Monday, December 24, 2007

A response to Philip Pullman wanting to kill God

I find the idea of trying to kill God an odd notion. That a created, finite being is uppity enough to think that he can kill the Holy, Eternal and Uncreated One is amusing. It's about as likely as an ant being able to kill an elephant just by sheer will power!!! Apart from anything else the last time we killed God, He came back to life after three days. History has proven this approach not workable!!

I think God's response to this "kill God" idea is covered in the parable of the lost son. In the parable (Luke 15:11-32) there is a man with two sons - I will paraphrase:
  • The younger son wishes his father were dead and rocks up to the old man and says "Hey Dad, I can't wait until you are dead, give me my inheritance now". His father divides his property and gives the younger son his share.
  • This dude goes off into the world, abandons his family, abandons his faith, abandons his country, and lives it up big time spending all his Dad's money on drugs, sex and rock n' roll.
  • After a while he runs out of money and his "friends" abandon him too. He ends up having to do some pretty crappy jobs just to feed himself. When the worst comes to the worst he's working at McDonalds clearing tables, and he's SO hungry that when he takes the rubbish out he looks at a half eatened cheeseburger, that has been on the floor most of the day and has been stepped on and is all squished and longs to fill his stomach with it, cos it's been days since he's eaten.
  • At this point he has an "Ah ha" moment, he wakes up to himself and thinks, at least at home his Dad always made sure that he was well fed and perhaps he can get a job in the old man's business, even if it's just as the cleaner, it'd be better than this!! Dad paid above award wages!!
  • So he sets off back home. In his head he's rehearsing what he'll say to his father. "Dad, I've been a doofus. I treated you like shit and I don't deserve to be your son" As he's having this little conversation with himself, and he's still miles and miles away from home, his father is out looking for him, and sees him coming home.
  • Now male ego being what it is, it's pretty weird that his father is even looking for him. The father could at this point wait until the son comes to him and begs on hands and knees for his forgiveness. He could drag that out for a while and then grudingly bestow his forgiveness, and then use his son's behaviour as collateral whenever he stepped out of line, "You ungrateful wretch and after I forgave you.... " etc.
  • But no, the father loves his doofus son, and runs all the way to meet him. He's out of breath, he's sweaty and he grabs him and hugs him. The son starts his speech, "Dad, I've been a doofus..." his father cuts him off, and says to his mate that is with him, "Mate, go book a table at the steakhouse, my son is home!! We have to celebrate!" He puts a fine Italian leather jacket on him and cleans him up.
  • Well you'd think everyone would be happy wouldn't you? Beautiful family reunion, just the kind of thing to make you go "aahhhh", nice hollywood ending, queue the music, roll credits. But no, big bro is not happy! He finds out about the dinner, and is cheesed off! He sits outside the steakhouse having a big sulk, "I'm not going in! Nobody can make me" he sulks.
  • His father comes outside to see what's up. And big bro says, "Dad!! It's not fair!! I've always been good, always done EVERYTHING you wanted and you never took me & my mates out for a steak dinner! Yet when my idiot brother treats you like shit, spends all your money on drugs, sex and rock n' roll you accept him back and treat him like like royalty! It isn't fair!!!"
  • Well the father says, "Hey, everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was lost, but now is found. He was dead to us because of what he did, but now he is alive to us again."

I rather think this illustrates rather beautifully God's position:
  1. Philip Pullman can wish God dead as much as he likes, he's not the first and not the last to come up with that as an idea, God is used to it.
  2. God will let him walk away and do his own thing, but He will never stop loving him, and He will never stop seeking him out. Given the chance God will welcome Philip Pullman back home and treat him with grace and honour.
  3. It is really easy for us Christians to get all irate about the athiests who go off and treat God like shit and wish Him dead, but that's the older brother attitude. We should instead pray that God will find and bring home our wayward sibling(s), and when He does, join in the celebration that ensues. (I'm talking to myself here!! I'm prone to older-brother syndrome as much as anyone. I feel duly rebuked!)

