Look Closer

Look Closer is the tag line from the movie American Beauty [1], which is one of my all time favorite movies; but I’m not going to start there. Instead I’m going to go start at around the same year when I attended my first rave.

By the time I was 16/17, I had left Michael Jackson behind in my music tastes and was embracing the UK Hardcore scene; fast, energetic, happy. I listened to a lot of recordings of events and wanted to go and experience it live for myself. My mate was not convinced, he kept telling stories of the drugs and the beatings etc but I really wanted to go. So when I turned 18, I went to one on my own, with only a vague idea of what to expect but very well aware of the reputation ravers had.  I made my way to Milton Keynes one September and sat outside the venue. Couple of people came up to me dressed in the usual rave attire; yellow jackets, gloves, colored hair and I was sat there wearing a sweatshirt (yeah, I know) and I was a little nervous because of it. My fears though, were completely unjustified. Introductions were made and for the next 3 hours we chatted and went and got some drinks. We sat outside the venue and made a little drinks bar. As more people joined us, the bar grew and everyone was having a good time. People bought and shared drinks and chatted to everyone. No one cared about your background or what you did for a living; we were there for the rave and that was all that mattered. As I went more often, I got to know people and we recognized each other from previous events. Outside of the events they may never have spoken to me if they saw me but between the time the rave started and the time it finished, nothing else mattered but the music and our time together. I never felt so included and part of something as much as I did there.

It did cause me some aggravation though. On more than one occasion people questioned whether I was taking drugs and previous employers remarked that I could be subjected to random drugs tests. All this purely on the basis that I went to raves. Now admittedly, I was offered pretty much every drug under the sun but always turned it down, but you can get drugs anywhere and they’re used on a weekend by clubbers and people generally going out. I felt singled out purely because of what I did occasionally in my spare time.

I am mentioning all this because I recently read a forum post about Christians going clubbing. I shared some of the above and said that I did not see a problem. Other comments though involved saying that they did not want to be around scantily clad women and men who were doing drugs and drinking alcohol. I get the point that is trying to be made, but when people point to scripture (Titus 2:12 was used) it can come across as saying “I’m too good and godly to go to such places”. I never took drugs and did not drink much only water especially when in the venue itself (it gets very warm in there)  I was there for the music. When you start applying the same verses to more fundamental aspects of people, things get multiplied. I have seen comments regarding not associating with people because of their sexuality being made. I have often asked Christians whether they have spoken to people who are gay to hear their story and the response I have had back is essentially “Why would I? I do not associate with sinners. Paul tells us not to be yoked with non-believers” (2 Corinthians 6:14)  Passages like Titus are also quoted.  The odd thing is though, Jesus spent most of his time with those the priestley elite of the time shunned (the image of Jesus at a rave makes me smile) and was criticized for it by the Pharisees. Jesus responded by saying; It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) I get that we are not to follow the world, but how can you spread the gospel if you do not go to where people who do not have it are? (though being gay does not mean you do not have the gospel, there are many gay Christians) Are certain people not worthy of our presence as Christians? Jesus has something to say about that as well;

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

I am not saying that the only reason we should get to know people is to convert them and I’m not saying I would encourage people to go raving, but we certainly should not think we are better than others simply because we do or do not do certain things. The ethics of being with someone just to try and convert them are extremely dodgy (something I’ve touched on in previous blogs[2]). It really does not come across very well if that is your sole reason for being there is to just get a notch on your conversion belt. That is liable to turn people off you very quickly. Some argue that Jesus was with people just to save them. Really? What was he doing at that wedding? He may have made a point about it not being his time and then turned water into wine to keep the party going but he was not preaching to the whole crowd. In fact he only said and did what he did when Mary came to him. It seems up until that point, Jesus was just hanging out with his disciples at a Jewish wedding.

For all the faults of this world, including Christians, some pearls are found even if they come from some unexpected places. It was a so called secular TV show that seemed to capture how we, as Christians, should be looking at people (though this really should apply to everyone regardless of religious belief). There is an episode of Bones titled “The He in the She” [3] where Booth and Brennan are investigating the murder of a female pastor. But she was not always a she, she used to be a he and he was one of the most famous TV preachers in America. It raised some massive issues regarding sex change and TV evangelism but it contained a powerful exchange between the pastors son and Special Agent Seeley Booth;

Ryan Stephenson: One of God’s challenges to us is to see past the surface.

