A sensitive treatment of a difficult subject
A sensitive treatment of a difficult subject
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank;
So Charles Darwin begins the last paragraph of The Origin of Species. Now entangled banks are very common in Britain especially at the side of roads and country lanes. As a youngster Darwin must have ridden or walked past many near his home in Shrewsbury, including those on the way to Woodhouse when he went to see his first girl-friend, Fanny Mostyn Owen.
To me our entangled banks are a joy throughout the year and are very good for the succession of wild flowers, which cannot be reached by those despoiler of nature with their mowing machines.
Here are some taken in May 2018. The first five were taken on the lane by Millbeck just below Skiddaw which I climbed today. The last two are near Goosenargh by Preston. Here one can only see spring flowers and related plants, with no visible fauna. Also invisible are the microbial and fungal life which are very much present and essential to thriving life. To few are aware of them.
I could have identified every flower and fern, but have left that to one side. To me there are two routes to the appreciation of nature/creation. One is identifying every creature, whether plant, animal or fungus and the other is more emotive and reflective and that is, to use a contemporary term, to “bathe in it”. In other words we simply enjoy what we see and experience and to be filled with awe and wonder.
I have long felt that Darwin went down the second route as he wrote the final paragraph of The Origin. It wasn’t entirely his own as it has echoes in an earlier piece by Sir David Brewster.
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
Yet he seems to follow the two routes flitting like an insect or wren between the two. Perhaps we ought to flit like that as well and move easily from aesthetic awe to a scientific understanding and not see them in conflict. He starts like a nature mystic, worthy of any tree hugger and then flits to science as “all been produced by laws acting around us.” And then after more sciency stuff, like our wren he flits back; “There is grandeur in this view of life.”
When we read the sixth edition, we find “the Creator ” is mentioned but in 1859 he wrote “having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that,” without mentioning God, leaving the source of the breathing as unspecified. However, whether we prefer the First or the Sixth edition, it is clear that Darwin did not see the natural world as a machine which simply needed disecting to be explained, but that the sum total of living things (biosphere!) fill us with wonder and awe and this is prior to scientific explanation.
We could write and argue for hours on whether or not Darwin believed in God as Creator, but he had the sense of awe, which any theist should have. Though I must add I have known too many Christians who don’t give a damn about nature or creation.
So years after Darwin a Jesuit priest took up poetry and many of his poems are nature/creation inspired. His poem on the kestrel The Windhover renamed the raptor to be more acceptable to Victorian sensibilities! Undoubtedly his finest poem on creation is God’s Grandeur;
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge |&| shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Hopkins starts with an awareness of natural beauty which he saw daily in the Vale of Clwyd. He moves to damaged creation, which I reckon are the mines at Halkyn mountain to the east. They are still devoid of beauty
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast |&| with ah! bright wings.
Yet Hopkins has hope in the renewal of creation and, unusually, theologically looks to the Holy Spirit
There is so much here and I explored it in another blog; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/gods-grandeur-gerard-manley-hopkins/ . In this sonnet written five years before Darwin died he evokes the grandeur of God in creation, the frequent pollution by humans, ending with the optimism of the earth’s renewal. Perhaps all doomster environmentalists should ponder the last four lines and look with hope to a restored creation.
It is no surprise that so many Christian look to God’s Grandeur today.
And so to the Bible on Creation. Apart from Genesis there is so much on creation in the Bible, especially in the Wisdom Books and the Prophets. Some of the finest writing on creation is the end of Job. Many of the psalms are nature psalms and one of the finest and briefest is Psalm 8
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted 2 by the mouth of babes and infants, thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; 4 what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? 5 Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. 6 Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
The main theme is wonder at creation, and the psalmist almost sees creation as a reflection of the Glory of God (God’s Grandeur). The reference to babes and infants shows it is no erudite worship but available to all. It poses the question what humanity is,and then echoes Genesis with humans being given dominion over creation. That is often contentious as so often that dominion has been bully-boy tactics rather than loving nuture.
