Category Archives: coronavirus

COVID Update – Focus on Vitamin D



Is vitamin D , or lack of it , a factor in the seriousness of Covid-19.

Us Brits make little vitamin D

An additional paper


Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

28th April 2020

I have found, I suspect like almost everyone else, that it is almost impossible to keep track of what is going on with COVID. Stories swirl and multiply, and almost everyone seems to be trying to get something out of it. People are claiming miracle cures and success – but it is difficult to verify any such claims.

The normal rules of research (flawed though they often are) have completely flown out of the window. It is like the wild west, with snake oil salesmen announcing wonderful products that not only cure COVID, but every other disease… I mean every other disease, known to man.

You sir, you look like an intelligent man, a man who understands science. A man who can see that my wonderful potion can cure almost every ailment that befalls man. Baldness, wrinkled skin, impotence, COVID…

‘A vaccine you say sir, of…

View original post 1,580 more words

Is Covid-19 Evil? A Christian answer?


Is Covid-19 Evil? A Christian answer?



The only reasonable answer is NO. Definitely No, the virus is not evil.

It is simply part of the natural order, so can be no more evil than a Koala Bear, a bluebell, a sunset or a beautiful woodland. Some will disagree, but lets consider the universe, the natural world or the creation, call it what you will.

The universe is billions of years old and billions of light years across. Our tiny planet was formed some four and half billion years ago along with the Solar System. Initially Earth was too hot for life and gradually cooled, with volcanic activity, earthquakes and the like. The first life was formed some three or four billion years ago. Grossly simplifying it was some kind of bacteria, which lived and died at a great rate. Viruses appeared as dubiously living things riding piggy-back on any life-form they could and often killed them. Since then the earth has been violent, with bits of crust whizzing round the surface of the planet with earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Life has also moved on. New and more complex forms arose and went extinct to be replaced by others. Animals could only thrive by eating up other living things, whether plant or animal. At times fossil animals have been found with the teeth marks of predators. Disease and death was the other side of life and many of these were caused by bacteria or viruses. Animals have a love-hate relationship with bacteria and thus half the human body is made up of – not human flesh – but BACTERIA. Last to appear on Planet Earth were humans and for many millennia their lives were “nasty, brutish and short”. Life expectancy did not top 40 anywhere until the 19th century. Famine, starvation and disease were rampant, with regular pandemics, most notably the Black Death.

All of this is totally natural with suffering and death going on for a few billion years. Triceratops suffered in agony when ripped apart by a T Rex, as much as we do if we suffer from covid-19 or another ghastly disease.

All this is totally natural and is simply the way the world is.

Think of watching an animal in at the kill. Consider a lion bringing down a springbok. Once looking out the kitchen window I saw a sparrow eating honeysuckle berries. In a flash a sparrowhawk appeared and grabbed the poor sparrow. Last autumn I discovered spiders in my garden were catching tortoiseshell butterflies in their webs, wrapping them in silk nd taking them to their food cache. All is totally and utterly natural.

Too often we only consider the cuddly bits of nature and forget the rest. We want to stay with Bambi. Nature is not like that. Neither are our lives and we know most of us will die of dementia, heart, respiratory disease or cancer. Three hundred years ago we never lived long enough to die from those.

I spent over a year living in a mountainous desert, which was as rugged as it was beautiful. Each day was self-indulgence on fantastic scenery, which was even more fantastic when the desert flowered after rains. But I did not keep my social distance with a Cape Cobra, which probably would have been fatal. Before that I was in the Ugandan bush, beautiful in a different way, but I had to take anti-malarial tablets. Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal – including humans. Closer to home our enjoyment of snow-covered mountains can end up with hypothermia. Not to mention all the other diseases we can get.

All is totally natural, but suffering and death is never far away

Violent earth processes, predation, disease, suffering and death is usually referred to as Natural Evil, but that seems a misnomer as if it is Natural how can it be Evil – unless some devil put its oar in? Too much Christian theology does just that; the alleged Curse given by God after the Fall of Genesis 3, or due to a very early angelic Fall, spiritual warfare as the devil tries to wreck everything now.

To say that suffering is Natural is not comforting if we see a pyroclastic cloud or tsunami coming towards or a large branch falls on our head or we are struck by lightning. Or even when we get a bad cold and feel like death warmed up. Worse is when we break a bone, get a nasty illness especially if it is fatal or when we witness illness in others. Think of watching the 2004 Tsunami clips on TV.

It is painful, it is sad, but we need to admit it is totally natural and normal so Natural Evil is not a good term.

What about Covid-19 and other suffering?

Is it always natural and not evil?

It seems most likely that it came from a bat at a live, wet, market and jumped to humans at the end of 2019. In a sense that makes it harder as we can’t blame one person or a group.

If suffering was caused by agent then we could blame the agent.

There are those who want to identify the agent. Some say it is God cursing the earth after the sin of Adam and Eve related in Genesis 3. Many evangelicals believe just that. Others, noting that the previous idea can’t be tenable if we accept and ancient earth and evolution suggest a primeval fall of angels, who have been causing havoc ever since. Even today, well over two centuries after the discovery of geological time and extinction before humans, far too many Christians still accept this untenable set of beliefs.

Or else one may claim to believe in spiritual warfare, in that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God. Despite the victory of Christ is his death and resurrection, there are still lots of spiritual battles of good and evil, whether cancer, a tsumani or a pandemic.

These divide creation into good and evil. But how do you decide which parts of creation is evil? When in Yellowstone some years ago a Ranger told me that some visitors told him to remove all the bad animals from the park. I presume they meant grizzlies and bison who are not very cuddly. Just because they are potentially dangerous doesn’t mean they are evil. I must admit I was a bit jumpy on one hike despite having a bear bell! Some extend this to the inanimate creation and consider earth forces like earthquakes and volcanoes to be bad and with malign spiritual forces behind them. This is totally Manichean with a battle of good and evil and makes people look for the good and the bad, rather like that Yellowstone visitor.

We cannot make this simplistic division of creation into good and bad, but we need simply to accept creation as it is, and realise there are some uncomfortable aspects. I’ll come back to suffering.

More recently some, and not fundamentalist, have stressed the Groaning of Creation from Romans 8. This can be tied into the fundamentalist view of the curse of Genesis 3, or have a curse without a curse, apparently accepting the whole evolutionary picture by saying the cosmos needs redeeming. I have to admit that I do not know what it actually means, and really only makes sense if we believe a literal fall which changed the cosmos. It is also dependent on a particular translation of Romans 8 vs 19ff.

One of the most common theistic explanations which is brought out every disaster is that the event – hurricane or virus – is an Act of God and a judgement on sin. This is a common practice of leading pastors and they single out things like gay marriage. I find it hard to believe in a loving god who’d bump off so many people because a few went for single-sex marriage. It makes God an ogre and a nasty bit of work.

Granted this is an old view and was wheeled out for many natural disasters and pandemics in the past. It does have some roots in the Old Testament but not in Jesus Christ.

None do justice to a loving God (though there are issues why He allows such disasters) or to the brute naturalness of these disasters whether floods or pandemics.

Not all suffering is natural

Much suffering is not from a natural cause and is caused, directly or indirectly, by humans. Human history is full of examples and the Holocaust is the worst of many. I write this close to the 75th anniversary of the freeing of Belsen. Words fail on that. Or take some examples from history; the Thirty Years war of the 17th century, the harrowing of the north of England by William the Conqueror, the blood-bath of WWI for a few.

It is too easy to focus on the evil of the Holocaust and Pol Pot and ignore all the lesser evils like the ones each of us commits – assuming we can grade them. Human evil always hurts others to a greater or lesser extent. Just read a standard history book and think of the human suffering caused by war, revolution, or misgovernment. The most well-known is the history of World War II with its horrific toll of suffering and death. Just read a volume by Max Hastings or Anthony Beevor or Michael Burleigh’s aptly titled work on WWII Moral combat, which is a most unsettling book.

It does not have to be the world at war, it can be within a family, local community or a church community. On the last there is not only child abuse but spiritual abuse Title. Many have left a church totally hurt by “nice Christians” who behaved badly.

Some may try to play down the moral side by insisting that often it was not deliberate. That comes from the common, but simplistic and wrong, view that for an action to be sinful/evil, it must be deliberate. Not all evil is deliberate, but that does not make it not evil. In one of the Anglican prayers of confession we find these words;

We have sinned…..

Through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault…

I confess that when I first used it half a century ago I thought it misguided as I thought sin had to be cold-bloodedly deliberate. I gradually appreciated its wisdom.