God bless,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Anglican Submission on Victoria's Abortion Laws

The Diocese of Melbourne recently made a submission to the Victorian Government to be considered in the state's review of Victoria's abortion laws. The full text of the submission can be found at:

I found it a very disappointing read. The prophetic literature of the Old Testament makes it very clear that God loves deeply those in society that are without legal status, and he is very interested in how the rest of us treat those who cannot defend themselves. Indeed a major reason that He sent the Israelites into exile was because of how they mistreated the poor and marginalised.

In our day and age, it may not be widows and orphans that are in particular need of protection because we now have systems in place for their support, but there are still those in our society that cannot protect themselves. Amongst these are unborn children who do not even yet have the air in their lungs to scream against the injustice of their deaths. It is the role of the body of Christ to protect the weak and defenceless.

I recently read How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt. It was very enlightening. It looked at the state of the world before Christ and what forces had been at work to bring about the freedoms that we enjoy in today's western world. In the Greco-Roman world abortion was practised widely and a very low value was placed on human life. It was the actions of the church throughout history that brought about laws that made abortion illegal and protected the life of the unborn child. This was done in the face of great opposition from the Roman world. We should remember that no matter how much opposition we face, continuing to fight for the lives of unborn children we could end up being successful. Christians fighting for the unborn worked the first time around, by God's grace it could work again.

In the Anglican submission, when responding to the question of moral and ethical principles that should inform the abortion law in Victoria it is telling that they cite "public acceptance of the reality of abortion, including acceptance of the practice among women of diverse religious communities" (p3) as the basis on which they believe the law should be changed. Practise should not inform ethical and moral principles but rather the other way, ethical & moral principles should inform practise.

As Christians the ultimate source of ethical and moral principles is the Bible. It is His revealed will for how we should live our lives. What it says about the value of human lives, loving others, and about protecting those in our society that have no voice should not be put aside by the church just because it does not fit with public practise or opinion. The Bible is still truth whether or not the world accepts it. The church should SHOW how it is relevant and applicable.

An unborn child is human from the point of conception. Before they are even conceived they are known to God (Jer 1:5). You can't know an inhuman lump of flesh. A foetus is a child, a human being. Psalm 139:13-16 further shows how God is involved in creating the unborn child and that they are a marvellous creation. All made in the image of God, all made to bring Him glory.

Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life isn't fair. Sometimes things happen to us that are not our choices and we have to live with it. The biblical position on this is that it builds our character and makes us better people when we face it with faith and belief that God will carry us through it, and that in His grace He will work ALL things together for good for those who love Him (Ro 8:28). So just because the pregnancy might be difficult, or just because the child might have a disability, or just because the father has run off, or just because the child was conceived during rape, or just because having the child is inconvenient to the parents does not mean that having the child is not still the BEST way forward when a woman is pregnant under those circumstances. Ok so this is tough stance, and not everyone could take it, but the church should be presenting a view on abortion that is based on the crappy circumstances of life but on the eternal and unchanging nature of God which is that HE WILL NOT ABANDON ANY WOMAN IN THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES IF SHE WILL ACCEPT HIS HELP. He is entirely faithful and loving. My experience is that the most utterly horrendous, awful and abhorrent thing that has ever happened in my life God turned around and made into something beautiful. Yes, it is hard to live through those kind of days. Yes, often you cannot see HOW you will get through it. But God picks you up, carries you through (yes, through not around), and heals the hurt and the pain, and gives you the strength day-by-day to keep going. This is what He desires to do in everyone's lives if they will let Him.

I really believe that there is nothing more relevant to the world than God's grace. They might not get it, mightn't want to hear about it, but we all need grace more than we need oxygen. This is the message the church should be bringing on the issue of abortion. That there is a God of grace who will not abandon any woman in her distress and that she doesn't need to rely on her own strength, her own resources to get her through the difficulties of parenthood. Abortion might seem like the answer, but it isn't. God is the answer.

God bless,

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas: It's about PRESENCE not PRESENTS

It's been a busy year, and the lead up to Christmas has been no different, particularly with all the Christmas shopping to be done. This year it's struck me particularly forcefully that we don't "get" Christmas anymore.

There is so much busyness around the event of Christmas that we have forgotten what it is all really about. We spend hours in the shops buying tons of presents, out of a sense of obligation because "it's that time of year", and it's expected. If you ask the average 5 y.o. what Christmas is all 99% will reply something to do with getting presents.

