Genesis 1 – Creation
Posted: 26 July 2010 in Genesis

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In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day…….

Genesis 1 does not give a scientific account of creation. That is not its purpose. Instead its purpose is to talk about the great theological truths of God as the creator and sustainer of all that is. It talks about God’s omnipotent word efficaciously bringing about whatever he decrees. God speaks….. and it is. That is a refrain which runs throughout the opening verses of Genesis.

It is this depiction of God’s activity which makes me feel uneasy when God is spoken of as a designer. The word “designer” conjures up a picture of somebody sitting at a drawing board, long into the night, trying to overcome some problem he has encountered. To use that as a metaphor for the omnipotent God, whose mere word gives effect to whatever he decrees, does a grave dishonour to the glory of God. Even the notion of design dishonours him. Genesis 1 describes a universe which is spoken into existence by God, without any other effort on his behalf being necessary – especially not the effort of a designer. God is truly beyond our comprehension, and we must be on our guard against anything which reduces him to something we can more easily comprehend.

Later on in the chapter, the special role of man in God’s creation is mentioned. There may be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but the Bible does not address itself to that question. Here on earth, however, man is created so that he can act as God’s representative and rule on his behalf. Being created in the role of God’s ambassador is probably what is meant by being created in God’s image. This clearly makes man into a servant – God’s slave even – and his dominion over creation does not, therefore, give him a licence to do as he pleases with God’s handiwork.

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Matthew 25.14-30 – Parable of the Talents
Posted: 24 July 2010 in Matthew

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For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two…..”

Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel contains a couple of takes on the Last Judgment, and they both make it clear that we will be judged on the basis of what we have done with our lives. At first sight this seems to conflict with the equally clear biblical teaching that salvation is dependent upon God’s grace, and upon his prior decision to save those he has predestined to eternal life. But both teachings are present in the Bible, and so both must be taken seriously. It seems to me personally that the Thomist position comes closest to resolving the conflict, according to which the desire to please God is a grace given to the elect alone – with the works of mercy, listed later on in chapter 25, following on from that.

The Parable of the Talents approaches the subject of judgment from the angle of the gifts and talents which have been bestowed upon us by God, and the use we have made of them in our lives. Not to make use of those endowments, or even worse, to misuse them for our own ends, will bring judgment down upon us.

The parable makes clear that God does not bestow his gifts equally – a truth which I suppose can easily be verified by looking at the world around us – but unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Luke 12.48). Somebody with numerous abilities and talents will potentially have more to answer for, come Judgment day, than somebody whose abilities are few, but who, in serving God, has used them for the purpose they were given.

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2 Kings 2.1-18 – Accepting God’s will
Posted: 23 July 2010 in 2 Kings, Scripture

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And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel……

Elijah is now taken up into heaven, and Elisha returns to Jericho

And they [the sons of the prophets] said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley…… They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.

Implied by this passage is a previous revelation by God, in which he discloses his intention to take Elijah up into heaven. Unable to accept this, Elisha sticks to him like glue, and, wherever Elijah goes, Elisha goes also. A little while later, after Elijah has been taken up into heaven, Elisha returns to Jericho. There he meets the sons of the prophets, who reveal that they too are unable to accept the accomplished fact.

The point of the story is that even something, which is good in itself, can become an evil when it impedes submission to God’s will. There is certainly nothing wrong with human affection (if there were more of it there might be fewer wars) but even it can be harmful in our relationship to God, if it inhibits our acceptance of what God has done, or is about to do. There are several places in the New Testament where Jesus makes the same point (cf Matt 8.21-23).

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1 Timothy 4.1-7 – Not so modern heresies
Posted: 22 July 2010 in 1 Timothy

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth…… If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. “

The New Testament is full of warnings against trying to remake Christian doctrine to fit our own needs and desires. But when I look on the internet today, I find myself taken aback by the extent to which Christians feel free to do just that – especially in America. Is the doctrine of the Trinity difficult to comprehend? Let’s dump it then. And the divinity of Christ? Oh well, we can do without that as well. Ancient heresies such as Modalism and Arianism are making a big comeback.

It is no secret that Europe is largely secular today, but the Christians that do remain, in Britain and elsewhere, seem to be fairly orthodox in their beliefs. At least at the moment: It is always possible that this is another American export, getting ready to cross the Atlantic.

I suppose this all flows from the extent to which religion has become just one more item on the shopping list of people who live in a culture dominated by consumerism. Consumers feel free to specify the colour of their new car, or the size of the screen on their new television, so why shouldn’t they be able specify the doctrines their religion is going to incorporate?

The trouble with that is that God is not offering us a consumer product. He is telling us the way by which we must come to salvation. Nobody tries to decide for themselves whether or not Newton’s three laws of motion are true, and a customised Christianity makes no more sense than a customised physics.

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Matthew 23.3-12 – Self Glorification
Posted: 21 July 2010 in Matthew

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

It struck me that this passage relates to the one in Matt 7.21-23, which I posted about a few days ago. There Jesus gives a more general warning against pursuing our own projects, rather than God’s will, no matter how religiously inspired those projects may appear to be. Here he is warning specifically against an ostentatious piety, which is motivated primarily by a desire for self glorification, rather than by a desire to glorify God. The self absorption, and disregard for God’s will, which flows is the very opposite of what God requires of us.

Following on from the above passage, there is a series of what are perhaps the most caustic comments ever to leave the lips of Jesus.

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