Aesthetically Good

Writing… Just had the third volume back from proof reading. A Spanish translation of the first volume is completed; a zoom call Friday to Brazil to talk over some details of that translation… Sorting out zoom groups this week – hey if you would like to be part of that look at:


Here is an excerpt from the chapter in Volume 3 on the Arts.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (Gen. 2:9).

Creation, even imperfect creation, speaks loudly and this verse in the early chapters of our sacred volume is so insightful. Creation was proclaimed good (not perfect, as good indicates a start not an end) and the trees are commented on as being good at two levels. The functional one of providing food and at the aesthetic level of being pleasing to the eye. The verses preceding the one I quoted tells us that humanity was created to work the ground in response to the rain from heaven. It is not a stretch at all to suggest therefore that working with creation was intended to be for functional and aesthetic purposes…

The word ‘amateur’ is interesting as it comes from the Latin ‘amo’, meaning ‘I love’. It has often come to mean ‘second rate’, but really should mark all those who are involved in the arts. A love for colour, sound and creativity, with two eyes focused on producing something that is pleasant to see, hear, or be impacted by, and without a focus on the supposed bottom line. Earning money is a necessity, but when it completely dictates the boundaries of what art becomes visible, we have yet again a sad commentary on our world.

Let me convince you

If words, written and spoken, are one’s trade we love to argue, to dispute, to put up straw targets just to knock them down! We want to convince people of how right we are (sub-text: how wrong they are). The discussion is at a mind-to-mind, concept-to-concept level. Occasionally we win. The win, though, is normally at a head level, which can be valuable, but simply winning an argument does not often shift something at a heart level…

The imagination has been downgraded in many circles, and certainly in many Protestant oriented circles, where all images were removed from the architecture. I understand the reason for that (idolatry) but there has probably been a loss in the midst of the reaction. In many Christian circles there has been a re-focus on the arts with an emphasis on such things as sacred dance or professional Christian music. That can be welcomed, but when we understand the purpose of the ekklesia is to care for, take responsibility for and to healthily shape the world in a justice direction, there also has to be music, dance and art that does not have a label on it stamping it as ‘Christian’, but that comes out of the heart of those shaped by the Jesus narrative.

For that to carry weight we need ever so many amateurs, in love with the Author of creativity and their own creative craft. Such people energised by the Spirit are vital to touch the imagination. If we are ever going to pull the world to a different future it will only happen when there is the experience of seeing through different eyes. The power of Martin Luther King’s speech was in the words, ‘I have a dream’. He expressed his sight of a different world.

The book of Scripture I like the best is the final one. I am glad that nowhere are we told to understand it as a whole, and that those who read it, who hear it, are those who are blessed. I sometimes wish I could hear it the same way as the first audience heard it. I find it hard to use words that convey the kind of book it is, but it is certainly a book full of images. It contains many words, but the effect of hearing those words would be as if one were exposed to what would seem as never-ending film clips, protest art, political cartoons, emotive music and other disturbing elements. The end result for those original hearers would have been a total disorientation.

We need a huge disorientation. Phrases such as ‘money makes the world go round’ are phrases that describe a supposed normalised orientation. The phrase becomes the reality and nothing can be imagined outside of that normality. Art, art and yet more art is what is necessary to break those cycles. Yes there are arguments to be won, there are new concepts to be explained, but there must also be huge incisions brought to society’s norms that will allow space for the alternative…

I appreciate that I am strongly suggesting that the creative arts are to be disruptive, but I have done that to make a point. Not all art is there to disrupt but all art should touch us at a level deeper than the conceptual. It is to help us ‘feel’, and therefore art will certainly not always be ‘nice’.

What is termed worship music can be helpful in putting us in touch with God, but can also be unhelpful if it puts us out of touch with the world. The Psalms, which are often described as the hymn book of the Jewish world, mention God over and over, but we also find there the songs of lament about the state of the world, and enough protest songs to confront all manner of injustices. We might need more songs that proclaim ‘God is great’, but we certainly need a flood of songs that will proclaim ‘We don’t need a Christian president’, and those songs will probably have a few expletives thrown in…

Good to look at. It felt good. Art.

And ‘I felt so disoriented’; ‘I was disturbed’. Art.

Many tribal situations understand the value of the liminal space. In those contexts as a young person reached the point of leaving childhood to enter adulthood often the ritual involved disorientation, of taking the person to a space at the edge of their world where there could be no reverting back to previous norms. The experience is often traumatic, but is based on an understanding that a major transition such as moving into adulthood is not engaged in as a gentle process.

