Fahrenheit 451: Burning Words

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Fahrenheit 451 is a book about burning words and ideas.  Instead of putting out fires, the Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 start fires, and burn books.

This book sizzles.  Its words crackle.  Listen:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.  With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.  With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.  He strode in a swarm of fireflies…  While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag was a Fireman.  In the beginning, his face was gripped with a fiery smile.  But through interaction with someone who contemplated life, he realized his emptiness.  In his search for meaning, he began to steal and hide the very books he was supposed to burn.

His wife told him to find distraction in something fun.  That is what everyone does.  Don’t think, just have fun.  But Montag would not this time.  He wanted to hold onto his emptiness, he wanted to find meaning.

17470674Montag held possibly the last copy of the Bible in his part of the world.  And he knew if they found it, they would burn it.

He could hear Beatty’s voice.  “Sit down, Montag.  Watch.  Delicately, like the petals of a flower.  Light the first page, light the second page.  Each becomes a black butterfly.  Beautiful, eh?  Light the third page, from the second and so on, chain-smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the secondhand notions and time-worn philosophies.”  There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.

They would burn the Bible, one page at a time they would destroy the words and ideas.

Montag brought the last physical copy of the Bible to Faber.

Faber’s hands itched on his knees.  “May I?”

“Sorry.”  Montag gave him the book.

“It’s been a long time.  I’m not a religious man.  But it’s been a long time.”  Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read.  “It’s as good as I remember.  Lord, how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days.¹  Christ is one of the ‘family’ now.²  I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down?  He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.”  Faber sniffed the book.  “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land?  I loved to smell them when I was a boy.  Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.”  Faber turned the pages.  “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward.  I saw the way things were going, a long time back.  I said nothing.  I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself.  And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then.  Now, it’s too late.”  Faber closed the Bible.  “Well—suppose you tell me why you came here?”

“Nobody listens any more.  I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me.³  I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls.³  I just want someone to hear what I have to say.  And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.  And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”

¹  Parlors are TV viewing rooms.  ²  The ‘family’ are the characters on the television programs.  ³  When Montag says “walls” he means the giant interactive TVs that are the walls of the parlor.

Montag’s experience reminds me of the so-called Church Growth Movement.  Within that movement, nobody listens, nobody pays attention.  The glowing giant television transfixes.  And nobody cares what it says, it just feels good.  It makes them feel like they are doing their part to grow the Church with their attractive sugar-crystal “Jesus.”

The world is that way too.  Everyone wants to feel good, and feel like they are important, and feel like they are making a difference.  So we play video games, watch TV, take drugs, go to church, or whatever we need to get that high feeling.  Meanwhile, we trample the truth.  We trample the real Jesus, a Jesus not of sugar but of human flesh and blood.

But every once in awhile, someone wakes up.  And they start to realize something is wrong, but because we live in an age where the truth has been almost completely obliterated, we cannot quite put our finger on it.

Fahrenheit 451 continued:

Faber examined Montag’s thin, blue-jowled face.  “How did you get shaken up?  What knocked the torch out of your hands?”

“I don’t know.  We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy.  Something’s missing.  I looked around.  The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years.  So I thought books might help.”

“You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber.  “It would be funny if it were not serious.  It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books.  The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today.  The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.  No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! …  Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget.  There is nothing magical in them, at all.  The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Faber continued by saying that books like the Bible are important because they tell the truth and the whole truth, showing even the pores and dirt.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.  The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.  We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.  Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth.  Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.”

Finally, Faber said that not only is truth important, but just as important is the time to think and ponder.  The television and the culture tell us what to think, and they do not give us time to process what they are saying.

“If you’re not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re playing some game or sitting in some room where you can’t argue with the four-wall televisor.  Why?  The televisor is ‘real.’  It is immediate, it has dimension.  It tells you what to think and blasts it in.  It must be right.  It seems so right.  It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!'”

The truth has time.  The truth is real.  The truth is not afraid.  The truth brings freedom.  (John 8:32).

That is why I love the liturgy.  Its words come from the Bible, and it gives us time to ponder, years even.  For a lifetime, the words sink in, and they change us because they are always with us.  Christ promised to be with us in his word, not the latest innovative creed, manipulative video, or man-centered motivational speech masquerading as a sermon.  The truth comes to us through his clear, pure word.

Through word and sacrament alone is how he comes to us.  Our fathers fought for this principle in the Reformation.  But now those who are trading God’s word of truth for mere emotionalism and pragmatism will receive a bowl of pottage for their inheritance.  (Genesis 25:29-34).

Montag asked,

“Where do we go from here?  Would books help us?”

“Only if the third necessary thing could be given us.  Number one, as I said, quality of information.  Number two: leisure to digest it.  And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.”

Fahrenheit 451 is about burning books and ideas.  But they do not have to burn books no one reads.  Faber admitted as much.  The Firemen were just for show.  The Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 were made possible because no one knew the truth anymore anyway.

600px-Ingsoc_logo_from_1984.svgToday, we do not burn books, instead we ignore them, or “translate” them into Ingsoc.  (Coined by George Orwell, Ingsoc is English corrupted by socialism.  An example of this corruption is the attempt to erase biological gender distinctions from the English language so that we start calling men women and women men or start saying that 2+2=5).  Ingsoc makes telling the truth impossible, and hearing the truth incomprehensible.  The purpose of deconstructing our words is not just to obscure truth, but to destroy the English language, and make it incapable of communicating the truth.

