Category Archives: Easter

Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory? | Psephizo

One of the favourite arguments against the resurrection of Jesus is that the four gospel accounts are different, thus they are all made up.

One could argue that four witnesses who agree on the essentials are more reliable than those who agree on every word, having ensured there were no differences.

Paul argues that many of the differences are due to the extreme brevity of the four accounts and the need to select evidence when writing it down (or dictating which is more likely)

In 1959 my uncle, Grenville Yarnold wrote a book Risen Indeed, which is a good short book, accepting a real bodily (but not physical) resurrection, but does not discuss the differences between the gospels. He showed how the gospels point to the empty tomb and that Jesus rose from the dead, but not as a conjuring trick with bones!

Enjoy this straightforward but detailed argument

Christ is Risen.

If not Christians make fools of themselves!!

P.S. Grenville’s wife, Dorothy, got a degree in maths and physics from Oxford in the early 1930s , as did her sister my mother. both were also hockey blues.

Source: Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory? | Psephizo

Keep Climate Change out of Easter

Several years ago the activist group Christian Climate Change organised a “Fossil-free Advent service”. 

Here they are.

even the hymns and carols were re-written to bring in Climate Change and the horrors of deadly fossil fuels.

Silent Night, Holy Night

When will you see the light?

Arctic melting as temperatures rise

Carbon burning and filling the skies

Churches – think of God’s way

For Christ’s sake please hear what we say

I never know what is the best response to things like that, whether to snigger and ridicule  or try to answer the issues they raise. Over the years I have found the last option an impossible task as groups like this take the most extreme and dismal reading of Climate Change and the IPCC reports. By selection and cherry-picking they present the argument that we are all about to fall over a cliff of climate disaster. If you don’t agree with them you are a climate denier and want to destroy the planet. 

We have moved on from the Fossil-free Advent and now  there are attempts to squeeze Climate Change into the services for every sunday, even when the Biblical passages for that sunday cannot be twisted, sorry interpreted, to say anything about Climate Change or Petrol. A search on the web will turn up ways of bring Climate Change into any biblical passage. Often the interpretations are somewhat forced and bizarre and are trying to get oil out of a stone!! (That is done by drilling.)

There is little in the Bible on the environment as it was simply not an issue two to three thousand years ago. There is much on Creation in both testaments but very, very little on how we should care for it.  We can bring out general principles for creation care from the Bible, but nothing in detail.

This is my short and simple summary of how a Christian should care for creation, but I have only given principles and not examples of need; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/gods-creation-and-the-environment/

Sometimes attempts to find Creation Care in the Bible gets rather weak. Thus a leading Christian environmentalist argued that the classic verse John 3 vs16 means we should care for creation, because God loved the world and then so should we.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…….

Really!  That is an OK reading by a 12 year old in Sunday School but not an expert! The word “world” often occurs in John’s Gospel and is translated from the Greek word “kosmos”. In Greek kosmos can mean the whole of Creation as it does in Romans chap1 vs 20. However it is used some 70 times in John’s gospel and can mean  the creation, humankind, humans a opposed to God etc. In fact John 3 vs17 uses it to mean (hostile) humanity and not the whole of the natural world. Or take John 18 vs20 when Jesus replied to the high priest. He neither meant the antipodes or anywhere but locally around Jerusalem and Judaea. The use of kosmos in John  18 vs 33 – 38 and John 17 completely undermines this misunderstanding of kosmos.  Even a superficial reading of John and considering the use of kosmos completely undermines the claim that John 3 vs16 is a call for environmental action! That is one thing this verse is not calling for. I have not identified the author but they are a leading Christian environmentalist. But not the same as the Anglican expert on Climate Change who recommends taking garlic to avoid getting covid!!

It is very bad interpretation of the bible to try to squeeze things out of passages which simply are not there. Much of the time if we take a section of some verse, a chapter or even a whole book, they deal with only one or two topics and the other 999 are simply unmentioned. 