[picks up a book and tears up the dust cover to reveal a Bible underneath]

Ryan Stephenson: To the deeper essential nature, which lies right beneath.

Special Agent Seeley Booth: You believe our bodies are like dustcovers?

Ryan Stephenson: That’s exactly what I think, Agent Booth. Rip them off, and see what’s underneath… You see, all this time I though my father was killed, or had abandoned me, and that’s just not what happened. He didn’t want to shake my faith. He was protecting me from the truth. He… he didn’t want me to have to choose between him and God, and I love my father for that. I just hope God can forgive me for making him feel that way. [4]

One of the things that really struck me about the episode is that Ryan initially took over his Dads role when he disappeared but did not take to it and left. His mother put it down to a crisis of faith and said God would lead him back. God actually led him to a drug rehab clinic where he took a job. He rolled his sleeves up and went and helped those in need. He was not bothered about separating himself from sinners, neither was Jesus. The church in the above mentioned episode of Bones was called Inclusion Church and they accepted everyone regardless of who they were and what they had done. Ryan opens up his first sermon on that theme;

I think I should begin my first sermon to you as kind of an introduction. My name is Ryan Stephenson. I’m a child of man. I’m a child of woman. But more importantly, I’m a child of God, and as I look around I see others like me. We don’t look alike. None of us look alike. On the outside, we are gay and straight, black and white, fat and thin, man and woman, saint and sinner. Should I keep going, or do you guys catch my drift? But inside… inside we are all the same. I am sorry that I didn’t get to know my father – Patricia. But I hope I will find him… her… that redeemed human being… both in her old Bible and, more importantly, in you, the people who she loved. [5]

Ryan could see his father in the love the congregation had for them, possibly in a similar way to how Christians want Jesus’s love to be seen in them and his words came from that.  He saw that everyone was a child of God, no matter who they were or what they wore. We seem get so caught up in tattoos, piercings, what we look like, applying labels and putting people into shiny boxes, that we miss what truly matters which is our heart.  Everything comes out of the heart, a point Jesus himself makes (Jesus had lots of relevant things to say, maybe there is something in that);

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

There is so much more that can be said about this; about how the world thinks and what Christians should do, but I have to end this blog at some point before it becomes a bigger jumbled mess of thoughts. I guess the point of this blog is to say what the title does; look closer. God sees us how we are and loves us for how we are. He also sees the potential in every being and we are called to do the same. It may take some effort and some time, but no one said it was easy. Basically; stop with the labeling, stop with the passing judgement, it’s not nice when it happens to us so do not do it to others and just love those God made.

 

References:

[1] American Beauty (1999)  Directed by Sam Mendes, Distributed by Dreamworks Pictures

[2] http://www.evidence2hope.com/apps/blog/show/23610914-correct-in-love-but-you-have-to-earn-the-right-to-first

[3] Bones, Season 4 Episode 6, The He in the She Directed by Craig Ross Jr

[4] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285434/trivia?tab=qt&item=qt0485902

[5] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285434/trivia?tab=qt&item=qt1623073

First posted April 4th 2013

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Being biblical and being a fool

“This article is rubbish! Go read the Bible and stop listening to fools. If I have time, I’ll post a breakdown of why everything you’ve put is un-biblical”

This was a comment left about one of my blogs I wrote a while back (they only left the comment last night and on another site I posted it to). I read it on the train at half 6 this morning and in my pre-caffiene state, got a bit upset about it and deleted it. Now post-coffee, I wish I hadn’t because looking at it closer, it’s actually quite funny in a way but also raises a serious issue.

Firstly, lets just quickly take the statement that the article was rubbish. It probably was. Compared to the many eloquent and thought provoking pieces out there, mine are the equivalent of a 3 year old with a crayon (no disrespect intended to artistically gifted 3 year olds), but even Van Gogh had to start somewhere. I write these blogs because they help me to work through questions and issues I have about my faith, and the comments help me to see where I’m going wrong or allow me to say “I don’t see it that way” and then elaborate. I have yet to find a better way  to learn than to exchange ideas and have reasonable discussion. If I can help others by sharing what I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made, then it’s worth putting out there. Not everyone can get a degree in theology but we do all have to wrestle with things.

