Sunday, 17 February 2013

Galatians 5

Having placed before them the refutation of both false doctrine and those who teach it, Paul, through exhortation, brings the Galatians to a moment of choice – Christ, or the Law?

True freedom is only found in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ (Vs 1) – every other means or device is folly. If they decide to keep the requirements of demands that God has entirely nullified through His Son, then they are, in effect, stating that this wonderful gift of God Himself, rescuing and reconciling us, is not good enough, and they will obligate themselves to something they cannot achieve (Vs 2&3). The dreadful result of such a pursuit is a divorce from Christ (Vs 4) – a complete loss of their true justification, and their standing in God’s grace.

Seeking to dress ourselves in our own merit or worth blinds us to how what counts is truly achieved. It is not by adorning the chains of our depravity with works we think are of merit that we find peace and righteousness – such deeds have no more value than remaining without them, just as our attempts to keep the Law amount to as much value, in regards peace and righteousness, as returning to the world. No, what counts is a faith that changes us because it allows us to see the Love of God poured out to us through the precious giving and breaking of His beloved Son (Vs 6) – that is what it truly means to be obedient; to love this precious mercy of God to us. The Galatians had known this, but the pernicious entanglement of false teaching had ensnared them in the lie that they could not be truly free without seeking to add something by their own efforts to the astounding work of Grace (Vs 7). Such poisoned notions mar and pollute the pure liberty that is ours, but Paul teaches us this must not be (Vs 8) – they must be firmly rooted in the freeing work of Christ alone!

The message and the liberation of Jesus is so singularly clear and mending, that Paul has no doubt that now he has clarified the matter, these people, who know the goodness of God’s redemption, will return and the troublesome teachers will be routed (Vs 10). Only then can the truth that seems so shocking and abhorrent to our rebellious religiousness be returned – the offence of Christ crucified (Vs 11). Such truth alone defines the folly of our own fallen piety.

The Life of God

The Gospel, notes Paul, takes us outside of our propensity to dress what is of us as righteous, because it requires us to encounter and to fellowship in something far richer and more substantial that what we are or what we do, which can so easily conclude in spite and division (Vs 13-15).  Genuine Christianity is seeing the life and work of God’s spirit active amongst us in the love that caused God to come amongst us to save us (Vs 16 & 17). We are not saved from the world by our striving to escape wickedness by the Law (Vs 18), which makes evident to us what the sinful nature desires (Vs 19 & 20), but by seeing God’s life work amongst us to bring a manner of change which truly reveals something of the richness of the one who lives within us by His saving work (Vs 22 & 23).

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Shock of the True

(This is my latest on my Nuditus Naturalis blog,  re-posted here by request):

"One is meant to be quite able to behold beauty, online or in reality – and get on with one’s life as though nothing in particular had happened.

It is not an insult to human beauty to suggest that the matter may not be quite so simple. Indeed, it is a tribute to the power of beauty to think otherwise".

Alain De Botton - How to think more about sex.

It's something, I suspect, that happens to everyone of us - that moment when we are totally astonished by beauty. I was recently watching the amazing 'Timescapes'* teaser video of time-lapse photography of the night sky - literally thousands of stars in motion - and was simply staggered at the sheer wonder of the view we have of our galaxy (which, as astronomer's have recently noted, is because we are in the 'goldilocks spot' of our neighborhood). Beauty should overwhelm us, inspire us and transport us into a place where we can only respond by seeking to exult such a marvel, but, like the view of the stars themselves over so much of our urbanized landscape, this awareness has become squashed beneath the 'noise' of the leveling-out of life, art, culture, merely becoming a grain of the milieu, the "pornification", of the whole.
"The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, it is a deliverer of constant excitement which we have no innate capacity to resist, a system which leads us down paths many of which have nothing to do with our real needs. Furthermore, pornography weakens our tolerance for the kind of boredom which is vital to give our minds the space in which good ideas can emerge, the sort of creative boredom we experience in a bath or on a long train journey"  (De Botton).

Back in those days when we were naked and unashamed, our beauty, our actions and words, had a very different goal. These gifts 'spoke' to the rest of creation of the glory and wonder of the creator (Genesis 2:19,20), and thereby reflected the likeness and image of the divine. Adam, in his work in Eden, discovered the very nature of the role of such beauty, and this lead him to the place where he became aware of his own need to see and share such beauty in a manner that 'spoke' back to him, not in the general fashion he had discovered, but profoundly regarding the 'shock' of what it means to be a creature made to share the divine. By entering into the sleep which allowed something to be taken from deep within him, Adam finds himself worshipping the glory that is Eve, and hence, creation is ready to begin to grow in a profound and rich fellowship and expression of that wonder.

All of this reflects the Father, Son and Spirit's ecstatic union which defines the essential nature of the Godhead, and allows us to begin to understand the profound wonder and majesty which lies behind a moment when we encounter and comprehend a moment of true beauty.

So these are the heights from which we so often fall, and fall we do - a brief encounter with the broad fare of the internet confirms only too readily De Botton's insights into how we abuse what is good, and we can all too easily follow suit, merely adding to the caricature instead of pointing to something deeper. Some, of course, say the only answer is to disconnect from it all, but Solomon is quick to remind us that is in the market place that wisdom stands, calling her children, so therein is our broken Eden, still needing the call to truly see the affection between nature and grace in spite of the agony of our fall.

