Category Archives: Good Friday.

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

Darwin’s Wasps and Good Friday

I recently bought the WILDguide to Britain’s Insects. It is a magnificent bulky guide and too big to carry into the field. With its photographs and descriptions it was better than my older guides. It also made me realise how little I knew my insects

The unofficial book club review no 2 | Through 360 Degrees - A blog by Mark  Cocker

At 600 pages it is vast and comprehensive and deals with all the families from the beautiful dragon and maiden flies to the less-enchanting bed-bugs. Much has been known about insects for years and Victorian clergy sometimes spent more time looking for beetles than writing their sermons.

One section took me by surprise. The last section of one hundred pages was on the Hymenoptera – ants, wasps, bees and relatives. Flipping through this I found five pages 472-476 on

Darwin’s Wasps

That was new to me, but these are the delightful parasitic wasps, whose females inject their eggs into some poor caterpillar and the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside until they pupate, fly off and leave the poor very hungry caterpillar to curl up and die, which caused Darwin so much angst.

Here’s a female in action implanting its eggs into a caterpillar

Coined in Basel: The “Darwin wasps” | by Maridel Fredericksen | sci five |  University of Basel | Medium

Rather than expound these lovely critters here is wikipedia on them https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichneumonidae

I am not a great wiki fan, but it gives enough basic stuff on Darwin’s favourites. They have only been called Darwin’s wasps in the last few years and many articles are behind a paywall.

I cannot see Mrs Alexander including these wasps in her hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful – or this suggestion, which as serious as it is funny.

allthingorrible

Suffering is a problem as we will all encounter at sometime and Darwin felt it so strongly  as over the loss of his daughter Annie and used the Ichneumon fly to highlight his concern. suffering is the greatest challenge to the Christian Faith.

Now to nature red in tooth and claw.

To the cynical, natural history films are a mixture of sex and violence with either animals bonking in exotic ways or tearing each other to bits. Usually it is often a large cat tearing down a buck and then scoffing the gory remains. Yet most will find the ichneumon wasps too much for even the least squeamish. The female lays her eggs in a caterpillar and the larvae eat up the caterpillar from the inside but keeping the poor thing alive until they have metamorphosed into their imagos i.e. flying wasps. Those who have been to the tropics will know jiggers. The first thing you realise that your toe by a nail is very itchy. When you look it is red and the temptation is to scratch. After several days of infuriating discomfort you notice that the centre of the red area is a tiny black circle. Soon after that you can squeeze hard and out plops the larva, and the redness subsides. The ichneumon do it on a bigger scale!

Here is a picture of a caterpillar with the larvae exiting their host. Not a picture for the squeamish!!

ichneumon

Just imagine the larvae chomping away at the caterpillar which is just alive. Very grisly!

But this clip of a parasitic wasp is even more graphic and  takes the violence to an extreme.

Enjoy it!!

http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/body-invaders-caterpillar-edition

This video of maggots eating a caterpillar alive from the inside and then sending it mad is the stuff of horror films and would make most people squirm. It’s bad enough describing how to get rid of jiggers to even the least squeamish, but this!! Yuk, double yuk! Now Charles Darwin was squeamish and that is why he gave up medicine when he witnessed an operation on a child. To Darwin the ichneumon fly casts doubt on the benevolence of God as he wrote to the Christian botanist Asa Gray on 22nd May 1860 on issues raised by The Origin of Species. He wrote;

I cannot persuade myself that a benificient &omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intent of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that cats should play with mice.

Here Darwin lays bare the whole problem of theodicy; how we understand the existence of pain, suffering and death with a loving God. Little did he think when he casually wrote that letter to Asa Gray raising issues of belief in God, that his comments would be read and considered by so many and come to epitomise the question of a loving God, and that these wasps would be named after him. This letter and the reference to the ichneumon is a reminder that Darwin’s doubts about Christianity were less intellectual and more on morality and suffering.