Weakness is the failure to do what is right as Edmund Burke said “All that is needed for evil to thrive is that good men do nothing.” In fact, good men become evil. Weakness can often mean lacking the moral fibre or guts to do what is right.

Ignorance comes in various forms. At the simplest it is simply not knowing and there is nothing wrong in that, provided we admit to it. It is wise to realise one’s ignorance. But there is a more serious ignorance when we simply fail to find out something on a vital issue. This can have lethal results if a mechanic is ignorant on fixing a bike, car or plane, because he failed to consult the manual. Ignorance can be deliberate and/or culpable, when a person simply fails to find out what they can. Many years ago there was a ghastly accident on Snowdon. A group of hillwalker out to climb Snowdon in January, and without skill or equipment attempted a snow and ice climb. Halfway up one slipped and broke his leg, they left him there. They carried on, another slipped and died. It was a catalogue of culpable folly and Snowdonia Mountain Rescue were fulsome in criticism, something they do not usually do. You may be ignorant about a route up a mountain and thus when you attempt it you may have a serious accident. But that does not make you blameless, as if you have not worked out the route before by studying the map and guide book and checked whether you and the party are capable of returning safely, you are responsible for everything which goes wrong. Many years ago the Welsh Mountain Rescue ascribed nearly half of accidents one year to folly.

Now the Holocaust is simply “deliberate fault” and unmitigated human evil. There are many lesser examples of bad actions due to “deliberate fault”, and I am sure you can think of many – including your own.

Where does covid-10 come in? The virus itself is totally natural, and, if the present scientific consensus is right, then C-19 had existed for ages in bats. In Wuhan the virus did what viruses often do, especially when its host animal is badly stressed – it jumped to another species and this time to humans and we know the rest and the terrible results.

There is no evil in the C-19 virus itself, though it causes disease, but the evil and sin is in how conditions were formed to enable the virus to jump species. All the evidence points to the live trade in exotic animals, which is illegal in civilised countries. Animals are kept in appalling conditions and if alive are highly stressed and if dead squalid and filthy. It is not a hygenic environment, ideal for spreading diseases and that is what happened. (I am aware that some say it came from a lab – when the same strictures apply.)

Some may try to play down the moral side by insisting it was not deliberate, so we go back to the prayer of confession;

We have sinned…..

Through ignorance, through weakness

The outbreak of C-19 was not deliberate but seems to have been caused by blatant ignorance and weakness in taking part in live markets. The lack of animal welfare could be seen as deliberate. Before too many fingers are pointed, the whole human race has a bad record on treating the earth and the life in it.

We could list many other examples like the drunk or careless driver who kills.

Earlier I gave some of the false explanations for so-called Natural Evil and why they are wrong. They gain traction because they do appear to be explanations and I’ve offered nothing by way of explanation. My omission is deliberate, but it is not an omission, but a realisation that an explanation is not forthcoming. We are simply stymied by suffering, whether on a personal level when we lose a relative, a pandemic or a war.

When suffering strikes many want an explanation, be it “Why is God punishing me?” as if is a result of wrong-doing, either ours or Adam’s. Suffering is often seen as punishment and enough theological spin-doctors down the centuries have spun their tales, which often cause more hurt than comfort.

We live in a world where suffering is guaranteed whether on a large or small scale. Each of us has experienced suffering in the past, more for some than others. From the news or history books we will hear of more. However much we put it on one side we know it will continue to hit us until the day of our deaths. That death will cause suffering to others. My mother, who lost my father at 51, once said to me decades later, “you never get over it.” Move from the family to the wider society.

Suffering is more of a problem today than before when life expectancy was about 40, you’d expect to lose half your children, famine and disease hanging over like a cloud. If you read about 19th century Britain, you find women dying in childbirth, lots of children dying and a life where death was never far away. At the end of the 19th century Sunday School hymnbooks had several hymns to sing to mark the death of a fellow scholar – as that was expected. Then most, Christian or not, were much more acceptive of suffering, as they had to be.

The Bible gives us nothing tangible on the origin of evil and suffering.

On the former it accepts some kind of spiritual evil, which is weaker than the power of God. I am very hesitant to call it in on every occasion but have occasionally come across it.  This needs to be emphasised, especially as many want spin a theology of little biblical basis, whether to explain suffering or to give comfort.

Human evil or sin is a brute fact and common to every person, The Old Testament is weaker on it than the New Testament. And the behaviour in the OT is often appalling! It is almost that the character of Jesus highlights what human evil is by contrast. Each human comes off worst in comparison, thus giving the central theme  – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – which on its own would be soul-destroying, but the greater emphasis is on Jesus Christ, whose forgiving transformative powers are presented in so many different ways, like the many facets of a cut diamond.

I suggest the common and popular view of atonement – penal substitution – is very limited and self-centred focusing on the individual’s salvation, rather than the reconciliation and redemption which litter the pages of the New Testament. It also leans to seeing suffering as punishment, and is also rather smugly triumphant.

Focusing just on punishment for sin, it overlooks the fact that we have a mangled Jesus, who was humiliated and beaten up before being strung up. Jesus had entered into human suffering, in a way which most of us won’t. During his life He was not the strong man overpowering his opponents but identified with the unpowerful. Nothing is further from the Jesus of the Gospels than the corruption of the Nazi Churches with their fuhrer Christology. Jesus was no ubermensch superior to everyone else (with blue eyes and blond hair too). Instead he was an untermensch – everybody’s dogsbody. As he made clear in Mark 10 when two disciples wanted to bag the best seats in the Kingdom.

42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

He came to serve, not to be served and that is the calling of every Christian. Paul brings this out in Phillipians 2. Where Paul looks to the example of Jesus for a Christian to follow

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord,  to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Here the example of Jesus’s sacrificial service and devotion is something to be emulated and that it something which has come into the wider society through the Christian faith as Tom Holland argues in his book Dominion, even though many would not confess to being Christian. We have seen this sacrifice during the covid pandemic.

Perhaps sacrificial service is the only Christian answer to any suffering on any scale, rather than spinning yarns about god cursing Adam and Eve, or a spiritual warfare. It is probably the only human answer too.

Suffering and death is a given and never explained and that is the theme of Job, a fine religious novel in verse. How anyone can take it a historical beats me as the whole story is artistically contrived and none the worse for that. The writer enjoyed piling it on with a certain black humour in the first few chapters and then introduced the reader to four, well-meaning but wrong-headed advisors (just as we have today from many religious writers).

Job ends up after his four advisors were no help being confronted by God;

“Were you there when I created the universe”

Or rather Job 38 vs1 ff

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you  have understanding.5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?

The essence of God’s message to Job was “trust me”,  without the superficiality of today’s usage. Job turned to God in trust and then to action. In the absence of any answers on suffering a Christian who rejects all the dodgy theological yarns spun in despair has only the option of trusting God in Jesus Christ and striving to serve.

As I wrote above the essence of Jesus’s life was to serve others and so that became the mark of the early Christians, as, unlike the Romans, Christians actually cared for those in need, and this became apparent in the pandemics which afflicted the Roman world. This marked out Christians from the beginning and the contrast with the Roman lack of care for others is summed up pithily in the Epistle to Diognetus ch5 vs7 “They share their food but not their wives.” Many Romans did the opposite! This stemmed from the second of the two commandments and other parts of Jesus’ teaching and extended in Paul’s ethical teaching and above all in the letter of James chap1 vs27

 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

And so, despite the Church being sucked into power structures since Constantine, It has always had an emphasis of caring for those in need, heroically in pandemics and more mundanely in the setting up of hospices and the care of the sick. Many of these became hospitals with a legacy of such names as St Mary’s, St Thomas’s and others. With the missionary movement, Christian missionaries of all denominations pioneered hospitals and medical work in areas where there had been none.

However it is wrong to see Christianity as primarily a moral code devoted to good works rather than a faith in Jesus Christ, with all the added religious mumbo jumbo about salvation as Clement Atlee called it. The two are totally intermeshed and cannot be separated.

In his letters Paul often first gives his doctrine and then his ethical teaching.  John in 1 John presents it almost as an oscillation between “religious faith in Christ as saviour” and loving action.

1 John 3 vs23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 4 vs 7-117 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

Clarity can be worse than imprecision and can lead to arrogance, whereas if our imprecision comes from not knowing we are more likely to be humble and understanding, and thus more able to help others.

I suggest there is no “answer” to C-19, and all attempts to give an answer are doomed as I demonstrated earlier. Perhaps I should be more dogmatic and say


We have witnessed some arrogance in response to C-19 , like those who scrawl “Jesus is my vaccine” on their trucks, or think their faith will protect them.

