away. Only then did Valencia turn away from the entrance. She glanced at the guard. “Thank-you for your service. You may be at ease. I do not think we will be troubled again tonight.” Then she walked down to the table where the Corps, still in their armor, were standing.

“I must apologize,” she said, with a slight inclination of her head. “As visitors, I am sorry that you would be inconvenienced by our local troubles.”

Gold acknowledged the apology with a stiff bow. “No apology is needed, your highness.”

Red gave a bow that was deeper and more polished. “We should apologize for not coming to your aid.” This was spoken in a formal, almost courtly voice that was very different than Red's normal voice. Though the next instant he added, in his usual voice, “Though I guess you didn't need it, did you? Still, we should've helped. We could have cleared out that rabble quick enough.”

“No.” Valencia's face was troubled. “I would not have wanted you to fight them. These are my people, after all. And they are in the right.” And she smiled--it was like the change from a dreary night to a bright day. “But there is no need for you to stand like that. Please, sit down.”

The Corps sat down again. Valencia looked as if she wanted to sit down, but there was no chair, so Red hastily stood up again and pulled a chair over for her, after which she sat down, carefully adjusting her dress. White noticed that she seemed to hold herself back slightly, as if trying to avoid getting too close to the rest of them. It must have been an ingrained response, however, since there was nothing standoffish in her manner.

Red leaned forward. “So did you come here to stop that riot? You knew it was happening?”

“I had no idea that it was happening, but I knew there was tension here in Hath'ellah.” She smiled, a little wanly. “I suppose with your experiences of the vast universe, you find it had to understand how seriously we take our little troubles here in Altayra.”

“No, I think that is only to be expected,” answered White, as the the princess seemed to expect some reply. But she had seen more of the world than any of the Corps, and it had enforced to her the reality that the more one knew about universal problems, the more concerned they would be for local problems.

Valencia seemed rather grateful for the response. “Here in Altayra, we have little unrest. But my royal ancestors, in an attempt to keep the peace, gave the local jailer great powers to protect the public order. They are like little despots, with the power to prosecute and even punish, even without formal trial.” She looked down at her hands, which were folded on her lap. “No person should have such absolute power, not even a king--certainly not a local jailer. That is what I believe.”

Once again she paused. This time it was Silver who filled in the gap. Raising his head, he spoke heavily but with a strange introspection. “No man is good enough to have complete power over another man, be he the purest man the gods ever made.”

White made a mental note that Silver was a more philosophical thinker than she had ever imagined--also, that his background was apparently polytheistic. She was not particularly surprised. Polytheism had had a revival in recent years and not just in rural planets like Silver's home--though usually (as polytheism usually is) it was just a mythological decoration on a deeper theism or a deeper atheism.

“Yes, that is what I have always thought,” Princess Valencia agreed. “And that is why--since the passing my royal father--I have been working to remove the power from these local officials. But though they had such power, for the most part they did not abuse it--at least, not too much. However, here Hath'ellah, the jailer was a very bad man who used his power both cruelly and selfishly--and when he learned of our royal order to remove his power, he attempted to fight it. He was arrested, of course, and is being held in the jail he once controlled--which is located within that building--” she added, motioning to the building behind the courtyard. “However, the people of Hath'ellah still, justly, are angry with him and are wanting further punishment given to him. That is, I take it, the cause for the riot.” She paused, and for the first time seemed uncertain. “But that is not why I came here. I had not known the tension had reached this level.”

“Then why did you come?” asked Red.

“Because of the Guidance Beacon.” For just a moment she still seemed uncertain, and she raised her head and spoke with decision. “I was concerned with the report you brought that it was inactive. Neither I nor the Sages had heard any report of such a thing. I was afraid that something had happened to our people stationed there. So this afternoon, as soon as I could get away, I took one of our ships and came here. Hath'ellah has the best landing place on this planet; that is the only reason I was in this town to stop the riot.” She paused and glanced up at Gold. “You came to investigate the Guidance Beacon, correct? What did you find?”

Gold seemed a little uncertain how to answer. “It is inoperative,” he said slowly. “We are still diagnosing the problem--but Green--” he motioned to Green-- “believed we could find the materials to fix it here.”

“All the resources of Altayra are at your disposal, such as they are,” answered Valencia quickly. “But what of the workers at the station? Were they able to give you any information?”

Gold paused so long this time that Red answered. “We couldn't find any trace of anyone around the station.”

Gold nodded in confirmation as the princess glanced at him. White knew he hadn't wanted to say that--since the Sages had been trying to keep news of the disappearances from Valencia, Gold had felt bound to avoid the subject, but there was no point in denying it now that Red had made the statement.

Princess Valencia looked truly distressed. “But how could this have happened? You found no one at the station?”

Once again there was an awkward pause.

Valencia drew herself up and looked at all of them with a piercing gaze. “There is something else, is there not? Something you are keeping from me? I understand your loyalty is to Ursa Prime and you must have custody of many secrets--but if this concerns my people, you must tell me.”

“Well, somebody seems awfully obsessive,” remarked Black. This was the first time she had spoken since Valencia joined them, which must have taken a great deal of restrain for her. But she understood the importance of not unduly antagonizing the girl.

“Perhaps I am. But as the ruler of this system, it is my duty to be concerned for its safety.”

Gold took a deep breath. “I think this should be the Sages' job to tell you, but I'm afraid you will find out soon enough, anyway. We have every reason to believe the Guidance Beacon was damaged--and possibly your people were captured--by our enemy, the Nadirites.”

Na-dir-ites.” Valencia slowly sounded out the word, which was clearly a strange one to her. “What kind of people are they?”