Darwin was a sensitive person and in 1827 gave up studying medicine in Edinburgh because he could not accept the suffering involved in operations, having witnessed one on a child. His sqeamishness turned to a questioning of a benificient God and the death of his ten year old daughter Annie in 1851 is often seen as the last straw for his Christian faith. However Jim Moore argued somewhat too neatly that this extinguished what little Christian faith he had. He had found hard to accept the death of his father in 1848, who as an unbeliever had no place in Redemption. During this period Darwin studied several works of theology which had moved beyond the edges of orthodoxy notably F.W.Newman’s Phases of Faith (1850). As Moore points out “there was no resting place en route from Anglicanism through Unitarianism to a purely theistic belief….Darwin gave up Christianity”(1 ). He did not give up belief in God, but could not reconcile a loving God with such unneccessary death and suffering. This questioning stayed with Darwin for the rest of his life. His religious musings in his Autobiography also show that his problems with Christianity were not so much intellectual as moral, and thus Darwin may be regarded as a typical Victorian moral critic of Christianity (2 ). Nowhere does this come out more poignantly than in his letter to Gray of 22nd May 1860, as the essence of his letter is the question,’How can a loving God allow suffering?’

Darwin had sent Gray a complimentary copy of the Origin in November 1859 and Gray, who had known of Darwin’s natural selection theory for several years, soon made his basic acceptance clear to Darwin. In the first part of 1860 Gray was both arranging the publication of the Origin in the U.S.A. and writing a favourable review for the Atlantic Monthly. Frequent letters passed between them mostly on these preceeding matters, but also openly discussing more religious matters. In a letter dated 22nd May Darwin aired his problems over suffering. Unfortunately the letter from Gray dated 7th May has not been found. Darwin’s letter dealt first with matters of the American edition and then of recent reviews, refering to negative ones by Sedgwick, Clarke, Duns and Owen. The second part of the letter deals with ‘the theological view of the question’ and Darwin dealt with theological rather than scientific problems, stating ‘I cannot see, as plainly as others do,…. evidence of design and beneficence.’ He could not see how a good God could have created an Ichneumon fly or allowed cats to play with mice. Ichneumonidae lay their eggs in live caterpillars which remain alive until the larvae pupate, and gave the basis for the SF film Alien! It is difficult not to feel the force of Darwin’s argument as he required a benificient theodicy, and could not reconcile ‘Nature Red in tooth and claw’ with a loving God. To Darwin a loving and wise God not only had to be an Intelligent Designer, He also had to be a Loving Designer.

Many of Darwin’s scientific predecessors, however, did not feel the problem of suffering so keenly as is evidenced by those who wrote the Bridgewater Treatises a generation earlier. The Bridgewaters represent the height of design and evidential theology in the 1830s. All the authors were Christian, mostly clergy. At least two discussed suffering. Buckland, the Oxford Geologist, who in the 1820s was the foremost proponent of Diluvialism, wrote On Geology and Mineralogy in 1836 which, according to Jon Topham, was the biggest seller of the eight and found in many mechanics’ institutes (3 ). This treatise presented the geological and palaeontological understanding of the mid-1830s through the eyes of one of geology’s foremost Anglican exponents. By 1835 Buckland had rejected his diluvialism and in 1838 became convinced of the Ice Ages proposed by Agassiz, following a visit to the Jura. Theologically Buckland was close to moderate Evangelicalism as was his friend Edward Copleston of Oriel College, whom Simeon considered to share all his essential beliefs. In the 1820s Buckland was encouraged by the Evangelical theologians J.B.Sumner (Archbishop of Canterbury 1848-62) and G.S.Faber, and by the ultra-conservative Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham (4 ). To Buckland and many contemporary Evangelicals predation did not contradict the beneficience of God, as is shown by Chap XIII of his Bridgewater Treatise; ‘Aggregate of Animal Enjoyment increased, and that of Pain diminished, by the existence of Carnivorous Races’. Neither did they accept that passages such as  Genesis 3 or Romans 8 raised problems for the concept of predation (5 ) Buckland is echoing Paley’s view of suffering in Natural Theology where he says without predation we would ‘see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless and unhelped animals’ (29 ).

And put satirically by the Oxford professor of chemistry, Charles Daubeny;

It is true  Paradise was delicious and nice,

Yet, if those born on earth had ne’er died,

‘Twould have been such a cram, like the berries in jam,

Pic-a-back men and women must ride.