In recent weeks in the run up to Holy Week I have seen requests on social media for guidance on how to bring in Climate Change into the appointed bible reading during the Easter period. Considering all the readings which could be used over this period, none bring in Climate Change, even implicitly, and all have another purpose as they are to bring out the meaning of those events from Palm Sunday to Easter Day. If we need to ask, “what do these passages say about care of creation?” The answer has to be zilch and we need to look elsewhere

Yet more and more churches are putting “Climate Justice ” at the centre and thus wish to be able to bring it in to everything in the life of the church. thus Climate Change becomes the controlling narrative and not the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words the Gospel is subtly changed in its basis. Initially, one could see, it is Christianity PLUS creation Care with an apparent lack of shift. Gradually certain kinds of Creation Care become dominant, and that becomes the controlling principle squeezing out the core of the faith, though often retaining the words.

 I can hear many say, “Surely protecting the planet is vital?” To which I happily answer YES!! those who know me will know that I do try to protect and care for the planet, whether in economy of use, growing trees to give away, my use of a bicycle, and trying to hold local councils to account by attempting to stop the destruction of flower rich verges.

But though my creation care is integral to my life and faith it is not the guiding principle. That is because faith in Christ includes Creation Care, rather than Creation Care being at the centre, or faith in Christ AND Creation Care. 

Today, Maundy Thursday 2022, we see Green Christian forcing their views on Just Stop Oil on to the remembrance of the Last Supper and the washing of feet. This is misguided, tendentious and judgmental of those who disagree.

May be an image of 9 people, outdoors and text that says "GC Green Christian heenChrleta 18m Just Stop Oil. Christians were involved in the recent Just Stop Oil protests around the country recently. #JustStopOil http:/grencristior.ukjustop.ol On Maundy Thursday, when we celebrate Jesus' washing of the disciples feet, let's commit ourselves once more to sacrificially serving others and God's earth. HDYER Like Comment 1 share Share"

If all is Climate Change and stopping oil then nothing is and everything goes and the claims of both the Christian Faith and the need for Creation Care go out of the window.

The danger of this conflating of issues with major Christian Festivals is that the whole purpose of those festivals is lost. Christians have those in the Christian Year, with high points at Christmas and Easter, to bring home certain central features of the faith. Whether we take a minimalist or maximist view, Christians focus on that aspect, and that aspect alone on the particular day. By doing so reinforces a pedagogic purpose of strengthening Christians on one point and then the other points will dealt at another time. To  photo-bomb these with climate change or stop oil immediately diminishes the purpose of the day and confuses the issue with something else. On this in recent years, many churches have introduced a season of creation in September to fill a hole in the church’s year. 

Thus for the next few days all the focus is on the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. That is more than enough! Throwing in green issues will only diminish the emphasis on these centralities and ultimately may take over from them.

 On this I am reminded of the events of 1933 and 1934 in Germany when the churches were split down the middle by the Nazi movement. Some Christians went the whole swastika and formed the German Christians. A minority opposed this and produced the Barmen Declaration of May 31st 1934. The essence of that wass for a Christian there was only one way and that is Jesus Christ  – John 14 vs6 was their key text – and nothing should be added to that.

Later Karl Barth wrote on that in Church Dogmatics vol II .pt1 pp172ff, which is very pertinent to this question. Going beyond the horrors of the Nazis, Barth pointed out that the German Christians were only a continuation of what had been going on for decades. Little bits, and in Germany that was German nationalism, had been added on to the Christian Faith so that more and more Christianity was becoming Christianity and German Nationalism. It is now seen with the Russian Orthodox Church and the blatant nationalism of the patriarch and is not very pretty as the Ukrainians have found out.

But saw the events of 1933 as the fulfillment of 19th century Christian thought, which added an “also” to the faith, this soon became “and” and as with the German Christians “only”. He said similar things were happening in Britain, USA, and other European countries. (He could have given earlier examples from the Middle Ages.) 

Thus the German Christians were move from Christianity also National socialism, to Christianity and National socialism and, finally, ONLY National socialism – which was Hitler’s ultimate aim. 

This is a perennial risk for the Christian Church and a rooting of church history will give many examples, but few as bad as the German Christians.