“Bad, mostly,” answered Black. “Great tastes in color, though.”

“They are a terrorist cult which threatens the safety of both Ursa Prime and Draxmore,” Gold explained. “We have clashed with them several times in the course of our work.”

Valencia now looked very troubled. “And you say they are here in Altayra?”

“Yes. We were ambushed by them in the station.”

“And they are a powerful force?”

“Yes. They have a great many resources at their command.”

“Why would such people be here in the Altayra System?”

Gold shook his head. “We still don't know that. I had thought perhaps they were simply trying to destroy the link between Ursa Prime and Draxmore, but I'm not sure anymore. It seems that they've been working too long at this project ” He paused and looked at her. “You are not aware of anything that would draw attention to your system, are you? Anything special about your people or your natural resources?”

The princess laughed. “You are thinking of what Rothmar said this afternoon, aren't you? The Sages are rather paranoid with the idea of someone trying to steal our natural resources, but I think it is a pointless fear. We have some small stock of precious ores here in Altayra, but hardly anything to attract outside attention, especially from people as powerful as these Nadirites.” Then she looked thoughtful. “But if such people are here--it will mean war, will it not?”

“For us, it has already meant war, and I am sure we will meet them again. Erybus--the leader of this segment of the Nadirites--made it clear that he intended to fight us again.”

“That is what I feared. My people are simple, quiet people. Small riots such as you witnessed here are the closest we have come to war since my royal ancestors founded Altayra--before the fall of the homeworld. Though I think my people have the spirit to fight if need be, we do not have the resources, the weaponry, the vehicles.”

“Don't worry your highness,” Red interjected. “We're the Corps. We can take care of the Nadirites easily. You and your people won't have to worry about a thing.”

White frowned. She certainly hoped that was true, but so far they hadn't been doing very well at it. They had clashed with Erybus twice so far and hadn't been able to do the least damage to him or whatever plan he was working on.

Green had taken off his hat, as if in respect, when Princess Valencia joined them, but now (by nervous habit) he put it back on and fiddled with it. “If we can just get the Guidance Beacon back online, that should solve the problem. With that, we can call in for reinforcements from Ursa Prime.”

“I understand.” Valencia stood up. “Then let us see about that before we do anything else. You say it may be possible to find the materials here that you need?”

“That is my theory, your highness,” said Green, pulling his hat down a little lower. “Hath'ellah, as I understand it, is the largest village on Altayra Vorphintus and has a machinist's shop for the repair of ordinary machinery. I think it would have the raw materials I need to render the beacon active.”

“Then let us go at once. Guard!”

The guard who accompanied into the city had retired to the far end of the courtyard when Valencia joined them, but now he came down and bowed. “Your highness.”

“Take us to the machinist's shop.”

“As you will.”

The Corps also stood up and followed as Valencia and the guard moved towards the entranceway.

The street outside was very dark. Though most of the crowd had dispersed from earlier, there were still a few people out and about--more, really, than seemed natural for as late as it was.

But such people as there were all drew back respectfully and let them past. Many of them bowed or gave other token of respect to the princess, as she led the party down the street.

As they reached the end of the street, White was able to get a closer look at something they had seen from a distance before. When they first approached the town, she thought it was bordered on one end by a hill. As they approached it, she saw it was more like a low butte or plateau, with a flat top. There was a small rise in the street at the end of the town, so that they could get a good view of the top of the hill. To White's surprise, it was not simply more black rock. Instead, the top was a smooth, glistening circle of some metallic substance, something like bronze in color.

“What's that?” asked Red, staring at the hill in surprise.

“That is the receiving station.”

“Receiving? Like a landing strip or something?”

“No. The landing strip is that direction.” She motioned with one hand. “This is where the planet receives its energy.”

Gold frowned. “Its energy?”

“I know this must seem very strange, for I understand that most other systems are constituted very differently from this one. When my royal ancestors founded Altayra, the system seemed uninhabitable because of the lack of a central star. But in the planet of Altayra Conaurah they discovered what they needed. Perhaps you have heard of the cold energy cell which was designed here in Altayra?”

Green and White nodded. Green had mentioned it to the others, but apparently they hadn't remembered.

“It is build around the natural design of Altayra Conaurah. I am not enough of a scientist to explain to you how it is done, but somehow within the depths of that planet, vast amounts of energy can be produced, but only at cold temperatures. In some ways, Conaurah is almost like the stars of other planets, but it can produce energy only artificially and only in certain forms. And so,” she motioned to the hill, “as it passes through our system, it shoots out 'beams' of concentrated energy which strike receivers such as this one. The energy passes into subterranean formations and from there flows out in the veins you can see on the surface of the planet, providing us with the light and heat we require in order to subsist, as well as being harvest for other uses. The farms on Altayra Li can grow crops for us all only by this energy. Without Altayra Conaurah and its 'reactor' of energy, this system could not exist. And that is why--” her face darkened for a moment-- “that is why it must be preserved, at any cost.”

“Is it in danger?” asked Red, sensing a strange note in Valencia manner.

She smiled. “We have experienced difficulty, but nothing which cannot be solved. And talking of that does not solve your problem. Come.”

They moved forward towards a large building set almost into the hill itself.

Green had been trailing behind the others as they walked and perhaps that was why he bumped into one of the people in the crowd. For the most part, the people in the town had been keeping their distance, but this particular one--a man in a full robe--was close enough that he and Green collided accidentally.

Green stumbled and fell to his knees. And in practically the same moment, he phased on his armor and vanished, shouting into his communicator (his voice more high-pitched than usual): “PHASE! It's an ambush!”

