Human

Fully and Truly Human

The second chapter in the awesome first volume is going head on with a view on humanity. (I am on zoom with a small group Sunday and we will be gradually working through this booklet. The full booklet I will publish here in due course.)

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your hand-made sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way? (Ps. 8).

Many views of post-fall have humanity as basically evil, totally depraved. Better forms might suggest that totally depraved means affected in every area, but the final result is whatever good is done it is but ‘as filthy rags’. Having no value before God. It is easy to pull together Scriptures that prove a point (I would never do this!). filthy rags has a context, and it the context is not – regardless of who you are it is all rubbish whatever you do. The context was concerning religious behaviour.

Jesus is fully human, not semi-human. Although never ceasing to be God he becomes full human, sharing in our humanity (for those interested I am pretty much in the kenotic camp that he does not draw on his divinity while on earth). Beyond that, and unlike all of us, Jesus is also TRULY human. Coming to faith is a journey toward being truly human, final transformation will be ‘we will be like him’.

In this chapter I am seeking to establish (from my bias) that humanity is not evil but fallen. What is fallen can be redeemed, what is evil needs to be judged. Hence all behaviour that humanises is ‘Godly’ behaviour. dehumanisation is the work of the demonic. So sadly we can do ‘Christian’ things in a way that dehumanises and therefore does not resonate with godly behaviour. And by way of contrast, even someone who expresses no faith, can do genuine good, godly acts.

Where this is going is not in a therefore ‘all are saved’ direction. I want to take it in a value of human life; and beyond that the ‘ekklesia’ (this will be volume 2) is responsible to create a shape where the good that is in people comes through and the bad held back. Of course if we have a Gospel that is but if people are bad they need salvation and we don’t reach those who are ‘good’. For me that is a challenge to the gospel we believe and present.

This chapter is to bridge us into the next ones – Judas comes first, the disciple who is very like us, but whose human weakness was exploited. Then to Peter and with both of those disciples how their view of the Messiah is what messed them up. Our tendency is to be always on hand to be there to help Jesus out. Good motivation!! However, gets us in trouble every time. Passion + (our) vision of the kingdom = trouble.

I begin here so

Presuppositions determine our destination

Presuppositions so determine outcomes. In my first focused writing that I will be going through with a few on Sunday evening I come reasonably clean. If we start at a given point we are probably going to end somewhere predictable. So I open with a personal bio that I suggest is more a personal bias.

If I think the world is essentially a burning building with everyone inside already in danger and eventually they will all burn in Gehenna and I run around pulling people out by the hair I will be deemed a hero. If a person refuses to come, I leave them to burn and pull the next one out I will have ethically been good. A presupposition. However if I view the work of the demonic to dehumanise and objectivise people, ‘befriend’ in order to evangelise (proselytise) and move on till I find someone who was elected from all eternity (or simply responsive in time) then my partnering in the act of pulling willing people by the hair will not be seen as a heroic act but something that even-in-part partnered with the demonic. And given who God is I will still have testimonies as to how he wonderfully broke in and people found salvation. The above I have put in extreme language… but my point is that where we start will shape behaviour, our assessment of what is deemed right, and for the sake of the writing that where we start will largely determine where we end up.

The challenge of belief is not that there are many valid faiths. There are many valid perspectives but not all perspectives are equal. In sharing my perspectives I am not seeking to convert readers to my viewpoint but ot provoke a journey toward their personal convictions. I do not expect to influence (e.g.) someone with a hard line Reformed position, or someone running round with a placard saying ‘Repent the end is nigh!’.