This brings me onto the next 2 parts of the comment and the main point for writing this. I’ve written previously about how people who are considered heretics have helped save my relationship with Christ and in the blog in question, I drew on what I’d learned and tried to bring it all together in my own words. Clearly the commenter views these people as fools who profess themselves to be wise, as those who are leaning on their own understanding and not allowing the Spirit to reveal the meaning of the passage to them. I shouldn’t listen to them apparently but note what he goes onto say; I’ll post a breakdown of why everything you’ve put is un-biblical. In other words; don’t listen to them, listen to me because I will be biblical. The insinuation here is that I don’t believe the Bible if I disagree with him. Sometimes articles are titled “A biblical response to….” or “A Christian response to…” Again, these give the impression that you neither believe the Bible or are a Christian if you disagree with the article. Theologians, scholars and philosophers have been debating the meaning of scripture since it was first written down and there has never been unanimous consensus in 2000 years. Which view is the correct Biblical one? Have we all just waited for someone to come with full knowledge and guidance of the spirit and explain it all to us? I thought that person was Jesus. There’s also the obvious question of what position are they putting themselves in to decree they are fools and he isn’t? The emperor’s clothes come to mind.

The Bible can seem so complicated that you need a masters degree to even start [1]. My main problem though is not with what the Bible says (though that’s part of it) it’s with what it means and how I’m to apply it. This comes into play when we start talking about viewpoints being biblical. What does it mean to be biblical? When people say they’re going to be biblical, what they actually mean is they’re going to give you their view point based on their understanding of scripture and may quote the passages to support a view. This sounds good in theory, it’s always good to support your view with references and Jesus was not adverse to quoting scripture, but this approach of cutting and pasting scripture reduces it to soundbites to be rolled out in any given situation. It also doesn’t help with the questions of “what does it mean” and “how do I apply it” There were 2 statements on Twitter that I found to speak to the heart of all this:

The problem with people “using Bible verses incorrectly” isn’t just that they’re wrong; it’s that they’re “using” verses at all.

“”Look! Book/chapter/verse says this! I’m right!” – unfortunately, theology is much more difficult than this”

Scripture has been used to justify some horrendous and oppressive acts in the past, so just how should the Bible be used? Great question, I’m still trying to work that out fully, but I’ll come back to this.

There’s another problem we face when quoting the Bible in this manner, or possibly at all. The Bible was not originally written in English, Jesus was not quoting an English translation. It was written in Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. So we’re quoting text in modern English that is a translation of text written 2000 years ago (and more with some of the books) in languages that only a select few understand. A lot of trust is needed there, but we do trust them because they have the relevant qualifications and experience; we’re not fools for doing so even though we’re relying on human understanding. Not even they though, totally agree on the correct translation as the number of translations available show and debates rage on about which one is the best and most accurate, even though they’re all translating from the same text.

I think we all want to get this right, we don’t want to end up being false teachers and we want to know how to avoid them. More often than not though, when people get accused of being a false teacher, what is actually meant is that they disagree with the viewpoint or interpretation that is being expressed. Andrew Wilson gives a very useful illustration of this [2] but there are aspects that he deems are incorrect teachings that I would disagree with; and we’ll both believe our interpretations of scripture will be the correct one.  Everyone believes they’re right, no one believes something they think is wrong and some people are going to know more than others, that’s just a natural consequence of people studying a subject for longer than others, but the trap of believing something is true just because someone says it is needs to be avoided.

The last thing that’s needed is for someone to just slap you, brand you a fool and tell you just listen to them; oh and read the Bible more. That’s not going to help!! That’s the equivalent of the following classic Dr Cox approach:

I don’t have an issue with being told that I’m wrong; if I’m wrong then I like to know. It’s more about how I’m told that I have an issue with. Perhaps the problem is not our approach to the Bible but our approach to each other. We’re all in the same boat in many respects. The Bible doesn’t come with an instruction manual. We all go to its ultimate author but we can get things wrong, misunderstand what we’re being told. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and we’re inevitably going to come to different conclusions as a result. We all have a relationship with Christ, that relationship is unique to each person, I think our emphasis should be on that relationship [3], and building that relationship up in others.