That kind of disorientation, liminality and ‘kind’ trauma are so often needed. We need the artists. Christian artists. Artists who have been energised by the Spirit. Maybe not so many will become professional but they can all be amateurs.

It is time to awaken the imagination if we want a different future.

Humanising the divine

VOLUME 1!

Book is available… or ever so nearly so!

To download the eBook – two versions, one which will be for kindle products, the other for other readers; check out the site:

https://www.bozpublications.com/humanising-the-divine

To order the hardback version – either use the above site, or your normal in-country store (Barnes & Noble; Waterstones… and all the others). With most of those book store sites you will currently be able to do a ‘pre-order’ as they will say the publication date is 29/09/20. (The book is print on demand so will not be on the shelves of those stores, but available by mail order, or ordered into the store.) I am not making the book available directly on Amazon simply as my tiny protest against the nature of such organisations. My tiny protest will of course cause a great quaking in the boots of Amazon and Mr. B!!!! I appreciate that will be a slight inconvenience to some of you – such is life.

I am opening up discussion and engagement by zoom and in a forum.

Forum link.

Contact form to join a Zoom group.

I think the above pages are clear. I expect that it will be mid-October before the first Zoom group begins, and I plan for as many as are needed. My suggestion would be to get hold of the book in either format and if you consider there would be value in joining such a group to then send me your details via the contact form.

Almost Ready to Roll

First, an apology that the link on Gaz’s last post was not working… NOW CORRECTED. And well worth the read.


Many of you know that I have been working on a series of booklets – 3½ of an initial 6 are now written. The first one should roll out by early September, so a little advance note about what they are and what I hope to do with them.

Here is the blurb about the series:

Explorations in Theology, a series of short books that offer some fresh perspectives on common themes. They are certainly not the final word, but are intended to open possibilities beyond a theology that selects a narrow set of ‘proof-texts’ (while ignoring others). Written in simple language, never demanding agreement with the author, they will become a resource to develop one’s own convictions.

The first one is entitled ‘Humanising the Divine‘, here is the blurb:

In this first book in the series Scott begins by placing Jesus at the centre of theology. He maintains that Jesus is presented in Scripture as both the image of God and the image of true humanity. God was ‘humanised’ through the Incarnation, and through the cross a road block was placed on humanity’s road to destruction. In the middle chapters there are some fresh perspectives on Judas, Peter and Cornelius, suggesting that salvation is much more to do with a call to join the movement to work for the restoration of humanity, than a ticket to heaven.

They will be available in two formats: hardback print version and as an ebook that will be readable on most (if not all) ebook readers / tablets / phones.

I have run two zoom groups in the past months to try out the concept of what I plan to do, so I see three options:

  • The book in either format can be bought and read / or simply placed on the bookshelf (!).
  • The book can be bought and there will be a podcast on each of the chapters that will give a little bit of background behind some of the concepts, and suggest a few questions for reflection.
  • The book can be bought and one can opt to join a weekly zoom group (the first is not likely to start before October 1) where a chapter will be dialogued through each week. (This is what I have done with the two groups I mentioned above.)

[Once the first book is finally out I will give details of the above options – where to order etc.]

Also for those who have been on a zoom group they will be able to contribute to a forum for open discussion. Anyone will be able to read the discussion but only those who have zoomed will be able to contribute.

Who am I writing for?

Anyone… But I am looking to interact (zoom / forum) with people on a similar page. I am not for one minute suggesting I have the truth (as if!) and am not looking for those who will simply agree with me, but those who are willing to consider what I write, respond and then be able to disagree and come to their own conclusions. I am not looking for those who will quickly tweet ‘Goodbye Martin Scott’!!! (That last tweet was to a famous tweet from a famous person to a certain Rob Bell!) If someone of the Calvinist tradition wishes to read the book(s) and then review them they can feel free to do so on their own site – I have no objection to that, particularly as there will be enough in the pages to critique. There is no redemptive value in us trading blows – I am too fixed in my beliefs and ways for that to work and I think those of a deep Gospel Coalition perspective are too! So I am not looking for those who agree with me nor those who vehemently disagree!!!

