Archives For Art and Theology

The contents of Sun-Tzu’s, The Art of War and The Bible are unrelated.  They are, by any quick comparison, worlds apart. The Art of War is a masterpiece in military organisation and strategy. Tzu is a sage, giving the wealth of a sage’s advice to all who would follow his counsel closely.

The Bible is a collection of books, filled with multiple genres, following centuries of the same consistent theme: Yahweh’s faithfulness to His people and His war against the human made gods and idols of the Ancient Near East.

Written by multiple authors the witness of the Biblical authors often jars us because of its contrasts between God’s faithfulness and humanity’s infidelity; an unfaithfulness that includes humanity turning on itself, as much as it turns against the faithfulness of God. Through poetry, proverbial wisdom, historiography; prophecy, a litany of apocalyptic fulfilment and predictions, historical letters and genealogies, the Bible is the unique testimony of God’s decisive interaction with humanity.

Where these testimonies differ:

The Art of War is a manual and an impersonal memoir. In it the wisdom and experience of Chinese Army veteran, Sun-Tzu is encapsulated in a list of haiku like principles. Whereas The Bible, from start to finish moves from point to point, through very human voices, who testify to this unique encounter with the revelation of God. What we hear is God fighting for us, embracing us, raising and continuing to raise humanity, through the promise and fulfilment of His Covenant (Treaty with humanity). What we see is God raising men and women up out of sin and its grip on humanity, as sin hurtles humanity like a projectile towards inhumanity and total self-annihilation.

Where these testimonies share common ground:

What The Art of War and parts of The Bible share in common is the way in which truth and experience is communicated through metaphor, simile and poetic syntax.

TAoW:

‘A rushing torrent/carries boulders/on its flood; such is the energy/of its momentum’ [i] (Sun-Tzu, The Art of War)

The Bible:

‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 19:24, ESV)

Truth and experience is camouflaged in metaphor so as to make an impact that will be easily memorised, if not understood right away.

The relationship between The Art of War and The Bible is established in its use of poetic language to recall history and communicate truths, through narrative and poetic prose.

If there is a commonality of literary technique, is there be any relevance between the two? Can The Art of War help us better understand The Bible?

My answer is yes.

Though, it’s cultural setting, ethnicity, context, authorship, and in most areas its contents are worlds apart, sections of The Art of War lights up our perspective of ancient society, politics and warfare.

Much like Machiavelli’s, The Prince, The Art of War gives us insight into areas of human behaviour, organisation, rule and movement. These include leadership, social organisation, paradox ( + dialectic)[ii], relationships, management, hierarchy, strategy and, in a few specific places, the value of human life.

For example:

‘[Force] March ten miles for some gain/and two in three men will arrive’[iii] (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Commonality between the Bible and The Art of War can be found. Much of the first five books of the Bible, (the Pentateuch; Torah) discuss the state of the human race, God’s creation, liberation, government and ordering of humanity, centred within and viewed through the lens of His people.

God’s ordering, this governing, His leadership through a close friendship with Moses, is exemplified in the post-Exodus wilderness dwelling Book of Numbers.

Here Yahweh’s request under the Covenant He established with Israel is His way of bringing the Hebrews FULLY out of Egypt. The Hebrews had not completely left subservience to Egypt and its gods behind. As evidenced by the Golden Calf, one coup attempt, a number of formal protests and general disgruntlement about how much better things were under Egyptian rule. In other words, how much better things were under the rule of Egypt’s hybrid animal-human gods. Psychologically & culturally, God’s liberation of the Hebrews was as much reformation of the heart as it was God’s revolution and His emancipation of an oppressed people.

Yahweh’s leadership is brought to trial. The just God is thrown unjust criticism and all manifestations of his grace through the miraculous provision and care given towards His people are forgotten.

The confrontation causes conflict. Yahweh seeks to take the focus of the people off the creature and put it onto the Creator; and in doing so God shows just how far He has to go in order to bring His people completely out of Egypt. This is to teach them that they are no longer Egyptians, but are His, living under His grace, guidance, blessing, leadership; fatherhood. All this things are given in order to bring about the fulfilment of prophecy. The promise of the Covenant, and the transforming determination of God, sees the Hebrew slaves become the nation of Israel. The gods humans made are directly challenged by the God who made humans.

In a sense, even though the victory is won, Yahweh is still fighting against the gods of the Ancient Near East. He is still fight for those He made in His image. Yahweh, the One who is free, putting Himself between us and the house of slavery, despite our flirtation with the worship of nature that characterises all gods and idols man and woman makes in their own image.

Yahweh is the model of a perfect General (Exodus 15). He avoids Sun-Tzu’s list of pitfalls for a General, whilst His people (and even Moses from time to time) falls right into them:

        1. Recklessness – leading to destruction
        2. Cowardice – leading to capture
        3. Hot temper (manipulated or triggered into reacting poorly) – prone to provocation
        4. Delicacy to honour (concern for reputation; perfectionism) – tending to shame
        5. Concern for his men (easily swayed/influenced, people pleasing; concerned about offending them) – leading to trouble.