References:

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/06/do-you-need-a-phd-to-understand-the-bible.html

[2] http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/false_teachers

[3] https://christianonthefrontline.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/correct-in-love-but-you-have-to-earn-the-right-to-first/

Correct in love but you have to earn the right to first

My church gets the UCB Word for Today [1] and I’ve found some very helpful stuff in there in the past. The latest edition for February, March and April 2013 came in, I flicked through it and there were two that caught my eye. The one for February 11th was titled “Confront them – in love!” and it gave 3 questions to bear in mind, and offers examples, when deciding whether to confront someone;

  1. Is it important? It if involves a destructive habit, an abusive behaviour, a major doctrinal error, or a situation that could hurt them, it’s important – get involved
  2. Is it chronic? If you observe the same thing happening over and over, it doesn’t have to be big to get your love in gear
  3. Have you earned the right to speak? If a causal acquaintance does something unwise, it’s probably none of your business.

The other one was for February 19th and was titled “Prayer, not pressure, changes people”. This got me thinking about how we approach people, both Christians and non-Christians, to talk about God and discuss places where we disagree.  Looking at the 3 questions above, I think question 3 should be the first question that is asked because if you answer No to it, it doesn’t really matter what the issue is, it’s probably very unwise to speak up and is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

There is no doubt that we are called to share the Gospel, indeed we are to be prepared to give a defence of our faith (1 Peter 3:15). But there is a time and a place to do it. There’s a passage in Matthew where Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter announces confidently “you are the Messiah” Jesus commends him on it, confirms that he is the Messiah and then says they are to tell……..no one! [2] This wasn’t a one off occurrence. Jesus healed a man with leprosy then told him to tell no one but go to the priest and offer a sacrifice (Matthew 8:1-4) But at the end he tells his disciples to go and make more disciples (also known as The Great Commission)

So what are to make of Jesus’s actions? In nearly all occasions when Jesus talked about God, it was in response to a question. In other words, they came to him. That doesn’t mean we have to wait for a specific theological question to talk about him but we don’t have to bring him in into every single answer either. When I was having lunch with a friend (who’s not a Christian), she commented that last time I seemed to be reaching to bring God into every single answer. This was not an un-deserved comment; looking back I was trying too hard. So I’ve had to learn how to balance the conversation. She wasn’t against talking about it, she just felt pressured. I won’t hide the fact that I would love my friend to come to know Christ, I’d love for the whole world to know him but my approach in that situation was never going to work, it just puts people off. As a commenter on the bluefish.org website put it; “Don’t come slinging the Bible like a shiny Zorro blade and then try to convert the people you sliced to pieces[3]. It’s like pushy salesmen. Nobody likes pushy salesmen and it almost always results in them losing the sale.

It wasn’t until I heard a talk by Michael Green that I came to realise that friendships are a great way of spreading the gospel (but it can also go horribly wrong). In his talk, Green recalled a story about 2 girls and one said to the other; you built a strong bridge of friendship to me and in due course, Jesus walked across that bridge [4]. It was a bit of a light bulb moment for me on many levels when I heard that. First off, I can’t convert anyone. I’m not able to, it’s not my job to and secondly, it’s really not about me. It is all about God and him using me not me using my own ability and charm to win people over (keep the laughter down to a minimum on that one please)

But the second point I think is more important. On my Facebook wall I see a steady stream of pictures and statuses along the lines of “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and “A friend who understands your tears is much more valuable than a lot of friends who only know your smile” We’re friends with people because of who they are. Yes they annoy us sometimes and do things that make absolutely no sense to us, but the best friendships are the ones that see past that. Love doesn’t keep any record of wrongs and isn’t self-seeking. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) It’s exactly the same with God. He doesn’t love who he wants us to be, he loves who we are now. He will inevitably want to mould us and teach us and make changes, but he doesn’t do that before entering into relationship with us. We don’t hand people a list of things they have to be like before we enter into a relationship with them (friendly or romantically) so why would God?  We need the freedom to be who we are now. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to make changes or aspire to be better,  but nobody appreciates being given the message that they must change in order to be loved and accepted.