Finally here is the bio attached to the books that will help position me and my (hoped for) interactors:

Martin Scott, married to Gayle, with whom he has lived in Spain since 2009; born in Orkney (islands off the north of Scotland) a number of years earlier! At times opinionated, arrogant and often slow to learn… not characteristics most authors profess to have! Believing in the image of God in humanity he is optimistic about the future. And his writings connect with a wide diversity of people, particularly those who are willing to think outside the box.

I see these books and the interactions as being a major focus for the next years / decade… so look forward to connecting with many of you.

Elite or responsible?

Privileged... and so

Privilege. Most of us who read this blog are indeed among the privileged, certainly when we take in a global perspective. I appreciate though that we do not consciously live in a global environment but a local one – whether that be a geographic or social context, and so we often have a mixed experience where we are also disadvantaged in some ways. There were many privileged groups in the New Testament times, being a Roman citizen certainly set some apart as elite. It is though the shift of ‘status’ that took place through the Gospel that I am focusing on in this post.

This has come into fresh focus with some of the wider writing I am involved in and also as we have ‘zoomed’ into a situation where the predominant cultural view is that of male dominance, with Paul (and Jesus!) seen as favouring the male.

The great egalitarian text of Paul in one of his earliest pieces of writing is Gal. 3: 28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Written into the contentious situation where these non-Jewish converts were being subjected to the teaching that any follower of Jesus that was not in compliance to Jewish law was not a ‘full’ member of the community of God’s people.

This bit is strong!!

We even read of Paul confronting Peter face to face, and the strength of the conflict was very strong. There was a good (missiological) argument that had won Peter over. Those who came from James had a compelling argument: ‘how would they ever reach Jews back in the homeland if the Jewish followers of Jesus were fraternising and eating with Gentiles. For the sake of the Gospel you have to pull back, Peter.’ It does not get stronger than that, and if is or this reason I don’t think it was as simple as Peter was making a backward step but he felt compelled to take a compromising step for the sake of non-offence to the Jews, a step for the Gospel. That makes the conflict even stronger. The missiological argument could not overpower the fundamental Gospel one! (Think we have it hard trying to work out what is a godly redemptive compromise!) Back in the day, to be involved in a slave owning group who professed faith could have been argued for: a compromise for the sake of the Gospel… but eventually that compromise was not a compromise for the Gospel but a compromise of the Gospel. Deciding when that shift takes place takes wisdom and insight, and knowing what has changed in our society with respect to the Gospel likewise is very challenging.

Privilege… Either it feeds the demonic idea of elitism / above someone else; or it pushes us toward the ‘responsibility’ element. I consider that over centuries there was a downward trajectory in the life of Israel from the commissioned responsibility for sake of the nations to the elitism of chosenness. I have also been considering (of late) that maybe if we are of the ‘zionist’ bias (not one I can see in the NT at all) maybe there is also a knock on with regard to how we see the gender issue of male and female. Both seem to come from a way of reading Scripture that I find strange, but one I have to respect as I have no reason to suggest that those who read that way are not acting with integrity. I simply hope the reading is not being fuelled by any form of elitism.

With the household codes (the instructions on ‘husbands’, ‘wives’, ‘masters’, ‘slaves’, etc.) Paul follows the conventions of the day where philosophers and religious writers would lay out how their philosophy / religion would not at any level disturb the status quo of the Roman society. In our culture they are not too radical (understatement!!) but in that culture he carefully redefined them. He moved the dominant one from a position of ruling the roost to a place where they were to be an animated source of life.

There was an anonymous letter written to a person names ‘Diognetus’, mid 2nd Century, that suggested that Christians were to the world what the soul was to the body. They were to be present and animating. (The quote below is fairly long, the specific part I am referring to is in bold… so feel free to skip to that point… and apologies for the male language.)

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen.  The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

The explanation is somewhat hellenised, indicating how quickly there was a shift from a Jewish psychology to a Greek-oriented one, but nevertheless the description as an animating life-giving source is very clearly put.

In the Gospel the privilege of Jew over Greek was nullified (I count it all ‘dung’ said one very privileged Jew; the NT era Jews were basically given a generation to respond to Jesus etc.); the rich were always being slapped about – we do not read ‘woe to you poor!’ but we often read ‘woe to you rich’; and in the Gospel any male privilege that might be inferred from creation is totally cancelled. The Greek of Gal. 3:28 seems to deliberately use the same construction as we find in Genesis, but reversing it – no ‘male and female’.