In the mid 90s I read an article that helped explain something. It was on the shift that had been taking place within evangelicalism. Previously to be evangelical was to sit with beliefs that were within a set of boundaries. There might be a few variations within the boundaries (e.g. eternal punishing – and this is normally written wrongly as punishment – in hell, or conditional immortality – again wrongly written as annihilation) but if one was inside the boundaries one was ‘in’ and outside one was a ‘heretic’. The author went on to describe the shift as being to emphasising two questions as being central. One question was with regard to what the door was to reconciliation to the Father, and the second what was the source of authority for one’s beliefs. The ‘correct’ answers to become a millionaire to prove one was still an evangelical were ‘the death on a cross by Jesus’ and ‘the Scriptures’. So far so good! But those who belief Jesus only died for the elect, and those who belief in Universalism both respond with the correct answers. And so it goes on and the diversity of views we see today expressed into current thorny issues such as same-sex marriage simply illustrate how the ground has shifted.

With a personal bias (starting point) we are shaped by our reading of Scripture, our experiences etc., but also by so much that is internal. I was talking to someone recently who was reflecting that a colleague of theirs was reacting to what they understood to be a ‘universalist’ perspective. They reacted with ‘well if everyone is saved why should I bother to follow Jesus.’ I am not a universalist, but if my reason for following Jesus is to avoid going somewhere really nasty it surely is time for me to push a whole lot deeper in my relationship to the Lord. Beliefs reveal so much!

A few posts to read

Want something a little deeper than I write here, some writers worth engaging with. OKAY – don’t all shout ‘yes please’ at once. I don’t want to be too disturbed. Into my inbox came three posts simultaneously that I thought would be of interest…

Andrew Perriman does a quick review through John Piper’s ‘Coronavirus and Christ’ in this post:

Review: John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ

The divide not simply between the Reformed and a more Arminian position will be clear, but Andrew who seeks to operate within a full-on narrative-historical approach makes it very clear about why he objects to the Piper position. The Reformed position that Piper articulates requires a healthy dose of (un-???)healthy faith. Piper writes:

The secret… is knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.

I wrote recently that: I am more in camp of the atheist on the issue of suffering than in the camp of ‘God is sovereign, we do not understand his will, but he has foreordained all things’.

Scot McKnight is a prolific writer – where does he find the time? In this review of Lee Camp’s book Scandalous Witness he posts:

Is America a Christian Nation?

Please do not simply think this is an ‘American’ question or critique. McKnight and Camp are north American hence the focus. I can substitute any other nation for the ‘America’ word.

In short he states that ‘Nation-state and Christianity are too much at odds to become partners’.

Finally Roger Mitchell re-posted in the current context a post he wrote a while back. I appreciate there are different perspectives on the ‘Brexit’, and maybe at some levels that is how it should be as all choices of that nature are never perfect, however there are underlying principles that inform our choices. In the post he engages with Anthony G. Reddie, who puts forward a critique from a black post-colonial liberation theological perspective. Vital we are critiqued from outside our own context.

Advance notice: Roger is working on launching a site for a Kenarchy Journal: articles grouped together exploring how the outpoured life of heaven engaged with sets our priorities for engagement with the world.

OH – almost forgot Roger’s post! Read it here: Why we must not let last December’s election result or the Pandemic obscure the roots of Brexit

Humanising the divine

Well what strange days indeed. We have just entered our second week of being allowed out for an hour a day – FREEDOM, after for us 9 weeks inside. But I think hugely rich days, and we continue to pray for the reset that is over-due. In it all there are a few subtle re-definitions coming to the surface. Essential work being one of those. (I have suggested that Paul was clear that if one does not work then one does not deserve to eat… our ‘we can monetise everything’ world has changed the text to ‘if one does not earn money’…. thus distorting any theology of work.)

There are places and times that are leverage points – the wider effect is greater in those places and at those times than we have previously experienced, finding that we shifted more than we anticipated. This is such a time. And no, this is not just going to disappear, indeed I have been saying this time is more of a sign than a simple reality as I consider 2022 being when there will be a combination of situations that will converge at the same time. Now is real, only too real, but at the same time it is a sign; signs point somewhere; it is the alarm, and the alarm is to wake us up into a new reality.