These three writings from such different writings and settings all speak of the glory and wonder of the natural world. Darwin in the sixth edition is the weakest theist, but brings out so much of the wonder by focussing simply on an entangled bank. Hopkins and the Psalmist go further and thus I conclude with the Psalmist
I WAS STONED, wrote Paul.
Yes that is what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 vs 25 – or a literal translation is “Once I was stoned”!!! In the greek it is ἅπαξ ἐλιθάσθην,
This was used in the New International Version of the Bible in 1984 and created some amusement. The NRSV has “Once I received a stoning”, which is a convoluted translation. Most versions have “once I was stoned”, but;
God’s Word translation has “Once people tried to stone me to death”
The Message bible; “pummeled with rocks once.”
New International Reader’s Version; “Once they tried to kill me by throwing stones at me.”
Thus it was revised in the NIV as the New Testament scholar Douglas Moo pointed out;
“In the 1984 NIV when Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 11:25) ‘I was stoned,’ we changed it to ‘pelted with stones’ to avoid the laughter in the junior high row of the church.”
Well, “I was stoned” is a succinct literal translation and correct on all grounds bar one, and that is the contemporary understanding of the expression “I was stoned”
It highlights a problem of all translations. There are other instances where the original meaning can be lost in translation e.g. If your son asks for some fish , will you give him a snake?” In some countries a snake is more of a delicacy .
It reminds of two devout Christians in a university Christian Union in the 60s. They took Paul’s injunction “make love your aim” to heart and jumped into bed……………
Of course it is worse if we read the King James Version which was archaic posh English of 1611 and so much of English has changed. No wonder fundermentalists who only use the KJV get so many things wrong!!
As for myself I have only be stoned once, like Paul – by pygmies from the Congo 😁
Not kidding either.
Thomas Oard is an interesting theologian from the wilds of Idaho. He olves hiking in the hills of Idaho as much I enjoys exploring the hills of the desolate north of England
This article is provoking but at present I cannot accept it at all. I feel it has several weaknesses
Pinched from a Kiwi posting tomorrow already.
It is theologically very subtle!!!
After many years, an agreement has finally been reached to fix the date of Easter to April 1, whatever day of the week that is. Churches can decide to celebrate Easter Day on the Sunday nearest to April 1 if that is what they prefer.
Source: Fixing Easter Day
We are coming up to Holy Week and Christians spend Holy Week thinking again of the events from Palm sunday to Easter Day.
The hardest to grasp is Good Friday
I am quite often asked “Why did Jesus die?” One churchmember tackled me after church and I offer this as a very brief reply
It is not easy to answer and a short answer can be very trite. Yet Jesus’s death and the symbol of the cross has a very strong emotive power. (To some that weakens as humans are supposed to be rational not emotional. That is not true as we all have emotions, whether or not we wear them on our sleeves. We show our emotions over different things.) This can be seen in the symbol of the Red Cross and many World War graves.
We could answer the question medically, but that does not explain why Jesus’s death has meaning for so many.
In a sense there is a simple answer, summed up in the hymn “There is a green hill far away”;
He died that we might be forgiven
He died to make us good
In its simplicity this brings out two main things, first there is something wrong with humans as we are not good and need forgiving and Jesus enables that. This is summed up in the devalued word “sin”, which has lost its currency. However we need to consider human nature and sin. Francis Spufford in his excellent book Unapologetic sums this up as “the Human Propensity to **** things UP”. Earthy though that is, it is better than popular ideas which trivialise human badness as a “moment of madness” or similar euphemisms, or old ideas of breaking rules. There is something about all of us in that we have a knack of getting things wrong, even when we try to do them right. Unless we are self-righteous prigs we are aware that there is a sense of FAIL about us. Simply trying harder doesn’t seem to work.
So what about Jesus? Few would disagree that he was a good man and a great moral teacher, but the four gospels spend more words on his actual death and the main symbol of Christianity is the cross – one of the most ghastly means of execution ever devised. In a sense the Four Gospels do not tell us why Jesus died, but the accounts are incredibly moving and may reduce us to silence. Many composers have put them to music, and none are better than Bach with his St Matthew Passion and St John Passion.