I think it was Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury who said “One of the greatest temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and people” (I say think because I can’t find where I got that from) Whilst the above is very true of what I’ve gone into above regarding Christians interacting with non-Christians, I think it is equally applicable to Christians interacting with other Christians.

There are many different theological viewpoints and interpretations of passages, that it can be a bit of a nightmare trying to sort out which are the right ones. I see it less about trying to work out which is right and more working out what works for the specific relationship someone has with God. As the first 2 questions put at the beginning highlight, some things really don’t matter that much. How you interpret Genesis (for example, was Adam an actual historical figure or not) has no bearing on someone’s salvation. But trying to force an interpretation on someone certainly can as they may walk away from the Christian faith. Paul in his letter to the Romans seemed to be pretty clear what it was all about; a relationship with Christ. We are to accept those with differing views because everything we do is for Christ and each relationship is unique. Though I think his ending gets to the heart of it all;

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

If what you’re telling someone is causing their faith to crumble; just stop. Let them build up a relationship with Christ; let him strengthen their faith then re-visit it if the opportunity comes up. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, leave it where it is. It’s not about you; it’s about the relationship with Christ. We give our own accounts to God; we worship God in our own way. God knows us better than anyone and often gives the same passage to different people for different ends. Sometimes we try to get in the way and tidy people up before we allow them to present themselves to God but as Brian Doersken sings; “Come, just as you are to worship. Come, just as you are before your God[5]

I’ve been involved in a lot of theological discussions and I wish I could say they were all played out with decorum and respect, but they simply aren’t. They got heated and statements about disrespecting God, not treating the Bible seriously, being a wolf in sheep’s clothing and heresy are frequently brought out.  Unfortunately the “my stance is right and you will have to justify yours to God” line rears its ugly head regularly. Genuine questions are met with hostility and contempt and more than once I’ve thought “what’s the point?” Michael Green, in the same talk referenced above, sums up the attitudes well; Some Christians really do give the impression that they have arrived and that all the rest of us are just struggling in the dark. The question that never enters anyone’s mind is “what if I’m wrong? What if I’m the one in the dark?” Didn’t Jesus have something to say on that along the lines of sawdust in other people’s eyes when you have as plank in your own? (Matthew 7:3) We all believe we are right, we wouldn’t believe something we thought to be wrong, that would just be insanity. We all place different levels of importance on the same thing which makes answering those first 2 questions hard. As I alluded to earlier, I personally don’t think whether Genesis is historical is that vital because it doesn’t affect salvation in Christ, but to some, it forms the base of their faith. The only person who really knows the full truth is God, the rest of us have to do the best we can. But all this arguing is completely drawing attention away from the reason we’re here; to show Christ’s love to others, as Peter Enns touches on;

To live in a near constant state of theological vigilance, ready to strike down a brother or sister for (perceived) theological failings seemed not only a colossal waste of the one life God has given us, but at odds with what the Bible makes a big deal of. [6]

A lot of the discussions I’ve been involved in have been on internet forums (which aren’t exactly known for their moderation) and mostly with people I don’t know much about. I don’t know their past, I don’t know how they came to Christ and there’s not much I can learn about someone simply from reading what they post. This is where question 3 comes in and has really been the general theme of the thread. Only confront someone if you know them, if you’ve actually earned the right to do so. Being a Christian does not automatically entitle you to confront and judge, even if you’re dealing with another Christian. I’m not suggesting Christians shouldn’t disagree or shouldn’t have healthy discussion about these issues, but a little reflection on whether we are right, whether it matters and whether we know them well enough before confronting them is needed. We may just learn something off the person we are trying to correct.

Looking back at the discussions I’ve been involved in and the articles I’ve read, it makes me wonder how we ever got into this situation. On the Home page, I’ve commented that it is increasingly difficult to have and express a religious faith. It reminded me of a scene in the movie The Book of Eli [7]. Towards the end, there’s a wonderful exchange between the characters Eli and Solara:

Solara: I didn’t think you’d ever give up the book, I thought it was too important to you

Eli: It was, I was carrying and reading it every day, got so caught up in protecting it, I forgot to live by what I’d learnt from it

Solara: And what’s that?

Eli: To do more for others than you do for yourself [8]

Perhaps that’s where we are at the moment. We’re so busy trying to protect the Bible that we’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to do with it.

