The Mystery of Matchmaking

I want to share with you the transcript of BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day” from 4 January, presented by Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer:

The Advertising Standards Authority, the ASA, has just banned an online dating agency from claiming it has a scientifically proven matchmaking system. In an advert headlined “Step aside, fate, it’s time science had a go at love,” the dating service claimed to be able to decode the mystery of compatibility and chemistry, so that you don’t have to. The ASA said that there’s no proof that those who use the service were more likely to find lasting love than those who didn’t, and ruled that the advert was misleading.

Matchmaking is a tough business. The Talmud relates how a Roman matron once asked a rabbi how God occupies His time. “He’s busy pairing couples,” answered the rabbi. “Seriously?” scoffed the matron. “Anyone can pair couples. I’ve got a thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves and I’ll show you how easy it is to pair them up.” “It might seem easy to you,” replied the rabbi, “but I can assure you it is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.” The matron paired up her slaves, but the following morning she was inundated with complaints from the misaligned and unhappy couples. “You’re right,” she confessed to the rabbi, “I had no idea how difficult matchmaking could be.”

That even God should find matchmaking taxing indicates that when it comes to matters of the heart there is no simple algorithm. Sometimes all the externals match up, and yet that elusive element we call chemistry, is absent. Other times we can’t figure out how an apparently grossly misaligned couple find themselves deeply in love. No algorithm can account for that.

Furthermore, traditional matchmakers recognise that achieving a compatible match is only the first step towards an enduring relationship, requiring much effort on the part of the couple to achieve love. The Bible, in describing Isaac’s courtship with Rebekah, states that he “brought her home, took her as a wife, and loved her.” The sequence makes it clear that in the Bible, love is not the prerequisite for marriage, but rather, it’s successful outcome.

Love is not static. You don’t fall in love with someone, and remain perpetually in that state. As anyone in a long term relationship knows, love is hard work. The root of the Hebrew word for love, ahava, is hav which means “to give.” Falling in love is something that happens to us, but being in love is the result of an active process in which we continually give of ourselves to our beloved. And it is in giving and sharing that we discover just how deep our capacity for love can really be.

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Truth in Pictures, 2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

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.

Book Review: “Martin Luther: A Biography for the People” by Dyron B. Daughrity

October 31, 2017 is the five-hundredth anniversary of the day the Reverend Father Martin Luther posted to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, “The Ninety-Five Theses”. It was an act, history tells us, that lit the blue touchpaper and sparked the Protestant Reformation, changing Europe, and the world, forever.

If you’re anything like me, those two sentences will pretty much cover your complete knowledge of those events. And if so, Dyron Daughrity’s book will fill in a lot of blanks, and help you understand the extraordinary years, at the closing end of the medieval period, and approaching the peak of the Renaissance, in which Luther played a pivotal role.

The first thing I learned is that the Ninety-Five Theses were neither a declaration of war, nor a declaration of independence. The official title attests to this: “Disputation for Clarifying the Power of Indulgences”. Martin Luther was concerned about the abuse of indulgences – the practice of the Catholic Church offering “remission of sins” in exchange for a Christian’s financial offering – effectively giving believers the opportunity to purchase a fast track ticket to Heaven for themselves or their deceased loved ones. He saw corruption in the church and wanted open debate on the matter. Perhaps he believed he could effect change from within and restore the purity of Christ’s bride. As we know, that wasn’t to be.

Daughrity describes well the context of Luther’s life – the changes in academic and theological thinking that were taking place, as well as the political and religious turmoil in Europe as the Holy Roman Empire struggled to push back against the advances of the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent. Into this cultural melting pot Luther was born, and Daughrity tells as much as we know about his early years, education and religious training – a pursuit that was not encouraged by his father.

We see the formation and continuing development of Luther’s key theological insights throughout his life. We see how this theology is built largely on his understanding of the Pauline epistles, and influenced by the works of his other Christian “hero” St. Augustine. We see how his commitment to the Roman Catholic church weakened until it eventually became his enemy, and the Pope became in Luther’s eyes the “antichrist.”

We see a major turning point in Luther’s life at the Diet of Worms and in its aftermath. This was where he faced the real danger of suffering a heretic’s punishment, but survived unscathed thanks to the intervention of his friend Frederick the Wise. This undoubtedly strengthened his standing, while the pamphlets he published from hiding powerfully articulated his theology and his anti-papal arguments. His famous German translation of the New Testament was also completed at this time. After this we see the rapid spread of Protestantism, in its various flavours, and the losing battle Luther waged to keep control of the reforms.

We read of Luther’s key relationships, including his close friendship with Philip Melanchthon, and his marriage to Katherine von Bora. We read of his physical and mental ailments, with depression casting a dark shadow over periods of his life. We read of his outstanding ability to communicate to the common man in his own language, and to win almost any debate – if not at the time then in writing afterwards! And we read of his weaknesses of character, his obstinacy, his infamous anti-semitic writings.

All of Luther’s intricate and interweaving influences are presented in a sympathetic and well formed narrative. Daughrity includes copious notes and quotes from various academic sources, while doing his best to keep this a “biography for the people.” While it is ultimately a biographical work, Daughrity also explains the theological differences – and similarities – between Luther and the Catholic church, as well as the way Protestantism almost inevitably fragmented as soon as Luther’s ideas took root. So it is at the same time a fascinating history book for anyone interested in these crucial years in the life of the church.

It is well worth spending some time with this book.

Thanks to NetGalley and Abilene Christian University Press for providing this book for review.

WWJD

There’s something I want to make crystal clear. I’m a Christian. That means I’m a follower of Jesus. He is my Saviour, my Lord, my God.

“I and the Father are one,” John 10:30.

The simple question “What would Jesus do?” is central to my life – or it should be. If I were a better man then it would cross my mind whenever I had to make a decision. If I were an even better man it would be the reason behind every decision even without thinking. It would be my instinct rather than my goal.

I believe that Jesus lives, and that He loves me – not because of what I’ve done, which is worthless, but because of who He is, which is Love, which is priceless.

I want to please Him – not because I think I’ll go to hell if I make a mistake, but because I’m so grateful to Him that I won’t, despite my constant mistakes. He forgives me, and all I have to do is accept His forgiveness.

If there’s any bad theology in what I’ve written, then I’m sorry. I love theology, I think it’s great, but I love Jesus more, because He’s greater.

What I’ve said today may not be ground-breaking, but I’m putting out there as a way of laying a foundation, for posts to come, hopefully soon, which will depend on this truth for their credibility.

And also to let you know that I really love Jesus.

The Light In The Darkness

Lord Jesus,

When a shadow is cast over my life,

When my energy drains,

When my joy fades,

When nothing in this world satisfies me,

I look to you,

My soul cries out to you,

I long for you,

I speak to you,

In my weariness,

In my sadness,

In my frustration,

In my anger,

I call to you,

I reach for you,

I kneel before you,

I worship you,

Too many burdens weigh me down,

Too many voices fill my ears,

Too much pain distracts my mind,

Too many dreams disturb my sleep,

I lay it all before you,

I confess it all to you,

I open my heart to you,

I trust you,

Lord Jesus,

You are my strength,

You are my truth,

You are my companion,

My friend,

You take the strain,

You point the way,

You understand,

You make sense of the world,

You walk with me,

You cry with me,

You lift my head,

You calm my heart,

You are my shield,

You are my rock,

You are my saviour,

You are my life,

You are,

You are,

You are.


Hebrews 12:1-2, Psalm 23, Matthew 11:28-30, Isaiah 50:10, John 8:12