Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera as a Metaphor for the Human Decision – Part Two

I haven’t been happy with the previous post. It was poorly written and reading back over it, there were some foundational elements that I begged the question on that resulted in some leaps of logic that many may not be able to follow. The purpose for making the following points may not be evident at first, but I’ll explain afterward

1. Choice involves the chooser’s desire to be identified with a relationship rather than the attaining of an object. For example, if I choose to overeat I don’t choose the food. I choose the relationship of being satiated by the food. This is an important distinction. If I sin, I don’t choose to sin. Rather, I choose the perceived benefit of the sin. The sin, therefore, becomes a matter of self-identification because it is I who made the decision.

2. Choices are contextual. The choice to identify with one thing can be different depending on what one knows about the thing. For example, I may choose to be associated with a bad church because I believe that church is a “safe” place to commit my sin and find justification. I may choose to be associated with a bad church because someone I know goes there and I lack the discernment to tell that it’s a bad church. Or, I may choose to be associated with a bad church because I’m a minister and believe I have the ability to help the church get past her spiritual problems.

3. With regard to the metaphor, the Phantom and Raoul are the same choice. I already stated that I identify with both. They are as though they were different aspects of the same person.

The Phantom believes that Christine’s choice is between him or Raoul. But she has already chosen to love Raoul. Her choice is how to best love Raoul given the Phantom’s condition of relationship.

She also already has a relationship with the Phantom. When she believed he was the Angel of Music she had a relationship based on his deception and her desire. Then when she first discovered his deception, she continued the relationship because of her desire alone. However, he sought a different relationship than they already had and his treachery was geared to force her to spend her life with him. Her choice of the Phantom over Raoul was actually not a choice of the Phantom over Raoul. She couldn’t have what she wanted, but she could offer herself to the Phantom for Raoul’s life. Her relationship was one of unwilling servitude, not the willing desire that the Phantom wanted. Her identity became that of a coerced companion.

A fourth point is that choice communicates our identity. For example, a love out of season may cause a woman to shun certain contact with the man of her affection, but inordinate lack of contact will communicate her true desire. It can be more intentional that that. For example, planted signals such as the innocent stroke of a thumb down one’s cheek or asking an otherwise innocent question can communicate volumes within the context of a relationship.

For Christine, the Phantom was intelligent enough to realize that his conundrum for Christine had failed. Christine knew she had to be convincing enough to make the Phantom believe that she had truly chosen him so that he would set Raoul free. And she genuinely pitied the Phantom. However, the Phantom knew that he would never have the relationship he desired. He was defeated.

Our relationship with sin is the same way. Once we have been made alive by the Holy Spirit, just as Christine found the potential for a better life with Raoul, then we are made aware of our sin. We already have a relationship with sin, just as Christine already had a relationship with the Phantom. However, with this new revelation the relationship changes. We desire Christ but are faced with the conundrum of our sin. When we “accept Christ” we submit ourselves to his authority and own our sin to him. We are willing to identify ourselves with out sin openly so that he can remove it. Although we are in bondage to sin, sin has no power over us. We submit to God’s judgment and he gives us grace. We are set free.

Now, you may wonder what a Calvinist is doing talking about the great human decision. There is no decision that we make outside of a relationship we already have – just like Christine. She couldn’t of her own power spend the rest of her life with Raoul. But as I said, her choice was already made before she chose the Phantom, and that not to choose the Phantom, but how to best love Raoul. Likewise, owning our sin so that we can offer it to Christ is like Christine choosing the Phantom so that he would set Raoul free. No matter what, the choice is already made. The rest is just playing that choice out.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera as a Metaphor for the Human Decision

I had a conversation recently regarding the merits of The Phantom of the Opera. I love the music as well as the story, but for different reasons.

The music is well-written from a creative standpoint. The orchestrations of the original are more than adequate, but lack the refinement of a more seasoned composer. He wrote it in his younger years to be sure and I imagine his later works are more refined. However, the score from a theoretical standpoint is simply brilliant.

The story, however, takes a bit of thought to process. I have considered that I have derived more meaning from the plot and characters than was originally intended. As long as it’s not the Bible, I enjoy discovering unintended meaning. By the way, if you have not seen Phantom of the Opera, you won’t get much out of this. I’m not going to summarize the thing, but write as though you are familiar with the story.