We have had to make practical shifts but the number of connections, particularly via ‘zoom’ has increased with a mix of old and totally new connections. At the same time I have been writing. In the mid-90s I coincidentally met Mark Dupont who did not know me from a bar of soap and immediately said ‘books, books, books… I see a stream of books.’ Since that encounter I went on to write 6 books, with chapters in some other, and translations into 4 languages. That was that era.

I have now entered the final phase of my life (no death wish I can assure you!). The final phase is to be the least public, but most effective, and I would love it to rock on for at least another 30 years. It probably needs to last that long as it would be nice to at least achieve a level of maturity that one might expect in a 21 year old. (Hey I was 21 once and was achieving a level of maturity back then that was frightening; the last years have been about growing down to the level of immaturity that I really have.)

A few years back I met Mark again, and again before there was any ‘hello’ he said ‘writing, writing, keep on writing… there is more to come.’

I have thought about that many times since. Books are strange, they are strange for an author as they catch something in time. ‘I wrote this back then because that is where I was, but it is in print so cannot change the text.’ Also strange because there is a practical element of how one publishes and sells. I suspect if I were to publish I could move around 150 -200 (such impressive influence!). So I have wrestled with the what, how questions.

I have no idea if I have answered the what and how, but I have completed what I grandiosely have called volume 1 and have entitled it ‘Humanising the Divine’. How, and whether I publish I am not sure, but on Sunday I will begin with a zoom to 6 other people where we will go weekly through a chapter.

I am beginning with a high view of humanity, although clearly acknowledging that God is not simply a bigger version of us. There is an otherness in God, but humanity carries the image of God; Jesus came in human form, and retains that; the hope is for the resurrection of the body not some spiritualised life after death.

Theology’s norm is to start with the doctrine of God (after all it is THEOlogy), while having a logic to the order also starts with what we do not know. Quickly the omni- words kick in. Then down the line comes the anthropological section and the human race is put in their place. Sin with all its wonderful words, often with ‘original sin’ right bang in the centre.

I am not suggesting the above is illegitimate, simply that is not the lens that I have had or used these past years. There is such a need to draw a distinction between ‘evil’ and ‘fallen’. Even creation is fallen, but has a voice calling out for the right rhythms – there has been a response to that voice in this crisis. Humanity too!

I will eventually post what I have written on these pages, and if the guinea pigs survive and find it moderately helpful I will look to multiply the zoom calls. Oh… and now I am on volume 2 so later today will be pushing those keys once again.

An explosive Scripture

Well we can ask which one as there are so many!!

In this little old lockdown era, that signals something much longer term for us all, along with countless thousands of others I have been discovering the world of zoom. Yesterday Brazil, today Germany and so it goes on daily. At the same time I have been writing, working on writing a book, or a series of booklets, not sure what to do with them yet, but one thought I have is of some form of publishing and then with a small group of doing a zoom chat on a chapter per week. So for all the millions who follow this blog put that at the back of your mind as ‘I would love to do that.’

I am trying to write material that would tackle some of the theological issues in a down to earth simple way, not so that I can gain converts to my incredible movement but to be a resource. I am sure that our goal in life is not to convert others to our viewpoint but to help stimulate people to develop their own convictions. Sadly so much of what we can access is predictable and simply re-enforcing the status quo. I think some simple theological principles might help equip us for wider engagement. Or so go my thoughts.

And before the Scripture quote (one I have been looking at in the context of the writing) how about this for a stupendous quote, regarding being inspired by the natural world:

The deep swirling grandeur of our gorgeous planet drifting through space on a mission to increase compassion and wisdom (Stephen Harding).

Moving on to the Scripture I was meditating on yesterday. In John 10: 47-53 we read of a behind the scenes meeting:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

So much detail from the insider meeting. The corruption of the Jewish hierarchy, their collusion with Rome so that in the symbiotic relationship (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours) there was a recognition how everything could be sustained if they did not rock the boat. Jesus was rocking the boat and everything was being challenged, with a focus on the loss of the Temple. They decide Jesus has to be put to death to save the Temple. Ironically Jesus said ‘destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days’, and he also said that within 40 years of his death the Temple the hierarchy cared about would be destroyed… wait for it… by the Romans. Irony, or irony?