The Corps all turned to face him, confused by this sudden change. Almost automatically, they donned their armor, even though, for a moment, it seemed as if Green had been spooked and given a false alarm.

And then the man threw off his robe, revealing a figure inclosed in a glistening, metallic exoskeleton.

“Surprise!” said Maxwell, smiling.

“You're idea of a surprise attack is certainly fresh and novel,” remarked Erybus, appearing from inside a nearby doorway. “But I'm not sure entirely affective. Perhaps your strategy requires some more thought.”

“I thought we were supposed to be anarchists, right? So, you know, we shouldn't be using strategy and thought.”

“That is merely another trap of reason, Maxwell. In reality--”

“What are you doing here, Maxwell?” demanded Gold, almost rhetorically.

“Um, as he just said, this is a surprise attack. So I'm, you know, surprising you. And attacking you. In that order. I mean, that's pretty much implied in the term 'surprise attack.'”

“He does have a point,” agreed Black.

Princess Valencia seemed confused more than frightened, but she took a step back. “Are these the enemies of which you spoke?”

“One of them is,” answered Gold in a low, cold voice.

“The other is more like a minor annoyance.”

“Come on, really? Shouldn't you say that Erybus is at least, you know, a major annoyance? He is a high officer in the Nadirites. You should show some, you know, respect.”

Black face-palmed.

White's breathing was fast. Maxwell's patter was distracting them from their danger. She knew it. Something was wrong. Her head tingled as she glanced around and then she knew--there was something different about the townspeople than before. In the dim light she hadn't thought much about it, but it was there. These weren't the same as those they had seen when they entered the town or even those who had mobbed the courtyard earlier.

“Look out! We're surrounded. They're not alone.”

Four of the men in the crowd stepped into the light and stood at attention beside Erybus and Maxwell. In the light of the lamp directly above them, it was easy to see that though they wore rough tunics like those of the men in the village, these had only been thrown on over the black Nadirite uniform. Almost two dozen more moved in from the sides.

An instant later, out of darker shadows, six more figures moved to take a stand behind the Corps. These couldn't be disguised, since they were wearing the somewhat bulky powersuits. White was fairly certain these were some of the same who had attacked them earlier inside the station.

All in all, White didn't like the odds. On the trip to Hath'ellah, Gold had filled her in on some of the details of the battle they had with Erybus while she'd been absent. In that battle, they'd barely been able, with all their power, even to threaten the Nadirite commander. Having that threat combined with Maxwell and the power suits made for bad odds--even for the Corps. But that wasn't the main thing that worried White. Maxwell's specialty was using hostages or noncombatants as leverage. And not only where they in the middle of a crowded village, but they had right in the middle of them a perfect example of a hostage.

The princess.

She could sense that Gold was tense also. “What are you after, Erybus?” he asked, his voice cold and hard.

“It is nothing you could comprehend, Gold. There are realities that transcend the narrow confines of your little Code--your morals and your logic. As a great sage of the homeworld said, 'There are more things in the universe than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'”

“I don't think my philosophy dreams of anything,” Black remarked. “If I had a philosophy, I don't think it would be able to sleep that well.”

The Nadirite commander took a step forward, folding his hands together so that they become invisible in the sleeves of his robe. “However, you are practical people so let us move to practical things. My true goal here is beyond your comprehension. But if I said I want to beat you and your little play-army into a state of helpless pain--that is a comprehensible objective?”

Maxwell shook his head. “I think you're trying to be too, you know, high-class and distant. That's not really all that intimidating at all. I'd be more like 'You're going down, Corps,' and they'd be like 'We won't go down without a fight,' and I'd be like 'Even if you fight, you'll still go down and once your down I can, you know, step on you and push into the dirt' though it wouldn't be dirt on this planet, but more like rock but that'd hurt even more if someone was, you know, stepping on you and--”

“Silence!” For once, a flicker of annoyance shot across Erybus's face.

White couldn't help smiling behind her helmet. Maxwell could even break Erybus's urbanity.

Gold had ignored Maxwell and his interruption. “Yes,” Gold answered in a low, rough voice. “Yes, I understand that all right. But that assumes you can do it.”

“That is a comeback born of defiance and defiance is born of doubt. You should doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs--even if your beliefs are nothing but doubts.” Erybus withdrew his hands and placed them at his side. “But that is a matter to be settled by conflict. And there is something to be decided first.”

White was trying to gauge the man. He certainly seemed to love to talk. The most logical explanation for his long dialogue was that he was stalling--waiting for something or someone to arrive--or that he was trying to get them off guard so that his soldiers could come in with a sneak attack. Yet, his attitude didn't quite seem to match such a scenario, and there was no sign of anything like that happening.

“What?” Gold seemed tired of the parlay.

“My conflict is with you, Corps--and with the government you represent. Not with the Altayra System. It was unfortunately the place fate chose to be the arena for our battle, but the battle does not concern it--or its ruler.”

Princess Valencia stepped forward. “If your conflict is not with my people, than why are you here?” she asked, her voice perfectly calm. If she was unnerved by this mysterious enemy, she wasn't showing it.

“As I said before, none of you can comprehend the full scope of this conflict--none of you have grasped the sheer majesty of Oblivion enough to see the vast empty vistas of nothingness which comprise that which you call reality. But--” he added, as Gold moved impatiently-- “though it is impossible at the moment to move the theater of our battle, I have no wish to involve your highness. And that is why my men have not yet attacked, though we could have easily swarmed in and taken her before you seven had even had time to react.”

“What are you saying, Erybus?”

“I am saying that I will allow her highness to leave in peace before this battle begins. I have no reason to involve her in this conflict and you have my word that she will be safe if she leaves.”