The pain of beauty can still touch us, however we try to blur the image or dim the plea to go deeper, further, into a communion we so often reject. Christ, wrote Paul, is not only the author and finisher of all good things, but the one who will fill all these things with Himself, that He may indeed, be to us, all in all.

Behind beauty lies the deepest romance we can ever know - a love and truth which pursues us through life's deepest pains and death itself. May our somewhat miss-shapen brush strokes seek to point, if only feebly, in that direction.

*Video link:

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Is there a way in?

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"." 

 "These are just a few of the images we've recorded. And you can see, it wasn't what we thought. There's been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable. It's the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There's 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die". "Serenity". 

 There's an astonishing, horrifying moment in some movies when someone finds themselves encountering a truth far greater, far more shocking and terrible than they had expected. 'The Prestige' is a good example, where genuine magic changes the boundaries of possibility, and consequence. Another is Serenity, where the crew discover the truth about the planet Miranda, where the entire population were exposed to an airborne agent that was supposed to pacify and control, but produced horrors. Such revelations fascinate us even as they shock because they point to a reality we often choose to distract ourselves from seeing. 

Beneath all the futility, all of the pain, all of the often depressing aspects of our lives, there is a shocking 'magic' to our existence, and no amount of pacifying agent (ideas that reduce everything to the trite and inconsequential) can prevent us from being exposed to that reality. Magic and Science, noted C S Lewis, are but two sides of the same coin.This came across to me this week with fresh force as I listened to Dr Connor Cunningham giving an introduction to the subject of grace and nature. In his talk, Dr Cunningham touches on the nature of connection between heaven and earth (what might be termed the 'material' and the 'spiritual') and notes that creatures we think of as 'heavenly', such as angels, are just as much a part of the created order as animals, but we so easily divide one from the other. That is because we so quickly define reality by what we can determine through our senses, so even our most rigorous ways of studying and examining the nature of things is confined to this, but theology (revelation) tells us there is much more going on, much more to unpack, and we need to truly grapple with the fact that we live in a universe (as quantum physics shows) where what we define as the miraculous is not only entirely possible, but required. 

This is because our very natures convey a reality that is shocking, terrifying and astonishing - that we are earthy, but equally, something with a potential grander than any angel - what would we be without the stain of evil? Theology opens a door into the world as it truly is.

Friday, 8 February 2013


Sometimes our thinking on the nature of natural life without sin and death can be very vague or miss-construed. Here's a vibrant introduction to thinking well on the subject:


Connor Cunningham talks sense about the relationship between atheism and nihilism and how bad religion can foster woolly thinking:

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Galatians 4

Galatians 4

“This point comprehends a single consolation – that the children of God are gentiles, for they are children of Abraham, not by carnal means, but because of promise”.

Having clarified the nature of God’s work through Christ being the fulfilment of the covenant promise and the law therefore having a subservient role to this, Paul now reminds the church of the ramifications of what Christ has done, and the dangers of loosing sight of the prize of faith.

There was indeed a time when we were outside of the splendour of the riches of Christ, even though God had made these ours in His Son, when we were awaiting the good news of our adoption, and still being ‘schooled’ (the law confirming our poverty) and entangled (sin keeping us in our misery) without that amazing inheritance (Vs 1-3), but that has now ended. God’s Son, seen in kind amidst past times, came and subjected himself to human nature and the burden of the Law to abolish what stood against us and truly makes us those free from such slavery (Vs 4 & 5).  This marvellous adoption has raised us from the abysmal mire of sin and death, broke the shackles of the law, and clothed our dying humanity with the royal splendour of the son ship of Christ Himself, who has become our righteousness and our justification. Nothing more, notes Paul, is required for us to be seen as heirs of an astonishing inheritance (Vs 6). Because of this wonderful achievement of pure grace, the Spirit of Christ is now within us, allowing us to truly begin to see and know God once again as our Father (Vs 7).

It is in the context of such abounding grace that Paul asks why, knowing how dark life is outside of such mercy (Vs 8), why would we choose to discard such a rich and precious work of God and rather place our confidence in something as pathetic and as paltry as an incarceration to those things which merely confined us to a state of exile and alienation from God’s love and kindness (Vs 9). What is the point, says Paul, of all your religious obligations and duties if they have effectively removed you from the riches of grace given in Christ (Vs 10)?

Paul reminds them that there had been a time when they had truly felt a deep affection for him because he had come amongst them in need and weakness, but bringing the richness of Christ (Vs 12-15). Those who now mark him as their enemy, he notes, do so only so they can exalt themselves at your expense, and make you demeaned by their control (Vs 16 & 17), but Paul, who loves them, is like a mother in the pains of childbirth, longing to see Christ alone as the completion of their faith (Vs 19).

Ears to hear

It is here, from his deepest longing to be with them, so he could personally assure them regarding the truth (Vs 20) that he asks them if they truly understand the ramifications of what the law requires (Vs 21). Returning to Abraham, he reminds them of the Patriarch’s other son, Ishmael, who was born purely ‘according to the flesh’ (Vs 22 & 23). He uses this to illustrate two different covenants – the one of promise, from above, and one of bondage, entirely of us (Vs 24-26). Only those born truly free, according to God’s covenant are truly free, for they, like Isaac, will inherit what has been given by God, and escape the rejection of being enslaved to what is only enslaved to the present – to a realm which is in reality more barren than the apparent futility of our present suffering for the message of grace  (Vs 27-31).