Saturday, 5 November 2016

Looking for the city

"There is a river which makes glad the city of God, the habitation of the most high". 
Psalm 46:4

Ever been caught in the middle of a big storm? It can be pretty terrifying.
I had an experience back in the Spring which really scarred me. I was in the middle of the moors on Dartmoor, and visibility had reduced down to around 12-15 feet due to the mist. The Sat Nav we were using lost signal, and in moments, we were uncertain as to our direction. Then the rain came, lashing into us on a strengthening wind, soaking us to our skins through layers of clothing in minutes. The rain started to chill my body, and I could feel my legs freezing up. We were in serious trouble. Thankfully, at that moment, the dark shadow of the only building for miles appeared close by, and we were able to reach shelter, but it was a close call.

In Psalm 46, the sons of Korah see the present world in similar terms. When we look at things politically, economically, socially, then it does indeed appear that the earth gives way, the mountains shift into the depths of the sea, and those waters engulf what seemed so certain with a roar of overwhelming power.
What are we to do?

The answer lies in our coming to understand that there is something far more permanent than any of these swirling forces. At the end of the song of songs, the lovers have learned that nothing, not even death, is stronger than love, and that they can confide and rest in that mercy, as their experiences had taught them. The Psalmist here equally instructs us to a higher view - that God is a refuge amidst such troubles. As nations rage in their rising and falling, we can look to something greater and richer to aid us - to make us glad - in these days. We're not going to see the troubles end (that happens when The Gospel has reached every corner of the world), but there is help amidst those trials.

Mike Horton in his book, Beyond Culture Wars notes that there is only one remedy to the furor of the day, and for us to look beyond politics or moral crusades - the answer does not reside there. It can only be found in the stream that flows from Zion above - the river of mercy which brings us the good news of Jesus Christ. This alone can set us free.

God alone will bring peace to the earth, when His kingdom comes. 
Until then, His people, through their living, vocations, recreation and worship, should be seeking to engage in one thing above everything else - a holding out of the word of life (Philippians 2:16), because it is here and here alone, in our current trials, that we can taste and know something of the joy that is coming - the peace with God made ours in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women at the well (John 4), it wasn't to bring her some collection of electoral pledges or moral and social imperatives - it was to feed her with the waters of life. Our manner of living, especially before our friends and neighbors, should be to do just the same (Romans 13:1-8). The 'wood, hey and stubble' of fools wisdom is everywhere, but the treasure that is more precious than rubies is only found in the fragrance and sweetness of the message of Jesus.

God 'brings' desolation for a purpose, and storms can often be the essential step towards our finding and truly appreciating refuge. It's then that we can truly be stilled and know His transcendence and imminence, and understand that the day is coming when He will truly be seen as Lord of all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

All bad but us?

"We have met the enemy, and he is us".

There's probably nothing that's worse in life than a sense of powerlessness - the discovery that you're incarcerated in a manner that leaves you incapable to determine or change what matters and thereby leaves you bereft at the very core of what counts.

I was bluntly made aware whilst listening to an annual lecture this week that modern society considers people like me to be so beguiled. You see, I've fallen under the illusion that when I consider the universe around me to speak of majesty and thereby design, I have been duped by an illusion that naturalism dogmatically propounds is superficial. Yes, there may be an 'appearance' of design about us, say those leading this charge, but the real story is, of course, evolution, so any adherence to the notion of purpose is tilting at windmills.

This deceptively circular conclusion reminded me a little of the reasoning of the fantasy movie some friends got to take me to see recently, in which a scientist contends with a mystic that we're all just dust and that images and ideas which say otherwise belong on nothing but gift shop cards. The mystic proceeds to 'open' the multiverse to the scientist's mind to contend this, but as the plot unfolds, numerous people die (become dust) and all the mysticism actually changes nothing about the natural state of affairs (decay and death), so, there you go - that's all there is.

Well, that's fair enough if that is all there is to say on these subjects, but it isn't.
Go back to the first point - does science show us that seeing design is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors act? Naturalists may like to thinks so, but as I've touched on here at other times, leading physicists in their most honest moments will tell you that such views are saturated with lashings of desirable conjecture to keep the ardent atheist rested in their assumptions, but that's as far away from what we actually do know as pinning down the real nature of who and what we are.

We have to start with the nature of what's really going on in this striking yet crippled thing called humanity - what is that trying to tell us? We have all manner of guises to keep ourselves from soberly looking at that, and the world that actually surrounds us, so until there's at least a little willingness to crack open that reflection, we're not really going to see who we truly are and what is happening in front of us.

The painful truth that Christianity points us to is that we first have to understand not just what we have discovered, but how much we have lost - that our race is currently alienated from what and where it should be, but the appetite and perception of there being much more hasn't left us. The reality is that we are powerless to really change this, no matter how much we learn or how loudly we object via our various alternative notions. The prison doesn't dissolve, and the greater reality can still be glimpsed through the bars, however constraining they may be. We need one from outside of our predicament, our disconnected state, to break through and change the nature of our unbreakable futility. Christianity reveals that this has happened at one particular place in our history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and what He has done disposes of all the other 'gift cards', whatever their particular denomination, because only He has broken down what divides us from what is meant to be - a home that will bring an end to all futility. In truth, then, we not only have to confront the issue of the transcendence of God, witnessed in the marvel of Creation's declaration, but His immanence by His becoming one of us, and doing so to rescue what had become lost.  

We can, of course, chose to see that as delusional, and stay behind the prison walls, but why would we choose to do so? The only answer is that we really do not wish to truly see and understand our own  situation, or the rescue that has been given to remedy this.

Materialism tells us that what we see and inhabit truly matters, but only in a temporal, transitory fashion - it will all come to dust. Christianity tells us that the ruin and decay are temporary - a repercussion of our rejection of life from God - but the day is closing when all things are redeemed in Jesus Christ and begin to inhabit their true estate.

Take a look through the bars, and ask yourself - isn't it better to engage with the wonder, as we were meant to?