Gold gave a short, ironic laugh, that was more like a grunt. “Your word? The word of a man who cheerfully admits that honor and morality mean nothing to him? Why in the Cosmos should we trust your word?”

“Well, it is all you have to trust at the moment, now isn't it?”

“I personally like letting my enemy smooth-talk me into a trap,” remarked Blue. “But that's just me.”

White had to agree. There was no reason to trust the Nadirite commander. She couldn't imagine any reason why the Nadirites would be concerned about not involving Altayra in their conflict. It wasn't as if the small, rural power could pose any threat to them. The only reason she could imagine for his wanting to protect the princess was that he hoped to win her over to his side. But that went very much against the usual modus operandi of the Nadirites. They were terrorists, not diplomatists. No, it seemed much more likely that this was some kind of trap.

Gold spoke into their private communicators, his voice low and quick. “I'll distract him for a few minutes--while he's off guard, White, you get the princess and fly her out of here as fast as you can. That's the only option.”

“But they're watching us too closely,” Red objected. “And if they shot the princess--she has no protection.”

White didn't like it, but she had to agree with Red. It wasn't a good enough plan--especially not if the Nadirites could perform a target lock on her again as they had before on their ship.

“It's the best shot we have,” answered Gold shortly--but White thought he didn't sound exactly pleased either.

“We can't do it.” Red's voice rose slightly in pitch. “They'll kill the princess if we do. We can't let anything happen to her.”

White sighed. The affect of a girl like Valencia on a boy like Red was one of those things so certain as to be practically predictable using basic math. But this situation was already complex enough and delicate enough without factoring in any emotional entanglement on Red's part.

Gold didn't answer Red immediately, which enforced the idea that he wasn't happy with his own plan. But before he could come up with another plan, the matter was taken out of their hands.

Princess Valencia strode forward to confront Erybus directly. “You say that your quarrel is with Ursa Prime and its representatives--not my people?”

Erybus bowed and nodded. “You are quite correct, your highness.”

“Then do not fight your battles in our villages.” Valencia spoke demurely but with a clear note of firmness and command. “There is no reason for it, is there? Your attempt at an ambush has failed and there is nothing to be gained by fighting here. There are vast stretch of empty territory on this planet in which you could fight without endangering either me or my people.”

For once, a flicker of surprise crossed Erybus's face. “That is a good deal to ask, your highness. Still, if that is your wish, we will fulfill it--if the Corps is willing.” He turned back to Gold. “Will you do it, Gold? You would leave the princess here and meet us just outside of Hath'ellah. As her highness points out, there are vast, unpeople sections of this planet where we can fight without endangering anyone but each other.”

Princess Valencia turned to Gold. She stood erect and regal, with her hands at her side and her head lifted just slightly. “I must ask you to accept his terms.”

Gold shook his head. “Your highness, you don't understand the Nadirites. The very idea of keeping a promise is foreign to them. If we leave you here, we will be putting you in danger.”

“And if you don't, you will be putting this entire town in danger. The choice is simple.”

Red's voice sounded desperately through the communicators. “It's clearly a trap. We can't risk it.”

Blue's voice was still emotionless, but it did have a certain emphasis to it. “But she has asked us to leave. We don't have a choice.”

“But--”

“SHUT UP!” Gold barked shortly. For just a moment there was silence, except for Green's heavy breathing. White knew he hated these kind of situations as much as Gold did, even though he didn't have to make the decision.

Then Gold drew himself up. “Broken Moon.” He spoke the words through their communicators in a low voice. Then turning to Erybus, he said, “As diplomatic representatives of Ursa Prime, we have no choice but to accept her highness's proposal.”

Erybus smiled, a little mockingly, but he accepted the concession silently with just a nod to show he understood.

“However,” Gold continued, in a cold, calm voice, “to ensure her highness's safety, I'm leaving Silver, Red, and Blue here with her. Green, White, Black, and I are more than sufficient to take down your little army.”

Erybus threw back his head and actually laughed. “Well played, Gold. If you are happy with the terms, I will accept them.”

Maxwell rubbed one hand against the back of his head. “But doesn't bargaining with your enemy sort of ruin the whole idea of them being your, you know, enemy?”

“You live by bargaining with your enemy, Maxwell,” Erybus answered shortly. “Now, come.”

“Corps! Action!” Gold ordered as Erybus turned to deliver order to his own troops.

The next moment, Green, White, Black, and Gold were in the air, flying at an angle out of the village, leaving Princess Valencia, along with Red, Silver, and Blue standing in the middle of the street--the street which was now empty as Erybus, Maxwell, and the Nadirite soldiers had begun their move also. Though Maxwell, Erybus, and the Nadirite powersuits all had the ability of flight, they seemed to chose to move along the ground, perhaps to keep pace with the Nadirite ground forces.

Broken Moon.

It was a phrase White hadn't heard in a long time. Very early in their time together as the Corps, Gold and Green had worked out a set of coded terms to be used by the Corps in battle. As time passed, their battle commands had become more simple and streamlined, and the old code words had faded away. But she still remembered what it meant. Gold's home planet had two moons, though traditions said they were only two fragments of a larger moon. Most of the time they remained so close together in the sky that they seemed a single satellite, but at certain points in their rotation, they separated and so could be seen from both sides of the planet at the same time. The phrase was a coded command for Green to use his armor's invisibility to be, seemingly, in two places at once--in this case, to keep watch on both the princess and her guard as well as staying alongside Gold and his group. It was a reasonable strategy. In the event that this was a trap, Green's unsuspected presence might be able to thwart it. White wasn't at all surprised at that--what seemed strange was Gold's decision to revert to the old code to give the order, when he could have just have easily spelled out the plan.