The dangerous trap some environmental Christians are falling into is that they are raising their particular environmental concerns (which often align with the most extreme of environmentalists like Extinction Rebellion) in such a way that the centralities of the Christian Faith are downplayed, and, more worrying, that those Christians who don’t accept them are regarded as rather deficient in the faith, both in Christ and Creation care.

That is not on.

Hence my tirade!

This weekend as Christian we focus entirely of the death and resurrection of our Lord and then, and only then, see how it works out in every aspect of our lives both in love of neighbour and love of creation.

Easter - It's Meaning, History & Holiday Symbols Explained

Finding our strength and our way at a time of great loss

This blog is dedicated to my late wife Andrea and our close friends Ian and Joan.  the heart is a sermon gave a Joan’s funeral two years before she died.

When life is going well and with no one ill in the family, we forget that death is at the end of it, and perhaps just round the corner. And so we put death out of our minds.

Except at the death, or serious illness, of someone very close, we often feel far removed from death and consider the Christian teaching on death and resurrection, whether that of Jesus or ourselves, in an abstract, detached and theoretical way. We can discuss it in the same way as we might present the first three minutes of the existence of the universe after the Big Bang. We can consider the empty tomb, the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus and the teaching in I Corinthians 15, but it is more in our minds than our hearts.

Even at Easter, we as Christians often fail to see the full force of the resurrection of Jesus, both in itself and as the foretaste of ours. Our churches may even want to see it as a reason for a party and use machines to blow bubbles – yes, that happened at a parish church this Easter –  and thus trivialise the almost unbelievable nature of the resurrection. Sadly I joke not. Easter is far more than blowing bubbles.  Too often we simply re-iterate the biblical teachings of I Corinthians 15, Romans 6 vs 3-11, Philippians 2 vs5-11, I Peter 1vs3-9 and the resurrection accounts of the four Gospels. The teaching may be sound, but is often too theoretical. I am as guilty as anyone on this. It is easy to repeat this quote of Nigel Biggar but less easy to grasp it

“A metaphorical resurrection is really not of much help to beings whose death is no metaphor.”

However if the resurrection did not happen then we, as Christians, have fallen for a scam.

This year I could no longer consider death and resurrection in a detached way. Andrea, my wife of nearly 48 years, died after two traumatic weeks in hospital when no visiting was allowed, and due to her deafness communication by phone (or with nursing staff)  was almost impossible. We were unable to see each other until shortly before she died when she was unconscious. I shall not dwell on this as it was the most painful period of my life which was made worse by problematic phone calls from Andrea during the previous week as well.

For her funeral, under lockdown limitations, we decided on the hymns Thine be the Glory and We rest on Thee (one of our wedding hymns) with Andrea being taken out of the church to You’ll never walk alone, which was more apt than one might think, as she was a Liverpool supporter, as well as a Jesus supporter. These were fantastically sung by the son of a very close friend, accompanied by her sister, my god-daughter. This made the coldness of a lockdown funeral very up-lifting.

For readings we chose Ps 23, Ps121 and John 14 vs 1-7 as she left no formal instructions. These were chosen as they are rightfully those which often come to the fore as they distil so much of the gospel into a few words.

Some time later, when sorting out things, I found the sermon my wife gave two years before she died at the funeral of our friend’s mother. It was tear-jerking to read it and uncanny as here she was preaching at a funeral expounding the same portions of scripture we chose for hers. I have  spoken on Ps121, my favourite psalm,

I lift my eyes to the hills –

from whence will my help come?

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Looking up unto Pen y Ghent, in the Yorkshire Dales which was the first mountain I climbed after Andrea died.

and John 14 vs 1 -7 many times, but here I will let Andrea speak just two years before she died.

joanpage1

Joanpage2

joanpage3

Joanpage4

As you see, she was a very neat writer.

Rather than say more I dedicate this to the memory of Joan, Andrea and Ian and to give hope to their families. At little note, Andrea’s first name on both her birth and baptism certificates was Joan, but being born on St Andrew’s Day, she changed it to Andrea.

I hope that it also brings home the resurrection to all who read this.

A photographic postscript.

Joan and Fred spent many holidays with their children at Hawkshead from where the fantastic mountain The Old Man of Coniston was often visible.