No privilege, indeed we might suggest that there is a bias the other way because of the Gospel! And any privilege that society might give, or we find ourselves in is to promote life (the shift in Paul’s household codes), to work toward an egalitarianism with everyone finding true life, and a corresponding emptying out of the privilege. Privilege is to be temporal and can only be in order to move things in the direction of the new creation.

Which Exodus and where?

An Exodus in Jerusalem

I am currently writing, my fingers getting a little worn out, but enjoying it a lot. I am on to ‘volume 3’ (though they are really ‘volumetes’ so don’t be overly impressed). My writing today coincided with my readings which took me to the Transfiguration stories. There Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets?) came to meet Jesus and glory was revealed as they talked.

The part that stood out to me was in Luke 9: 31 where they talked of Jesus’ forthcoming Exodus in Jerusalem. The normal word for ‘The Exodus’ is used and I consider very deliberately. Then I thought – cos it lined up with what I am writing about, the ekklesia released / commissioned with the p-small ‘p’ political gospel that means the public sphere is where the good news that Jesus is Lord is to be outworked… an exodus where?

Back up. Original exodus was so that a people called by heaven (and in those designations the people were called an ekklesia, hence Moses was with the ekklesia in the wilderness (Acts 7)) could go to their destiny, to a land flowing with milk and honey. They could escape the place that supplied all their needs… but at a price. The imperial rule of Egypt. Fast forward some 1500 years (from one possible date for the exodus…) and the Exodus is now not in a ‘foreign’ land but in a land that has become foreign to the ways of God, overrun by all kinds of foreigners, or maybe better by one kind of foreigner, the ones who represent the power of Babylon!

An Exodus in Egypt so that there can be a departure.

Now an Exodus in Jerusalem, so that…

Yes I think so! So that there can be a departure to the always-desired destination. As Paul says in Romans 4:13, the descendents of Abraham are not defined by race but by faith (always was the case just radically more so post-cross), and that Abraham was promised not a land but the world (ho kosmos).

The Exodus in Jerusalem was to free a people from all bondage. Nowhere was more in bondage than Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, hence he comes at the fullness of time. There is an Exodus and there is a departure. No lockdown in that city at that time!

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).

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.

In the valley

I have always veered on the side of ‘rebuke everything, don’t accept it, give it no room and be positive’. Jude (daughter) mocks me saying that as kids they were simply never allowed to be sick! I am glad for being that stubborn and equally glad that over the years literally many hundreds have found healing. One of the most unusual healings was a woman who kept looking at her hands. I was not sure what was causing her the amazement, then I found out that she was staring in amazement as she had for the first time finger prints. A remarkable sign, going beyond something physical – a restoration of identity.

As a convinced charismatic I am glad to push for healing and the intervention of heaven. There are many reasons for that – the Scriptures give an expectation for this; Paul – if his thorn in the flesh was some kind of physical impairment – pushed for intervention and a reversal UNTIL he heard God speak into the situation. That voice was so real he does not use a simple past tense but one that indicates what he heard is still audible when he wrote years later. He did not need to push forward to hear God say ‘pray for a reversal’. He went for the positive and only a word from heaven could cause him to let go of that. When there was a non-answer (twice) he pushed again. It was not ‘non-healing’ that stopped him praying, but a word from God. All the above helps me be ready to press for the intervention and not be put off when something does not shift as I wish.

However… and the however is not to cancel out the previous perspective but to add to it. In so pushing for the breakthrough we can miss out on the journey. God will be to us something during the process when there is no answer (as we wish) that he will not be when the answer (as we wish) comes. Here is the tension, if we so focus on the outcome we can miss out.

When we are through the situation God is our deliverer and thankfully there is a testimony. But when we are in it, we find a God who shows up in the midst of our inadequacy, who does not show up with the victorious ones, but alongside the conflicted, and sometimes despairing ones. We all handle those times of frustration differently. I know of those who will resort to sounding off with a good (or bad?) handful of expletives thrown in. For those people, they can discover a God who comes alongside – and this is not a theological perspective – and is happy not simply to listen to us but to swear alongside us too! The God we find in Jesus is REAL, and ‘moved into our neighbourhood’.

There is a testimony that we love to hear – the ‘God healed me, set me free’ kind of testimony. There is also the testimony that goes along the lines of ‘I am not through this, I am despairing, I am so frustrated, I don’t always feel good about myself… but I can tell you about an intimacy with the God who gets as frustrated as I do.’ A kind of paraphrase of Heb. 11, or a reflection of Psalm 23:

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

God present in the valley not simply showing up when we are out of it. To be out is wonderful, but to find God in is permanent and humbling. One might just leave us knowing the acts of God, the other goes so much deeper.