Was it possible that he was beginning to doubt the security of the Corps' communicators?

Her thoughts were strangely echoed when Gold spoke sharply through the communicators. “We're going to go dark. I want complete comm silence unless absolutely necessary. This should be a simple melee, win or lose. Just one question, Green.”

“Sir?”

“If Erybus is using Moreland's Intersect to battle himself, can he still syphon off part of it to protect his the power suits--as he did at the Guidance Beacon?”

Green had apparently already through through this, because he answered promptly. “We can't be certain without further data, but given that he doesn't have full access to Moreland's Intersect, it is highly doubtful that he can share much if any of its operation with his troop and still have any functional power left for himself.”

“Understood.”

“Really? Because I didn't understand a word.”

Gold didn't even bother answering Black. “Silence. Starting... now.”

*

There was an eerie feeling of anticlimax in the streets of Hath'ellah after the Nadirites and the four Corps members had left. Princess Valencia turned around and looked uncertainly at Red, Blue, and Silver. Her poise seemed to leave her for a moment. “I-I hope I have not put your friends in danger.”

For a moment, there was an expressive silence.

Valencia still stood with a note of regality, the note of someone used to giving commands. But she had placed one hand to her temple, as if trying to hold her head up. “But I do not see what other choice--”

Red interrupted her. “Don't worry about it, your highness. They'll be fine.”

“They're not the ones I'm worried about,” remarked Blue quietly.

The princess had folded her hands in front of her in an instinctive motion and was looking at them introspectively. She didn't seem to have heard either Red or Blue. “I do not see how--after all, with the safety of my people at risk--”

“I'm not worried about them, either.”

This time, Valencia definitely heard Blue. She looked up and there was a flash of hurt in her face. But she spoke gently. “Of course, I understand, you are strangers here--you have no reason to care what happens to the people of this town--”

Blue still spoke in a low, impassive voice. “I'm not worried about them because they aren't here.”

“What are you--”

“Be still!”

For a moment, nobody said anything. Valencia--who had stopped talking seemingly more out of shock at Blue's ordering her to than in obedience to the command itself--glanced around and her face took on an expression of awe. It was quiet. Deadly quiet. Not a single sound of any kind could be heard. Red had phased off his helmet and he and the princess both glanced around. Except for the lighted spheres along the street, there was no light in the city. And there wasn't a single person to be seen anywhere.

“I-it is late,” began the princess, a little helplessly. “I wouldn't expect there to be many people out--” But her words were weak and she knew it.

“This place was rioting a few minutes ago.” Red was awed and maybe a little scared. “And now--everyone's---everyone's gone.” He turned suddenly on Blue who stood with her helmet on. “They've disappeared! Just like the Sages said--just like what happened at the Guidance Beacon.”

“Disappeared?” repeated Valencia, almost as if the word were unfamiliar to her. And she added, “The Sages? Wait. Was this what they were speaking to you about this morning?”

Blue phased off her helmet for a moment and met the princess's gaze. “I'm from Ursa Prime and I don't know a lot about royalty or how to treat them. Maybe it's right for the Sages to keep you in the dark--Gold seemed to be willing to go along with them, anyway. But I think you're about to find out a whole lot of things whether you should or not.”

Valencia's eyes narrowed. “I will have to speak with Zortan and Rothmar about this later. But what is this thing they were keeping from me?”

Blue didn't answer immediately, so Red hurried into the gap. “Valencia, there have been mysterious disappearances around the Altayra System--ever since the Nadirite ships were sighted in the system, a couple of months ago.” He spoke quickly, but with an unusually (for him) subdued tone. He seemed unaware that he had slipped into calling the princess by name.

“Disappeared?” once again, Valencia repeated the word, almost as if she had never heard it before. “But--that's impossible. I have been told nothing.”

Blue nodded.

Valencia's eyes flashed for a moment. “The Sages have no right. I am the ruler of Altayra, no matter what the future holds. I cannot leave any unfinished business before the end.”

“The end?” repeated Red, blankly.

Valencia either didn't hear him or chose not to answer. “But--but if the people of Hath'ellah have disappeared--if the Nadirites have somehow stolen them away--then why did that Erybus agree to move his battlefield? There was no one here to endanger. My people may have already been... and does this mean I have placed your friends in danger for naught?” Valencia placed both hands on her head and for a moment swayed as if she were about to faint.

Red moved forward as if to catch her. In an instant, her poise was back and in one, instinctive motion she slapped his face.

Red stumbled back and his face turned red--both from emotional rather than physical causes. At the same moment, Valencia flushed also and she seemed confused and embarrassed. “I-I'm sorry. But it is forbidden for a stranger to lay hands upon a royal personage. I know you meant well--but the Sages could never forgive such a thing. It would mean trouble for all of you.”

Red's breathing was heavy. Blue phased off her helmet to give him a warning look.

It was lost on Red who was looking at the ground. For a moment, there was only a tense silence, and then he spoke simply in a low voice. “I understand. Sorry.” Then he glanced up. “Are you sure you're all right, though?”

“There is no need to trouble yourself. Perhaps the Sages were right that I am not strong enough to be out like this.” She turned back to Blue, who she seemed to view as the leader of the threesome. “But we cannot worry about that now. And we have other things to think of.”

Blue had phased her helmet back on, but there was a strange note to her voice which implied a frown. She still spoke in her ordinary impassive tone, but there was a definite undercurrent of concern. And she wasn't using sarcasm, which was almost as striking and dramatic as any positive she could have said. “There's nothing but static on the comm channel. Something's interfering with the signal. Which shouldn't be possible. Like most of the things Erybus and Maxwell have been doing. I can't pick up a trace of anyone in the area--but I'm not sure I can even trust that anymore, though.”