 

References

[1] The Word for Today, February 19th 2013. www.ucb.co.uk,  Free Issues of daily devotional available for the UK and Republic of Ireland.

[2] Http://www.redletterchristians.org/dont-tell-anyone-jesus-warning-a… (last accessed 20/02/2013

[3] Http://thebluefish.org/2005/02/preach-gospel-and-if-necessary-use.html (last accessed 19/02/2013)

[4] Http://www.rzim.eu/faith-or-fantasy-reasons-for-the-hope (last access 20/02/2013)

[5] Come, Now is the Time Worship (1998) Brian Doersken. Distributed by Vineyard Music

[6] Http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/the-most-frightening… (last accessed 20/02/2013)

[7] Book Eli (2010) Alcon Entertainment Silver Pictures. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (United States) Summit Entertainment (International)

[8] Http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1037705/quotes?qt=qt1158745 (last accessed 20/02/2013)

This was originally published on February 20th 2013

Why I think the way I do; my conversations with God

Been going through some old posts on the “Christian” forums that I used to post on before shutting down the accounts, and I found this that I’d posted in response to some criticisms of my theology (and the fact I apparently asked too many wrong questions) It’s still very applicable to where I am today so thought I’d share it here before I lost it forever.

 

So, given that I have some apparently odd (and blasphemous) ways of thinking I figured it was time to try and provide some kind of explanation for why I think the way I do. I have left some bits out but you don’t need to know them to see the path I’ve been on.

OK, had my first encounter with Christ when I was 14 at a Boys Brigade camp and it was awesome. Gave me confidence and self esteem to deal with seemingly endless barrage of bullying and parents arguing. Read my bible, went to church, helped out at church reading and being an altar boy….all was well. By the time I turned 19, I came face to face with my anger and everything was turned upside down. Parents were still arguing and trying to keep the marriage together. Despite having a good relationship with the vicar, I found his answers to be less than helpful. Didn’t find anything helpful in the Bible, got nothing from God and was constantly told to just have faith. My granddad, grandma and my Nan died within 2 years of each other, so did my pet dog and then my parents got divorced. Anger is a polite way of describing how I felt.

Got to 23/24 and this was still the situation. I’d read the Bible cover to cover and had even more questions, God still wasn’t listening and the next person who told me to take the Bible at face value was going to find it inserted into a hard to reach area. Since I had no idea what reality was and God seemingly didn’t care, I declared myself an atheist, decided that the Bible was the work of 2 drunk men in a bar and got on with my life.

Moved to Oxford in 2008, met a Christian at my new work, got invited to the alpha dinner then the course then met more Christians who wanted to tell me to have faith and to take the bible at face value. Cue me dismantling the argument and being satisfied with my nights work. Repeat for 3 weeks. Then my mate started coming back with historical facts! Huh? There was actual historical evidence to support the bible or at least the New Testament? This is the first I’d heard of it, hence I didn’t have a pre-loaded answers. That was my cue to be stumped for once. Did my own research and whilst not everything stood up to scrutiny, enough did for my brain to go “hmmm, maybe there’s enough here to merit a further look”

Then God started talking to me then the Devil weighed in; the past came back and I lost reality again. I concluded this wasn’t a coincidence therefore the Devil existed so God must do too; you can’t have one without the other. Which one was stronger and who could I trust? Neither my brain screamed. After much heart to heart (and coffee) with my friends I eventually gave my life back to Christ in their living room (didn’t actually make it to work the following day as I was exhausted) Went back to reading the Bible but couldn’t get out of my cynical mode of finding all the errors. Then one evening on the toilet, God spoke to me saying “treat it as a letter from me” (I always seem to have my most profound revelations on the toilet, I’m convinced this is where some of the greatest breakthroughs in history were made) This got me over this hurdle but then struggled with the whole face value issue. The Bible starts with a talking snake and ends with a 4 headed monster (I’d seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it had them too) Several books and chats later I see that the Bible contains poetry and prophecy and metaphors and allegory. How the heck do I know which is what? God answered that one whilst I was in the shower – ASK ME!!!! So I did….and it suddenly dawned on me why I was struggling so much a decade ago; I was asking the church, I was asking the Bible but I wasn’t asking God.

