Saturday, 18 July 2015

For what it's worth?

"Eden was... God's first (earthly) temple... When Adam sinned, the unity of worship and culture was dissolved".  Michael Horton. 

Ever wondered what the first real act of worship is in scripture?

Perhaps we could point to the singing of the hosts as God fashions and furnishes the heavens (Job 38:7). Certainly, that would be a contender chronologically amidst creation, but  in reality, of course,  even that splendor is preceded and entirely surpassed by the sheer joy of the fellowship shared between the Father and His Son  (Hebrews 1:8-12).

Genesis 1 shows how God delights in His handiwork, because the intent and purpose of that creation (expressed in its most complete fashion in the shaping and life-giving to humanity) is to express and thereby reflect something of the beauty and rapture of the life shared by the Godhead - the richness of the fellowship between Spirit, Father and Son  (John 17:3). The Lord, therefore, has no issue in giving everything He makes its true value and worth (shown in the use of the phrase "and it was good") or in reveling in such things, as He refreshes Himself in them on the seventh day - a picture itself of the intended completion that will be found through this work (Hebrews 4).

The first thing we notice in the inter-action between God and Adam is that a true sense of worth can only come about when we see things as they really are (in this case, Adam's loneliness) and the real value and meaning of things is understood (here, Adam's relationship to the realm around him) in the light of this. Idolatry is not about not giving something a true value - it's about measuring and then ascribing its purpose and role in a deceitful (crooked) way. Adam is encouraged by God to truly "see" the nature, place and purpose of the creatures that surround him, and this in turn helps to nurture an understanding of his own value and role in relation to all that's in the garden, and to confirm his need for something more... a true partner.

The worship and the splendor of the angels in Job is no doubt magnificent - something which leaves us rightly trembling - but there is another kind of glory, wrought from dust into naked, communing flesh which also 'tells' of God's greatness in a manner that is unique amidst all the array of His works.

The first act of Adam, as he awakes and views Eve for the first time, is indeed one of worship (Genesis 2:23), expressed afresh in every joining of man and women before God (Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31). An intrinsic part of our true affection and genuine worship of our Heavenly Father, then, is to truly (properly) esteem and value what He has made and will bring to completion through His glorious Son.

Which is why I had a problem with a recent sermon, in which I was informed that my being (body) may be a place of worship (to bring such honor to God, which indeed it is), but is not to be an object of that manner of honor.

Worth (something invested with an inherent value), is of course, something which is conveyed not only towards God. It is conveyed by God Himself to all of His handiwork (John 3:16). The New Testament really shows this.

When James, for example, examines how we can miss-use the tongue in his letter (Chapter 3), he notes how easy it is for us to 'bless our Lord and Father' and yet to also curse those who are made in the image and likeness of God (verse 9). We may be fallen, but you will never meet a person who does not have infinite worth because of the one who made us to speak of His character. This is why we are reminded by Peter to give true value to everyone (1 Peter 2:17).

God has invested all things with their proper "glory" (Matthew 6:29) and that significance is something which has become renewed by God in Christ to be fully restored in the age that is fast approaching  (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). Idolatry is when we fail to grant to others or ourselves the value God has given - when we misconstrue, demean or warp that truth into a negative and it thereby becomes a caricature or lie, beguiling us like the poison fed to Eve in the garden (Genesis 3: 1-7). 

 To truly honor our Father and His astonishing love and mercy shown through His Son, we must value and enjoy all He makes splendid in its time. That will help us, amidst the troubles of this present blighted age to taste and see, even in the wilderness, that He is surely good.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Seeing Red

"But you keep my old scarf from that very first week,  
 because it reminds you of innocence,
 and it smells like me, you can't get rid of it, cos' you remember it, 
 all too well".

Taylor Swift - from the album, Red.

So there I was, listening in on a conversation on spirituality, and wondering where I might jump in with a comment, when a familiar theme is expressed -religion of any sort is finished... science is the only game on the block which counts now, so man up or ship out.

There's a fascinating conversation on You Tube* between Richard Dawkins and Physicist Stephen Weinberg. After laying out their common understanding that, in science, using 'God'  has merely been a metaphor for the unknown, they begin to unpack the real state of affairs with regards to the limitations of what we know (something, incidentally, which was truly amplified a few weeks ago by the latest information from CERN). Weinberg freely admits that when it comes to unpacking why things are the way they are, science is probably going to fail to really answer or resolve the cardinal issues (i.e. the reason why the universe is how it is), and that we have to accept this as just part of the human tragedy.