The Old Man was the first Lakeland mountain I climbed after losing Andrea, and these photos have a double reference.

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Two Herdwick sheep looking towards Hawkshead from the Old Man of Coniston evoking both Ps 23 and Ps 121

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This is the winding path from Weatherlam to Swirl How on the Old Man of Coniston with its sinuosity, obstacles and final steep climb reminding us of John 14  when Jesus said “I am the Way.”

There is always new life as these bog asphodel and butterwort show, struggling for life by the path on the descent of the Old Man. Wild flowers have helped me so much over the last few months.

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Butterwort and sundew

New life literally flowers in harsh conditions as do these moorland bog plants of Butterwort, Sundew and Bog Asphodel found on the soggy lowers slopes of Helvellyn a few weeks later. Most walk past them. But as Jesus said “I am the life” to us even when we are totally bogged down.

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Bog Asphodel 

“Not even Solomon in his glory was dressed like one of these.” Matthew 6 vs29

And the way – (a path through bog asphodel)

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I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.

From Lead kindly light by John Henry Newman

April Fool’s Jesus? | Psephizo

As it’s April Fool’s Day , I guess some have tried a joke on others, or fallen for one.

Here Ian Paul presents Jesus as an April fool from God as Jesus and all he stands for is so contrary to everything else.

Or as Paul says, “The foolishness of god is wiser than human wisdom”.

The life of Brian never quite got it either!!

Source: What sort of fool is this Jesus? | Psephizo

Meeting the empty tomb and the risen Jesus in John 20 | Psephizo

A good blog on John’s account of the resurrection with Mary in the garden outside the tomb.

Dare one say, she and others were stumbling to faith in the Risen Christ

Reblogged from Ian Paul’s excelelnt and infinite blogs

Source: Meeting the empty tomb and the risen Jesus in John 20 | Psephizo

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.

https://babylonbee.com/news/scholars-now-agree-pontius-pilate-didnt-wash-his-hands-for-20-seconds-bears-some-responsibility-for-jesus-crucifixion?fbclid=IwAR2K1SCxQQw4q02f-2MnCGwzmhYUg2YYLx05alHm6roE66wOVbuPH_Tqx4E

 

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

 

https://newsthump.com/2020/04/12/jesus-arrested-after-emerging-from-his-tomb-during-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR1pWNb8f7Zn7MeWZp5AudxbWKOlqU5cfWVLPR2yN6GCLRpl8BgcZKXWPG0

The Roman soldiers got narked.

 

https://babylonbee.com/news/roman-authorities-investigating-jesus-for-violating-stay-in-tomb-order?fbclid=IwAR0UC0u1FQOi7pDDyfh2BbiOrh-ZzCjOsBrv01uWjuD_2ftqpV_fSyJWrTQ

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

https://babylonbee.com/news/millions-worldwide-cling-faith-jesuss-resurrection-elaborate-hoax?fbclid=IwAR1okq_L9SFXbfpw-kPRxbaXhJ5g44sDqRLwGq87R0kInDDBCfTG7cgtbCA

 

 

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.

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.

 

cor1

 

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.

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Why-doesn-t-God-stop-Coronavirus-and-mend-the-world?fbclid=IwAR3GbGZtQthH_e0F9pbOlvXgojbbrE3h-W8lXRb7TP6BJWRVk0MuR5r3tQ8

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

 “When?”

“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

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/parasitic-wasps-and-the-death-of-jesus-with-hat-tip-to-darwin/

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.

cor2

 

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.

Electronic Communion by Extension at Easter

Passover and Holy Communion (2) – In My Words…

 

This Easter will be oddest since the first Easter in AD30. Christians will not be taking communion together, whether in a church building or a house. This will be the case in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps elsewhere.

And all due to something so tiny, which we cannot see and may or may not be living, although like bacteria they’ve been around for four billion years.

Thus most of us Christians will not be receiving communion on Easter Day, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic or any other denomination. In fact, we won’t even be worshipping together. For the Christian this will be a great loss, but could we actually receive communion in our own homes.