Pandemics are not like that and never have been, or else the Black Death would have been neither.

The answer comes in doing the best one can and that means looking for the science, as did the earliest attempt at quarantine or some ways of dealing with outbreaks like typhus in Philadelphia in 1836. Any solutions will be in the scientific knowledge of viruses and how to deal with them. As this is so matter of fact, technical, and apparently soulless, more emotive responses are often preferred. That is doomed. To understand one needs to be practicing a very high de-coupling, and then, and only then, dealing with the personal suffering with skill and care. Many of the daily scientific reports this March and April have been rather cold and distant and some have criticised them for their lack of human warmth. However the best scientific evidence is needed before making moral and political decisions. Those decisions are not easy, as often the least bad option must be chosen.

To those Christians who have to have a “biblical” answer to everything, this will be a feeble and wrong response. It is so much easier to see Covid-19 as God’s judgement on a wicked world or a similar ghastly theological explanation. Using the word correctly and wisely they are heretical and also very hurtful.

We are in the position of Job, in that magnificent Old Testament legend about suffering. No one can give an answer, except that on this planet “shit happens” – there is death, disease and suffering which hits us in so many different ways. Most of the time it is one individual in one family but a Pandemic affects everyone potentially. Corporately we face our mortality and find no answer.

We can understand it partially with our reductionist science and then need to apply that as those who suffer are cared for and hopefully led to the road of recovery.

For a Christian that is to look at the example of Christ and to love one another.

Perhaps this meme quoting an American Old Testament sums up what we shoulf think and above all do.

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What an 1836 Typhus Outbreak Taught the Medical World About Epidemics

Reblogging this article of a typhus/typhoid outbreak in Philadelphia in 1836, when the concept of “social distancing ” was used


An American doctor operating out of Philadelphia made clinical observations that where patients lived, not how they lived, was at the root of the problem

Source: What an 1836 Typhus Outbreak Taught the Medical World About Epidemics

Easter hilarity on Cov-19 memes and articles

Lots of memes and articles took the easter story and placed it wittily in a Covid-19 scenario. I suppose some won’t find it funny but balck humour is essential in difficult times

Pilate didn’t wash his hands enough.


On Easter Day Mary broke the two metre rule for distancing.

Now you must keep at least two metres apart

Image may contain: 2 people, possible text that says 'Is that 2 metres, Mary? I think not.'

Lot’s on the breaking of Easter Day lockdown.


Jesus arrested for leaving his tomb during lockdown

The Roman soldiers got narked.

The police were too late to keep Jesus in lockdown

He is not here, he is risen.


Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor


What if the cops arrived before dawn?

No photo description available.

Now and not yet


Image may contain: one or more people and people standing, possible text that says '...NOT THIS YEAR SON YA GOTTA STAY IN... -'



Destroying the faith of millions



more topical . The silly faith of some Christians who have magical view of god, and thus reject all science.


No photo description available.

All this should make all laugh.

But be more serious and think of the meaning of good Friday and Easter

We needed it yesterday, we need it today and we need it tomorrow.

Is Covid-19 part of the Curse of Genesis 3?

The Covid-19 pandemic is plain ghastly . As well as killing so many, it has made many people ask fundamental questions about life and death and God.

There have been a variety of responses, but many seem to go for a literalsit view of gensis whereby God afflicted not only humans but the whole creation with a Curse, thus punisheing us all with suffering, disease and death.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian Faith and does a lot of damage and also makes Christianity look utterly absurd and God a nasty litle ogre. I decided not to say that more bluntly.

Over the last week or so Premier Christianity has published three views of a Christian understanding of the coronavirus. ; Justin Brierly in a blog  , John Lennox and now an interview with Tim Keller.


On the actual pastoral side of caring for coronavirus sufferers they are good, but not when they consider the theology of suffering or theodicy.

I discussed Justin in this blog

and found his three altrnatives most unsatisfactory and not biblically based. There were

  1. Suffering due to the Fall of Adam
  2. Suffering due to an Angelic Fall
  3.  Suffering is due to spiritual warfere beteeen God and evil spiritual powers.

None can be considered orthodox and have serious consequences for a Christian understanding of suffering.

In this blog Cara Bentley interviews Tim Keller, who is a leading American Evangelical pastor and theologian


We ask the New York based pastor and author Tim Keller why God is allowing coronavirus and what the pandemic means for the Church and the world

Source: Tim Keller: People will say ‘I came to Christ during the virus’ – Premier Christianity

On the more pastoral and practical side Keller is most constructive and shows how suffering makes one asks the fuindamental question about life, death and God. He refers to America post9/11 , when many looked to God for answers to that evil – but it fizzled out

Thirdly, the more personal answer is, I don’t know the reason for your suffering. But I do know what it’s not. It’s not that God doesn’t love you. Christianity, uniquely among all the religions of the world, says that God actually came to earth and got involved in our suffering in order to someday end it without ending us.

Over the years, as a pastor and a sufferer, that has been the thing that’s helped my heart. Jesus suffers, he understands. I don’t have a God who’s remote. He must have a good reason why he hasn’t stopped it yet. It can’t be that he doesn’t love me, because look what he did on the cross.

Like Keller, in my lack of an answer and understanding I look to the cross of Jesus and especially those words which sum up the whole of Christianity

Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabacthani?

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

That comes out in my blog referenced above


However I completely diagree with what Keller said here.

Is it correct to say God “caused” or he “allowed” all this to happen?

God did not create a world with suffering in it. Genesis says that was not his original design. The suffering and evil in the world is due to our turning away from him, and he’s going to end it at some point. We don’t know when that’s going to be, but he says he’s committed to wiping every tear away. Everything is happening according to his plan, but that doesn’t mean that he has any pleasure in the suffering of people. Yes, God is not out of control, but that doesn’t mean that he actually enjoys or directly causes anybody to suffer. I think that’s the balance you have to strike.

What Keller is saying here is that there was no death or suffering in the whole of creation until Adam and Eve took of the fruit in Gen 3 and suffering, disease and death came in as a result. From then on not only humans died , but also animals who before that were pain-free and death -free.

This comes straight out of Milton’s Paradise Lost , see this blog

The offending part of Milton to many in the 19th century is to be found in the opening words;

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden fruit, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe“.


Beast now with beast gan war, and fowl with fowl,

And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,

Devoured each other. P.Lost X 710-12


Milton is clear. Had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit there would be no animal death and suffering. Despite Colenso, Hitchcock, Buckland and many others nearly 200 years ago, (picture of my favourite geologist William Buckland in Wales in 1842)


this perception has had great influence for over three and a half centuries, although it only came to the fore after 1500. Its history during that time is patchy. Initially it was almost the default position albeit held loosely, probably because there was so little evidence for geology and its implications for animal death.

It is a common evangelical view of early Genesis but it is more eisegesis than exegesis as it reads things out of Genesis which are not there. We end up with the Curse, whereby as a result of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 God inflicted pain, suffering and death not only on humans but every living thing. This is the standard fare of all Young earth Creationists.

Not only is it bad biblical interpretation, but is contrary to all of science and this goes back at least 250 years. For hundreds of years now geologists, Christian or not, have demonstrated that the earth is not a few thousand years old as a literal reading of Genesis seems to imply. Rather it is much older and that means prehistoric life was living and dying on earth long before the first humans. However dinosaurs were living, dying, getting diseases and attacking each other 100 million years ago.


[by 1800 geologists had realised that the earth was millions of years old but could not do precise dating. That came in after 1905 when radioactivity was applied to dating rocks , so now we know the earth is 4.6 billion years old and humans have been around for less than a million. In the 1790s it was realsied that some animals had gone extinct and soon lots of prehistoric extinct animals were discovered going back a good billion years. To accept what Keller said you must say the earth is only a few thousand years old and all gology is wrong!]

The fact of an ancient earth and life and death going back billions of years completely undermines and nullifies what Keller said.

What he said is simply false.

Thus the later sentences in that paragraph are meaningless.

Yet there is hope through Jesus Christ who entered our suffering on the cross and conquered death in this resurrection.

I conclude by lifting the end of my blog on Justin;


Suffering reduces us to a position of weakness and humility. This is a major theme of both the Old and New Testament, even though it is often sidelined in Christendom and revivalism, which prefers Christ as Lord and King rather than servant. It can be argued that the New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord and Saviour  to subvert the demand in the Roman Empire to see Caesar as Lord. How could an executed felon be Lord and Saviour?