It really strikes me that we've got it all wrong! Christmas isn't about PRESENTS it's about PRESENCE. I was reading Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus this morning, and there is a lovely couple of verses (where he quotes Isa 7:14) that read as follows:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, "God with us."

There it is! This is what Christmas is really about. It's about Jesus who is called Immanuel, which means "God WITH us". God's PRESENCE with us, not PRESENTS.

God bless,

Friday, December 14, 2007

Reflections on Grace & The Phantom of the Opera

Yesterday was an important day for me. It marked 2 years since God moved into my life in such a significant way that I could not continue to ignore Him and the fact that He is entitled to my love and worship. Ever since that day life has never been the same. I think there’s a really good reason why the bible refers to the process of becoming a Christian as being “born again”, because in SO many ways my life really started then. Also that image that is captured in baptism, of dying with Christ and being raised again with Him is so true. Who I was, what I wanted, what motivated me, what my core beliefs and values were have seismically shifted.

Quite incidentally I went and saw Phantom with some friends last night. Now the two things may not seem to be particularly linked, however I saw in the characters of the Phantom, Christine and the Vicomte de Chagny some pictures that say some great things about the human condition and the capacity of love and grace to free us; which illustrates much of my testimony of the past two years walking with God.

The character of the phantom is a great picture of someone who is broken. Some crappy things have happened in his life, and so he hides from life and the world, because by putting up those walls he thinks he can protect himself from being hurt. He’s different, and even around people he’s felt alone because the loneliest place in the world is in amongst people who do not ‘see’ you and do not accept you. The more isolated he has become the more his needs have ached, and so he’s buried himself in the music and in a dream of a relationship with someone who he sees as lovely and innocent. He starts in the relationship with her on the assumption that she could not love him as he is, so he hides from her too. Only showing her those parts of himself that he believes that she will find attractive. The sad truth being that the relationship can never be genuine when he is not being himself, in all of his imperfection and brokenness. But because he has never been able to address his need and his pain through conventional means he has become desperate and will do anything to have what he wants, thinking that it will make the pain go away. His behaviour becomes more and more extreme, from being Christine’s “Angel of Music” to where he tries to force her to marry him by threatening the life of the man she loves.

At two places Christine tears his mask away from him. She is actually interested in who he really is, not just the “Angel of Music” persona that he has adopted. When she does this he shrinks away from her. There’s this fear that she will reject him. Yet by not allowing her the chance to decide for herself, he in effect rejects himself on her behalf. He carries around in his head this belief that he really is not good enough. He does not allowing for the possibility that someone could love him in his imperfection and brokeness.

What is so beautiful about this play occurs very close to the end. Christine’s boyfriend is suspended from a noose, and the Phantom demands that she choose, to marry the phantom and her boyfriend lives, or not to marry him, and her boyfriend dies. Nice position to be put in, and as Christine puts it, “The tears I might have shed for your dark fate, Grow cold and turn to tears of hate”. A perfectly normal human reaction, but what follows is amazing. It is a wonderful picture of someone who out of their own human compassion COULD NOT show love or grace, but instead calls on God to help them do it anyway. Christine cries out, “God give me courage to show you, You are not alone...” and then plants a great big kiss on the demasked phantom. Not on the phantom when he’s all masked and hidden, not when he’s playing his “Angel of Music” role. But when he is demasked, and when the worst of his character and behaviour has been exposed. And what is his response? In a word, repentance. He lets them both go.