“What are you saying?” Valencia didn't know Blue well enough to realize how atypical her behavior was, but she could clearly tell that something was wrong.

The frown in Blue's voice deepened. “Erybus wanted all this to happen for a reason.” She took a sharp intake of breath and for a second there was dead silence. Then she spoke rapidly. “You told us about how this system of yours works. Your natural reactor on another planet 'beams' energy down into that receiving station back there. Right?”

“That is the basic set-up, yes.”

“When does that happen?”

Valencia closed her eyes for a moment in concentration. “For this planet it would be--well, any minute.”

Blue nodded. “That's what I was afraid of. We're going to have to run for it.”

Red and Silver both turned to Blue questioningly, clearly not understanding what she was talking about. Valencia's face seemed to freeze for a moment and then she turned. “Quickly. I know where we can go.”

She ran straight towards the gleaming hill of the receiving station.

*

The battle was both easier and harder than White had expected. Easier, because without Moreland's Intersect to protect them, the Nadirite powersuits weren't nearly as powerful as they had been the last time they fought. Erybus himself seemed more content to watch the battle than actually participate. Maxwell was active, but he didn't have a whole field of junk metal to work with this time and no bystanders to involve, so White didn't count him for as much of a threat as at their last encounter. On the other hand, the sheer number of the enemy made things difficult (she was certain more forces had appeared from somewhere during the course of the battle). Moreover, they were short-handed. She hadn't realized before just how much they depended on Silver for these kind of melee battles.

They had fallen into a simple pattern for the battle. Black went after the powersuits. The blades on her armor provided the quickest and easiest way to take them out, and she was agile enough to move in, attack, and move out without being in too much danger. White spent her time handling the Nadirite foot soldiers. Her speed allowed her to outmaneuver their weapons and take them out before they could react. Gold ran interference with both groups, but his main goal seemed to be to get to Maxwell and Erybus and take out the trouble at the source.

All in all, the three of them (White had seen any sign of Green since the battle began, so she wasn't sure where he was) were doing well, but the battle was no by means won. Things went on like this for some time, when suddenly it happened. There was a flash of light far away that, for a moment, made the night seem like day. At the same time, the ground around them seemed to shake and a low wall of rock (which ran along a side of the battle field) shuttered and collapsed.

For just a second, everyone seemed to pause. “What in the Cosmos was that?” asked Maxwell, glancing around.

“That was the broken chord of life--and of death,” Erybus answered with a strange smile.

“Was that one of your tricks, Erybus?” Gold moved forward slowly.

“Hardly that, Gold. That was the beam of energy from Altayra Conaurah, filling the core of this planet with the energy it needs to supply itself with life.” He bowed his head slightly. “Unfortunately, I fear we left some refuse in space which may have intercepted the beam and changed its intensity and trajectory, as light when it hits a convex surface.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Black. The three members of the Corps had fallen naturally into a sort of formation, facing Maxwell and Erybus.

“I mean, I fear that ordinary harmless beam has probably wiped the entire village of Hath'ellah off the surface of the planet, destroying your one hope of fixing the Guidance Beacon. Also no doubt destroying her highness and your three friends.” He bowed his head farther. “May Oblivion have mercy on their non-existent souls.”

Maxwell glanced at him with a look of shock. Obviously, he had no more idea of Erybus's plans than the Corps did. “So that's what all this was about? Huh.” He turned to look at White, Black, and Gold--and shrugged his shoulders. “Well, then. Surprise!”

To be continued...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Escape from Evangelicalism (Part Three)

Evangelicalism does not mean simply 'believing the gospel' any more than nepotism means the worship of nephews. To say all Christians are evangelicals (because they all believe in the gospel) is like saying we are all Pentecostals because we believe in Pentecost or that we are all Calvinists because we are willing to admit the historical existence of John Calvin. But even these parallels are not entirely fair, for a Pentecostal does mean a person who believes a specific thing about Pentecost and its significance, but an Evangelical (in modern America) does not mean someone who believes one specific thing about the Gospel. Rather, Evangelicalism today means a conglomeration of unconnected ideas, tendencies, and attitudes which permeate the mass of Protestant American Christianity. Of the essential idea which kindled evangelicalism, that thing which is the common link between Edwards and Wesley (perhaps best expressed in Edwards' “Divine and Supernatural Light”), I have nothing here to say--first, because there is no space in this article and, second, because I do not think it has very much to do with modern Evangelicalism. Things might be better if it did. There are various teachings which do form essential parts of Evangelicalism which I would be more than happy to attack at some other time--things like Darbyism and “Eternal Security”--but it is not my intention to do that here. My intention is rather to try to build a solid doctrinal center as a starting place for our new path, once the doomed ship of American Evangelicalism has sunk beneath the waves. And to do that, we have to start at the beginning--the beginning of the Christian faith in any meaningful sense--and that is with the Resurrection.

The Resurrection was the cornerstone of the early church; their evangel was that God hath raised Jesus from the dead. Though we still believe in the Resurrection, it has lost its urgency and central importance. In part one of this article, we discussed the fact that without an emphasis on the resurrection, we lose sight of the practical purposes of salvation. Christ did not merely die to put away our sin; He also lives again to give us new life. Along with that, is the doctrine of the church--for Jesus lives not only to give us new life individually, but to give new life for the church which His body. In part two, we discussed the humanity of Christ. It was “that man” whom God raised. (Acts 17:31) Because of the essential and perpetual humanity of Christ there is an essential and perpetual dignity and honor to humanity, as such.