I note that many clergy have built an altar in their own homes and have live-streamed communion services with only the priest receiving the bread and wine. Many have done this, even if their skills on live-streaming, or whatever system they use, are not the highest. For that they deserve much respect as they are trying to bring the presence of Christ when there is a virtual lockdown. (If you see a priest not doing it very well remember Oscar Wilde’s adage ‘if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’.) Being retired I am not in that position.

It is clear that clergy from the Archbishops downwards will be doing this and it seems the best solution at a very difficult time. There is no way we can have public worship and there have been several cases where people have caught coronavirus at worship and died. It would be a murderous folly to have public worship. The vital thing is for all to experiment and try to reach people with the good news of the resurrection through the internet without actually people coming together physically.

BUT MOST CHRISTIANS WILL NOT RECEIVE COMMUNION THIS EASTER.

What they will have is to able to watch a priest or bishop celebrate, take the bread and wine and partake “spiritually”, but not touch, handle and eat those creatures of bread and wine.

IS THIS RIGHT?

Is it the best solution at a difficult time?

Worship together is not possible and liable to be fatal.

The same with communion together.

BUT IS THE SOLUTION FOR ALL CHRISTIANS TO RECEIVE THE BREAD AND THE WINE SO DIFFICULT?

Instead of watching the priest celebrate and take the bread and wine and have a “spiritual Communion”, why shouldn’t the worshipper at home watch the clebration of communion with a small piece of bread and a tiny amount of wine and then consume both after the priest has consumed his?

I have now booked my place at the stake and I can hear many say;

YOU CAN’T DO THAT!

To which I respond;

WHY NOT?

After all we have communion by extension with the bread and wine consecrated on a previous occasion.

Further we are used to spiritual blessing being televised whether by the Pope, our Archbishops and in so many religious services or songs of Praise on TV.

If a blessing can “work” over the air waves/livestreaming/TV or whatever else, why cannot the bread and wine in a persons front room be consecrated?

Why is it necessary for the priest to “touch” the bread and wine? Non-conformists and evangelicals often do not. Does that make their communions invalid?

Does our understanding of consecration of the bread and wine preclude it, whether we look to RC teaching, Tridentine or Vatican II, views of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, and in an Anglican context, all those from the time of Thomas Cranmer down to the present day.

Does it affect how we consider the consecrated bread and wine? Whether Transubstantiation, Transignification, Consubstantiation, Real Presence or totally symbolic?

Why can’t consecration be effective over the electronic cloud? Is God himself limited by having to keep to First Century technology?

To illustrate this I am reminded of an amusing incident. Thirty years ago a woman deacon had a parish in rural Wales & had to drive 20 miles to get the bread/wine consecrated for communion by extension. Once they considered the faff and absurdity of it all and the priest said to her, “why not hold the wafers & wine by the phone & I’ll do it over the phone?” Why not, I ask? I always chuckle about that when I drive along that road.

I have asked a lot of questions on the theme of WHY NOT? Some responses I’ve had on twitter are simply NO. It seems I’ve touched a raw nerve.

But what better for Easter Day?

On TV in the mid-morning the Archbishop of Canterbury leads a typical Anglican Communion service in his chapel at Lambeth Palace. Beforehand viewers are told that if they wish to receive communion they should have with them a little bread and wine and receive them when the Archbishop says

The Body of Christ

The Blood of Christ.

Holy Communion - First Congregational Church in Bristol, Rhode Island

And several million take the bread and wine together.

(They could still be livestreamed communions from bishops and priests from their own homes.)

I would suggest that it would be very moving and a very strong Christian witness, as well as giving fantastic spiritual nourishment to Christians prevented from worship and those who have found this time very difficult. Would it really matter if not all were baptised and confirmed. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mind.

I cannot see any theological objection to this and would a fantastic opportunity of spiritually feeding so many people.

What could be better than that?

Obviously there would need to be some serious theological thinking AFTER Easter, but more important is feeding the flock THIS Easter.

Finally, I suppose there is a risk, but the church (and all aspects of society) move forward when they take a risk, when they think the gains outweigh the dangers.

Climbing this mountain was a risk, but a calculated one.

Image

I ought to say that is not me as when I went along that ledge I was totally on my own and a selfie was a risk too far