Back in the mid-nineties, science writer John Horgan provided a provocative look at the nature of what the prevailing view of such men gave our culture in his work, The End of Science, in which he, in part, concluded that God may indeed be something more than a useful metaphor. The reasons for such a conclusion are stark.

In spite of scientists telling us that what see is merely an "illusion" of design, there are clearly forces at work that beg to differ. The Cosmological constant, set to one part in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion,  is a staggering example of fine-tuning. 

Without such manner of exactness, we would never have come about, and the universe would be little more than an expanse of gases.

Weinberg is entirely honest when he states that this places "us" (the scientific community) in a 'fix' which is often not stated well (hence, the confidence of the familiar statement in my recent conversation). This is no doubt because the two alternative approaches to such laws being designed currently provided by popular hypothesis (1)the multiple universe or (2) a TOE which includes data on such constants so far unknown) is, as Weinberg notes, very much situated in the realms of 'what if' thinking, with nothing of substance to support them, so for those who cannot entertain the possibility of design, the human condition must, ultimately, be one of total tragedy - that there probably is no answer, so the laws of entropy (and for the natural realm, death) reign supreme.

I expressed these realities in the conversation, suggesting that true religion may offer us something far more objective than we realize, and the response was fascinating. Whilst those holding to an atheistic perspective chose to personalize their scorn of those 'who believe' (easier, for sure, than considering the ramifications of scientific honesty), those who had been advocating spirituality sought to find solace in 'something like' buddhism or hindu views, especially in what Chesterton defined as the dreadful refuge of the 'god within', at which point I raised the matter of Jesus Christ. The response was what you'd expect - the gospels cannot be trusted, leading to my sourcing non-biblical writings of the earliest period which verify that Jesus lived, was crucified and remarkably began a movement that grew so quickly that it became a major thorn to the empire (presumably, as these writings note, because of what these Christians were teaching about Jesus being God and defying death).

The response (aside from a few murmurings) ...  Silence.

And we know why.

We seem to want our place in the universe to be either something we totally define (and thereby control) or, if we cannot have that, a construct which means it all amounts to nothing (any 'design' is pure fluke, as in Douglas Adam's 'Hitch-hiker's" stories), but what if that isn't the reality at all... what if the actual fine-tuning laws that have been discovered behind our being here do indeed express design, and that 'designer' has come amongst us? Doesn't that speak to the necessity of our rejecting what we view as our "necessary fictions"?

There is something much deeper going on. 

As Bertrand Russell once expressed it in a letter:

I am strangely unhappy because the pattern of my life is complicated, because my nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses; and out of all this, to my intense sorrow, pain to you must grow. The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God-I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found-but the love of it is my life -it's like passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have-it is the actual spring of life within me. 

 (October 23, 1916 to his lover Colette).

Note what Russell says here - he longs for something beyond himself... A desire as deep as hunger or passion which longs for satisfaction for it is essentially what is at the centre of existence. He could never find what he so needed - his world-view wouldn't provide what was required, but science and philosophy can point further and deeper, as I've sought to show above.


Perhaps, then, we should end with a valid observation from a Scientist.

Albert Einstein once noted:
"No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus... No myth is filled with such life".

(Saturday Evening Post interview, October 26th, 1929).


As I sought to submit in the conversation, it is indeed time to do more than just 'remind' ourselves of such 'innocence' (the hard truths about our understanding of the universe and the choice to often ignore key material that clearly points us to what is going on), and thereby recognize what we cannot escape.... 

The God who is there.

*Find the video at: https://youtu.be/EGL8SesIo6Y

John Horgan's Book at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0465065929

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Under arrest?

"And it came about, that as he journeyed, approaching Damascus, that a sudden light surrounded him, and he fell to the ground".  Acts 9:3.

Some situations, we feel, need very immediate and lasting solutions. Hopefully, ones which will go in our favor.

This morning I was listening to a radio snippet, where the 'expert' being interviewed was fervently advocating that the answer to current extremism in some parts of the world was education - tell it like it really is, and such radicalism will go away. I found myself thinking immediately of what was reported in the news this week - the youngest recruit bomber from the UK, who should have been taking exams this month, blew himself up because of the conviction that this was the best way to serve God. Education, at least in the conventional sense, didn't do anything to stop such surprising extremism.