So consider this felon. His teaching was a development of the prophetic side of the Old Testament Law with the emphasis on love of neighbour.  Apart from their worship of a different god to most Romans, this became their mark along with their keenness to care for the less fortunate. This put most expressively in the Letter to Diognetus (late 2nd cent?), “They share their food, but not their wives.” Holland discusses it in his chapter (V) on Charity in his book Dominion.

This love and service to others is self-emptying, or kenotic. It is hinted at in Isaiah with his suffering servant; Chap 42 vs 1-9, and Chap 52 vs13 to53 vs12, which forms the backcloth of the accounts of Jesus’ death.

Suffering is emptying. Paul develops that in his appeal to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2.vs5-8

4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Yes, I know I left out the resurrection, but my emphasis is on self-emptying love in action here.

His self-emptying is seen finally in the cross and comes out in his putting down of power hungry disciple Mark 10 vs 43-5

43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As a result when early Christians after Constantine were not involved in politicking and re-inventing the trappings of the Roman Empire, were in the forefront of caring for those in need. This was manifest during the intermittent plagues and more continually in the foundations of hospices and places to care for the sick.

This is probably where the only “answer” to suffering can be found.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani



COVID-19,Good Friday and the Death of Christ.

Why did a loving God allow the Coronavirus?

Is this actually true?

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.




Little did we think when we heard the reports from China in January 2020 that within two months virtually the whole world would be in lock-down. I shall not deal with all the medical and scientific issues. But what about issues raised for Christians?

How should a Christian think about such a pandemic? Yes, there have been many in the course of history and the worst in Britain and other countries was the Black Death in the 14th century.

A pandemic raises such questions like;

Why did God allow it?

How can God be good?

Which are all variants trying to understand the WHY of suffering.

Most attempts consider what is called Natural Evil and for long I have wondered whether that is both a misnomer and misunderstands the nature of the universe, or the way the world is. One who has taken it head on is Justin Brierly of Premier Christian Radio in a recent blog. I think his alternative understandings are most unsatisfactory.

The question of God and suffering is one of the oldest questions ever asked and there are no easy answers. Most often the response needed for those who are walking through suffering is our love and care, not our clever theology and philosophy. However, when the time comes for intellectual answers, I believe there are some helpful way to make sense of suffering.

Justin is right on here. There are no easy answers and I wonder if there is ananswer. He is right to say those suffering need love not theology, clever or not. Some are most unclever. As he continues Justin offers some theology, which is focussed on Romans 8 vs 19ff.

The Groaning of Creation

But when it comes to Coronavirus we may be tempted to ask: Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world? This question can only be answered by a Christian from within his or her own worldview, and means we must expand our perspective to a cosmic scale.

This is the Fundamental question which is almost impossible to answer – I keep failing on it.


Out of Kilter?

The apostle Paul states that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). The Christian story is that the whole created order is in some sense ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level. Some theologians trace this to human rebellion – an outworking of ‘the fall’ which acts both forwards and backwards in time. Others point to the existence of an earlier rebellion in the angelic realm that sparked a ‘cosmic fall’ (hinted at in Revelation 12:9).

This is dangerous pinning a certain idea on a few verses, especially as they have long been open to different understandings. There are questions on the translation here, but I’ll leave that. What does it means for the whole creation to be groaning?

Is Creation out of kilter?

Is it actually true that creation is ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level.”? Here he seeks to answer

Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world?

Justin does not consider that fact that death and natural disaster i.e volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, were there from the beginning of this planet’s history. Further, if he is right that the creation is “out of kilter”, when was the creation knocked out of kilter? We need to ask


“in what ways “

 “and in what ways was it out of kilter a billion years ago, when there were no humans?”

I never had a sense the created order is “out of kilter” whether in my geological work or as I look around me or when I cycle or walk in the countryside. That is not to say humans are not trying to put creation out of kilter, but that is totally different

What Justin is claiming that a Fall, whether of humans in the Garden of Eden or of an angelic Fall, has put the whole cosmos out of kilter. This is not what either Genesis 3 or Rev 12 vs9 state. It is reading into it. It probably has more to do with Milton’s Paradise Lost than the Bible.

I am fully aware that many theologians have argued for one or the other to get God off the hook for suffering, but succeed in attaching God more firmly to the hook, and making Him an ogre. To afflict the cosmos with a Curse because of the misdemeanours of Adam and Eve seems cruel to everyone and everything else.

He claims; “Whatever the origin, the result is a world that is not as it should be.” I have to ask in what ways is the world not as it should be.

If you mean the physical world, nothing has changed in geological time. The physical laws have not changed. Volcanoes are still erupting four billion years on. Yes, I’ve looked at volcanic rocks one or two billion years old. Viruses also keep attaching themselves to other living things as they did billions of years ago, and at times kill their hosts.

However human behaviour is totally out of kilter and often damages the natural world. I suspect the Coronavirus would have stayed in bats if humans had not mistreated them.

 Yet Paul includes the promise that one day “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

What does Justin glean from this?

Everybody has experienced living in the tension of this broken world. The groaning of creation brings both good and bad across our path. The natural laws that operate are both a blessing and a curse. Tectonic plate activity renews the surface of the earth with minerals, yet wreaks havoc when humans build cities on the fault lines. Cell replication allows our bodies to grow and develop, yet can result in cancer when natural processes misfire. Death is a necessary part of the cycle of life, yet still remains our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Who says this is a broken world? It is as it has always been. The movement of tectonic plates is just normal and has been going on for billions of years, causing earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

Why does Justin not accept this?

The Coronavirus is just one more example of the broken world we live in. Life is a God-given miracle of extraordinary engineering and complexity. Yet the physical process of life itself are subject to viruses, parasites, and disease. The “bondage to decay” that St Paul speaks of reverberates through the cosmos.

This is rather high-flown with an appeal to the bondage of decay from Paul. It sounds impressive but what does it mean?

By creating a world of free creatures – both physical and spiritual – God has granted a level of freedom to the whole of the created order. That means that God won’t simply step in and wave a magic wand to take away the suffering in the world. We are part of the problem of evil, and God has chosen us to be part of the solution too.

Where does Justin think the other part of the problem of evil comes from?

Throughout the New Testament we are presented with a worldview of spiritual warfare in which God has chosen his people to be fellow combatants waging a war, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual “principalities [and] powers” (Ephesians 6:12) through our prayer, love and action.

How on earth (literally) does Justin see spiritual warfare in plate tectonics?

God hates Coronavirus

I have increasingly seen that this ‘warfare’ view of reality may help those who have experienced great suffering to understand that God is not the author of their pain. One such person is Jessica Kelley, whom I interviewed about the loss of her four-year-old son Henry to brain cancer as related in her book Lord Willing?.  …….Jessica had come to reject what she terms the ‘blueprint’ view of a God who creates pain and suffering as part of his sovereign plan. Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God. Although the war was decisively turned towards victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus, there still remains a world of running spiritual battles.  …….. Henry was a casualty in the ongoing battle to redeem a fallen and broken world:……………..

Jessica’s perspective can equally be turned to this present Coronavirus pandemic. God did not will this crisis. Let’s not lay the blame at his door. But he is working through the actions and prayers of those who are seeking to see his Kingdom come on earth.

It is hard to comment on this owing to Jessica’s tragic loss of a child, which I have not had to go through, but to argue “Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God.” It is very dubious to tie up what he calls natural disasters i.e. volcanoes etc with spiritual warfare..

Are volcanoes, earthquakes, floods caused by spiritual forces in rebellion against God” There is nothing in the bible to support that and is very Manichaean.

Alternative views

Nevertheless, Jessica’s view is controversial to some. Many would object that a God who isn’t in control of the whole show isn’t the God of the Bible.

Why should we ever believe that God is control down to the last detail? It sounds great but it is not true to experience, though many of us experience a general guidance at times, but not at others. Did God really was in control when you twisted your ankle while out on a walk?

Some e.g. Thomas Oard rightly argue that God does not “interfere with and control” his creation, as in his book The Uncontrolling love of God. He extends the idea from Phillipians 2 of Jesus Christ emptying himself to God emptying himself in creation and often letting things be.

 Calvinist theologians believe that God is the author of both joy and sorrow and, even though we may struggle to see it, works through both for his ultimate purposes and glory. They say the warfare view contains too much of the same sort of randomness in suffering that the atheist must contend with. 

For me, I end up with a certain agnosticism in respect of God’s control but the warfare view is both Manichean and tries to divide creation into good (flowers etc) and evil (volcanoes) and makes Christians see everything as warfare and conflict.