In Raoul (Vicomte de Chagny) there is a certain Christlikeness. In that last scene where Christine has to choose between a life of slavery with the Phantom versus her own freedom at the expense of Raoul's life, Raoul is entirely willing to lay down his life so that she can be free, "Don't throw your life away for my sake!" he calls out. He would rather die than have her live in darkness. And then in the song, "That's all I ask of you" the things that Raoul sings to Christine are so reminiscent of much of what scripture says:
  • Walk in the light as he is in the light (1 Jn 1:7) vs Raoul - "No more talk of darkness"
  • Do not fear (1 Jn 4:18) vs Raoul - "Forget these wide-eyed fears"
  • He is with us (Mt 28:20) vs Raoul - "I'm here"
  • He will look after us and protect us from harm (Ps 121:7) vs Raoul - "nothing can harm you"
  • His word is sweet! (Ps 119:103) vs Raoul - "my words will warm and calm you."
  • He has set us free (Gal 5:1) vs Raoul - "Let me be your freedom"
  • He will protect us (Ps 12:7) and He will guide us (Ex 15:13) vs Raoul - "I'm here, with you, beside you, to guard you and to guide you..."
  • He is our shelter (Ps 31:20) vs Raoul - "Let me be your shelter"
  • We are safe (Ps 4:8) vs Raoul - "You're safe: No-one will find you, your fears are far behind you"
So who was I two years ago? The girl behind the mask, disconnected and hurt. Lots of little things during my life had lead me to a point where I felt completely alone and unwanted. Like the Phantom there were certain parts of myself that I let people see, only that which I thought they wouldn't reject. Like the Phantom I created alternate people to be, he was the 'Angel of Music', for me it was any number of the stereotypes of what a girl/woman should be.

Two years ago I came to a fork in the road, more darkness, or a new path. Some beautiful people saw behind my mask. Like Christine had every right to recoil from me, but instead relying on God they showed me love and grace. I could not explain it as being anything other than God, because there was no natural reason for them to love me. It revealed something of the heart of God towards me, and set me on that new path. So now the mask is off. I am broken, I am imperfect. But I am Bec. It's been wonderful to discover that I'm loved just for being Bec. And God's working on the brokenness :)

God bless,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Weddings and Stuff II

Yesterday I looked at what the marriage relationship tells us about the relationship between Christ and the church. It occurs to me that looking at it from the other side of what the relationship between Christ and the church tells us about marriage is equally interesting. Because if marriage is supposed to be a reflection of that relationship between Christ and the church, we had best be making sure that we are reflecting that accurately! I’d go so far as to say it is our evangelistic duty! If the point of marriage from the beginning has been to point to and explain Christ’s relationship with his people to a world that doesn’t know Him, then as Christians we have a responsibility to make sure our marriages are built on the same principles and displays the same character.

So what can we say about the relationship between Christ and the church that is useful for building a marriage? What are the characteristics of Christ’s relationship with the church? How can we apply that to marriage?

  • Love – First and foremost we must remember that Christ’s love for the church is NOT dependent on how GOOD a church she is. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8. So the love between a husband and wife should not be dependent on how much they please each other, whether they leave their socks on the floor, whether they are looking pretty hot today or not. They should choose to love each other even when they are hurt and/or annoyed by the other, or just generally fail to meet each other’s expectations.
  • Grace – No one is perfect, and the people closest to us have the most opportunity to hurt us. In marriage this is exponentially increased, because not only is the spouse emotionally close, there is constant physical proximity as well, and all the little annoying things about life and about each of them are in the other’s face. Couples can use the things they do that annoy each other as an excuse to get offended, build up walls, hide from each other and over time this erodes the relationship. If we take the example of Jesus though, this is an untenable position. The basis of His relationship with us is NEVER all the things we do that he doesn’t like, anymore than it is all the good things we do. The basis of the relationship is GRACE, what HE has done. A good marriage needs to be firmly planted at the foot of the cross. Two imperfect people need the grace that God provides, so that they can extend it to one another, so that their marriage can reflect this foundational characteristic of the relationship between Christ & the church. Marriage is a perfect place to practise forgiving 70 x 7 times!! Matthew 18:22.
  • Transparency – We are all naked in God’s sight, there is nothing that is hidden from Him We don’t confess our sins to God because He doesn’t know!! It never comes as a surprise to Him! We are completely transparent before Him. And in the beginning before the fall, Genesis 2:25 says that Adam and Eve were “naked and not ashamed”, which I think is analogous to the church being transparent before Christ. What would it take for us to be naked and not ashamed within marriage? I think it’s about giving each other permission to be vulnerable and imperfect, and yet have that met with grace. I think that has to flow from our understanding of our own vulnerability and imperfection, and having experienced God’s grace in the face of our own weakness.
  • More grace - I think an understanding of how God sees a Christian (in terms of positional sanctification) means that when a wife looks at her husband she sees him through Jesus’ eyes. Sees him as redeemed, a son of the Most High, made for a purpose, made to just be him, made perfectly to achieve that purpose God created him for. That leaves no room for wanting to change who he is. This goes beyond the “in-love-goggles” where you can’t see the person’s imperfections because human-love has made you blind. This is seeing the other person as they are, but as they are in God’s eyes.
  • Servanthood – The basis of the relationship between Christ and the church is mutual servanthood. Christ came to serve. At the last supper he took the most menial household task of washing people’s feet on himself. He did not come with a big flashy angel army and impose his rule. He came, he served, he conquered!! Equally he called his followers to serve one another. I think this is what it is getting at in Ephesians 5. I don’t think submission is about who “gets the final say” when the “crap hits the fan”, but that each partner should serve the other.