Consider, if you will, the characters of the Phantom and Raoul. Neither are perfect men, but Raoul is generally an honorable Viscount (royalty) while the Phantom is a treacherous and deceitful genius. Both love Christine and vie for her affections.

The Phantom portrays himself falsely to Christine as the “Angel of Music” sent by her late father while Raoul was a childhood friend of Christine before her father died.

Christine discovers the Phantom’s treachery and rather plans to marry Raoul. The tension between the three of them culminates when the Phantom creates a decision for Christine whether to choose the Phantom so that Raoul would live or to choose Raoul although the Phantom would kill him.

"I saw your ecstasy AT THE SOUND OF THE VOICE, Christine: the voice that came from the wall or the next room to yours...yes, YOUR ECSTASY! And that is what makes me alarmed on your behalf. You are under a very dangerous spell. And yet it seems that you are aware of the imposture, because you say to-day THAT THERE IS NO ANGEL OF MUSIC! In that case, Christine, why did you follow him that time? Why did you stand up, with radiant features, as though you were really hearing angels?...Ah, it is a very dangerous voice, Christine, for I myself, when I heard it, was so much fascinated by it that you vanished before my eyes without my seeing which way you passed! Christine, Christine, in the name of Heaven, in the name of your father who is in Heaven now and who loved you so dearly and who loved me too, Christine, tell us, tell your benefactress and me, to whom does that voice belong? If you do, we will save you in spite of yourself. Come, Christine, the name of the man! The name of the man who had the audacity to put a ring on your finger!"

The fallen human will is filled with such tension. I know this of myself and I identify readily with Christine’s decision as well as the mixture of good and bad reasons both the Phantom and Raoul have for loving her. I identify with the genius outcast in the Phantom as well as the generally well-accepted lord of the house in Raoul.

The key is to understand that the characters alone are not the key to understanding their meaning, but the relationships between them. The Phantom doesn’t represent sin as much as he perhaps represents temptation. Sin is the relationship built on delusion between Christine and the Phantom. Christine believed that the Phantom represented her father in some way and also desired her own fame and fortune in his instruction. We may presume that her father would not have desired her to have any contact with the Phantom at all. If you are a Christian and are reading this, isn’t the way our heavenly Father has for us?

Christine’s relationship with Raoul is above board. He loves her and would pursue her into the pits of sin’s lair to rescue her from her captor. In the book, he is jealous of her relationship with the Phantom, but he wouldn’t use underhanded means or threaten the life of the Phantom to force her affections on her. Ultimately, he relies on his moral standing for her affections for him. If anyone could presume to be a representative of her father, Raoul would top the list.

But the nugget of meaning for the human condition I find in the Phantom is in the choice foisted on that Christine by the Phantom. Although she desires to improve herself under the Phantom’s tutelage, it’s become a thing that has her in bondage. Whether she chooses the Phantom or Raoul, her choice promises to be a life without Raoul.

She considers it better that Raoul live and goes free without her than she lives free without Raoul. Therein is the chief point of the matter.

The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t offer the theme of redemption by blood. What it does offer is a picture of the choice we have as sinners in the face of a God who is both just and gracious. It is justice that condemns us to death and separation from him, even in the representation of him in his Son, Jesus Christ.

The key lies in our desire for Christ, for if we don’t have that desire, there is no decision to make. It’s not a question if we would condemn Christ to death, but it is promised that we suffer death no matter what our decision. The question is what kind of death do we suffer? We cannot choose Raoul, as though we were worthy of God’s grace for such is a lie. And we show our disdain for Christ as though we could care less that he would die for us. Although we appear to go free, our life is empty.

"All I want is freedom. A world with no more night."

If we choose the “Phantom”, God’s justice, we are sure to die for we cannot bear God’s judgment. But we honor the sacrifice of our Lord. Even though such is not portrayed in the Phantom of the Opera, we can see how Raoul has left his place on high and come into the depths of the darkness for us. The Phantom cannot hold Christine because he knows he has won her actions, but not her heart.

As such, when we choose God’s judgment we do so because we respect God’s judgment and would suffer loss in light of his integrity. Indeed we suffer this loss because we die to our sins. When we do so, we gain our freedom and life through the righteousness of Christ. Christine gets to leave with Raoul who is there because he loves Christine.