The area that interested me in the text was that ‘Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (and not only…)’. We have focused our theology on ‘and not only…’ and in a very personal way – for the sins of the world = for my sins. However there is a huge theme in Scripture (or at least in the Pauline writings) of ‘the Jew first, then the Gentile’.

I think so much of our theology has been removed from the historical narrative of Scripture so much so that we have approached the Bible as if it was there as a book to develop systematic theology. Here is my illustration. We have a jigsaw puzzle, the biblical texts being the pieces. We know the finished product, the picture on the box (=my theology). I work my way through the pieces finding the ones that fit the picture, ignoring all along that are pieces in there that don’t fit the picture, they seem to belong to another puzzle. But we are convinced we have the right picture! So we proof-text (choose the bits that fit the picture) and ignore the non-proof texts. But the Bible is not a book of systematic theology it is a narrative. (Before moving on I simply need to state very humbly that I do have the correct picture and all texts irregardless of colour, shape or size fit my picture, but I state this humbly.)

In making a systematic theology we run in to the cross of Jesus and sadly often come down to some crude system that splits the Trinity. Jesus is definitely good, the one we call the Father… maybe some anger issues there? That is often the result of seeing the cross in a vertical way… God and humanity. (BTW I have written yesterday a chapter on the ‘wrath’ of God… appetite whetter there.)

If however we follow the biblical trajectory the cross is not primarily presented vertically but horizontally, it is set in a very exact time frame. If so then it needs to be explored what history is it bringing to an end, and what future is it opening up. No need to start with ‘God is angry’ and wrath can then fit in where I think it does elsewhere in Scripture, so we end up making a shift as the writer in Isaiah 53 did, from ‘we considered him smitten of God, BUT…’

Caiaphas prophesying said his death was for the nation. That is historical, that is horizontal, that is narratival, that is Jew first, then the Gentile. So the cross of Jesus answers an historical issue first. If we don’t start there I think our systematic theology will be squeezing the texts to fit with the courthouse dramas that came from the Reformation era not the narratival story of Jesus coming ‘to save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).

Façades… no singing please!!

I had an email today asking me if the dream I had in 2010 has a relevance to the current time and asking if I would post it publicly. I was sure I had… but if so it must have been some time ago as doing a quick search I could not find it. Given that I think it is highly relevant I thought I would just go ahead and post (maybe again!). I have certainly repeated it often enough that many of you will have heard / read of it. If not here it is and I consider again it to be very timely.

The dream occurred as one of two in 2010. The other was of the balanced see-saw that would come about as the year 2020 arrived. The balanced see-saw does not indicate a reversal but something akin to a level playing field. When integrity and honesty will have the impact it should as the ‘field’ will not be stacked against us. It means getting a right result for the godly input… not the end of conflict but where things can be changed. Game on!!

So to the second of the two dreams.

I was in a town square and stood on one side of it. The opposite side consisted of a series of buildings, side by side. I understood that each building represented the institutions that had shaped the ‘public square’. They represented institutions such as politics, judiciary, business and trade, the church, etc. While I was looking at them – and my gaze never switched elsewhere – something occurred to all of them at the same time. The fronts (the façades) of each building opened up as if on hinges that swung them forward and then up. At this stage anyone who wished could look right inside them. The inner working (what Walter Wink might call the interiority of the powers?) were visible.

My immediate concern was that the buildings would be very unstable and they or at least the façades would fall forward and the people on that side of the square would be in real danger. I decided my responsibility was to shout the warning, to get away from the buildings and come to safety.

Within a few seconds, while I am preparing to shout the warning, I realise that – although defying physical laws – the buildings were not about to topple. They remained open but many people did not even seem to notice what was being exposed. As I then pondered what is happening and what kind of warning is needed, I heard someone to my left begin a Christian song. I do not recall what the song was but it was well-known and there were enough people in the public square that knew it and they one by one began to join in. In a short while the song was audible in the public square and when it reached a certain volume in the same way that the façades had opened so they now closed back down again. As I ponder what I have seen I heard an audible voice from behind me say:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo,
that brings things back to where they were.