Inevitably, different Christians will come to different understandings of how to reconcile God and suffering. What we can agree on is that God is good, suffering is bad, but that his love and purposes will win out in the end.

Yes, but that does not mean we should tolerate what can only be called extreme views – as is the warfare view, or that popular view of the Curse. What we need to agree on is that God is good, even when things are going badly and don’t make sense. That is found in Romans 8 especially the conclusion

Justin states;

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.

This is simply not biblical. Just considering the Bible, there is nothing to support “a broken and rebellious Creation”. It is a variation of the Curse mythology which reckons God screwed up a supposedly “perfect “ creation because of Adam and Eve. The Christian Story IS of a broken humanity who are also stuffing up the rest of creation, but only on this planet but not beyond the Solar System, if that. In what ways are meteors, distant stars and planets “broken and rebellious”? Or even birds and bees and even bats and pangolins? Or, dare I say, viruses? The story starts there with humans stuffing up the earth and culminates with Jesus Christ who “unscrews” humanity and reconciles them (2 Cor 5)

If, and a big if, Justin’s is the Christian story then I wholeheartedly reject it as fanciful and absurd. Further it is not the Christian story held by all Christians over the last 2000 years.

The Christian story in its basics is that humans screwed things up and Jesus thorugh his death and resurrection has shown the way to unscrew it. Forget about warfare with volcanoes, or animal predation.

 How should we see God in the light of the coronavirus?

Above all it is wrong to focus on death and suffering as due to Adam’s misdeeds, and neither of Justin’s alternatives make sense. This is the danger of a self-contained biblical argument and not looking at what we know of the world. Any world view which disregards the science is worthless. If we applied that principle to astronomy we would believe in a flat earth and that seeds actually die before they germinate (1 Cor 15). We need to take note of science and especially the history of the earth and the life therein. Here it is in outline

The Universe was formed 13.4 by years ago with the big Bang (which was put forward by a Christian cosmologist Fr G Le Maitre)

The Earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago and since then its surface has been sundered by plate tectonics. There seemed to be no involvement by naughty angels and it was too early for Adam to cause the eruptions.

Life first formed between 3 and 4 billion years ago. The earliest forms were like bacteria with viruses going piggy-back. Thus from then on bacteria were dying and being infected by viruses. We then have the sequence of life and so to vertebrates, dinosaurs, mammals and lastly humans.

This makes it clear that death disease and suffering were there from the beginning and along with volcanoes. The earth is IN kilter.

So it continues today with volcanoes, earthquakes, animals and people dying.

Every so often the earth is hit with something like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which some implied had a human origin, rather than being natural. Some want to regard the bits which are painful as Natural Evil. That is a wrong term as those things are simply – – – NATURAL.

Can you call this evil – natural or not? It is simply life and the way the world is .Any belief system or worldview which does not accept this is flying in the face of facts.

Here we come face to face with problem of suffering, which comes out so starkly in Covid-19. All living things die, often after getting a disease. Even the fossil record shows that. At times it is accompanied with great pain. It is a problem because it is downright ghastly and we feel it should not be that way We try to rationalise it and often by one of the three put forward by Justin. We are unwilling to say it’s purely natural and believers don’t want to say God did it.

It is a dilemma, which we all seek to resolve. Not all find a resolution which supports faith and many conclude that God cannot allow the suffering and if He did then He must be the Devil. This alone should stop us from coming out with slick answers, which may help us but repel others.

Suffering was a great problem for Charles Darwin as I discuss here

What should we say as Christians?

Here we turn to the Christian story – the four gospels, which are odd as they give so much on Jesus’s last week on earth, describing in his public execution in gruesome detail.

As Jesus he died, he shrieked;

Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani!

My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?

There was Jesus, the Son of God, suffering an excruciating death. Imagine those fat, rusty nails hammered through your wrist and ankles. Then being suspended making it almost impossible to breath along with the nails tearing your flesh and broken bone.

The centre of the Christian Faith is on the ghastly death of Jesus and his surprising resurrection. Traditionally Christian have viewed the death of Jesus being purely an atonement without considering that in death Jesus shared human suffering.

Is this an answer?

Yes and no

It is not a simplistic answer.

The Old Testament doesn’t give an answer, but a poem/saga about suffering – the book of Job. Job had suffered badly and all his advisors were useless and then he met God, who asked him if he was present at creation (Job 38 -41). Job realised he did not understand and then trusted God. We can do no more, as we don’t understand as suffering gives no logical explanation and there is no logical explanation for suffering. The message was “trust God”.

This where Moltmann’s insights in The Crucified God are so helpful, as we see that the cross is not only forgiveness and reconciliation but also God in Christ entering into all suffering and shrieking “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” That is what we often do when suffering hits us. Suffering points to the cross.

That is as far as we can go. There is nothing wrong in saying our understanding is partial, but it is very wrong to think we have understood suffering.

This raises the question whether suffering can be called Natural Evil as it is not Evil but just Natural. Volcanoes are just the normal activity in the earth’s crust. OK, some suffering is caused by the evil of others, but that should never be called Natural Evil, but just Evil. It’s a bit tough if you are being eaten by lion, drowned in a tsunami, or suffering a disease, but this is the fabric of creation. For the record I put my foot four inches from a sleeping Cape Cobra!

Many Christians are unwilling to accept that suffering and “natural disaster” is written into the structure of the earth, and thus what some call “Natural Evil” is simply natural. Many perform theological contortions and bad exegesis to explain evil and suffering. The temptation is to explain it away by an appeal that suffering came in at the Curse when Adam fell, or some angelic fall, or spiritual warfare. I would argue that not only are they bad/heretical/false theology but are liable to have very bad pastoral effects.

First, it results in a Manichean dualism, where everything natural is split into good and bad. An amusing example of this is that when we were in Yellowstone National Park, some visitors asked Rangers why they didn’t remove the bad animals – presumably grizzlies and wolves!! It is unfortunate if your hiker’s bear bell is found in grizzly scat, but that is not because that grizzly is bad. It is unnerving to hike in Yellowstone. This negativity spreads to those who want to kill every “bad critter”, especially insects. So the insect spray is always handy. Why zap every wasp and squish every beetle?

Secondly, this can have disastrous results on the environment as we purge it of everything bad from dandelions (weeds) to daddy long legs.

Thirdly, it can easily create a judgmentalism with a tendency to regard suffering and illness as the penalty of sin. An example is a minister I knew telling the parents of a boy suffering from cancer, that someone had sinned in the family. And then most clergy often heard people who are ill or suffering asking, “Why is God punishing me?”

It is understandable why some may think these things, but that does not make them right. Just think that menstruation was once called the Curse.

What about the Coronavirus?

As said earlier, viruses are part of the natural order and have existed as long as life itself. They cause a vast number of serious diseases in plants, animals and humans. Though they are not evil in a moral sense, they cause disease to all forms of life. Simply considering humans they cause an immense amount of suffering and death.

However the damage viruses cause is often made worse by human behaviour whether innocent, reckless or due to a lack of care for the natural world. It seems likely this coronavirus entered humans from a bat in a live animal market in China. That trade is perverse and criminally evil to animals. It also provides the right conditions for viruses to jump species.



Thus, we can say that the coronavirus is a mixture of the natural and human evil. Were it not for the latter – both the live animal market and the cover –up – we may never have heard of it.

The wildlife trade is repulsive. Ultimately we have say that it and other ways of trashing the environment are immor and evil.  The coronavirus is just one of many examples. If we hold to an Adamic or Angelic Fall, or “spiritual Warfare” we are in danger of not recognising the human sin behind it. It removes the responsibility away from those who caused it – and that includes all of us who mistreat God’s creation in any way.

Now my answer is not definite or clear-cut as it starts from the fact that volcanoes, suffering and death are totally natural and written into all creation, without a malevolent being, human or spiritual, causing them. And most definitely not a God after the Fall.

This, and the need to look after the environment in myriad ways, deals with the more general aspects, but suffering is on a personal level we must go beyond that. We need effective action not explanations. To do this involves risk and sacrifice, which we see in those who are on the frontline in the health services and other vital services today. We have seen some of them die of Covid-19.

No appeal to spiritual warfare or the Fall of Adam or angels is of any value here – except to give an attitude of spirituality superiority, which is neither Christian nor humanitarian. If Christianity is not humanitarian it is not Christian.

Suffering reduces us to a position of weakness and humility. This is a major theme of both the Old and New Testament, even though it is often sidelined in Christendom and revivalism, which prefers Christ as Lord and King rather than servant. It can be argued that the New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord and Saviour  to subvert the demand in the Roman Empire to see Caesar as Lord. How could an executed felon be Lord and Saviour?