At times explanations can be crude as with the view that God punished Jesus instead of us. This comes out with some popular preaching, but it makes God seem unreasonable. Far better is to see Jesus submitting to injustice on our behalf and showing that the way of suffering for and serving others is the way of hope..
Thus Paul in Philippians chap 2 vs 5-11.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let 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, 8 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.
Another one by Paul is to see Jesus as the reconciler and thus in 2 Corinthians 5 vs 16-21.
15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
These are two excellent passages to read.
Above all we see in the death of Jesus his sacrificial love for us and that we are to share that love. At best we only partially understand why Jesus died for us.
Jesus was NOT a refugee
Over the last few years there have been many refugees and migrants coming to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. Some come as far as Britain. No one can fail to be touched by their plight. This year we have witnessed the Rohinga refugees from Burma or Myanmar escaping into Bangladesh, with stories of child rape as well as murder. Some girls are dressed in obviously boy’s clothes for their protection.
Not that refugees are new, but for decades there have been vast numbers of refugees who may be stuck in camps for decades.
Then, many in our world are gripped by poverty, both in Britain, but especially in what was called the Third World.
Most of us in the affluent and effluent West need challenging over these sufferings and there is much in the New Testament and the prophets in the Old Testament to goad us.
However one pair of arguments is very appealing to many, whether Christian or not. This is the claim that Jesus was born into poverty and was a refugee as his family was forced to go to Bethlehem and then flee to Egypt. This is the stuff of much Christian writing and sermons and is found in carols;
Mine are riches, from your poverty
It is a theme in Christian art as the Rembrandt shows
To question or challenge this is to fly in the face of so many sermons and so much Christian appeal to care for those in need, especially refugees. No one with even the weakest of morals could challenge the moral appeal of this, but is it actually true that Jesus was born in poverty and was a refugee. It is good for heart-strings and goading people into action, but is it actually true?
So what about it?
Was Jesus born in poverty?
Was Jesus a refugee?
If we answer “yes” to both, we can make a powerful argument for action on both fronts. But what if neither is true? Or even not quite true.
Let’s consider them with the Birth Narratives of Matthew and Luke ever present. I shall ignore questions of historicity as then would completely derail any discussion. Many use the narratives for moral arguments but hold to varying amounts of historicity or even none. I won’t consider whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem or whether the flight to Egypt took place, or Quirinius’ census. However I will consider the moral and spiritual message of the narratives and ignore historical questions.
Was Jesus born in poverty?
The Gospels are pretty lean and mean on what they say about Jesus’s home background and wealth. Joseph was a carpenter or builder, and so they asked in the synagogue at Nazareth Matt 13vs55 “Is he not the son of carpenter?” We can argue whether tekton means builder or carpenter. It does not matter as both are artisan skills and that indicates that Jesus’s family were at least artisan and thus not in poverty. With other incidents, like going to Jerusalem at the age of twelve Luke 2 and the wedding at Cana John 2, the evidence points to being anything but in poverty. They were probably not rich, but by no means living in a state even approaching poverty. It is best to say Joseph was comfortable and probably no more than that.
The Holy Family were comfortable by the standards of their day. They did not live in a palace, but in no sense could they be called poor. Joseph and Mary would neither have clothed their family in rags or “fine raiment”.
Was Jesus a refugee?
This needs to be considered in two parts – first the journey to Bethlehem and secondly the journey to Egypt.
On the former and taking Luke’s cryptic account in Luke 2 at face value, Joseph did not flee his adopted town of Nazareth to take refuge in Bethlehem. The reason of the journey was clear. According to Luke, the governor Quirinius had ordered all to go to their home towns for the census. With the Roman authority behind it, there was no desperate flight and would have had a semblance of order. I doubt whether the journey was enjoyable, but suspect they were with others on the journey. Further the family later returned to Nazareth. The journey would not have been pleasant for Mary, but the 70 mile walk to Bethlehem would have been a Sunday School outing compared to the Rohinga fleeing from Myanmar and many other refugees in recent years, including those in the turmoil of WWII. Though that it cannot be regarded as gospel, the Proto-gospel of James written in about 150AD supports my contentions.
