Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another in the continuing clips about Luther

These clips are from the older (1950s, I think) film about Luther.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A good introduction to Luther

I suspect that most reading this blog are familiar with Luther. But there are many who are not. (When my kids went to a Lutheran -- yes, LCMS, in case you were wondering -- summer camp, there were kids there -- from good Lutheran churches -- who thought that when "Martin Luther" was referred to, we were talking about "Martin Luther King." So here's a clip that may help such. I'll be posting more in the days to come.

The Serpent on the Pole

When the people of Israel sinned in Numbers 21 -- complaining against the Lord and against His servant Moses -- God sends fiery serpents into their midst, "and much people died." (21.6). And while God sent the fiery serpents, he also provided the remedy, and Moses was commanded to place a replica of the serpent on a pole, and hoist the pole, and those who saw the serpent replica lived.

Christ explicitly compares Himself to the serpent. It's important that we avoid making the crucifixion pretty. It's easy to do this, because we want to avoid the sheer horror of the scene. Our Lord was crucified at a place where Roman soldiers routinely killed people for crimes as little as theft. There were probably wild dogs there that fed off of the flesh of criminals who died and whose bodies happened to get left on the ground. It was hot. It was muggy. There would be insects. It was not nice.

But the point of Numbers 21 is that Christ says He is like the serpent. The serpent is the occasion for the sin of Adam, and the serpent is never an attractive figure. How is Christ like the serpent?

The clue to answering this question is found in II Cor. 5.20-21: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Christ was made sin for us. Christ was made a serpent for us. Christ was made the evil that we are, in order to free us.

Friday, September 28, 2007

How to Pray When Busy

The last couple of days have been crazy. I'm self-employed, and there are times when work's calls become scary.

But everyone -- self-employed, employed, or whatever -- have busy days. The reality is that we are still commanded to "pray without ceasing." Even on busy days.

Praying is not just about requests. Prayer is also about praising God, receiving gifts from God, and acknowledging His goodness. If we have a fully-orbed prayer life, our prayers will contain all of these things. Some suggestions for busy times:

1. Make use of the Jesus prayer. Simple to learn, and deceptively easy, but there is depth in this prayer for a lifetime of praying. The words: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Some have phrased it as "have mercy on me, the sinner," but the difference there is probably not important, at least not now. Even simpler versions are something like "Lord, have mercy." Can this prayer become a routine? Sure it can. Just like telling your husband or wife that you love them. The secret to making use of the Jesus prayer is to ponder each word, each phrase, to remember our sins, and to remember our Savior's mercy. There will be times in your life when -- through grief, through fear, through sorrow, through whatever -- other prayers will be difficult. This prayer can carry you through. I encourage anyone to learn it, and grow into the wonders of this prayer.

2. Ponder some of the biblical prayers with similar phrasing. These are some examples: Matthew 9.27, 15.22, 17.15, 20.30, or Luke 18.39.

3. Know the creeds. Most people who are in a liturgical church know the apostles creed and the Nicene creed by heart, but if you don't, make a point of learning them, and pondering them. The point is not to repeat like a parrot, but to literally know "by heart," to know the creed that you may ponder and meditate on them. When driving, when doing paperwork, when walking: ponder the creeds, and the great deeds of your God.

4. Another project we might consider for the future: learning the Athanasian creed by heart. Most of us hear this once a year, on Trinity Sunday, but the creed is not that hard to learn, and knowing it by heart enables us to ponder the mysteries of the incarnation when we wish.

5. Have a copy of the catechism with you. (I mean the bare bones of the catechism, the pamphlet edition). Use it when you have a few minutes free. Even better, know the catechism by heart.

6. Carry a New Testament with you. Having a 10 minute wait gives you time to read a chapter or 2.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Free Books

Would you like a place where you can get free books?

Well, if you're a book nerd like me, the proper answer is, "Who wouldn't?"

: )

The secret for free books is ones that are in the public domain.

"Public domain" means books that no longer in copyright. (The rules are a bit arcane at times, but basically ones published before the 1930s or so, at least in the US).

Several sites are actively scanning such books in, which means they are available for your use. Read them online, print them out, whatever.

