Sunday, 29 September 2013

Gripping the Fig Leaves

"We are all like foolish puppets, who desiring to be kings, now lye hopelessly crippled, after cutting all our strings"  Randy Stonehill.

Hard boiled confidence about who and what we are is everywhere. Just look at the popular tweets and phrases people post all day everyday and you'll see the problem isn't belief, which is really bizarre when we actually consider what is deemed irrefutable about human existence. You're born, you live and you die, in a universe that, in those hard terms, is, as far as we can tell, totally indifferent about us being here, about whether we survive, and doesn't give a damn about how we feel about it.

So why all the bells and whistles? Why do we seek to fill our time and heads with the idea that we have some meaning, that what we decide to do today counts, and that we should, indeed, seek to make it all count? 

Well, you can take the view that it's just a 'meme' cul-de-sac... an evolutionary hick-up that just comes with the particular territory of being us, or you can entertain the thought that it all points to the fact that there's more going on, and more to unpack here.

Genesis tells us that when Adam became aware of what he was without the innocence of the garden, that he covered himself and told Eve to do the same.
Humanity didn't seek an answer to its malady - it clothed itself in its self-made poverty, and when God asked us to look at the results, we raised our defiance, lied our socks off about our tragedy, and exiled ourselves from love.

Religion is all about keeping us right there, bared in our own self exultation, but God raises a different image of worth - one which means we truly become people bared of such pretense, open to true worth and meaning once again.

I've said to several of my friends, just take some time to look at Jesus Christ - not our formulated ideas about Him, but the man Himself, as He speaks to us through the words and actions recorded in the Gospels. Not many do, because once you take that step, you're confronted with a humanity, a depth, that leaves us without the fig leaves, running for cover again.

Beyond the cliché's of Facebook and the face we present to the world, there's the pain of what we all face, and the grave before us. Jesus Christ is the only one in the history of our little world who says, there is a way back, and it'll change everything.

Why not take a look for yourself?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

An 'Ecology of Evil'?

"From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed
From a Distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance".

Yesterday, I touched on the legacy of Robert Farrar Capon, briefly alluding to his wonderful focus upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ as the underlying glory and truth of history, and the catholic ramifications for us all. In Capon's theology, there simply is no value for religion which seeks to blind us to such splendor and romance. I love how he rightly sees this as the truth that underpins everything else, leaving no place for some dualistic divide between the material and the spiritual (God is truly here!), but I also pointed out that there are a few problems, and one of the deepest I have is with regards to Capon's understanding of evil in creation.

Here's a quote from something he said in a 2004 interview with Tim Brassell  (italics added): 

"To return to (my book), Genesis: the Movie, the world as it’s presented in the mind of God in chapter one of Genesis is good. Evil doesn’t show up until chapter three. Obviously, however, evil is built into the world from the beginning. When God makes the creatures of the sea, how do they live? They eat each other. When he makes the creatures of the land—same thing.
He makes the world as an ecology—it works by life and death. Death is the engine that drives life—creatures kill and eat one another to stay alive. Even plants die so that animals can live. And it has always been that way—it’s the nature of creation. Creation is an ecology of life and death, and it works! The brilliance of the ecology is that it is created purposely to operate on sheer chance, that is, creatures eat the next edible thing that they see. Foxes eat chickens and so on. All that is done within the ecology God set in place".
Capon's view works because, as in the song above, God views creation 'from a distance', so from such a pinnacle, there are 'no guns, no wars, no disease', and everything is "good", even though death is the key principal already at work!
If we truly believe the opening passages of Genesis, however - that all things were created not only 'good', but 'very good' - a genuine delight to the giver of life - this cannot surely be right. Does God truly enjoy a world concluded in death and the evil that accompanies this? If nature is primarily red in tooth and claw, then what have we to say - there may as well be only a future made cold by entropy, than a eternity of cruelty and blood.
Now whilst I entirely accept that there is a 'mystery' of death at work even in Eden (Genesis 2:21) and the primal creation (Genesis 1:11), this was something inherently different to the nature of death which came about as a direct result of the fall of humanity (2:17), which denuded us of our original glory (2:25, 3:10). Evil, so far as humanity's nature is concerned, begins not in Eve's beguiling (3:6), but in the willful rebellion of Adam choosing to justify his rebellion before a God searching for him (3:8,12, Romans 5:12). It was, we are told, as a direct result of this event that sin not only became inherently part of us, but that nature itself changed (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:20), so that all things in heaven and earth require redemption, provided in Jesus Christ at the cross (Colossians 1:19, 20).
God's work of redemption in Christ, therefore, is not only the underlying truth of all things, it is evidenced in the new creation, which makes all things 'new' (renewed to their original glory - Job 19:25,26).
Why, then, is there a form of death in Genesis (amidst some living things)? This, surely, is because of our one great need in Eden - to discover the love of our creator to us in His Son. How this would have become more evidenced can only be glimpsed at, hinted at, in those short moments of Genesis 2, in the creation of Eve, but it was clearly God's intent to show us much more, explicit in the presence of the tree of life (Martin Luther's commentary on this makes for interesting reading!).
The enduring and meaningful work of God is marked by bringing life, because that is inherent to His nature (John 1: 4). Sin, evil and death (aside from a means of redemption) are contrary to this, so the aim, the goal of His work is to bring about a culture where these things are no more (Revelation 21: 4, 24, Romans 8:21) - God Himself being at the very core of this, tasting death for all, to make what He loves truly free.
The 'ecology' of Eden shall be seen again, but it shall be one where the rule of the tree of life, sustained by the throne of the Lamb, is fruitful forever.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What Really Counts