So consider this felon. His teaching was a development of the prophetic side of the Old Testament Law with the emphasis on love of neighbour.  Apart from their worship of a different god to most Romans, this became their mark along with their keenness to care for the less fortunate. This put most expressively in the Letter to Diognetus (late 2nd cent?), “They share their food, but not their wives.” Holland discusses it in his chapter (V) on Charity in his book Dominion.

This love and service to others is self-emptying, or kenotic. It is hinted at in Isaiah with his suffering servant; Chap 42 vs 1-9, and Chap 52 vs13 to53 vs12, which forms the backcloth of the accounts of Jesus’ death.

Suffering is emptying. Paul develops that in his appeal to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2.vs5-8

4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Yes, I know I left out the resurrection, but my emphasis is on self-emptying love in action here.

His self-emptying is seen finally in the cross and comes out in his putting down of power hungry disciple Mark 10 vs 43-5

43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As a result when early Christians after Constantine were not involved in politicking and re-inventing the trappings of the Roman Empire, were in the forefront of caring for those in need. This was manifest during the intermittent plagues and more continually in the foundations of hospices and places to care for the sick.

This is probably where the only “answer” to suffering can be found.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani.

Alone in a desert and no church to go to!

Alone in a desert and no church to go to!

The last time churches were closed down in England was in 1208, when the Pope made an interdict because King John was a naughty boy. Yet today churches are closed throughout Britain and many other countries including Italy and the USA. This time it was not a naughty king or an authoritarian pope but a tiny virus.

What should Christians do when they can’t go to church for worship?

There have been various responses and some clergy have live-streamed services with only themselves present, either in church or at home. Often these have gone down well and are fulfilling a need. Hats off to all who have done this.

But are we too church worship-centred?

As the events crowded in on the news I recollected that half a century ago, I simply could not worship weekly with other Christians in a church, simply because there were no churches where I was and there were also no other Christians I could join with either.

For a period of 14 and a half months I spent a full twelve months living isolated in the middle of desert, miles from anywhere, 20 miles from the nearest human habitation.  Because of my isolation, public worship was only possible on rare occasions and thus most of the time my worship could only be private. Yet I would say that despite little fellowship in churches with other Christians my faith grew and thrived.

I had two options. Either I worshipped on my own, or I didn’t worship.

How did I end up in that situation?

After graduating in geology I accepted a post as a geologist at Kilembe mines in the Ruwenzori mountains of Uganda, and worked both in the bush as an exploration geologist and underground.  Without being asked, after ten months I was told I was being transferred to South Africa, but I didn’t know whereabouts in that Apartheid-ridden land.

My time in Uganda was enjoyable, though the racism on the mine got me down. I spent six months in all in the bush as an exploration geologist.

Kilembe opened the 1950s and closed in the 70s courtesy of Idi Amin, despite consdierable Copper reserves.

That involved geological mapping , soil sampling and looking for minerals. I lived in a tent in a little clearing in a forest. On one occasion I had to go to a more remote area by foot and ended up in a tiny tent listening to lions roaring as I went to sleep.

I soon got involved in the local church, All Saints, Kilembe in the Ruwenzori diocese. I went to both English and Lutoro services and ended up as churchwarden shortly before leaving the country. I also went to Balokele (Revivalist) prayer meetings, where about six languages were used in prayer. When in the bush 150 miles away I went to the local Anglican Church conducted in Lutoro. As I was the only white I was treated like royalty, which was embarrassing. My whole experience of being part of the Church of Uganda was very uplifting.

As well as public worship and prayer meetings, I followed a daily pattern of bible reading and prayer – the classic evangelical Quiet Time, which was strengthening in a different way. The public and private worship were like two legs enabling me to move forward.

But I had to leave Uganda.

As the VC10 descended to land at Jan Smuts Airport in Jo’burg, I still was not over-pleased. A fortnight before I was told –not asked – that I was being transferred to South Africa, and I was dreading Apartheid. I had turned down a mining job in South Africa because of Apartheid and made sure I was in independent Africa and thus took a post at Kilembe Mine in Uganda. I had loved Uganda and enjoyed my church, All Saints, Kilembe and a lot of African friends, which was not really approved of on the mine by white colleagues. I was met at Jan Smuts airport by the company’s office manager, a podgy 30 year old, who took me to get a coffee. He was fairly affable and asked;

“How did you get on with the ******** (Afrikaans word of Arabic origin)?”

Feigning ignorance, I replied, “What do you mean?”

He said, “*******(nasty word often used in To Kill a Mocking Bird)”

I retorted in a most tactful way, “Oh. They were great to get on with.” I pulled some photos out of my briefcase and showed him one of me holding the hand of an African girl of my age, guiding her over a plank bridge. I am sure she’d approved!  He was not amused, and believe it or not, we never got on! He was the worst racist I met in South Africa despite getting to know a lot of Afrikaners.

The chief geologist, a Dutchman, was friendly and told me to explore that weekend using a Peugeot 404 truck and so I went to the Voortrekker Monument. On the Monday I went to the office expecting to be sent to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. He showed me an aerial photograph and pointed to some smudges. “I want you to see whether that ancient mine at Numees could be viable. They got copper out in the 1840s” I was stunned as it was empty mountainous desert – the Richtersveld -, part of Namqualand in Northern Cape Province. It was absolutely empty. I was told to camp there at the mine and to find a source of water. We got our water from the Orange River 15 miles away. It was also 15 miles from the nearest habitation – a diamond mine – and only 90 from the shops. Two weeks later another geologist and I set off staying in Kimberley en route and set up camp. Ian arrived from Windhoek and then we drove 150 miles on dirt roads to find labour in Steinkopf.


a typical Richtersveld scene

It was like being dumped on Mars as the area was so harsh. But I was to survey two ancient mine prospects and then map the whole area of a thousand or so square miles. There was a problem. It was a Cape Coloured Reserve run by CAD (Coloured Affairs Dept – for the Bantu it was BAD – Bantu Affairs Dept) and we had permission ONLY to go to those two prospects – yet I produced a map of hundreds of square miles by daily breaking Apartheid laws. I got stopped by the police once on a mountain track up Helskloof (Hell’s Valley). I couldn’t just squeeze past as there was no room and you always stopped to speak to other drivers – usually once or twice a month. They soon realised I was a rooineck so had to speak English. They were utterly lost so I told them how to get back to civilisation. My coloured assistant thought it funny as we carried on our killing ourselves laughing. I should have been arrested.

Richtersveld National Park Map , Rischtersveld map
a modern map, showing the National Park.  When I was there it was a Cape Coloured Reserve. The only tarmac was for 10 mls east of Pt Nolloth. I was halfway between Kuboes and Lekkersing, which are 40 miles apart. There was no habitation in those 40 miles

It was a geologist’s paradise helped by the fact that the only geologists who’d ever been there were Rogers in 1914 and de Villiers and Sohnge in the 1940s. I nearly disposed of Sohnge when he and others came to visit the area and while describing the rocks as we drove along, I drove off the road and down a bank. My guide was De Villiers and Sohnge’s Geological memoir published in 1944. Almost immediately I reckoned that they’d got some of the geology wrong as they thought the thick Stinkfontein formation was about 2300 million years old. I lopped a billion and half off after a day in the field that, but then had to find convincing reasons, which I did. At the same time a German geologist from the University of Cape Town was coming up and we arranged to meet to the west of Hilda Peak i.e. within a few square miles. He said “Look for a white Land Rover.” It was there in a vast sea of sand. We more or less agreed on the geology of the area, and our separate conclusions have stood the test of time reasonably well.

My first stint was from mid September to early December and thus early summer. It was hot, and not the best weather to do surveying as by 11 o’clock the surveying poles simply shimmered in the heat. The following year I spent from mid February to the end of November living in a caravan in three different places – all illegal.


Now let’s leave the fantastic geology and consider my church life. Actually there wasn’t any. I once visited the local Cape Coloured minister from the Dutch Reformed Church at Kuboes (said with a click). He was friendly, but scared to talk to me. Gone were the days when Ugandan priests spent five minutes with their complex handshakes and gave me a tribal name. I realised the political situation prevented any fellowship. I knew there was an Anglican church in Springbok 180 miles hence, so that was out. So, on my first trip I only went to church one Sunday when we went to Cape Town. Apart from that I never darkened the door of a church. As a result I went to church in Jo’burg in mid September, Cape Town in October and then Windhoek in December. There I went to the cathedral for a few weeks, and joined in with Rev Steve Heyes and Dave de Beer, who later got banned, and then was back to Jo’burg for Christmas, where I had a few contacts given to me by a missionary doctor from Uganda. For six weeks I could go to church with people I knew.