Luke 21 – the pestilence

Perhaps I should not have been surprised but I saw a number of articles on the web tying together Jesus’ words in Luke 21: 11 concerning pestilence and the coronavirus. But NO!!!

It would be such a stretch to get to the idea that Jesus was prophesying the virus and thus indicating that we are in the ‘end times’. I even saw one post that said these they had expected these events to be in the first 31/2 years of the 7 year period of tribulation, but were happening now. WOW… (Where do these people get the time from to think all of that… read a little, and only a little history to see where these ideas come from.)

Before having a quick look at Luke 21 here is what I consider is the framework we have to be looking at. The Jewish ‘one-horizon’ view shifts to multiple horizons in the New Testament. The Jewish one horizon view was simply that God will through the Messiah intervene, subduing all his (and therefore Israel’s enemies) causing the great reversal to take place. (Some views had two Messiahs, others saw the intervention without a Messiah – the ‘Jewish’ view is really the Jewish views.)

There were inevitable unforeseen events by those who shared that view. We see that reflected in the road to Emmaus discourse. ‘Did you not understand that first the Son of Man must suffer…?’ being Jesus rhetorical question to the married couple. Fresh horizons had appeared and others were yet to appear. The one horizon was proving inaccurate, multiple horizons needed to be seen.

We might separate out the immediate horizons of the Cross, Burial, Resurrection and Pentecost or we can put them together. Together they effectively make the first horizon. Jesus inaugurated a new day post-his forty days in the wilderness, opening up his earthly ministry, and post-cross another 40 day period of transition to the post-Pentecost ministry of the body of Christ. So the first unseen horizon was that of Easter / Pentecost. Not surprising as a common Jewish view was that when the great reversal took place it would be marked by the resurrection of the dead and an outpouring of the Spirit.

(A sidenote the 40 day periods and the 40 year period from Jesus predictions in Luke 21 to the fall of Jerusalem are tied to the Exodus period to the entry to the land. Jesus beginning his 40 days with his baptism, his death being an ‘exodus’ and all paving the way for the entry to the land / lands.)

The second horizon was that of the fall of Jerusalem within a generation, and Jesus clearly prophesied that. (I also consider that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 is referring to this event.) Such a dramatic and traumatic end of an era. The religious centre, the hope for the nations destroyed, and it marks a major cutting off between Jewish believers in Jesus and Jewish non-believers in Jesus. The followers of Christ abandoned Jerusalem understanding that was exactly what Jesus instructed them to do, leaving behind many residents to the brutal reprisals of Rome, which included many punished with crucifixion.

The third horizon I consider lies future. The parousia of Jesus, the time of the resurrection, final judgement and such events. For me only the book of Revelation is written post-the Fall of Jerusalem (AD70), and it is not obsessed with prophesying events to come but with unveiling the reality of our warfare, of what we are asking to change every time we pray ‘let your kingdom (basileia) come’. The book and that ongoing disciples’ prayer is set in the context of the Empire (basileia) of Rome.

So to Jesus and his words in Luke 21. The immediate context is of the Temple that Jesus said would be utterly destroyed resulting in the question of ‘when will these things take place?’ (21:7). The time frame was future for them, but past for us. Into that time frame – the next 40 years from the time of speaking – Jesus spoke of great traumas and of famines and pestilences. The decades that followed culminating in the brutal assault of Jerusalem (66-70AD) with mass crucifixions, cannibalism inside the city, the appearance of false Messiahs etc., were horrendous. Horrendous within Israel and with a sharp focus on Jerusalem but also deeply traumatic in the wider Imperial world. 68AD saw the year of the four emperors, as civil war broke out, and there seems to be some allusion to that in Revelation with the mortal wound to the head of the beast, but the wonder from the people that the beast survived. (Babylon’s cry, and the tell-tell sign that any institution is embracing Babylon’s values, are that ‘we will survive’ and at any cost, that ‘we will always have children’ but in the process eats the life of the children.)

In Luke 21 Jesus speaks to ‘you‘, speaks of being brought before synagogues, and decisively about Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and that they will need to flee from the city and from Judea, and that the wrath will come on ‘these people’. Everything is geo-, ethnic- and temporal related. Josephus and other contemporary writers bear out the horrendous nature of those years.