But there is another and more obvious implication of the Resurrection. With Jesus standing alive before the now-empty tomb, the one obvious fact was the fact of victory. Christus Victor. The Resurrection--resurrection, in general, for that matter--is a good picture of victory, bringing up all the emotional tones that gather around the concept of victory. But the Resurrection is not merely involved with the emotion of victory. In the Resurrection, Christ literally and objectively proved Himself victorious, over sin (by bringing atonement), over Satan (by foiling his plans for the world), and over death (obviously). This is the simple fact of what happened in the Resurrection. And while Jesus, as God, was in principle superior to all these things anyway, in His death and resurrection He proved that superiority. He now has not only the right of succession, but the right of conquest. And it can be argued, by the by, that for the New Testament, Christ's rule over this world and especially His final judgment is (now) not in virtue of being the Creator God but of being the Conquering Man, the Second Adam.

But the Resurrection of Christ does not mean His victory alone for we, as His joint-heirs, share in His victory.  “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57) Because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, His victory becomes our victory.

This can be seen most obviously in the doctrine of our Resurrection. Paul makes it very clear that there is no separating the idea of Christ's Resurrection from our Resurrection. There is a purely rational or apologetic reason for this (since any objection which can be raised against our resurrection would be equally valid against Christ's), but there is also a more fundamental, metaphysical reason. In a certain sense, there is no point in talking about “our” resurrection or “our” victory. The only victory is Christ's victory, but we share in that as we share in Christ. Our Captain alone won the victory, but all the army may share in the spoils. We will be raised because Christ is risen and Christ is in us.

The Resurrection of the Body is a subject which is curiously shoved aside in Evangelicalism though formally taught. It may because of our tendency towards dualism, our tendency to depreciate physical things. It may because of our disregard for humanity and human experience (as we discussed previously) for one of the main points of the resurrection of the body is that it completes our humanity--“for no man is complete, no man can be complete until the resurrection.” (Curtis, The Christian Faith, Chapter 28) Or it may be because in a good deal of folk theology we have run the resurrection and the intermediate state together. (Most pictures, both in scripture and out, of the dead now either in Heaven or Hell are given in physical terms. This is to be expected since we cannot 'picture' non-physical existence. However, this may be the reason why we tend to think of the dead now as being already resurrected.)

I do not want to dwell on the future resurrection of the body, because I have already written a rather lengthy article dealing with this doctrine and its implication. I just want to point out here that our resurrection, like Christ's out of which it comes, is a living testimony of the power of God and the victory of Christ over death. This victory which has been won and which will be enacted is an objective victory. The triumph over death is as objective a fact as the death over which it triumphs. It is not just that Christ give us peace or hope in death. It is not simply that He helps us deal experientially with the fact of death. He does do that, but there are other and better ways. Vain-Hope the Ferryman was able to get Ignorance over the river of death in a much quicker and easier fashion than Christian got over. What Christ gives us is an actual, objective victory over death.

And if Christ gives us victory over death, then what else is there to be afraid of? If Old King Death could not keep Christ in the grave--will not keep Christ's people in the grave--then who can trouble us? This is the hope of the New Testament. It is not solely about the future life, though that future life did have great importance for the New Testament writers (more so, seemingly, than for us). Rather, it is this--because Christ has triumphed, we have victory not just in the future but now.

This ties into what we talked about in the first part of this series. I said there that modern Evangelicalism does not emphasize or even believe in the victory or objective regeneration of the soul--because such a victory is only possible because of the resurrection of Christ which gives us hope both now and forever.

Jesus is reigning victoriously, both as God and as Man. Because of this, we have hope, objective hope. And that is why we are so tragically wrong to live in despair and (what is far worse) to idealize our despair. In certain circles of Evangelicalism, not only does one get an overwhelming sense of desperation about God's work, but even a sense that having such desperation is a sign of spiritual insight. Now, do not take me wrong. I am not trying to gloss over the real problems that exist in the world. Though some of our concerns are probably overrated, I do not blame a man (Christian or not) who looks at the conditions of the world today and is tempted to despair. I only say the proper response to being tempted to despair is “Yield not to temptation.” The fact that a state of mind is easy to fall into does not necessarily prove that it is either accurate or wholesome.

I repeat that despair and hopelessness are two keynotes of modern evangelicalism--a feeling of gloom is one of their primary attributes and, so one sometimes feels, one of their primary standards. It a positive testimony to evangelicals' courage and loyalty that, despite their hopelessness about their own religion, they usually are still willing to stand by it. They think the ship is sinking, they may think a man a liberal or an idiot for saying the ship could be saved, but they are still brave enough to go down with the ship. This sort of hopeless courage (the kind Edgar Rice Burroughs so often celebrated), the determination to fight on in the face of inevitable defeat, the refusal to turn despair into acquiescence--it is one of the truly noble attributes of modern evangelicalism. But that does not mean it is a harmless attitude.

The problem with despair is that it leads to desperation--and desperation can lead to anything. It is the desperate man, fighting with little to no hope, who will do unthinkable things in the battle. If we see the situation as dark, we will be darkened by it. The hungry man will do anything for food--and the hopeless man will do anything for hope. So, for example, in a recent well-known political struggle, certain evangelical leaders said and did thing which some of us and perhaps they themselves would once have said they would never say or do. The most charitable interpretation we can put on these things is that desperate men will do desperate things and if we have no hope but the very small hope which a political leader can give us, then we will do anything for that hope.

