Tag Archives: soul

God is the One, v3

Welcome back to this Sunday Psalm series looking at Psalm 23, considering the various ways David reminds us that “God is the One we need.”

He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3 NASB)

True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. (Psalm 23:3 MSG)

God is the One who restores.

The Hebrew here is a word for turning something back or away, but not necessarily a return to a starting point. A lot of languages are like word pictures where a particular word can have multiple meanings based on the context it’s used in, and this is no different. This word can mean “to come back, to carry something back, to deliver something or fetch something, to recall, recover, refresh, relieve, rescue, retrieve.”

I get the picture that the Shepherd finds this lost sheep going off the path, headed astray, and He picks it up to bring it back to the flock. He’s not bringing it back to the same place; the flock is on the move. But He brings it back so that the lost sheep can follow along with the rest, on the paths that the Shepherd is taking.

Isaiah said of us that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Isa 53:5

Sheep aren’t to be trusted with directions.

Plz can has Google Maaaaaaaps?
Sorry, that’s baaaaaaad.

God is the One who gets in the mess with us.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave us in the muck where we often find ourselves. David writes “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.” (Psalm 40:2 MSG)

The Shepherd doesn’t abandon the sheep, doesn’t say “He got in this mess, he can get himself out.”
“How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG)
“But the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Isa 53:6

God is the One who guides.
David continues the thought here. The Shepherd doesn’t merely get the sheep out of the mess they’re in. The Shepherd is taking the flock somewhere. He has a destination in mind, and there are specific paths that lead to that goal. The Shepherd is not telling the sheep that “all roads will get you where I want you to be.” He only chooses the right way. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
Similar to the very first point from two weeks ago, the first way that “God is the One,” this reminds me that God is not shrugging off sin with a “boys will be boys” and a shake of his head. He calls our going astray an act of rebellion and open hostility. He isn’t willing to accept and call good whatever path we choose. And why is that?

God is the One who is worthy.
He guides us for His name’s sake. It’s not simply because He cares for the sheep, but He cares about His reputation.
“I will not share My glory with another.” Isa 45:8
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NASB
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Php 2:9-11 NASB
He protects His reputation. He makes sure everyone knows He is all He claims to be. It’s about Him, not us. His love and care is not because of something we’ve done to deserve it. It’s because of who He is. He stoops down to shepherd us, not because sheep are special, but because He is humble. “Your gentleness has made me great.” Psalm 18:35

God is the One who is true.
The Message puts “for His name’s sake” as “True to Your word…”
His promises and His mercies come to us because He is faithful. He will not go back on His word. We don’t earn blessings like a paycheck, by doing good deeds and cashing in at the Bank of Heaven. We don’t go to God with a list of what He owes us since we’ve done so much for Him. But we do get to go to Him based on His faithful and true nature. Like the child who reminds the father, “you promised,” the responsibility and the commitment are on His end. God our Shepherd is reliable even if we are not.

God is the One who gets into the mess with me, lifts me out, and points me on the way to truth, which is why He is worthy of praise.

Bordermarches: Gracemarks

You can’t go around hoping that most people have sterling moral characters. The most you can hope for is that people will pretend that they do. – Fran Lebowitz

We all know the logic of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Our initial impressions of a thing may be way off once we look closer. That’s never more true than when dealing with the complexities of people.

But what if you could tell a person’s character at a glance?

What if you could know with near certainty?

That’s the idea that sparked my plan for how the Divine interacts with the populace of the Bordermarches.

This is the fifth in a series about the fantasy setting of the book I am writing. So far, I’ve introduced the world in general, the views of its people about science, the way magic works, and the various Aspects of the Divine.

Story is about people, not the pantheon of gods.

To be fair, stories about the gods, like Greek mythology, are more about exaggerations of people than about the Divine. The gods are like us writ larger than life, and their squabbles mirror those common to humanity. (My atheist friends would gently remind me that they see this as true about all faith.)

Even without a pantheon, even in a setting with only one God (or none at all), there are certain values or ideals that receive greater attention from one person than another. Where those values differ, there is room for conflict and story between characters.

Still, explaining the Divine in the Bordermarches serves to better explain how characters are empowered by their faith. Divine power is a common element of fantasy, just like magic. And just like my thoughts about a magic system, I do not want a Divine power system that boils down to “I can do these things because miracles!”

In my post on magic, I referred to Brandon Sanderson’s thoughts on explaining magic systems in a story. Here’s the link to the First Law, which I find very useful.

My thought process is this: If magic and Divine empowerment are commonplace experiences in this world and have been for all of recorded history, there has to be some knowledge in place about it. People would develop common terms for important parts of the system.

There may still be some mysteries, but there’s a generally understood “way things work.”

For the power of the Divine in the Bordermarches, that “way” is called the Gracemark.

The Gracemark is a symbol on the back of the individual’s dominant hand that normally looks like a tattoo about the size of an apple. There are seven marks, one for each pair of Aspects of the Divine. Individuals usually only have one mark, based on their primary passion or desire.