So, it is not a choice we have to follow Christ, but a choice to submit to his righteousness. To do so subjects us to both his judgment and grace.

That is the meaning I see in the Phantom of the Opera.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 16, 2009

You Don't Know That Moral Relativism is Real

Moral relativism as a philosophical construct is not fueled by logical or scientific discovery. By definition it cannot be. The only reason to pursue moral relativism is to justify behaviors or beliefs that are wrong according to moral absolutes. If there were no moral absolutes, there would be no reason for moral relativism. Therefore, implicit in every argument for moral relativism is a belief that morality really is absolute.

Therefore, moral relativism is inherently but irrationally deterministic. If one does not want to be held responsible for breaching moral absolutes by pursuing self-justification, one will hold moral relativism along side other such arguments as biological moralism.

I was presented with the scenario of the college professor that challenges students with the proposition that they could not know anything for sure. When a student would respond with something they thought they know for sure, he would say, "You don't know that it's real." My immediate response was that I would get up and punch the professor in the face with a big smile on my face. When he responded as though it really happened, I would simply say, "You don't know that that was real."

So I ran across this video. Be forewarned that it's intense.



Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Freedom of the Law and Bondage of the Will

The Freedom of the Law and Bondage of the Will

Free will is an oxymoron in more than one way. Will is not free: it’s expensive. And in this sinful world that expense comes at the restriction of freedom. Let me explain. Last night my family read the following:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered a unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 10:1-3


41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules.
44 I will keep your law continually,
forever and ever,
45 and I shall walk in a wide place,
for I have sought your precepts.
46 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame,
47 for I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love.
48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.

Psalm 119:41-48

As a sinner, whenever I have flexed my free will I have rebelled against God. The term in Psalm 119:45: “wide place” is the Hebrew “rachab” which literally means “roomy”. The sense here is that one who seeks God’s law walks in freedom or liberty.

However, the law appears to us to be restrictive. I asked my kids about this and they agreed. The law says “don’t do this” or “only do that” and we are restricted. I asked them if they could think of some rule or law that restricts their freedom. They offered up the rule, “Don’t jump on the bed.” Well, this is not part of the law of God that we’ve been reading in the Bible, but it was a perfect example. They said that without the rule they were allowed to jump on the bed. With the law, they were restricted from jumping on the bed.

What makes this a perfect example is that a few years ago my brother’s family went to beach. Not long after they were there their young son took to jumping on the bed. He fell off the bed and broke his leg in the thigh. That pretty much did it for the beach vacation. Not only was he restricted, the whole family had to give up the rest of the vacation and come home early. While a rule like “don’t jump on the bed” may seem restrictive, following such a rule would allow for the freedom of a nice vacation in the surf and the waves for the whole family.

While such an example is an outward and tangible example, God’s law operates on the same principle regarding our spiritual freedom. If, as it is argued, God created us with free will, then apart from God our will is not free. God’s law is a revelation of his will. Therefore, can we say that the law is restrictive? We must also say that God is restrictive.

The debate between those who argue that the will of man is sufficient for faith and those who argue that the will of man is subordinate to God’s sovereignty is merely academic if it is not realized that the theological tension is resolved in our reconciliation with God.

One thing that happens when God’s law is transgressed is that the transgressor is filled with internal confusion. God’s law perfectly followed never results in theological tension. After all, God is rational and he creates good reason. Once sin enters the relationship, our perception of God’s perfect will is distorted. We can see this in every story of romance. I love a romantic story as much as some women. What kind of romance stories would we have if there were no tension to be resolved because someone did something wrong or even just wanted something they shouldn’t? So people end up with all sorts of conflicted emotions and have a time trying to sort them out so the relationship can be healed.

So the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The result of the theological tension here should be mere theological weightlifting, but that I should deny my will and submit to God’s. If my will agrees with God’s will, then I don’t exult my will as though I came up with the right path on my own. How does that glorify God? If I say that God’s way was the right way all along and I was acting outside of His will, I don’t blame Him for making me do it. I accept the blame as an act of my will against God’s will and recognize that I am dead apart from my creator and am bound to sin by definition. Only by denying my will and submitting to His will in the power of the Holy Spirit, and by his grace in the provision of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, am I finally freed from my sin.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

So Quote This

Intelligence does not decrease our propensity for self-delusion so much as it increases our capacity for it.

Labels: , , ,