The best source I've found is this:

The site is a source for all varieties of public domain information. I'm interested in books, so click "texts" along the top line of the page.

On the next page, type into the search line whatever you're interested in. Say: "Lutheran"

A list of every book they have available containing the term "Lutheran" will come up. Click one of those, and you'll see (on the left) the options available for reading it, such as a PDF file, TXT, or whatever.

A "flip book" is one I especially like. This displays the book as a book.

Some of the books in public domain are still in print. Some are not. Some are worthwhile. Some not. But there are many fine and useful books which has -- for whatever reason -- been allowed to languish. Some of them need rescuing. Go for it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to find out if a book is good

I used to spend a lot of time in bookstores. No more.

Not that I don't spend a lot of time and money with books. It's the big vice of my life. But I just find myself spending less and less time searching out bookstores.

Instead, I spend time and money buying books online. Usually at Amazon, because they're usually the easiest to work with and provide the best bargains.

But I can't look at the books. At least I can't thumb through them. How do I get past this problem?

First, I look for books with the "search inside" feature. Such books enable me to read at least part of the book, and that helps me know if it's for me or not. I often read the first couple of pages. If the book is going to grab me, it usually will by that point.

Not every book is so enabled. (My own book is one such ... ) But I know that I'm far less inclined to purchase a book (unless it comes highly recommended by someone I trust) if I can't read at least some of it.

Another thing I look for are negative reviews. Positive reviews are often strings of glowing praise, without much in the way of specifics, but negative reviews (unless it's just one of those "I hate this book" types) will often point out specific things that help me evaluate the book. A negative review is not going to necessarily keep me from buying a book. It WILL help me know enough to know if I should purchase it.

For almost anyone reading this, the real cost of a book is not the cover price. The real cost is the time spent reading it. Everyone has limited time to read, and it's important to find books that help with your particular interests and needs. Amazon has provided that help.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Students and teachers

From Edmund Schlink's Theology of the Lutheran Confessions:

"Before one can be a father he must have been a child and a youth. No one can become a teacher who has not first become a pupil. It is as a pupil instructed by the church's interpretation of Scripture that the theologian must himself interpret Scripture in the church and instruct the church. The pupil status is never at an end. Every teacher remains all his life a child of his mother, the church."

Putting Books Aside

I'm a big fan of not finishing books.

Oh, I finish most of them I begin. But when a book just isn't working for me, I lay it aside.

It doesn't mean the book is bad. Or that the author is wrong. It just means that, well, it's not working.

This does something good for me: it allows me to read more than I would otherwise.

Those who feel an overwhelming need to finish every book they start will avoid ones that look hard, marginally uninteresting, whatever.

My philosophy allows me to begin even those I'm not sure about. Because I know I don't have the heavy burden of finishing the book.

This philosophy has to be coupled with at least a modicum of persistence: some books don't yield their treasures easily. If you give up at the slightest intellectual resistance, you'll never complete anything of value.

But allowing oneself the freedom to lay aside a work that's just not of value to you at the moment will help your learning, help your studies, and give you the freedom to roam further than you might otherwise.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weedon's Blog

The blog from a friend and former pastor of ours. We don't always agree (that's what makes friendships interesting) but he has useful and good stuff, and writes from a pastoral perspective:

The Simpsons and Garrison Keillor and the faith

There are 2 types of people in the world. Those who like 'The Simpsons' and those who like Garrison Keillor's 'Prairie Home Companion.' The 2 types are very seldom found in one person.

My wife thinks it's a coastal thing: that Simpsons lovers tend to live on either the west or east coast, and that Prairie lovers tend to be midwestern. A friend of mine says that PHC is complete Minnesota humor, and that the further one is away from Minnesota, the more difficult it is to get the jokes.

My complaint today is with those conservatives who whine about The Simpsons. The usual kind of complaints are that The Simpsons represents an irreverent kind of humor, that Bart is a juvenile delinquent and thereby a bad role model or something like that.

When I push people who express these opinions, I usually find that they have never watched the program much, if at all. The whining probably began with George H. W. Bush's comment, "America needs to be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons."

The reality is that The Simpons is a very accurate portrayal of American life. Especially on religious matters.

