Saturday, 5 April 2014

Nailing it down

No longer do we live in a Platonic world of shadows from which we must escape if we are to receive divine light. No longer do we live in a Kantian world of phenomena that bars access to noumena. No longer do we live in a Naturalistic world devoid of transcendence. Rather the world and everything in it becomes a sacrament, radiating God's glory, by truly speaking of what God has wrought in creation.    William Dembski - Intelligent Design.

However wonderful life is (and it's astonishingly wonderful when we really look at it), we don't really 'sit' well with certain aspects of our existence. Human nature is daily revealed to be a scorn (with regards to the way we treat each other and the world we live upon), and elements of what is usually deemed 'natural' (pain, suffering, misery, death), not to mention the enigma of evil, prey upon us in our moments of quiet (which, no doubt explains why so much of modern life is so noisy). The common answer is to seek refuge in some manner of escape, either amidst readily available virtual reality, or the 'harder' notions of scientific philosophy, but these scurrying's twist us back into ourselves - into a universe that is hollow and empty, where nothing has any lasting meaning or value.

There is a very real alternative:

Once we begin to recognize that the answer to what is does not lie within that 'stuff' itself, but elsewhere, and what that implies, then the Christian answer to what life is and what really matters here and now begins to stack up.

Christianity allows us to see the world beyond our self-inflicted limitations, and understand that there is something much better ahead for that world, which is not an illusion or a prison to escape, but a wonder being rescued from our spoiling of its majesty.
The 'cave' was meant to be a garden. The obscurity was mean to be clarity. The natural was meant to reveal to us a richer, deeper, glorious splendor. Jesus Christ will indeed make it so.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Beneath the Sunrise

"If a person lives for many years, let them rejoice in them all"  Solomon.

It's proving to be a month of considering all the good gifts God has given to us - Food, Music, Laughter and Rest in our study group, but this has caused me to ponder related fields of pleasure and delight as well - art, beauty, sex, writing and the body. Joy, notes the scriptures, is most commonly found for us in such realms (Ecclesiastes 8:15), and we are actually commanded to enjoy what God has made for such a purpose (1 Timothy 4:1-5), because there will always be those who seek to negate and reject what is deemed good for the goal of spiritual deceit (Colossians 2: 20-23).

If an activity causes us to turn outward - to look beyond ourselves because it is shared or created to encourage our delight in each other - then it can have a value beyond merely satisfying ourselves or our own needs, and all of the gifts I've touched on above are given for this very purpose. Eating shows us we cannot exist in an autonomous fashion, and what is better than a good meal shared with friends? Music can turn us from deep introspection to look up to things beyond us, and communal singing and worship can be a most edifying experience. Recreation (walking, swimming, gardening, relaxing and so on) can be rejuvenating, and again, is often enriched when done with those close to us, or enjoying a moment making new acquaintances whilst engaged in these, and laughter often crowns the delight of our meals, work, rest and refreshment by 'speaking' of the joy found within them.

"If there lurks in modern minds", notes C S Lewis, "the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest this notion has crept in from the likes of Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of these promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak" (Mere Christianity).

It as we truly begin to value and enjoy the basic 'stuff' of life (food, work, music and rest), and how these allow us to share life together in a richer way, that the deeper splendors found in our being bodily creatures can become rightly employed and and enjoyed in our bodily communion with God and one another. It is this essential nature of life which will remain at the heart of creational existence forever, so it is imperative that we learn, in spite of those moments when we trip and fall (for which we have an advocate before the Father, the man, Christ Jesus) that this - bodily redemption - is indeed the life for which we were made (Romans 8:23), and that it is just such a reconciliation of all things that will truly please the Father forever (Revelation 21:5).

Thursday, 13 March 2014

And, exhale...

"Luther recalls: “Staupitz used to comfort me with these words: ‘Why do you torture yourself with these speculations? Look at the wounds of Christ and at the blood that was shed for you. From these predestination will shine.’”

Election, Predestination, Salvation.

Big subjects, and quite a lot has been said about them lately.
Here's a link to an article I read this week, which is just superb on this, and spells out the alternative to the usual positions - enjoy.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Listen up (or loose it all)

Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness.
Solomon - Ecclesiastes 2:13.