Marriage is an exciting opportunity to display Christ's character to the world. If the world sees these characteristics of God displayed in the way Christians behave in their marriages in a way that human strength cannot achieve, it is testimony to the gospel.

God bless,

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Weddings and stuff

We went to a really lovely wedding today. Simple, elegang and warm, and such a sense of the presence of God. It was so lovely to see a dear friend so happy and to be able to see God move to join two beautiful people together.

It all lead me to contemplate Ephesians 5, verse 31-32 where it says:

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

What does it mean? Why does Paul speak of husband and wife and Christ and the church in one breath? What can the marriage relationship teach us about the relationship between Christ and the church?

Well the following are some thoughts:
  • There is a passionate love between Christ and the church. The love is not distant and cold, but warm and passionate. It is a love to take joy in, it is a love that Christ takes joy in. I don't think Song of Songs is primarily an allegory for Christ's relationship with the church, but is about the passionate love between a husband and wife. However if we read it in light of Eph 5:31-32 I think does say something about the love between Christ and the church. Chapter 2:16 says "My lover is mine and I am his..." I love that! Christ is ours, and we are His! We belong to Him, and He belongs to us!!
  • There is a desire to protect the relationship from outside distractions and attacks. One might call this a jealous love. Christ does not want any competitors for the church's love. Perhaps this is why the Bible refers to loving the world as adultery (E.g. Jer 3; Eze 16, 23; Hos 1; Mt 12:39 etc). We must be careful that the heart of the church belongs to Christ, not money, not influence and not other kinds of worldly gain. We must not seek after other lovers. We must be faithful to Christ as He is faithful to us. As Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure".
  • There is a longing between Christ and the church for the final consummation (see Rev 19:6-9). There is relationship between Christ and the church, but it is a "here, but not yet". This is the eschatalogical tension we live in. The tension between a yet to be married couple is a metaphor for this longing that exists between Christ and the church for the wedding supper of the Lamb. He longs to be with us, and we long for Him.
  • Revelation 19:7-8 talks about the bride making herself ready, wearing "fine linen, bright and clean". This talks about a season of preparation for the wedding, and as a couple prepares for their wedding and their married life together, so the church must prepare herself for her marriage with Christ. I think that this means more than just preparing for the WEDDING DAY but also preparing for the LIFE OF MARRIAGE.
  • The Genesis 2 account of the creation of Adam and Eve is beautiful. In verse 22, God takes a rib from Adam and creates Eve. In verse 24 it says "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" It struck me today that it's almost that they become one flesh AGAIN. This also is an interesting picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. The church finds its source in Christ, and will again become one with him. In the sort of way that a man and woman become one in marriage. Two distinct persons bonded together as one. This is all the more amazing, because our original verses in Ephesians 5 quotes this 24th verse of Genesis 2. This oneness between husband and wife as described here is what Paul is refering to when he says "but I am talking about Christ and the church".

If all this is so, then Jesus whispers to his church: " me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely." Song of Songs 2:14b. In response, let the cry of the church to Christ be, "[Your] mouth is sweetness itself; [you are] altogether lovely. [You are] my lover, [You are] my friend," Song of Songs 5:16a.

This all blows my mind!!! And I don't think I'm even really getting more than a glimpse of what is an amazing truth, I would concur with Paul when he calls it "a profound mystery"!!

God bless,