Where our despair does not paralyze all action, it tends to spur us into nervous or desperate action. It is the hopeless man, full of fears within and without, who is irritable and “jumpy.” And if one were candidly and charitably to describe the attitude of American evangelicals, to speak of some instances (at least) when they have stood in reaction to particular problems and issues around us, I do not think they could do better than to describe our attitude as irritable and jumpy. I am not here dealing with evangelicals' stands on particular issues--these must be dealt with one at a time in their own place--on some of them they have been right and in others wrong (which is just about par for the course)--my point is about the general attitude, the “scent” and atmosphere of the thing. There is a reason why American evangelicalism has come across to many as ignorant, intolerant, and reactionary--and that reason is that they have lost hope and so are acting and speaking as desperate men. And desperate men seldom make a good impression.

One particular issue is the problem of compassion. For anyone who has listened to the mass of so-called “conservative” evangelical Christianity, it should be obvious that one of their primary failings is a lack of compassion. They are often quiet perceptive and quite right about the evils of our day. One will often hear them (quite rightly) say what and who is the problem with the world. What one almost never hears is any note of love or compassion for the who. This is significant because evangelicals (as Christians) can and would tell you that God loves all people, that we should love people, that we should love even our enemies. That a normal, carnal man would hate the people he sees as dangerous is quite natural. It is pagan, but paganism is quite a respectable occupation. But that Christians who, in theory, know better, should act and speak the same way--should, without guilt and without hesitation, speak and write words of hate or callous scorn even against their enemies--this is the scandal of modern evangelicalism. There could be many reasons--poor theology and worldliness being the most obvious--but for our purposes, I think we can say that the main reason is a loss of hope, a loss of the hope which comes with the victory of Christ in the Resurrection. It is the man who is half convinced already that he will drown who becomes critical and concern about who gets in the life-boat with him. It is the man almost without hope who becomes sharp and caustic about those whom he sees as the cause of hopelessness. It is when Christians have loyalty to God without the hope of God that they become bitter and hateful towards sinners.

But if we remember the Resurrection, we can have hope. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, because we will be raised from the dead, then (as one contemporary song puts it) “There is nothing left to be afraid of.” God is in control of the world, and He requires of us faithfulness--not nervous, irritability about the future. We have hope and hope is the source of courage and energy. As Calvin said, “The hope of eternal life will never be in us an inactive principle...” We can work, we can love, we can even die, because we have hope.

But I conclude this article with a note of hope for another reason. I used to be rather discouraged by the seeming failure of Christianity in our nation, by the disinterest of the world in the Christian faith. After the events of this last year, some of us have begun to realize that a good deal of what passed for Christianity was something else. Not that the people involved in it were not Christians--seemingly they were and only God can know that with certainty, anyway--but that the general tone and attitude of the thing was not the tone and attitude of Christ or the New Testament church. The failure of the world to believe the church must be at least partly attributed to the failure of the church to believe God. If we people try to kill the church, it may be because the church is already dead. And the church may be dead because it does not believe enough in resurrection.

“Men have not got tired of Christianity; they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of.” (G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, Part 1, Chapter 6)

The Porter

"Sir, may I take your bags?"

I was startled by the voice, thinking myself alone in the crowd. The speaker was a young man with elder eyes; muscular, with calloused hands. His porter's cap was pulled down close over short hair, prematurely white. He came up beside me and, with a smile, held out his hand, as if to take one of the heavy cases I carried.

"There is no need," I said hastily. It was getting late--I had no time to stand and argue with a porter. Besides, I was afraid to let my cases out of my hand. "I can--I must carry them myself."

The porter nodded as if in agreement, but he asked again, "Sir, may I take your bag?"

"It is out of the question," I replied, my voice rising in irritation. "There are things here I dare not let out of my hands. Now, please, let me go--I have a long ways to go and these bags are rather heavy."

"If they are, then--sir, may I take your bags?" There was something weird in his repetition. My first thought was that he was stupid or deaf, but he looked at me with eyes that were sharp and sane. And then he added, "What do you have that is so valuable you may not let me carry them?"

"It is not value," I said hastily, for I did not want him to think I doubted his honesty. "What I have in these cases is not worth a cent to anyone else, but they are all I have. No one else can carry them."

"Perhaps; perhaps not. Sir, may I take your bags?"

"You do not understand," I protested, growing more impatient. "I have carried these cases for years, bringing them safely over many miles. I have all my past in these bags."

He smiled at me still--and still held out his hand as if to take the cases.

"Still, you don't understand," I repeated. And goaded by his strange insistence, I began a strange and shameful inventory. "Here in this bag I have two math tests I failed in seventh grade--I could have passed them if I had studied harder. And here is a heavy folder with every name I was called in school, all carefully noted and alphabetized--I don't know why; I remember them all well enough. Here is another file with the things I said in return; nearly as thick. Here is a lead case full of the fragments of broken promises--most of them mine, though not all. Here is a bottle filled with a child's tears--tears that I caused with a thoughtless word."

The porter seemed oblivious to all I said. "But, sir, may I--"

"And here," I cut him off, almost frantic now in my rhapsody of unplanned revelation, "is a file or two of painful conversation, heavy with annotations of all the things I should have said. And here are two boxes filled with unfulfilled dreams and one with unanswered prayers. There are three packets of undeserved slander, along with another packet of deserved slander. Here is a failure, there a sin; here an undeserved reproach, there an undeserved compliment; here a disappointment, there a regret. I must carry them all, for they are all I have. Now let me pass."

And the porter only looked at me with a smile and said, "If that is so--then, sir, may I take your bags?" And he reached out again with his hand, a hand I now noticed was strangely scarred and pierced. And then he added: "I am used to carrying burdens."