In that context the sign will be visible that the Son of Man will come in the clouds – words spoken by Jesus already to the High Priest that he would personally see that event. This is not some far off future reference, but takes up the Daniel 7 imagery of one like a son of Man coming to the ancient of Days. The kingdom of God is in his hands. The hope for the future is not in a holy place, nor a holy land but in the hands of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one, is the resurrected vindicated One. To believe that is the continual challenge for us at all times as we now live in the period of time between the second and third horizon, and for us, as for every post-AD70 generation the Revelation 4, 5 challenge remain central, where Jesus came to the One seated on the throne as only the Lamb of God was able to open the seals (human destiny).

So I guess it is no surprise given the above approach that I do not see any reference to the coronavirus in Scripture. Scripture is ever so helpful in not giving us the future, but in giving us a future hope that cannot be shaken.

Is the coronavirus a sign of the end times? For sure. It is a sign that we have been in the end times ever since Jesus poured out from on high the Spirit, that this whole world is groaning waiting for liberation from its bondage to decay. So it is a sign in a very general sense, but not in a specific way. God might well speak through the current events, and I am sure he is. What is he saying? Our God is always speaking, we might hear different things but they must all focus on his love for us and for the world, that he has not abandoned us… and therefore the call is there to love and not to abandon others. Let your kingdom come.

Sacred space – where?

The ‘Holy Place’, the ‘Holy Land’. Well known phrases but ones that should not go unchallenged. There is an interesting early church servant called Stephen. Acts 6 says of him:

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 

His wisdom did not go down to well with Jews of Cyrene, Alexandria, and those from the provinces of Cilicia and Asia (Acts 6:9) who arranged for false accusations to be made. I consider that one of the marks of jealousy (root: fear of losing one’s place) is to spread rumours and allow half-truths to remain unchallenged. The end result was that he was brought before the Sanhedrin.

His speech is most interesting. Faced with the accusation that he was claiming that Jesus would destroy the Temple and change the customs of Moses, he embarks on a history lesson. A story well recited by all present, but leading somewhere. Let me pull a few things out, before we get to the point being driven home that he was addressing a

stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

Throughout the speech there are geographical references, and they are references to where God was at work. We have

  • God appeared to Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia (7:2)
  • Later, though with the promise of the land, Abraham did not have even enough ground to put his foot on (7:5).
  • God was with Joseph in Egypt (7:9), paving the way for the people to live in Egypt.
  • Bodies were brought back to be buried (7:16), but to Shechem now located in the despised territory of the Samaritans!
  • Along comes Moses educated in all the wisdom of Egypt (7:22).
  • It was in Midian in the desert near Mount Sinai (7:30) that the burning bush took place. A place described by God as holy, yet an unknown place that could not be revisited as a shrine. A mobile location.
  • Moses led them out and “in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert” (7:36) miraculous wonders were performed.

Startling references to where God was at work – outside Israel, outside the so-called holy land. Very reminiscent of Jesus’ reflections in his home town (Lk. 4) of where (outside Israel) and to whom (non-Jews) God was active! This backdrop sets Stephen up to push the point home. He goes for the Temple.

The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands (7:48).

By contrast the Tabernacle cut across ancient and modern views of sacred space. Shrines and temples are almost invariably built around a theophany, a space considered sacred, the Tabernacle though was mobile. The sacredness had to do with the “pattern he [Moses] had seen” (7.44) and the teaching value that resulted, not with its location.

The end result was two-fold: first the vision Stephen had of the Son of Man at the right of God, surely a clear reference to the Son of Man who came to the Ancient of Days on the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7; hence I do not read that as a reference to the ‘second coming’ of Jesus, and certainly not when Jesus spoke of the sign of the reality being visible to that generation.). The Son of Man (Jesus) was given the authority and the kingdom. Holy space is where there is an opening for Jesus, not a building designated as a sanctuary. The sanctuaries of God are to be planted throughout the earth.

The second ramification of Stephen’s speech was that Stephen was dragged out of the city and stoned.

The ongoing ramification? Cloaks were laid at the approving feet of Paul. But later the mantle of Stephen would rest on him. The persecutor of the ‘Stephens’ became the one who no longer built his security around his ethnic nor geographical identity, and became as radical as Stephen was. And for us? Defend sacred space or become vehicles that open up sacred space.

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