And so they came to Bethlehem, where undoubtedly many of Joseph’s relatives lived. It is inconceivable to go along with the traditional story and conclude they were turned away by the inn-keeper and were shunted off into an outhouse or cave. But Luke does not say that and some argue the Holy Family were given a guestroom. If Luke were right then many, but not fleeing hordes, would have made the journey
The flight to Egypt
After the magi went, they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Matthew tells us little and so the story has been embroidered by later writers. Ignoring the embroidery there was an excellent coast road through Gaza to Egypt, which would have made the journey relatively straightforward. The road was used by Roman soldiers as a main route so would have been good.
Matthew only says they “remained there until the death of Herod.” He gave no clue to where they went, but there was a large Jewish population in Alexandria. The great Jewish thinker and philosopher Philo lived there from 25BC to 50 AD. If that is where they went, there were many fellow Jews and probably kinsmen. No one would like to uproot with a tiny baby but this is nothing like the usual ghastly situation of refugees, whether we think of Ruhinga, those crossing the Med, or the many others we have read off in the last 50 years..
We may say they took refuge but were not refugees.
We can safely conclude that Jesus was not born in poverty, nor was he a refugee in the usual sense of being caught up in an enforced mass migration simply fleeing some horror. Yes, they were forced to go to Bethlehem and then as a family had to take refuge in Egypt
If we take the New Testament picture of the holy family, we must conclude that Jesus’s home was “mediocre” and neither rich nor poor. By virtue of being a builder or carpenter, Joseph’s family were definitely not poor, and not suffering from poverty. Joseph and Mary would not have taken Jesus to Jerusalem when he was 12 (Luke 2) if they were in poverty. Snapshots of their family life as in the miracle of Cana in Galilee (John 2) reflect an ordinary family, neither rich nor poor. Further they – and especially Jesus, were literate and knew the Scriptures. They wore neither “soft robes” nor rags.
Jesus was NOT born into poverty
So we have lost a powerful and emotional argument to care for the most deprived.
What can we base our appeals for action on?
It is far easier to use an emotive argument like “Jesus was a refugee” than to give the straight (boring ) Christian teaching. I wonder if the appeal to Jesus as a refugee partly stems from a general acceptance of Liberation Theology, which though rightfully emphasises the need of the poor, butfar too quickly pushes aside any concern for the rich or even the unpoor and unrich. It also moves the centre of gravity of the Gospel from Jesus Christ to the liberation stories of Exodus. I need to add here that I started reading Liberation Theology a few years after returning from Apartheid South Africa, where I acquired the nickname Comrade Mike! I found it wanting.
To base ones practice on many issues and not only the issue of refugees and migrants, one needs a basic grasp of Christian teaching in relation to ALL people, before moving to particular groups.
First is the Second Great Commandment “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” which is the basis of all Christian behaviour.
This crops up in so much of the New Testament eg I Cor 13.
Several parables eg Good Samaritan and Sheep and Goats lead on from this
Then, secondarily, we have aspects of the Old Testament (which must always be seen in the light of the NT. No we don’t imitate Sisera or stone homosexuals etc) There are the caring aspects of Law (Exod 23 vs1 -9, & especially vs 9 You shall not oppress a resident alien .. For you were aliens in the land of Egypt) and prophecies i.e forthright forth-telling of the prophets (e.g Isaiah 61 vs 1 – 2 which was cited by Jesus in a Nazareth synagogue – Luke 4 vs 16ff) and many of the prophets who were FORTHTELLING against wrong-doing and injustice and were not concerned with FORE-TELLING.
However all that was enough for getting rid of slavery in about 1800 and many other things great and small, whether education, hospitals, orphans (Barnado) , Childrens Society and so many other things right across the denominations
We need to follow the example of Jesus and his teaching on love rather than making him out to be a refugee.