Now I knew what the warning was. At a time when there was exposure and the possibility of a whole new level of integrity and honesty it would be the return to the familiar that would short-circuit the exposure, the cleansing (and in my language of now) the reset.

I cleared my throat, took a deep breath. Then opened my mouth and got the following words out: ‘It is the familiar’. As soon as I go those four words out a person from my right came and stood immediately in front of me, about 5 centimetres from my face, eye-balling me to intimidate me. I knew I had to get the warning out, moved to my left and the scene repeated. This happened three times in total, the fourth time I again moved left, filled my lungs ready, I got the words out ‘It is the familiar…’ and as I got to the end of that fourth word the person (spirit) did not confront me but stepped in front to finish the words with ‘that brings things back to normal.’

Close, but a total conversion of what the original was. The warning was gone, the exposure of reverting to the familiar as the enemy in this time was nullified, the problem was no longer the exposure (re-set) but the interruption to normal life.

I have told that dream in many places, and have often had the reaction that ‘but worship is good’, effectively rebuking me! I can defend it as ‘it was a dream’, but I also want to defend it more strongly than that.

One of the most comforting places for Christians to head to (particularly those in the charismatic tradition) is to go to the worship area. I do not deny that it can re-focus us on Jesus and away from ourselves, but it can also re-engage memory in the sense of recapturing a ‘feel-good’ sense. (Memory is one of the biggest hindrances to faith!) It was in that context (OT-wise) that God said he hates the activity the people were up to, activity that was prescribed for them in God’s law. In the same way the fast that God hated (Is. 58) was the fast from food and devotion to prayer to God (!) when at that time God was requiring a fast that was expressed in social justice. [An aside… contextually, the ‘all our righteousness is as filthy rags’ is not a comment that devalues genuine doing of good, but it is referring to ‘all our religious [and we can expand this to be, ‘activity that has been prescribed’] righteousness is as filthy rags’.]

I am glad in the dream it was the singing of a Christian song that was the issue. It hits hard at the issue of familiarity, the resorting to ‘not sure what to do let’s sing’. There is a time for all things, and therefore a time not for some things. The dream spoke strongly that this is a time to engage and not short circuit the process. [And maybe if there are songs to be sung they are the protest songs…, such as the resisteré song that we all join in with at 8.00pm each evening here. And there are plenty of those resistance Scriptures to pull on!]

I am also glad it was a Christian presence that cocked it all up. I strongly believe that the biggest influence on society is supposed to be those who follow Jesus, not through legislation (top-down) but through so shifting the spiritual atmosphere that there is an inhibiting of certain expressions and a fostering of all that is good. [That deserves a whole blog or ten!]

Of course there will be a strong pull to ‘let’s get back to normal’ form those who benefit from normal. So we will see a rise of unemployment and those on the margins will suffer in this Covid-19 season, but at the same time the big monsters that live off the lives of people will prosper beyond belief. They do not want any changes, let all things continue as ‘normal’.

I am glad to read at least of those talking of a ‘new normal’ provided it is not a refreshed view of what we have currently. A new normal has to align more with the kingdom of God (a New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven) than with a Babylon (that rises up from the earth, seeking to make a name for ourselves).

The next two years are critical. Anything that just brings comfort through familiarity has to be put aside. We do not want things closed back down again.

Much more can be said… but at least I now have the dream up, though maybe not for the first time!

Zoom – a new world opens

I have just come off a Zoom call to Singapore… (have you noticed how ‘zoom’ is now a word in our language to sit alongside others like ‘google’?). It was very enriching and I was paid one of the highest compliments, that being that I was apparently ‘so futuristic’. If only!! But it is something to live up to for sure. Coming off the zoom I thought again about Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. I will quote first in a new translation (ESV, a new but ‘old’ translation, with a tendency to overdo the (overdone) masculine pronouns when not necessary, nor accurate in today’s context, and ‘old’ because of the tendency to lean on comfortable concepts):

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 ESV, emphasis added).