What makes us 'comfortable' at church? 
Good "fellowship" perhaps, or a vibrant time of worship?
A 'useful' sermon, or lots of after-service activities? 
We, no doubt, find many or all of these things engaging, but what we need to 'hear' in all of it, is the proclaiming of the totally saving work of God in Christ (Romans 3:21-26), because when something - anything - else becomes pre-eminent, then we're quickly on very dangerous ground, and what should bring us 'light' will leave us stumbling in the dark.

That's why I so often find myself "wriggling" and concerned... usually "little" things start up, through a sermon or a song, a particular statement or even a conversation, and you realize, that what is actually at stake if a certain "approach" takes hold is the doctrine and faith by which, as Luther put it, the church stands or falls. There's always 'another gospel' crouching just behind what we see, waiting to take hold by the most appealing means (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

The place where this so often comes to light, aside from the Gospel itself, is in regards to Christian sanctification. We tend to think of this as a 'doing' thing, but we need to see that the true work of making someone profane holy is something that is done only In Christ (see the Romans passage above) and through His word (John 17:16). It is God's faithfulness to His promises alone that counts - any good works that we may do are merely evidence of what is truly ours in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 2:10), but there are plenty of 'approaches' to this matter which clearly place the onus back upon us, inviting a way in for all manner of troubles related to "works righteousness", as the New Testament shows (Galatians 3:1-5, Colossians 2:20-23).

When we gather as Christians, what matters is that God is evidenced through the work that He has done, alone, in His Son and that we, by Word and Sacrament, are refreshed in the unchangeable fact that we are safe because He is the one who saves the ungodly. Sin is first and foremost, a lack of fear before a Holy God because we have been deceived into thinking that something else, anything else which comes from us is good enough to bring us right standing before God, but only His work can clothe us and pronounce us justified.

We all have a nature that naturally wants to find something in us to boast in, to hold up as passable, perhaps even worthwhile, but only in Christ is there a humanity that is good and true and redeemable - all else, as the old hymn puts it, is sinking sand.

We sorely need, constantly, a ministry to the saints that gets this, because if we don't, we're all going to be without safe harbor, and the consequences are dire (Ephesians 4:14).

Monday, 3 February 2014

A little perspective on a sobering matter...

"Oh, I believe he was told that, and that he was honest with you. I just don't know if the source was honest with him".

"I'm supposed to be the doubter", said Bucky.

"Nonsense", she replied. "Scientists are taught to doubt everything".

"Rubbish", said Bucky. "They hang on to disproven and discarded theories like religious zealots".

"Only some of them", she said defensively.

"And only some religious people are zealots".

The Cassandra Project by Jack Mc Devitt and Mike Resnick.

I came across an interesting TED video on the Mockingbird website this weekend - a discussion of our "stories" to seek to deal with death:

There are several fascinating things to consider in this.
Here's a few -
Stephen Cave shows just how readily Science has taken over the reigns of human aspirations to escape death and find a way to allow us to become free of such tyranny.
He also conveys that we all share a bias (whatever our philosophical stripe) to avoid the horror of death by whatever means possible - hence his example of agnostics quickly changing their views under certain conditions.

There are, however, some pretty telling myths in his own approach.
Epicurean philosophy, for example, nicely distinguishes life and death so that we're either one or the other (and therefore, don't need to worry), but anyone dealing with their own death or that of another knows, purely at a natural level, that it really isn't like that. Death can in reality inhabit our day to day existence, sometimes for years, and it can be a living nightmare to deal with, just as dreadful as the moment of actual death itself.

The over-view of a religious approach to the issue, especially of Christianity, is also very remiss. For example, the four 'stories' he seeks to reject are actually all elements of the far deeper discussion that historians, prophets, apostles and Christ Himself provide regarding the nature and reason for death in our world (as so clearly defined in early Christian theology). It also depends entirely on the notion that the spiritual and the material are entirely detached (to the point, as Cave puts it, that his existential elevator doesn't exist), but this is not so at all:

Death, when truly understood theologically, is a negation of the natural, as sin is a negation of the human - both are entirely alien to what should be natural.