Americans are very religious. This is true for Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever. We as a country take our faith seriously. The kind of disinterested skeptic who is prominent in, say, French intellectual life is noticed in America only because of his oddity.

The Simpsons reflect that religious reality. Watch a couple of episodes of the program, and note the religious flavor of the program. People pray. Sometimes it's Bart, sometimes Homer, sometimes Marge or Lisa, or often it's the neighbor Ned Flanders. But people really pray.

People go to church. They attend church, they talk about church, and even the shows' Hindu character actually attends to his religious devotions.

Consider the Ned Flanders character. There are literally millions of Americans like Flanders: a mainstream evangelical Christian who takes his faith seriously, as does his family. And Flanders is portrayed as an appealing character: a kindly man who does good to Homer, even when Homer is less than kindly to him. This is no hypocrite, no fake: he really believes in what he says, and even though he's not shown as perfect, his life generally matches his convictions.

(Not to mention that the main family in the show is an intact nuclear family, with a husband who supports the family, a stay-at-home mom with 3 children).

I'm baffled by the continued grumbling about this program. It's not perfect, it can be uneven (hey -- the show's been airing 17 years now), but I tend to think that those with complaints about the program are really those with complaints about America. Because that's what the program is about.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Spies and Traitors

Spies are not traitors. And traitors are not spies.

Spies are those who seek information from enemies, usually in a surreptitious manner. The Israelite spies did that: they sought information about the land God had promised to God's people.

Americans have come to be lazy about these terms. It has become traditional for news sources to call an American who has provided information to an enemy a "spy."

Such a person is not a spy: he is a traitor.

A traitor is one who sells out his own country to others.

Spying is a sometimes honorable and necessary task in a fallen world. Calling those who are traitors "spies" demeans the character of men like Caleb and Joshua. These men were spies, and were commended by God.

Praying with the Bible

Knowledge of the Bible is a loop that feeds back into prayer, and prayer then leads back to informing our Bible study.

Numbers 13-14 tells us of the Israelite spies going into the land to scope it out. When they return, all of the spies except Caleb and Joshua provide a pessimistic report to the people, telling them they should fear the inhabitants of the land. The people of Israel rebel, begin making plans to return to Egypt, and argue that God has brought them and their children into this new land that they might all die there. God in turn offers to Moses that He will disinherit the people, and create a new people from Moses.

Moses' prayer is interesting. The thrust of it is to argue that if the people of Israel die, God's name will be blasphemed among the heathen. He argues from the greatness of God's mercy, and argues explicitly from the forgiveness of their sins which the Israelites had already received.

This prayer is much like Abraham's prayer in Genesis 18. Both men essentially remind God of Who He is, and of His nature, and plead with Him to act as He is. Abraham further argues that it is against God's nature to destroy the righteous with the wicked.

Notice also the Trinitarian nature of Moses' argument in Numbers 14.14: "thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night." Notice also that once again the Israelites are reminded that God speaks to them "face to face," which ties in with the theme of glory, a recurring motif in the book of Numbers.

The Power of the Word of God

The penitential Psalm 51, while a comfort to sinners (such as David, who wrote the Psalm after killing Uriah, and committing adultery with Bathsheba) is also a commentary on the power of the word of God.

David prays for both forgiveness, and for the ability to teach sinners.

The 2 go together. When we rejoice in God's forgiveness of our sins, that joy shows forth to others, who are also brought into that forgiveness.

It's important for us to remember that God's word accomplishes what it sets out to do. Vs. 13 speaks of that:

"Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."

When God's ways are taught, sinners are converted. Not everyone: there are those who resist and turn away from God's word, but sinners are converted. We can count on that.

We can't see God's word accomplishing these things, and we can't know for sure when that preached word will do the job. But it will do it.

This is the comfort for those who preach. God's word will work. It is not your job to manipulate the hearers. Just preach the word. Let God do His job.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Leprosy and Glory

Numbers 12 is interesting on a number of levels, but I'm dealing here with the relationship of Miriam's sudden leprosy and the shining of glory.

First, leprosy in the Bible is not modern leprosy, known technically as Hansen's disease. Googling leprosy for modern experience is not really helpful.