‘He (sic) is a new creation’.

The NIV reads:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 NIV, emphasis added).

‘The new creation has come’.

Or to really impress the SBL Greek text:

ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις. τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά.

So that if anyone is in Christ, (a) new creation. The old (things) have passed away, behold the new (things) have come.

The passage is about sight and how we view people, starting with Christ himself. If we see him from a worldly point of view (for Paul the Jewish world view and ‘messiahship’, for us maybe the ‘king of our empire’) we can only go wrong from there. We can never see the world and certainly not others rightly. Hence seeing Jesus rightly means we can never see anyone (and anyone cannot be reduced to ‘believers’) through the fallen-human lens that categorises them. If however, we are seeing Jesus differently, and that is an evolving experience, then everything has changed. Crazily Paul suggests for such people the world as we think of it as existing has passed away. At the cross, God is not reconciled to the world, but vice versa. There was an alignment of the world back to God, to his way of doing things. This is so far out there that it is not surprising that translations make the verse personal, implying the extent of the conversion is that of becoming a new ‘creature’. If the whole world was being reconciled I am reconciled; if the whole world was being made new then I am made new. My personal experience is within the global.

What do we see at this time? In the days of a total antiChrist one-world government system Paul had crazy sight. Maybe we have thought of the great new things that God was doing when we fell to the floor, and the glory was being manifest… but the biblical assessment on that would be ‘ouch that is such small sight’. The Covid-19 virus might just help be a provocation to us to come to an awareness of what we see.

The universal work of God must have a global outworking. These next two years are enormous years for the alignments God is bringing about. There has to be reconciliations because that was the reconciling work of God on the cross that birthed (then) a whole new world. This morning in the zoom call there were some great resonances (though I am sure that they would not endorse all my perspectives… I hope they don’t as I am convinced that God doesn’t endorse all of them!); they reflected back to me in their words something so strong. ‘There are kingdom friendly people who are not believers; and there are Christians who are not kingdom friendly.’

It is time to see, and to see anew. If anyone is in Christ, not simply ‘in Christ’ through ticking the box, but in Christ experientially.

Oh yes… the gospel offends not because of who it excludes, but because of who it includes.

Covid-19 and impact on faith

Our good friend Noe from Calpe sent us a link to this article. It is from Marcos Zapata who both leads a church (in Lugo) and the Evangelical Alliance of Spain. He hosted us, Noe & Loli, and Samuel Rhein a few years back when we began to look at praying into the expulsion of the Muslims. A humble person well respected, including inside a number of government situations, due to the serious impact they are making not just spiritually but socially.

It is a really good read. I wish, for example, I had come up with the following:

The leadership by those who seem alien to suffering will never produce disciples but only admirers. My time of suffering and fighting against the illness has reminded me once again that the Father already sent a Savior—and it is not me.

And Jesus spent time in prayer in order to choose some ‘Admirers’!!!

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/april-web-only/spain-covid-19-coronavirus-survivor-pastor-advice-churches.html

A Catholic Theologian responds to the virus

Tomás Halík is a Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian based in Prague. He has written a reflective response to the virus here:

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/04/03/christianity-time-sickness

It is a lengthy article but worth the read. I would have liked to put it up in full here but here are a few extracts:

[The church] has a diagnostic role to play (identifying the “signs of the times”), a preventive role (creating an “immune system” in a society in which the malignant viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism are rife) and a convalescent role (overcoming the traumas of the past through forgiveness.

… and then soon things would all return to the way they were. But as time passes, the reality has become clearer: They will not. And it would not turn out well if we tried to make it so. After this global experience, the world will not be the same as it was before, and it probably should not be.

I am not just referring to the coronavirus pandemic, but to the state of our civilization, as revealed in this global phenomenon. In biblical terms, this all-pervasive sickness is a sign of the times.