When Christians speak of a 'water' that gives eternal life, a 'soul' which will know more than our time here, a 'legacy' which endures and a bodily resurrection, they are able to do so because of the historical nature of God's creative and redemptive work in Jesus Christ, without which we would indeed be the 'most miserable of all men, truly to be pitied', as Paul says, but, he goes on, now is Christ truly risen from the dead and, as such, has become the first-fruits of the new (coming) creation, which we 'taste' now, in regeneration which allows us to trust in God's work and promises.

The resolution to death is not seeking to create some kind of detente - it doesn't work, especially as we become more aware of it's shadow. Christianity requires us to make a much deeper examination of our condition and seek a resolve beyond ourself.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The E d g e

"Human life has always lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself *."  C S Lewis - the Weight of Glory.

So here we are, every one, dressed in little more than rags, fearfully poised on the edge of the abyss of death, aching to be more than this - to truly be part of something no longer defined by pain and frustration and demise. 

Occasionally, some phantom whispers from behind "drink this" - potions promising health or wealth or power which delude us into feeling we're more than wretched, more than a corpse just waiting for the moment we tip headlong over the edge. 
Then there are the soothsayers, who say it's all illusion or irrelevant - just enjoy the moment, because that's really all there is - except the emptiness. 

We all know different. 
We can sense somewhere behind - something so keen in our younger days, now buried beneath the rubble in our scarred souls and pained days. 

The bland thing we call 'life' taunts us - it's hiding what it doesn't want us to see - where we're really from and should be going. How we can know more than the futile and the chasm?

Looking at another like us, if we dare turn our heads, we can see the image, hear the cry, feel the pulse, so deep beneath our own skin, that in spite of the ruin, the scars and the rags, we were made for so much more. 

 The terror breaks when such light begins to dawn, and we see the face of the one who has broken our fall. The shadow of mercy has drawn our gaze, and there, the jewel of what makes us whole can be seen anew. 

  (* I've been 'seeing' versions of the image outlined in the first paragraph of what I've written here all day today, and when I arrived home tonight, this wonderful quote from C S Lewis was sitting on my Face Book page, so I thought I'd write this entry).

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Where next?

"Set apart for the gospel... concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord". Paul - Romans 1.

Over the last few entries, we looked at what might be termed the key elements of reality - that God is actually more immediate than we often care to realize, and the reason for that distance on our part (in terms of our invented beliefs) is our fundamental alienation from God ( a nature which has a propensity to reject and deny Him). The wonder, as we touched upon last time, is that in spite of this wretched estate, God still provides for our rebellious race, still cares for us, and still wishes to reach us with the good news that can truly redeem and restore us to be truly ourselves again (renewing our relationship to Him and each other).

The means God uses to re-connect us to what has been lost is the proclaiming of truth, particularly regarding His work through Jesus Christ, which facilitates God's promises being made ours because we are made His in Christ (See Romans 3:31-27).

We can see that such work and faith is evidenced, as Paul shows, in what could be termed some of the key events in human history.
The story of Abraham (Romans 4), for example, shows us the distinction between 'life' as we generally understand it - marked by the sin of Adam - and life renewed by God, allowing us to see God's faithfulness to take us from this into His Son (see Romans 5). It is this work, foreign to us and our world, which God Himself bestows to kill and raise us (Romans 6), to end the tyranny of the Law (which rightly finds us guilty) and Sin (which leaves us powerless to find any other remedy - Romans 7). When this occurs, we become those who participate in a life which finally brings us, after death and resurrection, to a full renewal of life amidst a restored and glorified creation (Romans 8), which is secured and established by the love of God.

It is purely because of the surety of this that we can have confidence in God's promises working through history (Romans 9), including and especially amongst those who first received the promises (Romans 10), and thereby revel in the full splendor of God's purposes to all men (Romans 11). This is the framework which allows us to seek to express the height and depth of redemption in our daily lives (Romans 12), especially in relation to this world (Romans 13) and towards one another (Romans 14 & 15).

Coming next... we'll seek to unpack some of the ramifications of these truths.