Come mid-February I was back on the road for a 1200 mile plus drive back to the Richtersveld. I had to pick up a caravan in a place called Karasburg before crossing the Orange River. For the rest of the year I had three camps scattered around the Richtersveld. Apart from the church at Kuboes, which Apartheid prevented me from attending, I did not know of any “white” churches within a hundred and eighty miles. (Afrikaans-speaking churches were out of the question as all Englishmen were Communists! One of my nicknames was Comrade Mike!)


So what was my solution for my worship and spiritual food? In a sense, I was lucky that I’d become a Christian through OICCU (Oxford Inter-collegiate Christian Union) in my last term just before graduating in geology. (Thank God – literally- that was before Creationists and ultra-calvinists took over OICCU as they did soon after I left.) CUs had one, and only one, guide for personal prayer and worship – the QUIET TIME. This was not amenable to sacramentalists as the emphasis was on systematic bible reading and informal private prayer not using any set forms, and preferably at a set time in the morning. When I got to the Richtersveld I was half way through Search the Scriptures, a 3 year guide for reading the whole bible. Thus almost every morning I read my chunk of scripture and then prayed. It was very simply and some would say monotonous, though the Bible isn’t!

There I was in the middle of the desert and very much on my own. Part of the time I had a white colleague who was more than disinterested. For eight months I was on my own with three Cape Coloured assistants. Those who have not lived with Apartheid don’t know the reality of that racial chasm, as beyond behaving morally and non-discriminatingly, it was not possible to have social, rather than formal relations which were inevitably tinged with Baaskap. That sounds extremely lonely, but I only once felt alone when I had no sleep for three nights when a desert wind buffeted my caravan preventing sleep. My radio packed up so for six months I had no radio. I spent most weekends staying with a geologist on a diamond mine on the Orange River, some forty miles away. His wife was Dutch and during the war had thrown potatoes at German soldiers and then ran! Each week I went shopping at the local big town, Port Nolloth (pop 800) and had to ring the head office in Jo’burg and then waited two hours for the call to come through.

My Godsend came as result on going on a trek over the Drakensburg mountains in the New Year. One leader was HR at Kimberly Diamond Mine. I met up with him when I drove from Jo’burg in February. He said he’d put me in touch with the Methodist Minister of Orangemund on the north side of the Orange estuary – a De Beers diamond mine and highly secure due to the diamonds. Shortly after I got a letter inviting me to a service, which was held monthly in a private house in Alexander Baai Diamond mine on the south side of the river. On the appointed day I went after being cleared by security at the entrance – the police knew all about me. It was unnerving that police and security knew who I was, but it turned out that Van Riebeck was in charge of security. I went to the house and said “Is that Mr du Toit, I am Michael Roberts and the minister told me to come here.” Van Riebeck and Daphne du Toit, a couple in their 60s, gave me a warm welcome and I joined the service with less than a dozen people. After the service we went up the river for a braai (BBQ). Most were Afrikaners, including a Mr Burke, which worried me, but I couldn’t find warmer people. Most were 55 plus – I was 23 at the time – except for a young couple with a toddler. This was the local meteorologist and his family – Willy Taal. We never kept in touch, but twenty years ago I discovered he was a priest in Blackburn’s twin diocese of the Free State. There cannot be many churches of any denomination which have produced such a high proportion of clergy – two out of twelve. The du Toits were a fine Afrikaner family and almost adopted me! Whenever I passed through Alexander Baai I called in. He was in charge of Security, so those at the gate were told to let me in. I never nicked any diamonds. Diamond mines have very strict security and are surrounded by high barbed wire fences.  Over the river in Oranjemund, owned by de Beers, the security was far more stringent and no one was allowed into an area of about 30 by 100 miles without security clearance. This was the Speergebeit, which clearly could not be policed as it was such remote desert. It was impossible to get permission to enter. However on one occasion with a French, Dutch and German geologist, four of us went deeply into the Speergebiet to study the fantastic geology, and compare it with the Richtersveld. The du Toits and I kept in touch for years until both died in the 80s. Once I called into the house and there were two visitors. Van Riebeck said they were government officials and they were clearly Afrikaners. He then told them that I was Communist Englishman and needed watching! They looked very uneasy but Van Riebeck was having fun. I might as well have been the Revd Michael Scott.

Apart from my personal contacts, I probably only went to eight services in the du Toits’ house. It was traditional Methodist fare, with non-methodist attempts at singing. I suppose many would say it was plain boring and stuck in the Ark, but here were a tiny group who came together to worship once a month. Yet, all the key aspects of worship were there; Bible, prayer, worship, singing and communion. It clearly sustained the regulars and it helped me no end both spiritually and socially. Perhaps the church’s faithfulness is also seen in Willy and I being ordained. I can hear objections, “It’s only a handful meeting in a house and not even weekly.” That is factually true but totally untrue.

You could say that the worship was nutritious but not exciting. Army or expedition rations! There was no band, clapping, incense or anything else. Just a plain boringly trad Methodist service. However it had the basic ingredients; Bible reading and sermon, Prayer both confession and intercession, Hymns sung after a fashion. We sometimes had communion, but always went up river for fellowship over a braai (BBQ). But before anyone says “how boring”, please read Acts 2 42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That is what we were doing.

As it was no bells or whistles it was rather like my lunch box when go off for a long day in the mountains. My food is basic! A sandwich with cheese or beef, tomato, raw carrot, apple, multigrain biscuits and, depending on the season, sweet coffee or sweetened squash in the summer. That clearly works as the last time I had a problem over food and drink was in 1961, when at fourteen I cycled over 80 miles in temperatures in the upper 80s and nearly flaked out.

During the year I made several visits to Cape Town attending various churches including the cathedral, a brethren assembly and an interdenominational church. They were fleeting visits but helpful to me, and gave me spiritual shots.

Getting to an Anglican Church was fraught. There may have been a chaplaincy at Oranjemund on the north side of the Orange River, but the security was greater than Fort Knox. The nearest parish was Springbok, which would entail a drive of 180 miles each way, mostly on dirt roads. I once went to a communion in a house in Port Nolloth – there were four including the priest.

Thus I could rarely get to church more than once a month. Today that would count as occasional worship. Somehow I had to obtain spiritual nourishment for the intervening four weeks. So for virtually every day of the month my nourishment was my early morning QT!! Quite simply, Bible reading followed by prayer. I can almost hear many reading this inwardly groaning and muttering “How boring.” “What about the sacraments?” “What about fellowship with others?”

There was no alternative. Except not praying.

By the time I arrived in the Richtersveld I was reading much of the Bible for a second time and I was finishing off Search the Scriptures. At least on a second reading things which baffled me before came clearer – but maybe I am more baffled now. I am sure some would say that all this smacked of fundamentalism, but I kept hitting the rocks on Genesis and was appalled when I read the odd writer, who took Genesis literally. It was also fascinating reading the Exodus and the Patriarchal wonderings in a desert. The Richtersveld is very like the area around Sinai. I’ve never been one to try to get a special daily message from bible reading, as I took it in a more cumulative way.

When it came to prayer, I followed a mix of the two standard formulae, which are still valid today. ACTS is still recommended in Alpha.










However the basics of all worship, private or public, are there

I won’t go into details on my petitions but will conclude with one which came up in my last few months there as it was a daily concern and scary.

Earlier I wrote that sharing in public worship and spending time in private prayers was like walking on two legs. In the desert I could not walk on two legs as one leg was missing. Hence I had to spiritually hop. So I spent most of my time hopping and only occasionally walking on two spiritual legs when I could get to a church for worship.

I feel that the closure of churches over Corvid-19 is like removing one leg. Thus many will have to continue by spiritual hopping in the absence of church worship.

But here lies a serious problem. People will only be able to spiritually hop if they were walking on two legs before. Despite teaching and exhortation on personal prayer and bible reading I wonder how many church members actually do pray in a semi-structured way at home beyond “God bless mummy, God bless daddy and God bless the pussy cat”. I would suggest personal bible reading is at a premium – indicated by how few know their way round a bible. This comes out so often in talking to church members. It is not new as our college principal, John Cockerton, said he caused considerable embarrassment to a congregation when preaching, as he asked, “how many have read the whole Bible?” In other words hardly any of a loyal congregation.