I cannot help but wonder whether the time of empty and closed churches is not some kind of cautionary vision of what might happen in the fairly near future. This is what it could look like in a few years in a large part of our world. We have had plenty of warning from developments in many countries, where more and more churches, monasteries and priestly seminaries have been emptying and closing. Why have we been ascribing this development for so long to outside influences (the “secularist tsunami”), instead of realizing that another chapter in the history of Christianity is coming to a close, and it is time to prepare for a new one?

Maybe we should accept the present abstinence from religious services and the operation of the church as kairos, as an opportunity to stop and engage in thorough reflection before God and with God.

It looks as if many of our churches will be empty at Easter this year. We will read the Gospel passages about the empty tomb somewhere else. If the emptiness of the churches is reminiscent of the empty tomb, let us not ignore the voice from above: “He is not here. He has risen. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee.”

Speaking of bad moods

Well not really about to write about moodiness and certainly never going to get me to confess to any level of moodiness, but going much higher than that! It is so easy to read of ‘the wrath of God’ and picture a moody out of sorts older person who has just had enough. Grumpy and ready to lash out. Then add to that the picture of the cross and Jesus taking the anger that was coming our way.

We continue to have language such as ‘act of God’ for events that take place that we can’t really find someone to blame. Strong language, but also found to some extent within the pages of Scripture (Old Testament). At least on that there is something of a shift from Old to New. In the Old there is a more primitive view of God (did I write that? Yes and would defend that perspective!) with everything coming from God. We can see a shift within the pages of the Old Testament itself. In Kings God entices David to count the people and then well and truly slaps him down for doing it, whereas in Chronicles ‘Satan’ does the enticing. Amazing how theology can change over a few hundred years! (It could be argued that Satan is invented in the sense of discovered as the revelation of spiritual reality developed. The serpent in the garden = Satan is fundamentally a biblical reading back in to the situation.)

Jesus made comments about the theology of an ‘act of God’ when he referenced the tower that fell causing death.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13: 1-5).

Basically it was one of those things (an accident, or through human error in construction) but it was not judgement. And beyond that he calls for a repentance – probably in this setting calling Jews to follow a way of peace and the ways of God otherwise the future will be one of perishing at the hands of the Romans. (Probably to be read that way rather than ‘eternal perishing’ in this context.)

The current coronavirus is one of those things. Dis-ease is in the world and Scripture clearly puts that at our feet. The falls of creation flow from the fall of humanity.

I am just reading a book that has numerous wonderful insights in it. Two days ago I read a comment on John the Baptist, quoting John’s Gospel that the Baptist ‘was not the Light’. The greatest born of woman, one coming in the spirit and power of Elijah was not the Light. He stood within the Old Covenant era, having opened the door to the new. But where he stood meant he could point toward the Light, but not be the Light. Only Jesus is the Light, that enlightens everyone. Gladly we cannot read the Old Testament unless we read it through the New. God’s revelation is not essentially propositional truth (such ‘truth’ will approximate or point toward the Truth). God’s revelation is incarnational, and John nor any writer was the Light.

So back to the bad mood situation.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom. 1: 18).

Wrath is clearly referenced – but not wrath against people. Wrath against sin, wickedness. My reading today took me to Isaiah 53, I read again these familiar words:

We considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (Is. 53:4,5).

We had one viewpoint… probably because ‘we’ saw God primarily as a punisher, but – and there is a wonderful ‘but’ something was taking place that is hard to theologise without distorting who God is, it was ‘for’ us.

‘Sin in the hands of an angry God’ would make a good title for a sermon. God is heaven-bent on destroying all that is destructive, and we need to understand this. Otherwise we can live in fear, from legalism, or conversely be over-familiar with someone we don’t even know.

Yes there are some real hard Scriptures and themes. Maybe we don’t get it right, but we certainly cannot transfer our understanding of (fallen) human emotions on to God.

Perspectives