Another snippet I heard yesterday really spoke to why. The call to truly become part of something deeper than ourselves can be totally compelling, especially when we are in a period where we are looking for meaning and identity - if we happen then to hear about a cause, for good or for ill, that can cater to that need, we can quickly be drawn towards it.

Saul was a man of deep convictions, especially when it came to how we define ourselves and our relationship to what is true. He viewed Christianity as a poison aimed right at the heart of that reality, and his response was to zealously seek to uproot and destroy such a horrible lie, but something troubled him. As he heard Stephen speak about the ugliness of miss-placed zeal and understanding regarding what God truly required, he experienced a jolt in his soul - a recognition that there was a radical sickness, in himself and all of us, which meant our best convictions can be so easily warped into something violently wicked.

Saul was by no means alone here.
David, raised to kingship over Israel, reached a point where he lost his way and gave in to desires and passions that reside in every human heart (Matthew 15:19), and thereby destroyed himself and several others amidst a period of selfish betrayal of all that God required of him (and us). Fortunately, for these men, and for all who are willing to hear, there was a remedy that is far better than seeking to 'educate' our way out of our malady - God the Father can set us free through His beloved Son (John 3).

It's so often the case that until we're truly, truly, desperate, we run away from the one thing that can help us, because we know it will mean an end to our selfish greed or evil or just plain stubbornness, but so often, when we finally do, we find rescue, costly though it may be.

The answer to radicalism today is something wider, deeper, richer, than we can possibly imagine - it's is God enfolding us in the love which caused Christ to hang at Calvary, breaking our sin, our death, in His own poured-out life. It seems stupid and foolish, and so very contrary to our self-confidence, our noble estimations, but it is indeed the power of God, which makes all things new.

Life is often taken up with a process of hurrying around, trying to find something, anything, that will provide some measure or resolve or satisfaction to our troubles, but if  we only stopped and considered things soberly for a few moments, we'd realize that such answers won't fix the wound, satisfy the hunger, we all share.

We were made for something larger, which is why young men and women especially  will always flock to radical endeavors, no matter how high the cost.

Will we allow God to take hold of us, before death and sin leave us empty of life?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Reading Scripture

A super little gem of a guide from Mike Horton and the White Horse Inn:

Monday, 4 May 2015

Are you sitting comfortably?

"These creatures have no elidia. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair - like a female trying to beget young on herself".

Out of the silent planet.

Take a look at this:





One of the earliest events recorded in the Bible regarding the impoverished condition of men once they leave Eden is that of the tower of babel. Basically, after creating a new material for building - the brick - mankind thinks it's ready to really be master of it's own destiny; to not worry about what's really good or important for people, but to marshall all to a common cause - making a name for ourselves. It's a tune that keeps re-disguising itself, but can be heard (if you're looking for it) just as well in our times, whether it's in the writings of someone like Ayn Rand or the intentions of something like the raised kind of underhand wheeling and dealing in the video - it all stems from a greed to own what isn't actually ours and achieve another aim in the process - evict the proper landlord. That was the flip-side of the Babel scheme - to reach heaven itself and to become the masters.

There's no surprise that Genesis tells us why we were aiming at such a dark throne (putting ourselves, ruled by greed, in charge). Anyone who takes even a brief look at the events of chapters 3-6 of the book can see why we were unfit for anything but judgement, so what happens at Babel, as soon as we get organized, is as predictable as an apple falling from the tree. What is surprising is how, even in times of judgement, God uses our very downfall to bring about something much better than greed and selfishness will ever foster. From the very fallout of the Babel incident will arise a family that will see the seeds of a far brighter future - a future that would include the coming of Jesus Christ Himself and the world hearing that in spite of our folly, redemption is truly happening, because God is at work, through Christ, to reconcile what has been so broken and so lost.

Our days here do not really turn around the wickedness of men, though that darkness often becomes very painful indeed - it revolves around a moment in our history when God came amongst us and by death and resurrection, concluded our sinfulness in what He suffered and the life that could not be vanquished by that sin - that is where our torn creation is looking today, for it's liberation will come.

Of course there are those that consider such a hope no more than wishful thinking - the problem there is that what the New Testament tells us about Jesus is pretty comprehensively supported by several other 'secular' sources, so even if you don't accept what the Gospel's say, you're still left with the problem of both what to do with Jesus and the bleak alternative of the 'worlds' we make without Him.

