Sunday, July 29, 2007

Is God bad?

OK, in most of my posts I adopt a fairly gracious, reflective posture carefully avoiding absolute statements. This one is different. This is a rant. I write in response to terrifyingly misguided 'Christians' who have somehow got it into their heads that the floods currently hitting England are in some way the judgment of God coming upon us in the 'End Times'. To such people I simply ask,
"Was the judgment of humanity's sin at Calvary not enough? Does God need to complete the work of Jesus on the cross with a bit of bad weather in Tewksbury?"
Get a life.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is God good?

For quite a while now I've been struggling with large chunks of the Old Testament. By struggling I mean finding it hard to engage with passages of scripture from my 21st century perspective, for example the amount of wanton and apparently God-sanctioned or even God-initiated violence. So on the whole I've buried my head in the gospels and hoped that I might be able to just ignore all that stuff. But of course it's impossible to ignore all that stuff as one of the amazing things about the bible is the continuity of it's meta-narrative and for better or worse those ancient tales make up a large part of it.
The other day I was challenged to re-engage with this stuff and to see what deeper examination of the text might reveal, so I did. So far I've just looked at the first 7 chapters of Joshua (one of the most bloodthirsty books) and guess what I found... Prior to embarking on the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Jericho the zealous Joshua has an encounter:
"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." Joshua 5:13-15.
Fascinating. Bible scholars pretty much all agree that this incident was a christophany. And what message is delivered to Joshua? "I'm not taking sides here OK." And then he goes on to remind Joshua of the sanctity of the world in which he has been granted leadership responsibility. Even more fascinating then reading on to chapter 6 when: "the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men." (v2). Er, did you hear that Joshua? According to the rules of engagement your army may put to the sword the enlisted men of the city, but who mentioned the women and the children? The NIV tactfully translates the genocide of the city as a 'devotion' to the Lord. Interestingly chapter 7 begins with God's anger burning against Israel because of the 'devoted things'. I'm no Hebrew scholar but seems to me that this incident is not at all what it first seems. What truth is hiding in that opaque language? I'm now wondering how many more of these Old Testament stories may have similar undercurrents? I'll do some more digging and let you know what I find.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The Big Fight: God vs Satan

I don't typically spend time thinking about the devil at all but just recently, maybe triggered by reading Paradise Lost, I have been. For a long time I've been baffled by the obvious mismatch between God and Satan. The God we meet in the bible is eternally all powerful and all knowing whereas his adversary is a jumped-up celestial being of limited power and influence. So why is the world so in thrall to his charms? I've come up with a possible answer. Imagine you're involved in a game of chess with a grand master. The grand master adheres to the rules fastidiously but you completely disregard the rules every turn and in doing so manage to give the impression to the audience (who don't know the rules) that you're doing quite well.
The golden rule in the celestial chess championship that is our world is that of free will. God has given it to us and will never take it away. Satan, in total rebellion against God, couldn't care less about our free will. Ever since the misty days of the garden he's been dead set on decieving and manipulating the human psyche. No wonder we see such chaos around us, no wonder so many people have warped and twisted ideas about God. But hey, the game's not over yet and despite his endless cheating Satan's never going to win.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Going deeper

Following my post yesterday about the Black Box I was encouraged to come across this from Tom Wright in his devotional commentary on Ephesians (4:17-24):
"You won't understand where behaviour comes from unless you understand the state of heart and mind. And you won't change the behaviour unless you change the heart and mind. This isn't what many people today expect to hear. There is a persistent untruth which has made its way into the popular imagination in our day: that Christianity means closing off your mind, ceasing all serious thought, and living in a shallow fantasy world divorced from the solid truths of 'real life'... But the truth is that genuine Christianity opens the mind so that it can grasp truth at deeper and deeper levels. This isn't a matter of university degrees and paper qualifications, helpful though they may be. It's a matter of the heart and mind being open to the even wider range of insight and imagination that comes with 'learning the king'."