In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron had challenged Moses' authority. Specifically, they challenged Moses as a unique speaker for God. God descends in a cloud, and verifies Moses' authority, and when the cloud ascends, Aaron sees that Miriam is leprous.

Note the contrasts: God speaks in "dark" speeches (vs. 8) while Miriam becomes "white" (vs. 10). Also note that the proximate cause of the rebellion is Moses' marriage to an "Ethiopian" woman, presumably a woman of darker skin. (Another note: "Ethiopian" in the scriptures is a term meaning anyone from sub-Saharan Africa. It doesn't mean the modern political entity of Ethiopia, although it doesn't exclude people from that region).

The face is where the glory shines. Miriam's face becomes inglorious, even worse than if her father had spit on her face. She is shut out of the camp for 7 days for uncleanness and the people wait on her to begin their journey again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Interesting Coincidence of Deaths

When Americans think about "the '60s," we don't usually mean the period from 1960 to 1970. Instead, we usually mean the years from late 1963 to around 1970.

I would date that era actually from one set of deaths to another set of deaths.

The first set was on one specific afternoon: Nov. 22, 1963.

On that afternoon, President John Kennedy was killed, and American politics changed almost overnight from optimism to the pessimism that still seems to have a stranglehold on us.

On that same afternoon, Aldous Huxley -- one of the lights of pessimistic humanism -- died in England.

Likewise, C. S. Lewis, one of the last of a certain variety of Christian humanist died.

And something changed after that afternoon. It's important not to assume that because something happened after another event, that the first caused the second. (In other words, I got out of bed this morning. My getting out of bed didn't make the sun rise. This is a fairly common logical mistake).

So I'm not saying that these deaths engendered that wild ride known as the 60s. But they are a useful marker.

The deaths that ended the 60s happened likewise on an afternoon, in Kent, Ohio, with the deaths of the Kent State 4: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glen Miller, Sandra Lee Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder.

When those 4 died, there was an explosion of protests around the country, but the wind seemed to go out of the sails of the protests after 6 weeks, and likewise something changed.

I was reminded of the coincidences of the deaths of Nov. 22, 1963, when posting earlier a review of C. S. Lewis' book, The Abolition of Man. While Abolition is not one of Lewis' best-selling books, it's one of the more important ones in my opinion, and represents an earlier, perhaps more well-thought Christian humanism.

C. S. Lewis: The Abolition of Man

Another Amazon review, on C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man.

"While a short book (my copy has only 121 pages) this book is about teaching and learning and how we pas our culture from generation to generation. But the reality of the book is that education is used as a foil for talking about how and why we transmit culture from one generation to the next. Because ultimately, that's what education is about, and why it's so important: because in educating children, we are telling them and ourselves about what is important, and why. A fine book, deceptively easy to read, but taking a long time to digest and reason through."

Martin Chemnitz: The Lord's Supper

A review of Chemnitz's The Lord's Supper.

"Like every one of Chemnitz's books I've read, this is a masterful work about a specialized area of Christian theology that's central to our faith: the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. And while Chemnitz works through the dogmatics of the topic, his approach is at the same time pastoral, showing obvious concern that all Christians (not just pastors or theologians) understand what they are receiving when partaking of the Supper.

This book ties in closely with another of Chemnitz's books, 'The Two Natures in Christ,' as the two topics are closely related.

Also helpful: the English translation in this book is well done, not wordy, but smooth-flowing and easy to read. Highly recommended."

Michael O'Brien: Father Elijah: An Apocalypse

Another review, this time of Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah: An Apocalypse.

Unlike many folks, I'm not a big fiction fan.

When I want to relax, give me something arcane and philosophical. My writings, articles, and reviews are likewise usually practical or theoretical, but almost never fictional.

But occasionally, a story is recommended to me, and I succumb, and here's one where I fell in, head over heels, and it was worth the fall.

'Father Elijah' covers the vast sweep of the 20th century. It deals with philosphy, theology, history, ethics, the church, and does so by telling a wonderful story of a man who barely survived the progroms of World War II, fled to Israel, rose to prominence there, and gave up his prominence to enter monastic life, and by a series of events he did not plan, came once again into a quiet and awe-full prominence at the end of time.