Without the one who sits above the heavens, who came to make us truly free, all we have left is the tyranny of selfish humanity - how long would it be before that corruption truly got its way? So ask yourself, what keeps us considering, longing for something richer and deeper than ourselves, and how will we really respond to that? That's surely wishful thinking worth pursuing.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Closing Down?


“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first - wanting to be the centre - wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake...what Satan put into the heads of our ancestors was the idea that they 'could be like Gods' - could set up on their own as if they had created themselves - be their own masters - invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come...the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”                                                                          C S Lewis - Mere Christianity.

I caught a snippet on the radio the other night - some talk show about a new program on the Caribbean, and the contrast between the beauty, for example, of the barrier reef off Honduras, and the 'darkness' of the human society in the nearby towns, where violence is the norm. Sadly, the two realms are not mutually exclusive. "The reef is dying - almost half of it has already gone", notes the program-maker, adding, "and it's happened in our lifetime".

One of the vilest forms of infection is when corruption parasitically encroaches itself into a system which had previously been healthy and active. We can see it everywhere - from dying coral reefs to the lifeless centers of towns and villages; swathes of closed shops on the high street, unused youth and family centers, once noisy pubs now silent.

One of the most haunting passages I recall reading in my youth was from H G Wells' 'The War of the Worlds', when the narrator finds himself amidst the deathly silence of a capital city shrouded in the agony of post-war destruction. The desolation works upon him, creating such a void that he becomes taken by a single madness - to give himself to the invaders... far better to die than to live on in such darkness.

In theology too, such poison brings this malady. Modern approaches to both the Gospel and the faith encourage us to 're-evaluate' and 'adjust' our understanding of the work of Christ and the historical reasons for this, viewing sections of scripture as only holding 'myth', but at what cost are such changes made? If we loose the events and ramifications of the words, for example, of Genesis, then where does that leave us in regards to the pivotal relationship between Christ and Adam? Between Eden and the New Creation? Between the Fall and the human condition? Does such an approach truly enrich us or erode the faith once delivered to God's saints?

It is, of course, easy to become (to make a favorite quote) "all doomy gloomy", but thankfully, there is a flip-side. Just as poison can infect our impoverished world, the 'leaven' of the Gospel can bring liberty to the captives and allow us to see that a redemption is at hand which means a far richer future is assured, for both coral and culture. That is the manner of infection we all truly need.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Vulcans, Art and Eternity

"There, beyond the bounds of your weak imagination,
  lie the noble towers of my city, bright and gold".

A Trick of the Tail by Genesis.

The death of Leonard Nimoy this past week amounted to the loss of someone who had become a cultural icon to many of my generation, not only because of his famous depiction of an extremely popular character in the legendary Star Trek, but also for some because of his truly engaging pursuit of the nature of ourselves and reality in various projects he pursued through his work as a photographer.

Being an avid fan of the 60's show and especially the lightning that is encapsulated in the dynamic between the three principal characters, I've often found myself pondering the nature of the more Christ-like aspects of Leonard's most famous on-screen role. Many, of course, make the mistake of seeing Mr Spock in monotone, almost as a machine, but watch an episode like Operation Annihilate, and the relationship between the nature of divinity enfleshed rescuing hopeless humanity becomes starkly apparent. An alien of another realm, coming amongst us as one of us, to guide and counsel and when necessary, lay down his life to save others, is pure gospel.

The story of how Leonard's religious childhood had an immediate impact upon his shaping of aspect's of his screen character are well known, but what is less talked about is how this same source equally impacted upon his art, especially upon his first full-scale work in photography entitled the Shekinah project.
His use here of the feminine form to express something about the divine was always going to controversial, but his understanding that there is, indeed, moments when we encounter this reality in our lives is something that deeply impacted upon his own creativity and life, again tying back to those early experiences of standing before God in his childhood.

In both his acting and his art, then, Leonard Nimoy was someone who was aware that what is truly there - above and beyond us in so many ways - is what truly counts, for it is when such grace settles upon our world in some form, however rare that encounter may be, it transforms the nature of our lives and ourselves, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the true weight and significance of what is happening around us and, on occasion, within us.

Now that all the public tributes have been made and the loss becomes history, I hope that we can reflect on such a pursuit of what counts, and hopefully, come to see that truth fully revealed in the nature and work of Jesus Christ.

As was stated once on the bridge of the Enterprise, "It's not the sun up in the sky - it's the Son of God". That's where the true shekinah is always found.