Wait, what? But the Bible is the word of the God so isn’t it the same thing? What does it mean for the Bible to be inspired anyway? More research and discussion needed….ooh that looks interesting…wait, what’s this about wiping out an entire civilization? And what’s this about Genesis being similar to other cultures stories? God wiped them out as they were the worst sinners according to the church. God, what do you say? Luke 13:1-7 – AAARGHHH!!! (that bits me not God) Now evolution is coming into view, it’s too much, my faith is crumbling….. Another message from God whilst cooking dinner; “put Canaan to one side and focus on Genesis”. Went out, read books and discovered the culture of Genesis. Not everyone in history took Genesis literally yet got on fine, it doesn’t affect our salvation. Crisis averted; God, we’ll go with that for now, that works for me. Thanks God

Back to Canaan. The church and many others tell me this but Jesus says the opposite? Once again whilst in the shower; “who are you following; me or other people?” “But Lord they’re Christians like me”. “They don’t know you, I do and they’re on their own journey with me” That makes sense but it sort means God is giving people different answers but then since he’s infinite and God, he can and it all makes sense to him.

That’s pretty much it up to present day. Still working through stuff, still having problems giving personal issues with God. But my thinking led me to God, he’s led me through things, taught me a lot and we’ve barely scratched the surface. So there you go, me in 1 post with some bits omitted. Hope that helps make sense of why I am the way I am. If it doesn’t or you still think I’m blasphemous……can’t say I haven’t tried.

Possibly the best description of Jesus ever!!

Peaceful, radical, non violent revolutionary, hung out with lepers, hookers and crooks. Never spoke English  wasn’t an american citizen, anti wealth, anti death penalty, anti public prayer; Matthew 6:5 yes he was. Never anti-gay, never anti-abortion, never anti pre-marital sex. Long hair, brown skin; that’s in Revelation Kirk Cameron, brown skin. Homeless, middle-eastern, Jew!!!

Not only is this a great description of Jesus, but it also shows how a debate should be done. Yes I’ve shared a lot on various sites but it deserves it, everyone should watch it and take notes.

Can you miss your calling?

Cortana: “Now what do we do?”

John-117: “Plan B.”

It was really great catching up with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago; we hadn’t seen each other in close to a year. Pubs are always good places to have deep conversations about theology and philosophy over a couple of drinks. During our catch up, she talked to me about how she’s been asking questions about her faith, her relationship with God, the evidence for it, but she raised a question that she’s been looking at. What if you miss your calling from God? Having a purpose in this world is what many, if not all people seek. Having a part in God’s plan is what every Christian wants. So the thought that you might not have one can make a Christian quite anxious. This is the situation that my friend is facing.

She was called to go on mission in a foreign country, and it was a brutal experience for her (she’s given me permission to share this, but has asked for specifics to be left out) It left her emotionally battered, insecure and unable to trust anyone. She’s not been back on mission since. Going out to do missionary work is hard. I was looking to do some in China, but the organization I spoke to didn’t think I was ready. There are several ways to look at the issue; Was it her calling? Did she misread the signs? Did God need her to learn something and it’s all part of the plan? Did God change his mind? Has God reverted to a back up plan? Is she now no longer of any use to God? All of these raise their own set of issues and questions and to fully look at all of them would result in a stupidly long blog post.

To start with the basic question of whether it was actually her calling, I’m not entirely sure there is any way of determining that for sure. There’s a popular saying that says “if God leads you to it, he’ll lead you through it”. Now, it could be said that since she wasn’t led through it, it wasn’t her calling. Nowhere in the Bible though, does it say that if God leads us to something it will be easy. Jesus seems quite categoric in saying that it won’t be easy when he talks about denying ourselves and taking up crosses, but it’s something else entirely to say God intends it to be tough. If it wasn’t her calling, it’s very easy to say “Oh yeah, God has a purpose for you, just hang in there”, but it’s not easy to do when you don’t see anything to hang on to, but I will come back to this.