The beauty of this book is palpable. I was moved by the story of a life lived under the cross.

Others said it better than me: leave behind the left behind. Those books pale in comparison to this deceptively simple and moving story."

Martin Chemnitz: The Two Natures in Christ

A short review (on of Martin Chemnitz's The Two Natures in Christ.

"This book was recommended to me in 1989. I bought it in 1990, and have read it a number of times since then, with greater insights coming from it with each read.

If I had to grab a handful of books because a flood was coming, this is one I'd take. This is the finest Christology book I've ever read, and there is no competition. I would argue that in a real sense, it is one of the top 5 theology books I've ever read at all.

A couple of suggestions:

1. Get a good copy. I'm all for buying used books from Amazon, but this might be one where you'd want to get it new, just because you will -- I hope -- be reading it over and over. And you'll very likely never sell it, because this book is so good that you'll feel like hogging it to yourself.

2. Read it slowly. I'm not a fan of devotional books (they're often junk) but this book teaches you about theology, while nurturing your spiritual life. When I'm reading it, I read 2-4 pages a day. Of course, that means it might take a year to get through, but what's the problem with that? When you're finished, you'll feel like starting over.

3. Most errors in Christian theology stem from one of 2 areas. People get messed up on either the PERSON of Christ (who He is) or the WORK of Christ (what He does). This book will inoculate you against both errors.

4. This is NOT a book "just for pastors." Any thoughtful layperson can read and learn from this. A few terms are in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew; most of those terms are translated.

Martin Chemnitz is a master. Get this book (and anything by him) and learn from it. You will be a better Christian for it, and your church will benefit, too."

God with a face

Numbers 6.23-26 gives us the traditional Trinitarian blessing:

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Although it's important to remember that -- theologically speaking -- all of God's works toward us are works of the whole, undivided Trinity, we tend to think of the different persons as having special places in our creation and salvation.

The first phrase reminds us of God's creation and preservation of us and all the world, one that we often associate with God the Father. (With always keeping in mind the Son's role -- see John 1 -- as well as that of the Holy Spirit's "brooding" on the waters in Genesis 1.2)

The third phrase speaks to the Holy Spirit's job of bringing us to the Son, and giving us peace through Christ.

But what seems especially cool is the second phrase. God makes His face shine on us. The theology of the incarnation reminds us that we have a God who is one of us. Even now. God took a body, which He will never leave or lose. So at the right hand of the Father now stands a man, a man with flesh and blood, like us, only without sin. A man with a face. A Savior whose face we will one day see.

(Not to mention that that divine and human is said to "shine": shining today and then, brighter than the sun. Shining with the true and incarnate glory of God).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Scriptures in the Creeds

This is a tentative exploration of some issues I've been pondering about the Nicene and Apostles creeds. They are certainly subject to correction at a later date (by myself -- or anyone else!)

My concern is with a confession about the scriptures. There is no explicit confession in the Apostles creed, but there are 2 ("according to the Scriptures," and "spoke by the prophets") in the Nicene.

What I'm wondering is whether -- over the very long term, meaning decades and centuries -- an emphasis on the Apostles creed may lead to a denigration of the scriptures in the faith of those Christians who sit under such an emphasis.

The Nicene creed has a more "rooted" quality, meaning it is tethered in the scriptures. Specifically, the work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in the Scriptures, where God has bound Himself. In the Apostles creed, the third article reads, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints," etc.

Does this article make the Holy Spirit's work less tied to the Scriptures and more "floating" in the church? My concern is that the tendency (in America at least) to speak of an immediate revelation ("God said I should do that," without scriptural reference) may come from that.

On the other hand, if we are continually reminded that the Holy Spirits speaks "by the prophets" we may better remember that any inklings we have must be tested against the Word of God.

This is not to say that the Apostles creed is wrong. But this creed -- a private, western, baptismal creed -- was never approved by a council. We Lutherans have inherited it from over the centuries. Would we do better to emphasize one (the Nicene) with a greater consensus among the church?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Glory and Shame

Continuing from the theme posted yesterday, about "glory."