The book of Numbers teaches us that God perfectly hears us, has perfect self-control, can be provoked to anger, but is patient, quick to restraint and shows mercy by way of warnings and provision.

The Gospel of Mark testifies to the healings and deliverance so engrained in the fabric of Jesus Christ’s ministry, up to the point where He reaches for the Leper, stills the wind and waves, is feared and mocked by demons, joyfully dignifies the woman with uterine bleeding and despite the mockery of a crowd of mourners, in the presence of her parents, resurrects a 12 year old girl.

God places Himself between us and our fears, between us and our sin, all with the intention of not allowing His people to advance into the jaws of their enemies, both without and within.

Paul understood this, writing:

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Paul, Galatians 2:20, ESV)

The Bible and The Art of War teach us to be aware of the pitfalls of human leadership and the arrogance of power. Only God is the perfect General. We actively seek out failure, when we fail to acknowledge and follow Him in all our ways.

The Art of War:

‘These five perils to leadership demand the most careful attention’ Sun-Tzu, The Art of War.

The Bible:

 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? – Jesus Christ, Luke 6:39

 


References (not otherwise linked):

[i] Sun-Tzu, circa 500 BC. The Art of War: Potential Energy Penguin Ed. 2008 (p.26)

[ii] For example: ‘Orderly disorder is based on careful division; courageous fear on potential energy; strong weakness on troop dispositions’.

[iii] Ibid, pp.40-41

Artwork: Rembrandt

©Rod Lampard, 2019

Hank Williams, Sr. once wrote:

‘You’ve never walked in that man’s shoes or saw things through his eyes Or stood and watched with helpless hands while the heart inside you dies. Some were poor some were kings and some were masters of the arts.But in their shame they’re all the same, these men with broken hearts. So help your brother along the road no matter where he starts. For the God that made you, made them too. These men with broken hearts!

Hank Williams may have written, but it was Elvis who took these words to a whole new level.

For me brokenness and worship are intertwined.  These places of brokenness bring us to the cross and push us towards resurrection. This is because ‘we do not raise ourselves; we are raised’ (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. 2005:231). 

I’m not sure why these particular words affect me the way they do. It’s probably because I understand, to some degree, the deep well from which these words are drawn.

In recognising that we are undone (Isaiah 6:5), the pride within us can no longer be an enemy to the gracious “Yes” of God, in Christ (Jn.15), which stands for us, and the shadow of His “no”, which exists for our sake. (Karl Barth/St. Francis of Assisi/ Lk.10:25).

May it be so.

                                                                                             


Video: Elvis Presley, Lost ”that the way it is” (August, 1970 – Midnight show. Lyrics and song, Joe South

Poem: Hank Williams, ‘Men with broken hearts

Originally published, 27th May 2013.

Punch-drunk Innocence

November 16, 2018 — Leave a comment

 

What makes a boy thrown to the ground,
Wrestle with quiet inner rage?

The silence of spectators
As they turn their backs and close the outer gate.

All the pain and sorrow,
All the weight of a broken heart,
Breaking backs, breaking love;
Spreading fog, spreading confusion
Breathing in

And breathing out
Innocence left punch-drunk,
Staggering through
A volatile haze.

What makes a young man throw himself to the ground,
Fist drawn, red faced, with flooding eyes, fight like an animal stuck in a cage?

The aftermath of something amiss, its escalation and the
Downward spiral of a soul thrown towards the abyss.

Why did they hate me so much?
What great benefit fell upon them that my tears would bring them joy?

My face painted red, I am become
Their scapegoat,
A nothing, my name expendable.
My heart shattered,
I am become undefendable.
what vicious acquittal
Springs forth from unholy happiness.

What makes a grown man fall to his knees?
What makes the raging innocent, find eternal peace?

It’s the narrow way; through the wicket gate,
Beyond the marsh,
Past deceivers mill,
Up to the top of Golgotha,
To the foot of the cross,
And The One who died there,
Yet lives still.


©Rod Lampard, 2018

aRt and tHeOlOgY: Creed

September 20, 2018 — 3 Comments

Found this, thought it was cool, decided to share it.

Tribute to Rich Mullins: Third day and Brandon Heath.


Originally posted, 11th June 2013.

#rememberrichmullins

Dismantling Babel…

September 5, 2018 — 2 Comments

…in light of the Bible.

Barth Credo God makes his way to us

 


References:

Image: RL2013; tagged “Stormy Sunset”

Quote: Cited by Sawyer, M. James (Kindle Ed. 2012). Neoorthodoxy: an Introductory Survey

Originally published 14th Nov. 2013

From the mind of Martin Luther, the desk of Karl Barth and the easel of Matthias Grünewald.

