Responding to the Pandemic

I’ve been wanting to say something here about Novel Coronavirus / Covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 for a few weeks, but I struggled to find the right approach, and the right words. Fortunately Frank Viola today wrote a post that came very close to what I would have chosen, so I can direct you to his words:

It’s Not the Time to Binge on Netflix

He does a little self-promotion in his post, but that’s ok because the material he produces is generally excellent. I found the Martin Luther quote at the end of the post stunning.

All I will add to this is that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This situation feels extraordinary to us because it is extraordinary to us, but similar events have happened throughout human history, and human beings have no doubt responded in all the same ways we are doing now.

I don’t want to discount the real pain and suffering of all kinds that the current situation is inflicting on people everywhere. The phrase “mourn with those who mourn” came to mind. Here is the passage that contains those words. This is for all times:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:9-19

Are Natural Disasters God’s Punishment For Sin?

It’s good to be challenged now and then. I don’t ever want to get complacent in my faith or imagine that I have everything worked out. So here’s an example of a blog post I find uncomfortable to read.

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Are-natural-disasters-God-s-punishment-for-sin

The post challenges two aspects of my thinking about God and man.

The first is right there in the title. Natural disasters are very difficult to explain in terms of God’s purpose for the world, and can seem to be a powerful weapon in an atheist’s arsenal. How can a good God allow such things?

My response is not entirely satisfying but it is usually enough for me. It has two parts. One, that the movements of the atmosphere and of the earth are indeed natural and necessary as part of the continual renewing of the environment – think of forest fires that clear the ground for new growth to begin. And you don’t have to take Genesis literally to see a message in there that God intended us to live in the “safe” areas of the world. I don’t believe the Garden was positioned on the side of a volcano or in a tornado alley.

That leads to the second part of my response, that human beings have been drawn to areas which are more prone to various disasters, for various reasons such as more fertile ground, or more plentiful or valuable resources. So there’s a sense in which our greed or laziness have led us to populate some naturally more dangerous parts of the world.

As I said, that’s not an entirely satisfying explanation, and I wouldn’t pretend that it’s watertight, but it’s enough to convince me that we don’t have to blame God when nature seems to turn against us.

The other uncomfortable notion in the post is that of our “underlying evil nature,” which I take to be an alternative description of “total depravity” – quite a widely accepted theological doctrine.

This is supported in the post by scripture, the words of Jesus, no less. I return to Genesis and recall that we are made in the image of God. I want to believe that we are fundamentally good, but could I be deluding myself because I don’t want to accept a reality that is quite the opposite? Just when I think I’ve resolved the problem of evil, it comes back to bite me!

I am writing this at the end of 2019. And it reveals a simple message for myself and for you as we enter a new year.

Keep thinking, and keep trusting God.

Jesus can take our emotions

My head is full of things I want to say, but I don’t have the energy to write, so for now I’m just going to share this blog post, which I read a couple of months ago, and which I hope you’ll find helpful if your emotions are troubling you…

https://www.thenivbible.com/blog/jesus-can-take-emotions/

You haven’t done this before…

One of the daily pleasures in my life is the devotional I receive in my inbox each morning from Dr. Micha Jazz. He writes with the humility of someone who knows he’s on a journey, and not the assuredness verging on arrogance of some who seem to think they’ve reached their destination and have all the answers. But while he continues to seek, he’s built up a great store of quiet wisdom that he shares along with honest accounts of his struggles, disappointments… and hope.

Today I want to share his devotional from 19 October 2017, titled “You haven’t done this before.” I expect I will share others in the future. You can subscribe to his email or podcast version of the devotional at Be Still & Know.

“You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.”

John 16:24 NLT

Ageing has its benefits. While I don’t like the aches and pains, or the physical challenges around the garden that some years ago I’d have taken in my stride, I do enjoy the ability to see life in context. Where once I was a blind slave to consumerism, feeding and serving my acquisitive nature, with the benefit of age I have found freedom to live without, in contrast to living wanting.

Understanding is one thing, practise something else altogether! I recall always wanting the latest technology to play with. My family teased me relentlessly as I begged, borrowed (yet never stole) to acquire the latest gadget. I am an early adopter by nature and stretched myself financially to buy a first-generation Prius hybrid car. And as for books, my shelves were filled with partially read volumes I coveted and purchased. Today, I am pleased to say I am free from all that. I now know what I want and why.

My prayer life was also pretty acquisitive in the early days. I mistook Jesus’ invitation to ask for anything I wanted as a blank cheque to fill my life with my own desires. In fact, Jesus was speaking to his disciples about Pentecost, when they would receive the Holy Spirit and subsequently discern what it was that the kingdom on earth required of them, and their dynamic friendship with God. In other words, praying is always to seek to see God’s will happen on the earth. Where once I prayed through a list, now I simply offer those I am praying for to God, and hold them in God’s presence that God’s will might be done in their life on earth.

The joy that flows from prayer is not about securing my material happiness, but about seeking the presence of God in the earth. This may have a material effect, but such an effect is no objective measure of the work of God. Jesus also invites us to go on praying (see Luke 18:1-8). Pray and then pray again, and after that pray again.

A Glimpse of Cross Vision

I would be very interested to read your comments on this article, Frank Viola’s interview with Greg Boyd:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/gregboydnew/

It’s a lengthy interview, in which Greg discusses some of the ideas in his latest books, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and its shorter version Cross Vision.

The principal argument of Boyd’s work is that when you read the whole Bible – specifically the Old Testament – through the lens of the cross, all kinds of problems we have with the picture of an angry, violent OT God can disappear. In Boyd’s words

On the cross, God stoops to meet us, and to enter into solidarity with us, right where we are at, which is in bondage to sin and to Satan. And he does this to free us and to bring us where he wants us to be, which is united with him in Christ.  The cross is thus the paradigmatic example of God mercifully stooping to accommodate people in their fallen conditioning.

In a similar way, every time we prove ourselves incapable of living up to God’s ideal behaviour, God will Himself “stoop to accommodate” us. This even extends to allowing Himself to be portrayed in the Bible as something other than His “true” self, because culturally His people have been conditioned to believe that this is what a god is “supposed” to look like.

In fact, many passages that exalt Yahweh as a warrior contain phrases from songs that Israel’s neighbors sang to their own warrior deities. The biblical author just switched out the name of the pagan god and replaced it with Yahweh.

After reading the whole interview a few times I’m left with several thoughts. The first is that I want to read Cross Vision, and understand the reasoning – scriptural, cultural and logical – that lies behind Boyd’s claim. Because I very much want this to be true. To finally have a solution to one of the most troubling issues of Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) faith would be beyond exciting.

And that leads me to my next thought, which is that when something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. This lens of the cross, while on the surface it seems totally Biblical, is surely just too simple. I find myself returning to Isaiah 55.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:8-9

And the most troubling thought of all is this: if I can use God’s “stooping to accommodate” as an explanation for the particular “atrocities” mentioned in the book, why can’t I use it to explain anything at all that I don’t like? And how can we tell the difference between the times that God is pleased with an action and the times that he is accommodating us? And how does this then apply outside of scripture, in our daily lives? What can we trust to be God’s genuine will? Do we just follow the 10 commandments and for everything else do our own thing, confident that God will accommodate us?

There are answers to these questions, the simplest one being that if the Holy Spirit dwells within us we can have confidence in what He says to us. But nevertheless I think Greg Boyd’s ideas are just as likely to unsettle as to comfort us, and if I can be sure of one thing, it’s that his books will not end the debate about the “Old Testament God”.

But I’m very much looking forward to reading more.