We're taught in II Peter 1.4 that we become "partakers" of the divine nature. ("Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.")

Our brethren in the eastern churches sometimes speak about this process as "divinization." Rightly understood, that's nothing more than the fact that we will be returned to the divine glory we partook of in the garden, although it's sometimes misunderstood (probably on both sides) as teaching that we will somehow become gods, or become part of God. That's not what they are teaching.

But if we look back to the garden, Adam was deceived by the serpent into eating the fruit which God had commanded him not to eat of. After so eating, Adam and Eve fashion leaves as coverings for themselves, to cover their nakedness. Now the question: what changed? In other words, they were naked before; why the sudden need to cover?

I'm going to guess that Adam in his innocence (that is, prior to the fall) shone as a partaker of the divine glory, much as Christ shone on the mount of Transfiguration. Not that Adam was god there, but he had reflected glory in that state, and what stood out in that state was the shining glory -- not their nakedness. Suddenly, after the fall, their nakedness stood out as a defining characteristic.

This makes more sense after reading Phillipians 3.19: "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." Phil. 3 is often incorrectly read as a command against gluttony, which it isn't. Gluttony is a sin, but that's not what St. Paul is talking about here.

In context, St. Paul is speaking about the Judaizers, who tried to force individuals to observe the Jewish law in order to become Christians. "Those whose God is their belly" is referring to those who demand (against Acts 10) that Christians keep the dietary laws of Lev. 11.

Those "whose glory is their shame" are those demanding ritual circumcision as a cost of being a Christian. "Shame" here equals what we euphemistically call "private parts," in other words, the area of the body we normally don't display to the public. The contrast here is glory and shame, and glory (in NT Greek) usually has a connotation of "shining" as in Hebrew.

In other words, Adam had glory, and lost it. He noticed his "shame," and tried to cover the shame.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"The Sons of Kohath": more on Numbers 4

When the text speaks of "the sons of Kohath" (vss. 2, 4, and 15), this is not meaning specifically Kohath's physical children only, although that meaning's not excluded. In Numbers 4, "the sons of Kohath" means those who are his descendants. The Levites were set aside to minister the religious aspects of Israelite life, and the Kohathites were set aside for this sub-specialty in the priestly service.

The phrase "sons of" doesn't always mean physical descendancy in OT usage. Amos 7.14 uses the phrase, but in that sense it means not physical lineage, but one who is a student of the prophets, or trained to be a prophet. In other words, Amos was a herdsman, and like Melchizedek or Christ, he is one not expected to be a prophet. The sons of Levi, the ones who would be expected to be prophets, are mediately called through their physical birth into the Levitical line, but Amos is given an immediate call, while he was herding the flock.

The Glory of God in Numbers 4

God's glory is a continuing theme in scripture. I think that we tend to mis-read the word "glory," and we think of it in terms of what we do, that is that we "glorify" God, meaning we worship Him.

The Hebrew word has a more physical meaning, indicating a glowing. (This would be consonant with the Transfiguration account, when -- Matt. 17.2 -- we are told that Jesus' face shone like the sun, and that His clothing was bright white).

In Numbers 4.15, Kohath and his sons were commanded to bear the instruments of the Tabernacle, but they were not to touch the holy things, "lest they die."

Most people hearing this in our culture hear this as a command that they not touch the holy things, lest they "be killed." But in a sense, the potential death warned against here is a passive one, in the same way that we might warn someone to be watchful on a highway because they might be killed.

God is not waiting to catch the sons of Kohath in order to kill them. Instead, a death in such a situation is a "natural" one, in which the one touching dies as a result of touching something partaking of God's glory. This was the fear in much of the Bible, of dying as a result of contact with God's naked glory, to paraphrase Luther. Note again the disciples in Matt. 17.6: "they were sore afraid." Likewise in Acts 9.3, a light from heaven shines on Saul, who is said to be "trembling" (vs. 6). Note again the physicalness of the description: Saul is not only afraid, he is shaking. Good Pharisee that he is, Saul knows the warning to the sons of Kohath, that people who touch God risk death. Did Saul in that instance know that in persecuting the church, he was touching God by hurting the body of Christ?