Mark 10.13-16 and John 3.5-7 – Faith in an age of skepticism
Posted: 11 January 2011 in John, Mark

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

Although skepticism can be useful, especially when listening to politicians, if it starts being lauded as something always desirable, it stops being a useful tool, and becomes a corrosive acid. You do not have to spend very long listening to the new atheists to realise that a corrosive acid is precisely what it has become in their minds.

In the above passage from Mark, Jesus emphasises the need for a trust, such as that a child has for its parent, in our relationship with God. In the early twenty first century we live in a culture where skepticism is thought to be sophisticated, and trust is always thought naive. Such an atmosphere undermines all relationships, but especially that with God.

It does seem unlikely that we would be able to escape our cultural conditioning, unless our hearts were touched by God and we were remade by him from within – or, as John puts it, unless we are born of God. Spiritual rebirth is clearly something which only God can bring about; it doesn’t necessarily have to be accompanied by fireworks, but it does have to happen. It is a gift and a privilege to be called by God, and we have every reason to be thankful to him for it.

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Hosea 4.1-7 – God and politics
Posted: 10 January 2011 in Hosea

“Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law. Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee. Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him. They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off. Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to innocency? For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.”

When we see Christians indulging in the not very edifying spectacle of judging other people, it is easy to think that they should take due notice of Matthew 7.1 (Judge not that ye be not judged), and stick to judging themselves in the light of the New Testament.

There is undoubtedly some truth in that, but the danger is that it can encourage us to think that morality only operates at the level of the individual. However, as the above passage makes clear, sin can have consequences which operate at the societal and national level. That being the case, religion cannot just be a matter of private devotion, and verse 4 in particular makes it clear that we have no business trying to keep God out of the political sphere. Nor have we any business allowing secularists to do it for us:

“They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not:”

Obviously we no longer live in an age when absolute monarchs rule. Translated into terms of the government of liberal democracies, this verse implies that decisions made by our political parties must always be made in the light of Christ’s teaching and example. It is perhaps unfortunate that the American experience has led people to think that a politics informed by Christian morality must necessarily be right wing politics. In Europe the Christian Democrat parties can just as easily be parties of the left, or parties of the centre, as they can parties of the right.

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1 John 5.18-19 and John 4.21 – The need for humility
Posted: 8 January 2011 in 1 John, John

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

Although I have taken them slightly out of context, the verses from 1 John struck me because of a debate I have been having with somebody on another forum. On the basis of some verses taken from the Bible, such as the one quoted from John’s Gospel, this person has decided that he alone has now discovered the true way to worship God, and, needless to say, people down the ages have been blinded by tradition, and by an inability of the churches to discern the true meaning of scripture. I cannot recall all of his argument, which didn’t seem very coherent anyhow, but apparently we are to be guided only by what the Holy Spirit has written on our hearts.

We should, admittedly, be very suspicious of any organisation which, in the name of humility, demands our unquestioning obedience. But I would nevertheless say that humility is a very important virtue in religion. There is an ever present danger of somebody going off to found a sect, which only just stays on this side of sanity, and losing touch with reality. For Christians reality is mediated to us, first and foremost, by God’s self revelation in scripture, but it is also mediated to us through the collective wisdom of saints and theologians, writing down the ages, and from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions. We can build on what they have written, but we can’t tear it down and start again without an extreme act of egoism.

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Salvation is of the Jews
Posted: 7 January 2011 in John, Mark, Romans

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. (John 4.22)

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in….. Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. (Romans 11.17-18)

But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. (Mark 7.27)

All of these passages seem to be saying more or less the same thing. Salvation first of all comes to the Jews, and only afterwards does anybody else get a look in. To us Gentiles that might seem a bit naff – why should we be second in the queue? But, as always, we are being reminded that God’s ways are not our ways.

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Exodus 7.1-3, Matthew 26.24
The God who exists, and the god we would like to exist.
Posted: 6 January 2011 in Exodus, Matthew

And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

If there is one thing I frequently encounter on the internet, it seems to be people who have great trouble with passages such as the one above, taken from Exodus. Sometimes it leads them to say that they don’t believe in God anymore; as if God ceases to exist the moment they read something about him they don’t like. I think that at the root of the problem is the idea that God ought to be a twenty first century liberal just like us, and that he should play by the rules we lay down for him. If there is one thing the Bible makes very clear from the outset, howver, it is that the Lord of all Creation is no democrat, and that he governs all things according to the good pleasure of his own will.

The lollowing is typical of very many verses in the Bible:

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: (Ezra 7.27)

Here it is the king’s heart which is being softened, rather than hardened, but still it is God who is the primary mover.

When Pharoah was created, his entire future life lay open before God, and God created him with the dispositions, temperament, and other attributes, necessary to ensure that he fulfilled God’s will – whether knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of Pharoah, this will have included his obduracy when confronted by Moses.

As with Pharoah, so with Judas Iscariot. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were preordained by God, and as Jesus makes clear, the means by which this was to happen was also preordained. And yet, as Jesus also makes clear, that fact did not in any way exonerate Judas from the evil of his actions. Neither Judas nor Pharoah will have been conscious of any constraint, forcing them to act in the way they did, and they will both have acted in accordance with their own will. Therefore they will stand condemned when they appear before God. At the same time, the king Ezra had to do with will be judged according to his own freely chosen (and good) actions – even though they also were preordained by God.

This may be a hard teaching, but I do not see any reason to suppose that God’s self revelation must be easy for us to accept. Every age is subject to the temptation to recreate God in its own image, and this age is no exception. After due allowance has been made for the cultural presuppositions of the biblical authors themselves, the purpose of the Bible is to reveal God as he really is, and not as we would like him to be. Anybody who feels entirely comfortable with the God who reveals himself in scripture, has probably substituted an idol for that God, and, if there is one thing the Bible does make very clear, it is that the Lord of all creation does not tolerate idolatry.

For what it is worth, that is my opinion, anyhow.

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