If God did call her, then we’re left with either God sending her out, knowing that she would suffer, sending her to learn some kind of lesson through the suffering, or sending her without knowing what would happen. With all of these, they’re similar questions that come up when talking about the problem of suffering.  The difference here though is that we’re more talking about God sending someone and suffering for it (other than his Son of course), rather than just allowing something to happen. These seem to raise bigger hurdles for the “now what?” question as we’re really into the character of God. I’m reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac at the Lords command only for an angel to step in at the last minute. Peter Enns puts forward an interpretation that God wanted to see if Abraham would carry out his instructions whilst trusting him when he said he would establish a covenant with him [1]. Abraham showed that he was obedient and God was pleased.

If God did send my friend, it was his purpose that she was there, so one possible answer is that he wanted to see if she could handle it and what would happen. If He needed to send her elsewhere, she would have had an experience that she could draw on. She went, but the experience has left her not wanting to go again, and any hint of suggestion that she is being called back, is likely to be resisted. This does raise the question of how we determine whether it’s God doing the calling, but I touched on that elsewhere [2]. If any kind of test was involved, it doesn’t seem to be a pass or fail. This does seem to call into question the nature of God, his omnipotence and omniscience.

An idea put forward by Keith Ward is that God knows every single possible future, every consequence of every decision but because we are beings of free will, he can’t know what we choose to do. He can adapt and be creative and indeed it is good that he does [3]. Some will point to passages about God knowing us before we were born. I think God knows us so well that he can predict with 100% accuracy what we will do but hasn’t seen the precise future, he’s seen all of them. God has a habit though of using past and present sufferings and getting good out of them, using them for his purpose. This is not the same as saying God caused these to happen, just getting good out of bad situation (isn’t this what pretty much happened with the cross?). There have been many attempts to explain omnipotence and omniscience throughout history, especially in light of the problem of suffering, and it’s a discussion that’s still on-going today.

So, is God still on plan A or has he moved onto plan B?  Like the question about calling, I’m not sure this can be answered (or at least I can’t answer it as my ramblings above show) and whilst on one level it doesn’t matter, on another it matters a great deal. All the discussions over what properties make up omnipotence are philosophical and make great conversations with friends over a pint. It can matter a great deal though if you’re struggling to work out whether God has got plans for you or not. If you’re wrestling with the nature of God, what may be comforting to another person may not work for you. This can be said for most questions in life really, but sometimes we need to work through those struggles to get answers that make sense to us and sometimes revisiting them in necessary. Answers can give us something to hold onto whilst dealing with other storms. For me, it doesn’t matter whether God is using plan A, B, or something from a completely different alphabet, he knows what he’s doing. But there are other views regarding the nature of Gods control; one view is that God is in control, not because God is pulling all those strings in the background to make everything work, but because God endowed us with the capacity to create our experience of life [4]. Either way, God has not just thrown his hands up in desperation going “that’s it, I’m out of here!”

It’s not in God’s nature to simply abandon people; he shares in our struggles and pain. He hurts like Jesus wept over Lazarus’s grave with Mary and Martha. He comforts even in the face of questions that remain unanswered for now. The fact that God doesn’t abandon people rules out my friend not having a purpose. It also rules out the aftermath being a punishment for disobeying God [5]. God also did not create people who only have the capacity to perform one task. She played a major part in me coming to Christ, and for the 6 months we shared a house, that was her task, and then God moved her on. When we think of callings, we think of big grand things but often they can be small things. Often it’s the small things that make a big impact; sometimes the calling is to just be who we are. Not everyone gets to make the big dramatic statement or get a Ph. D in theology, but we all have skills that God can put to use, most are part of who we are. The great thing about God is that he keeps giving you chances to use them.

Have you ever done something because God called you to but it ended badly? How did you deal with the aftermath? Have you ever questioned whether God has a purpose, and what do you make of the various explanations of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Please comment below, but please be respectful to those who you disagree with

References:

[1] Dr Enns, Peter (2005) Inspiration and Incarnation; Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament Baker Academic

[2] http://www.evidence2hope.com/apps/blog/show/32110431-god-morgan-freeman-and-please-don-t-make-me-build-an-ark

[3] Ward, Kevin (2008) Why There Almost Certainly Is a God; Doubting Dawkins Lion Hudson

[4] http://jimpalmerblog.com/2013/09/10/people-often-use-the-phrase-god-is-in-control/

[5] http://www.evidence2hope.com/apps/blog/show/25487227-god-and-punishment-do-these-things-go-together-