Yes, many clergy are streaming on-line at present, and there will be many great innovations here. But in the long-term there needs to be more emphasis on private worship and bible study, in order to sustain Christian in normal times when they can worship and in abnormal times when they cannot worship in public. I am not willing to give a formula for this time of prayer. This applies whether digital worship becomes widespread or not. I cannot help feeling that digital worship could turn out to be a bit of prosthetic leg, but I may be wrong. In my Distance Teaching in theology I note many cite an electronic version of the Bibel as if they looked it up specially for the essay. There is nothing to beat a battered Bible. The danger is some Christians will find themselves legless, if they don’t develop a private as well as a corporate spirituality.


My daily work as a field geologist gave another element, which has always been strong with me, and that is being in Creation, in both a practical and mystical way. I would see this more as a prehensile tail, rather than a third leg! (Karl Barth may half like this, but not some eco-Christians today.) Prior to becoming a Christian I was enraptured with the outdoors and mountains – and still am. This started in my family life. My earliest memory is seeing Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling. Part came from reading one of my father’s books The Spirit of the Hills by the Himalayan mountaineer Frank Smythe, who died in the Himalaya about the time we went to India. It’s odd that at his death he was only a few hundred miles from us in a vast land. Some climbing friends taunted me for being a mountain mystic and others considered me a poofter for taking photos of flowers. Why shouldn’t you take a photo of an orchid when you are fifty feet off the ground on a vertical cliff? It was a bit tricky. You have two feet placed as securely as possible, hold on with one hand and then with other hand, open the camera case, focus and take the photo. And then carry on up the vertical face. Simples.

The Richtersveld is an incredibly awe-inspiring and beautiful landscape. It is not unlike the area around Mt Sinai, with craggy bare mountains and dramatic forms. Much of my day in the field was flip-flopping between awe and wonder and sorting out the scientific details of the geology. As much of the area was ancient sandstone, among other things I had to work out from what direction the rivers which deposited came from. And if there were pebbles or larger stones I had to work out where they came from. I also became highly competent at recognising copper minerals and spotting them in cliffs.

Five reasons to visit the ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park ...

Rosyntjiebos mountain. I camped below it and climbed it to map the geology

With the emphasis today on forest bathing I was both creation and desert bathing most days. I still do as much creation bathing as I can. Though there was no flowing water in the valleys I often went up one dry valley looking at perfect outcrops not covered in vegetation and then at the top crossed over to the next valley to return to my Land Rover before it got too hot in the early afternoon. I often ran out of water before I got back to the Land Rover and always hope for a spring. I usually found one, but had to test the water before drinking to ensure it was not too full of myriad salts. To counter salt loss I drank a tumbler full of salty water when I returned to camp.

Apart from the geology and the starkness of the mountains, I often found the Atlantic mist rolling in from the west dropping the temperature to a freezing cold 15 to 20 degrees. The flora was fascinating in the dry season with various succulent plants, which varied from half-dead tiny things to the majestic kokerboom .

Richtersveld route detail | TomTom

Most years they were desiccated and dormant but when there was heavy rain, that is two inches in the spring, they sprang to life. Even more so were the flowers, including the Namaqualand daisy, which transformed the desert in September. I was lucky to be there in a wet year. It is brilliantly captured by Isaiah;

Isaiah 35 vs 1-2 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

It was incredible the way a dusty flat plain would be transformed into a blaze of colour in a matter of days and then return back to its arid state after a few weeks.

One incident sticks out with me. For a week I had been totally confused over the geology of a large area and just couldn’t get my head round it. Then one day thirst demanded a short rest and while having a drink I looked over at the valley slope opposite and its geological structure suddenly became screamingly obvious to me. The whole area was riven with faults. I remember muttering to myself, “So that’s how You did it!” Now is that a naïve Christian approach or was I right? I go for the latter and see science as unravelling and understanding God’s works. Maybe I ought to express it in a more sophisticated way?


Creation bathing – or the old fashioned enjoying nature – was not new to me, as it was part of my childhood as my parents walked and enjoyed wildlife. We sometimes went to parts of the North Downs where orchids were common and my mother’s favourite flowers were the Pasque and Vipers Bugloss. To me it was just normal and almost a daily routine, like an apple a day. At fourteen I took up cycling but preferred to explore than to compete and soon after on a scout camp climbed Snowdon for the first of fifty or so times. At seventeen I was in Snowdonia learning to climb and then had to get home to Surrey. So I hopped on my bike near Capel Curig and peddled away, first climbing the Snowdon Horseshoe and daily getting nearer home. The most awe-inspiring part of that trip was cycling up a narrow valley full of disused mines above Aberystwyth in a thunderstorm. It was almost pitch black at the height of the storm. A few months earlier that year at Easter I was staying at my uncle’s vicarage at Lake Vrynwy. Needless to say I had my bike and did some superb mountain routes. (I was a mountain biker before mountain bikes.) The most significant was cycling over Bwlch Maen Gwynedd in the Berwyns, where I cycled and dragged my bike up to nearly 2500ft. The top of the pass or bwlch was WOW. The whole panorama of Snowdonia was in front of me and to add awe to wow a thunderstorm was passing from south to north over the mountains. That convinced me of God, but I never told my uncle, or my mother. It was another five years of sitting on the fence before I turned to Christ, after reading C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity, having been sold a copy by a member of the CU, who is now a Baptist minister in France. We’ve kept in touch.

Now back to Creation bathing. In the Richtersveld I could do it in the most dramatic ways as one can when you visit the Grand Canyon or see a lion going in for the kill. Far more important is to see the wonder of the Creator reflected in the wonder of the smallest aspect of creation. Thus today I noticed a hoverfly taking nectar from a dandelion. It is too easy to overlook things like that. We need to cultivate as part of our worship and daily life, a sharp eye for the beauty of nature around us. It also helps to have a moderate knowledge of natural history, which is becoming less common today. At present I visit a small wood close to home every few days. Since January I have been watching the bluebells slowing coming into leaf and a few days ago two plants were almost in flower. Revising this a few days later some are in flower. Two minutes before that I watched a treecreeper creeping forty foot up a tree. With all the emphasis on creation in the church today, we forget that until twenty-five years ago creation and the care of creation were almost ignored.

I spent a year in total in the desert and I could attend “a” church only on about dozen occasions and even then had to drive, or fly, between 60 miles and 500 milesto do so. Thus for most of the time I had to find an alternative, which I found in my private prayer and worship, which was totally non-sacramental. I will admit that even now after fifty years of my “forced isolation” I still find my private worship more significant than anything else. Dare I say church worship comes second?  In these Corvid-19 days, we are being forced to leave church worship on one side. The question is whether all have their own private worship to sustain them.

Looking back over my time in the ministry, the church has always put more emphasis on public worship than private prayer. Public worship must be sustained by meeting together, but private prayer is sustained by the individual, with or without the fellowship of others. However, if you only have public worship and no private prayer, you have nothing if the public worship is removed. I fear that may the case for some church members today. You become spiritually legless and cannot even hop.

Now that is enough,but earlier I mentioned one item in my intercessions.

For my last three months, one thing was very high on my list of petitionary prayer as it was very worrying and unnerved me every day. That was; safety from snakes. Due to the wet spring not only flowers came out in abundance, but also snakes and I saw them frequently. The two most venomous ones were the puff adder and cape cobra.

I had two close calls with snakes. The first was when I walked past a bush and a snake shot out and aimed for my calf. It only just missed! Luckily it was a Rhombic Skaapsteker (sheepkiller), which is slightly more venomous than a grass snake. It was scary as I did not know it was a skaapsteker while I was under attack. It could have been a mamba.

On another occasion I was descending a scrub covered hill I suddenly realised I’d put my left foot a few inches from a sleeping Cape Cobra.

Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) from Milnerton, South Africa. Dangerously ...

I did an Olympic Gold medal jump out of the way. Now I was over an hour from my Land Rover and then an hour from the nearest human, and the venom is fatal in two hours. Now just imagine if it wasn’t four inches………..

Maybe prayer helps. Is so this was a precise answer to prayer and on target!

So I was four inches away from writing this.

So, to conclude;


We need to emphasis two-legged worship (and our spiritual prehensile tail);

Worship in a place of worship


Worship in private I any place.

(and creation bathing)


Michael Roberts Ist April 2020

On plagues, judgement, and the Book of Revelation | Psephizo

A useful bog  by an Anglican theologian on the subject


Rather sharp on those who see God’s stroppy judgement in every possible disaster.

Some Christian seem think God’s an ogre who delights in sending plagues and disasters to punish us.

I will have more on this in a later blog of my own


Source: On plagues, judgement, and the Book of Revelation | Psephizo