This mark glows electric blue when the power granted by the Aspect of the Divine is in use.

There are two types of Gracemarks, depending on the source:

1. Gracebrands are granted by the appropriate religious order upon a successful selection process. The nominee is examined and questioned and approved (or not) based on their known character and their perceived merit. The religious orders have devices that can track or sense the use of Divine power through a Gracebrand. This gives them some oversight of those individuals who do good or evil in the name of an Aspect.

At any given time, about forty percent of the populace of the Bordermarches has a Gracebrand.

2. Gracemarks appear spontaneously on approximately ten percent of the population. There is no definite trigger, but Gracemarked individuals in every case show an unwavering passion and zeal for something related to the Aspect whose mark they receive. Usually these individuals have been overlooked or rejected by the religious order’s selection process. The methods the orders employ to track and sense Gracebrands do not work on Gracemarks.

The commonly accepted explanation (of course unproven) is that Gracemarks come directly from the Aspects of the Divine.

The big question is, what do these Gracemarks actually do?

I borrowed from the words of Jesus, when asked “what is the greatest commandment?” His answer is that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Gracemark powers fit into one of those four categories.

Heart: This usage is called a Pulse. It releases Divine power externally, inspiring or strengthening a target other than the Gracemarked individual. Perhaps it might promote loyalty (Love/Beauty), or cure a person suffering from poison or disease (Nature/Growth). It can inspire others toward purity (Light/Truth) or against evil (Justice/Order). It can even heal (Eternity/Life).

Soul: This usage is called a Glimpse. The soul is the seat of emotion and will, and Glimpsing provides the Gracemarked individual with an emotional internal sense about a given thing. This is more an impression than an analysis of data. For example, one could sense the resolve or unwavering nature of another (Strength/Passion), or get an overall impression of another’s moral purity (Light/Truth). A Gracemarked person might have a sudden revelation about what is taking place in another person or in the world around them (Knowledge/Creativity). They may get a generalized idea of the past or future state of a thing (Eternity/Life). In every case, it is a non-empirical and vague intuition based on the particular Aspect for which the individual is marked.

Mind: This usage is called a Gaze. It is another internal revelation power. But the difference between this and a Glimpse is that the information provided by a Gaze is like empirical data to be analyzed. This enables special tracking skill, as the Gracemarked individual sees evidence of their quarry’s passing (Nature/Growth). It can enable an internal “compass” that points to someone the Gracemarked individual is bound to (Love/Beauty), like a spouse and children, or perhaps subordinates in a military unit. ┬áThis enables detection of evil (Justice/Order), or simply detection of life (Eternity/Life). It also enables a Divine sort of lie detector test (Light/Truth). It may even be used to get clairvoyance or prophecy (Knowledge/Creativity).

Strength: This usage is called a Strain. In almost all cases, it is an internal boost, an imbuement of Divine power that strengthens the Gracemarked individual. The Gracemarked person may exhibit superhuman strength (Strength/Passion), which is no surprise. They may heal themselves by setting their bodies and wounds back to the way they should be (Justice/Order). They may receive special knowledge about how to do a particular thing they’ve never been trained for (Knowledge/Creativity). They can seem to slow time by dramatically increasing their reaction and movement speed for a brief period (Eternity/Life).

The exception to the internal rule is the Gracemark of Light/Truth, which enables single-target healing. These individuals use their strength of devotion to Strain on behalf of another in need.

Each Gracebrand has two powers associated with it, depending on the particular Aspect. Those with Light/Truth can Gaze as lie detectors and can Strain to heal others. Those with Nature/Growth can Gaze to track a target and Pulse to cure poison or disease.

Gracemarks enjoy access to all four types of powers associated with their particular Aspect. This, coupled with the fact that they cannot be tracked by and do not conform to the religious orders, makes their bearers persons of interest among the political and religious elite. Having a Gracemark in the Bordermarches means having a target on your head.

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus surprised His questioners by providing two. He followed the first by saying, “And the second is like it:”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

What happens if a Gracemarked individual violates their personal morality or their religious order’s commands?

Is a Gracebrand or Gracemark license to do whatever you want with Divine power?

Gracebrands can be deactivated by the religious order. The specifics are not commonly known, but the religious orders police their own and punish those who violate the accepted teachings of their Aspect. The process leaves a scar in the place of the brand. This clearly identifies that the individual once held favor with the Divine or the religious orders but was stripped of their access to that power.

Gracemarks have at times been known to vanish as well. However, the religious orders do not have control over these marks, and the individuals who bear them are usually unwavering in their commitment to the ideals represented by their Aspect.

If a Gracemark vanishes, it leaves a scar just like a Gracebrand.

That captures most of the details of how the power of the Aspects of the Divine fits into the Bordermarches.

Of course, what would a fantasy setting be without evil? And what self-respecting evil power would not corrupt the good into their own twisted service? Next, I’ll cover the seven Daemons and the empowering Curses they bestow on those who follow their ways.