William Kirby’s On the History, Habits and instincts of Animals (1835 ) was unique among the Bridgwater Treatises for adopting a young earth position to the consternation of other writers. The introductory chapter claimed that all strata were laid down in the Flood. Kirby was the leading early 19th century entomologist and his work was widely used by Darwin. This is borne out by his correspondence with the Rev John Rodwell in late 1860, describing cats and blind rats and how these supported the ideas in the Origin. On discovering that Kirby was Rodwell’s uncle he wrote, ‘whom I for as long as I can remember have venerated’. In 1818 Kirby and Spence had written a four volume Introduction to Entymology of which Darwin had a heavily annotated copy. As his was the first edition he probably used it for his beetlemania at Cambridge. In the second volume of his Bridgwater Treatise Kirby described the Ichneumon and how they destroy pests ‘by the goodness of Providence'(6 ). The chapter on insects speaks of them demonstrating the beneficence of God in their beauty, design and behaviour, especially the maternal care of the female wasp which found a suitable caterpillar for the larvae to feed on , slowly eating the poor beastie from the inside as in the video clip, something Darwin could not accept. However in his letter to Gray on 22nd May 1860 it is far more likely that Darwin was thinking of Kirkby’s account in his Entymology rather than his Bridgewater, as the former was one of Darwin’s most used texts. Kirkby described how, ‘The active Ichneumon braves every danger, and does not desist until her courage and address have insured subsistence for one of her future progeny'(7). Kirkby focussed on maternal care of the wasp and Darwin on the poor caterpillar.

There is not only suffering caused by predation , disease and other aspects of pain for living beings, but that caused by the earth itself, especially volcanoes and earthquakes. 2015 saw the ghastly earthquake in Nepal caused by a small shift in the Indian plate sliding under the Eurasian plate. It was nearly as powerful as the Nepal earthquake of 80 years ago and the Assam earthquake of 1950 (which shook our bungalow to bits). April was also the 200th anniversary of the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which killed thousands near the volcano and disrupted the climate and thus harvests for several years , causing even more deaths. No wonder the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed some 10,000 to 100,000 people in the city alone made many question a loving God. The repercussion were also theological and philosophical and the common argument that it showed God’s judgement lacked plausibility, especially as Lisbon’s Red Light district got off lightly! Among others Voltaire and Kant wrote on the questions raised, particularly of a totally benevolent creation.

With a growing understanding of geology and the structure of the earth, it was increasingly impossible not to see that these “natural evils” have been there from all time and WRITTEN into the structure of the earth, and not introduced by God after Adam and Eve went scrumping! There was no way anyone could accept the view of theodicy immortalised by Milton in Paradise Lost;

Of man’s first disobedience ,and the fruit

Of the forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe.

With loss of Eden…….

Without me giving a well-thought out understanding of death and suffering in relation to a belief in a loving God, we have to say that any  philosophical or religious view which does not accept that earthquakes, suffering and death are part of the inherent fabric of this planet is utterly false.

But there are those, who do not say this as Young Earth Creationists will echo the theodicy of John Milton and say there was no suffering or death, and even earthquakes before the Fall. It is the lynchpin of creationist thought and can be persuasive. A good example is Ken Ham’s musings on the Nepal earthquake;

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2015/04/30/nepal-suffering-after-major-earthquake/

You see, God’s original creation did not contain earthquakes or any other natural disasters. When God saw all that He had made over Creation Week, He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The original creation was free from any death or suffering. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve rebelled against God that death and suffering became a part of our world (Genesis 2:173:1–24). The death and suffering caused by this earthquake is a reminder of sin and the severe consequences that rebellion against our Creator brings.

I cannot buy into that and at this point I am somewhat theologically challenged by suffering, or bewildered  as was Darwin. Thus Darwin wrote ‘With respect to the theological view of the question …. I am bewildered’ as ‘There seems to be too much misery in the world’. A few lines further he wrote, ’On the other hand I cannot ….. conclude that everything is a result of brute force’ (21 May 1860). Perhaps like William Blake, Darwin could accept that God ‘designed’ the lamb, but did not frame the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the tyger (8 ). As Blake’s biographer wrote “Few poems have been scrutinised so closely”, and one reading is that a benevolent God made the lamb but not the tyger. Among critics, there is little agreement to its meaning. However his Book of Urizen seems to accept two creators one benevolent and Urizen the other, thus providing a mythological dualism to explain the negative in creation (9 ).

Suffering was an insuperable problem for belief to Darwin, and in the face of it he was left bewildered as to whether a beneficient God could have designed a world with so much animal pain. Darwin’s theodicy was a baffled reverent agnosticism; Buckland and Kirkby regarded animal suffering as God’s intention for the natural order, but this became less acceptable in a post-Chloroform society.