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Black Box

Over the last few weeks I've doing a lot interviewing for the vacancies we're looking to fill within our organisation. I find it an exciting undertaking because of my overarching belief in God's sovereign ability to steer and guide individual destinies. As I've sat down and listened to person after person describing themselves and their story I've realised that there are two kinds of Christians. The first group relate the journey of their lives in a strange sort of shorthand saying things like, "...and then God told me to go to Birmingham." The second group have noticeably different language opting to interpret the twists and turns of their lives by recognising the hand of God through certain circumstances or relationships. I've decided to call the first group the Black Box group, I don't know what to call the second group yet.
So why the Black Box? Well, the Black Box is a virtually indestructible bit of equipment carried on aeroplanes to ensure that all the vital communications and measurements from the journey are recorded. The contents of the Black Box (actually they tend to be orange) can only be interpreted by a trained expert using special equipment. This relates to the more general use of the phrase 'Black Box' as a way of describing any kind of process that gives the impression of happening beyond the limits of observation or analysis.
My faith journey over the last few years could perhaps be described as a movement out of the first group and into the second group. I don't want to be too quick to slap the label 'GOD' onto everything that has the appearance of being slightly coincidental or spooky. Indeed by choosing to investigate the deeper causes of happenings in my life I want to begin to get to know God better - but it's not easy. Whilst part of me is excited by the Psalmist's aspiration "Show me your ways" (Psalm 25:4) another part of me feels a bit awkward following a "did God really say?" (Genesis 3:1) train of thought. I suppose ultimately it's the motivation that matters. By that I mean that I have no desire to rationalise all potentially divine activity, rather I want to connect with the reality of God at the deepest level. To do that I know I need to get inside the Black Box.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Paradise Lost

On Saturday I had a bit of a splurge on books at my local cheapo bookstore. For less than £20 I got 3 awesome collector's edition hardbacks, the stunning photo-bio U2 by U2 and a pair of stunningly illustrated classics, Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost. I've spend the last few days flicking through all three but it's Paradise Lost that's really got me hooked. The weaving together of fantasy and theology with unsurpassed mastery of the English language is just pure honey. Each of it's 12 books begins with a short burst of prose hinting at the poetry about to unfold. The ideas encapsulated in these little preludes ooze with spiritual significance, just check this out from the intro to Book III:
God, sitting on his throne, sees Satan flying towards this World, then newly created; shews him to the Son, who sat at his right hand; foretells the success of Satan in perverting mankind; clears his own Justice and Wisdom from all imputation, having created Man free, and able enough to have withstood his tempter; yet declares his purpose of grace towards him, in regard he fell not of his own malice, as did Satan, but by him seduced. The Son of God renders praises to his Father for the manifestation of his gracious purpose towards Man: but God again declares that Grace cannot be extended towards Man without the satisfaction of Divine Justice; Man hath offended the majesty of God by aspiring to Godhead, and therefore, with all his progeny, devoted to death, must die, unless some one can be found sufficient to answer for his offence, and undergo his punishment. The Son of God freely offers himself a ransom for Man: the Father accepts him, ordains his incarnation, pronounces his exaltation above all Names in Heaven and Earth; commands all the Angels to adore him. They obey, and, hymning to their harps in full quire, celebrate the Father and the Son...

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Meeting Dawkins in the Betting Shop

I just spent the last few hours reading a little book called Deluded by Dawkins? A Christian Response to the God Delusion. It's well structured and moves at quite a pace through Dawkin's varied complaints and arguments. It dismisses those that are irrelevant, contends with those that are and acknowledges common ground where it exists. After eliminating the various diversions and the angry rantings Andrew Wilson reduces Dawkins arguments into 4 categories but having read these they seem to cluster more naturally into 3:
1. Evolutionary science - the subject Dawkins knows best. Sadly Darwin's observation of natural selection occurring in the world around us does not do a good job of addressing origins and neither does his disciple. 2. Biblical accuracy / errancy - the subject Dawkins knows least. Here we go off piste because whether the bible is true or not is important for Christians it has not bearing on whether or not God exists. A God other than the Christian God may exist. 3. Philosophical logic - a matter best approached with a certain amount of objectivity - which Dawkins as a fundamentalist atheist entirely lacks. I found this final section of the book the most interesting as I think its this area in which proper dueling can be done...
Wilson agrees with Dawkins that when it comes to explaining our existence there are 3 (well 2 and a half) main options available: A) An eternal God created us (whilst not inferring a literal Genesis interpretation) B1) We are the result of infinitely improbable coincidences or B2) The 'Multiverse' theory - which, put simply, suggests that our universe exists like a bubble in a bath of universe-foam made up of billions of other universes. This is a development of B intended to significantly increase the probablity of life emerging (whilst straying into the rather wacky implausibility implicit in A)
It seems to me that at the end of all this we find ourselves in a great cosmic Betting Shop. In the Red corner we have some kind of divine personality and in the Blue corner we have the biggest foam party you could ever imagine. We're left to choose which is the most probable of these two mind-blowingly improbable alternatives. Who are you backing?

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