Robert Farrar Capon left us this week, and will be truly missed, not because you would agree with everything he said, but because, even if you vehemently disagreed, he put you into a mode of thinking afresh on things that really mattered, and that is no small gift.

When he was right, however, it was wonderful, and his focus on the catholicity of God's grace amidst a world corrupted by religion was spot on.
His books are really worth a look. Here's just a sample quote of his genius: 
The reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.  Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale, neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

I am deeply indebted to such wisdom.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The familiar stairway

Up a few hairpin turns and then spread out below
The valley appeared with the sun
Like Elysium

Elysium by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

It's been a summer of Science Fiction about us and our world.

First up was Oblivion, a post-apocalyptic story with a twist with regards to why the earth has been ravaged and why an act of redemption (sacrifice to save what remains of actual humanity) is required to set things straight.

Then there was After Earth, which explores a future where humanity has been off-world for a thousand years, but when a ship crash-lands, a Father and Son have to confront the realities of what has happened to a realm devoid of humanity.

Finally, there is Elysium. Set half way though the next century, it explores a divided society, where earth has become an overpopulated and ruined ghetto, so the rich and powerful live in orbit on a vast station where virtual immortality is in reach. The story examines questions of inhumanity and injustice, and what it truly means to be part of our world.

What is interesting about all these films is the underlying theme - that a crucial element of our future as people is intrinsically related to our connection to this world - to the inherent 'rightness' of being creatures born from and united to this place.

This is an essential theme in Christianity.
In the very chapter which talks about the transforming nature of faith (Hebrews 11), which uncouples us from the present darkness of this realm (vs 13), it's fascinating to unpack the examples the writer focuses upon and what these state about our relationship to our home.

After using the examples of Abel and Enoch to show that what will truly matter is unaffected by death (which seems such a hurdle for us!), the passage looks at Abraham, who left one place to establish roots in another, knowing by God's promises that this would be the basis of something which would last forever (vs 12). Then, after briefly looking at resurrection in the establishing of a nation (vs 17-22), we are guided to look at Moses, who leads the people out of their present slavery back into the land promised to Abraham (vs 23-32). Such faith allowed these men to know that what they sought amidst this world was the appearance of a better homeland (vs 16) - a fulfillment of the promises made by the one who framed and filled creation by His living word (vs 3), which brings such light and life even amidst a broken world, and thereby redeems it. It is just such a city - creation underpinned and regained by a full redemption - that was their hope, and ours (12:28), and it could not really be otherwise. Our deepest desires, as this summer's movies remind us, is to see the far-too-near overhanging rock-face of eternity encountered in every sunrise, or moment of profound experience answered by the knowledge that all will be well on earth because it has been made so by the man from heaven, and that the day approaches when that truth will forever establish and resonate through all things (Colossians 1:15-20).

Christianity is not an 'after death escape route for souls deemed of merit', as some would have us believe. It is God loving all He has made, seeking to renew all, through the coming of Jesus Christ. The day Christ returns is the day of that renewal.

Perhaps we can take a fresh look at some of these recent films and reflect they are 'saying' something that resides at the very core of God's promises - His work, His world, matters, and He's totally engaged in its future.