‘The model of the biblical witness in his unity form is John the Baptist, who stands so notably at midpoint between the Old Testament and the New, between the prophets and the apostles…In this connection one might recall John the Baptist in Grunewald’s Crucifixion especially his prodigious index finger’ (Barth , CD.1.1:112)

 

Grunewald, 16th Century Crucifixion scene

 

‘For we have John the Baptist’s Word and Spirit, and we parsons, preachers; Christians are in our time what John Baptist was in his time. We let John the Baptist’s finger point and his voice sound: ‘’BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD THAT TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD’’

We deliver John’s sermon, point to Christ and say: ‘’this is the one true Saviour whom you should worship and to whom you should cleave. Such preaching must endure to the last day’

 (Luther cited by Barth, CD.1.1:102)

 

John the Baptist

.
John’s finger does not point in vain but really indicates when and where we are enabled by means of his word to see and hear what he saw and heard’ (Barth, CD.1.1:113)

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?’ (Hebrews 2:1-3)

‘Speaking stands in correlation to hearing, understanding and obeying…it is faith that hears, understands and obeys God’s speech’ (Barth, CD.1.1:135)

May. It.  Be. So.

Maranatha.


References:

Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics: Vol 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1 Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Massachusetts

Artworks: The Crucifixion. Detail. St. John the Baptist. 1510-1515. Oil on panel. (Karl Barth had Grunewald’s picture placed above his desk.)

Originally posted 13th September 2013

My daughter, who has been homeschooled for the majority of her education, is doing her higher school certificate this year and she’s starting to feel the pressure. In fact, we all are. In passing one day, I randomly encouraged her to “be like Maverick and engage.” Understanding the context of the reference, she smiled back.

As I am known to do from time to time, I started to think a bit deeper about the meaning of those words.

At the end of Top Gun (1986), Maverick sits waiting as back-up. He’s in an F-14, waiting as “ready-five” or ”ready-alert“, things don’t go well for the team and he’s then called into the fight. Once he gets there, he wavers. At this point in time he has a choice whether to engage or disengage. He chooses to engage.

Another example from 1986 comes from the film ‘Iron Eagle‘. When retired Air Force Colonel, Chappy Sinclair chooses to engage with the rescue of a friend, who is being held as a P.O.W. Sinclair chooses to help his friend’s son pilot an F-16 into a war zone. His most memorable words were:

“God doesn’t give people talents that he doesn’t want people to use. And he gave you The Touch. It’s a power inside of you, down there where you keep your guts boy! It’s all you need to blast your way in and get back what they took from you.” (I.E, 1986)

Although Maverick (Pete Mitchell – Tom Cruise) and Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) are fictional characters, there are sound examples throughout history of men and women, who were called into the fight.

One of those was Winston Churchill. At the age of 65, after many years of being dismissed for his warnings about the state of the world, he was called into the fight. He had the same choice as Maverick and Chappy. Engage or disengage. He chose to engage.

If you’re feeling the pressure today, and no doubt you will, because all of us do, remember these examples. Remember that God did not waver when He created you. He freely and decisively chose to engage in life with you, that you may freely and decisively engage in life with him.[i]

You have a God-given, grace enabled freedom, and you are called upon by God to live that out. Engage in life with Him through Jesus Christ, and engage in life with others. This freedom comes with responsibility; His grace confronts us with a choice. We choose daily, whether to invite God into our decisions, and be for others or for ourselves. That choice can be tough. Faith can be tough.

But we don’t put our faith in our circumstances. We don’t put our faith in faith. We put our faith in God, learning from that which He has given and anticipating where He will guide us, based on what He’s given and already done in the past for us. We have a history with God, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. We are summoned to ‘trust in the Lord with all our heart, [to] lean not on our own understanding, [to] submit all things to Him, and he will make our paths straight.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6).

One of the other great historical examples comes from theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He reminds us of the choice to engage, while when in a Nazi prison, he wrote:

‘In me it is dark, but with you there is light.
I am lonely, but you do not abandon me.
I am faint-hearted, but from you comes my help.
I am restless, but with you is peace.
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience.
I do not understand your ways, but you know the right way for me.’ [ii]

 

So whatever we might meet in the coming day, be like Maverick and engage. Be like Churchill and engage. Be like Bonhoeffer and engage. Ultimately, be like Christ and engage. Stand with Christ and engage. They could have chosen differently, refused the fight, and disengaged entirely, but they chose not to. As a result, we are confronted by their example.

de Vivre Selon Dieu


References:

[i] In this statement, I’m drawing from Karl Barth.

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. BDW:8, Letters & Papers From Prison, Fortress Press (p.195)

Image: Iron Eagle,  Sidney J. Furie, Tri-Star Pictures, 1986 (Use of this image is considered to be within the boundaries of fair use, given that the image is applied here, for the use of teaching, and comment in a not-for-profit context, and it contains clear credit and promotion of the film as a whole.)