Regarding the Bible, they do not have to burn a book no one reads.  And if someone does read the Bible, they try to give us gender-confused and other Ingsoc translations to obscure the truth.  Consider for example Psalm 8:4.  The NIV (2011 version) says:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

Why does God care for human beings?  Why is God mindful of us?  The true answer is Christ, the son of man.  (Daniel 7:13-14).  Here is the English Standard Version:

what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Christ is the son of man.  (Daniel 7:13-14).  Christ alone is the man God cares for.  He is the righteous one.  Moses and the prophets wrote of Christ; but for him they had nothing to say.  (Luke 24:44).  But these “translators” have obscured Christ, so in the end, what they leave us with is a question without an answer:  Why does God care for human beings?

The most important question is not, Who are human beings?  Who are they?  The question God wants us to ask is, why does God care for the son of man?  Who is He?

George Orwell said, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”  (Politics and the English Language).

The translators of the NIV (2011 version) did not burn the masculine and feminine gendered books, but they are burning the idea one verse and one version at a time.  As Beatty would have had Montag burn the Bible one page at time, so also the ever-changing translations would surrender the English language, and obscure Christ one idea at a time, starting with certain gender-clear passages about Jesus in the Old Testament.

Christians must wake up, and stand against the intentional destruction of our language.  Do not let them burn words, mistranslate, or obscure Christ in any part of the Bible.

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On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave to the Church the gift of tongues and the understanding of languages.  (Acts 2).  The purpose of language is not to control minds and prop up totalitarianism, but rather to communicate the truth.  The truth sets us free.  (John 8:32).  Let us hold fast to Jesus, the Word of God, and the Truth.

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Holy Ghost with Light Divine

God’s Holy Spirit works through His Word to enliven and enlighten our hearts.  He causes us to see, understand, and believe.  On Pentecost, God poured out His Spirit on His Church.  Pentecost is one of the four great festivals of Christianity.

Let me see my Savior’s face,
Let me all His beauties trace;
Show those glorious truths to me
Which are only known to Thee.

— “Holy Ghost with Light Divine,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, 402:2.

When God’s Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, He is revealing Himself because there is only one God.  There are three Persons, but only one God.  Jesus is the Word (or the expression) of God personified.  God’s Holy Spirit working through His Word causes us to understand His Word, and causes Christians to believe His Word.

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.  [1 Corinthians 2:12-14].

Even with the Spirit, God daily enlightens and enlivens Christians through His Word.  We could not believe unless His Holy Spirit daily caused us to see, to understand, and to believe.  He works this through His Word through which He also works in us to listen, to pray, and to meditate upon His Word.  This is why we “work out” our “salvation with fear and trembling,” because our understanding and believing is not within our control.  We must trust in God for our daily repentance and forgiveness and belief, “for it is God who works in” us “to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  (Philippians 2:12-13).  God wants us to trust Him for everything.

To all godly Christians who feel and experience in their hearts a small spark or longing for divine grace and eternal salvation this precious passage is very comforting.  For they know that God has kindled in their hearts this beginning of true godliness.  He will further strengthen and help them in their great weakness to persevere in true faith unto the end.  [1 Peter 5:10].

Here belong also all the prayers of the saints in which they ask that they may be taught, enlightened, and sanctified by God.  By this very act they declare that they cannot get those things that they ask of God from their own natural powers.  For example, in Psalm 119 alone, David prays more than ten times that God would give him understanding, that he might rightly comprehend and learn the divine teaching.  Similar prayers are in Paul’s writings (Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:9; Philippians 1:9).  These prayers and passages about our ignorance and inability have been written for us.

They are not written to make us idle and remiss in reading, hearing, and meditating on God’s Word, but that we should first thank God from the heart that by His Son He has delivered us from the darkness of ignorance and the captivity of sin and death.

Concordia: A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord, “Formula of Concord,” Article II. Free Will, 14-15.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why God says:  ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.'”  (Ephesians 4:7-8).  In Christ we are forgiven freely through faith, and this faith is not from ourselves, “it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Happy Pentecost!

Blessed Pentecost

The Holy Spirit is “the Lord and Giver of Life.”  When the Holy Spirit is poured out, He makes all things alive and new.  On Pentecost two thousand years ago, the Lord poured out His Spirit on men.

We were dead in sin, but through His word and the waters of baptism, we have begun to flourish like trees planted by streams of living water.  God gives us His life, and we yield our fruit in season.  (Psalm 1:3).

Fifty days after the resurrection and ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Lord poured out His Spirit in Jerusalem.  And filled with the Spirit, Peter spoke to the crowd:

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  [Acts 2:22-24].

Jesus was nailed to a tree.  That tree was designed by us as an instrument of torture and death, but Jesus turned it into the source of life for all.  He made the cross a tree of life, and the life giving fruit hung on that tree.  (Galatians 3:13 & 1 Peter 2:24).

Once in history, God said, “Do not let man reach out his hand to eat from the tree of life,” but now He says, “Take, and eat.”  (Genesis 3:22 & Matthew 26:26).

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:  God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” [Acts 2:32-39].

We who comprise the Church in America are among those to whom Peter referred when he said, “all who are far off.”  Because of God’s grace, the promise is for us and our children too.

Happy Pentecost.

Pentecost

John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’

— Luke 3:16.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

— Acts 2:1-3.

For Pentecost I considered using a picture of ordinary fire, but regular fire burns and consumes and doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of what Jesus actually did when He baptized his Church.  Also, when Moses saw the fire of the Lord, he noticed that the bush “did not burn up.” (Exodus 3:2).

This is a picture of a fallen leaf filled with sunlight.  For a moment, this dead leaf was in a sense baptized with light from heaven’s fire.  The leaf is of course long gone, but those who are baptized in the name of the Triune God will be filled with eternal light and life: We will reflect the glory of His name forever.

[In] a flash, in the twinkling of an eye . . . the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. . .  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

— 1 Corinthians 15:52-54.

Happy Pentecost!