I originally gave much of this material at a Christians in Science conference in 1996 (when I was introduced to Intelligent Design in the form of Behe’s book). At the conference where this paper was presented the most perceptive and awkward question was on how I, as a minister, tried to minister to people in the midst of suffering. Two days after the conference I was due to bury a little baby of five months, so the questioner touched a nerve. To give a brief outline how I personally grapple with suffering, I start with God as Creator, echoing God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind (Job. 38 -42) and considering the Love of God reflected in the beauty of Creation. I then move to the death of Christ, the Son of God and the Crucified God who not only forgave sins but also entered into all human suffering. I often focus on the cry of dereliction “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ( Mark.15.34.) Pastorally, I look for the appropriate way of considering Christ’s death as entering into suffering and seek what is the right and sensitive approach to the people concerned. I find I have to say things with diffidence rather than a boldness, which would be insensitive. I have found Darwin’s concerns over suffering most helpful and challenging to my own pastoral work. Desmond’s treatment of the poignant correspondence between Huxley and Kingsley over the death of Huxley’s little son Noel has also been spiritually formative for me and gave me the kernel for a sermon at the annual Memorial Service in my Church. (Desmond op cit. p286-9) Darwin and Huxley both raised acute problems over the goodnesss of God in their pain over the loss of young children. No help will be found from an Intelligent Designer or a Cosmic Fine Tuner. Like Job they were angry with God for “taking away” their children, see Job chaps 2 and 3. The beginnings of an answer come in Job chap 38 where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind and asks Job where he was at Creation. For succour one must go to the Suffering Servant who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” ( Isaiah 53.4.) Christians need to listen to both Darwin and Huxley over suffering as they raise the deepest of personal issues as well as the less important intellectual ones.

Ultimately, I do not get much further than echoing Jesus’s cry of dereliction;

My God , my god , why have you forsaken me.

Perhaps as we come to good Friday we can think of the bizarre suffering caused by Darwin’s wasps and then think of our suffering. We then need to think of Jesus’s death on the cross and think quietly and deeply on that and not just parrot “Jesus died for our sins.

The passion narratives of the gospels are most poignant in their accounts of Jesus’s death and make us think of the human condition of suffering  and evil, both petty  and on the industrial scale.

I suggest the slow reading of the account of his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Here is Mark on the death of Jesus

The Crucifixion of Jesus
21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 2829Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
The Death of Jesus
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
I began with a parody of all things bright and beautiful. Here is her hymn on the meaning of Jesus’s death
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious Blood.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.

O dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming Blood,
And try his works to do.

But don’t forget, unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, we don’t stop at the death of Christ and move on to the resurrection which makes all things new.

Crucifixion, Failure, and the Revolution of Submission - Catholic Stand

1.) Desmond, A. and Moore, J.Darwin, London: Michael Joseph, (1991), chap 25 ‘Our Bitter & Cruel Loss’ especially p299.

2.) On the “moral criticism” of Christianity see Altholz, J. ‘The Warfare of Conscience with Theology.’, (1976) in Parsons, G. Religion in Victorian Britain. Vol IV. , Manchester: Manchester University Press (1988), p150-169. (Useful, despite howlers on the history of science!)

3) Topham, J. ‘Science and popular education in the 1830s’, British Journal for the History of Science (1992) 25, 397-430.

4.) Rupke ,The Great Chain of History p14.

5.) Buckland. W, Geology and Mineralogy considered in reference to Natural Theology., 2 vols, London, 1836 etc.

Buckland, W. An inquiry whether the sentence of death… London 1839.

See S.J.Gould’s discussion of the same theme in ‘Nonmoral Nature’ in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, London, Penguin, 1984, p32-45.

6.) Paley, W. op cit, p312.

7.) Kirkby, W. On the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. as manifested in the Creation of Animals London, various editions, from 1853 edit vol ii, p243.

Kirkby, W and Spence, W., An Introduction to Entomology, London, 1856 (6th Edition), p194.

8.) William Blake, Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright; and Little lamb, who made thee?

9.) Ackroyd, P, BlakeLondon, (1995), pp399, p 143f & p175.

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

Is Covid-19 Evil? A Christian answer?

 

Is Covid-19 Evil? A Christian answer?

 

cor1

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

THERE IS NO ANSWER TO C-19 OR TO ANY SUFFERING.

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.

Image may contain: text

 

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.

 

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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.