A few months ago the Girl Guides changed the oath that girls are expected to make upon joining. Rather than promising to serve God and country instead the girl guides now promise to be “true to myself and develop my beliefs”. It probably wasn't the intent of the girl guide organisation but they have unwittingly provided a devastating critique of Western secular society.
We live in the age of Me, an age where morality is determined, not by any objective standard, but by the fickle reason of our egos. All that matter is being true to "myself". We see this in the issue of transgender individuals insisting that biological gender is second place to the decision of Me to be the gender Me wants. We see this in the issue of abortion where Me chooses to rid Myself of an unnecessary inconvenience rather than valuing the life of Another. We see this in society's attitude to sex where the only moral consideration is the consent of two Mes. We see this in the consumer society where Me has to appear better, richer, cooler than anyone else. And we see this in the greed and selfishness which typifies so much of human existence – Me gets what Me wants over the opinions and actions of any other.
When did narcissism become such a sure decider of right and wrong? Yet listening to the moral debates that are had by our society reveals that the only factor under consideration seem to be doing what Me wants as long as it doesn't harm another. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that such a compromise is possible. The wants of Me will inevitably conflict with the wants of another Me. The desires of Me will eventually only be fulfilled at the expense of another.
Nothing quite gets a Christian's gender appropriate knickers in a twist like the issue of guidance. Partly, this is because we all love to cloak our decisions with spirituality. I well remember being romantically rejected with the line: I feel God is saying no. There is no worse line - for rejection is bad enough without it coming from the mouth of the Almighty! Ladies, please, for the sake of men everywhere, don't use such language (God only speaks through Scripture anyway so it's not even theologically correct!)
I can't claim to have my theology of guidance sorted out in my head. Give me another fifty years and I might have something close to one. But the issue has been on my mind a lot over the last year because of having to choose what to do after university and so I figured I'd share my thoughts.
There's a book written by Kevin DeYoung called Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. As the title gives away the book is a reaction against Christian mysticism. His basic point is that God made us intelligent human beings, capable of making decisions and that as long as we are immersed in God's word, seeking advice and praying faithfully about things then we are free to make the decisions that seem best. I read the book around three years and was quite struck by it. Now though, I feel it goes too far and throws the baby out with the bathwater. While Mr DeYoung rightly decrys the sort of Christian mysticism that puts great store in dreams and little in the wisdom found in the Bible he leaves little room for the guidance of God.
Yesterday, on the bus I read in the Metro that a man had died while doing a charity trek in Greenland, a few weeks earlier I read a similar story of a woman who died during a Channel swim, in both cases who can't help but feel sympathetic that two people have died while trying to raise money for charity?
But, at the same time, these stories helped confirm an idea that has been rolling around my head for a while now. The way giving happens in the Western world is a graceless affair and is instead based on personal work.
We've all been at the end of a friend's sponsorship request. They are going to do something particularly hard (or stupid) and in return we give them money that will go to charity. The end result of this is good - money going to charity. But the method is really strange if given a moment's thought.
Let's imagine for a moment that someone was to write an honest sponsorship blurb:
When it comes to worshipping God the immediate reality which springs to mind is the necessity for being led in worship. For I know my own heart, how cold and stubborn it can be to the gospel reality; how distracted it can become from thinking heavenly thoughts and how blurred and far away God can appear when the worries and cares of this life loom large. When worshipping God I know my heart should melt and overflow with love and joy and a holy awe but instead there can be nothing but doubt and unbelief. Christ should be my all in all not my occasional vague thought.
I need to be led into worship: my heart coaxed into a better frame of mind, my eyes taken off this world and set upon heavenly things and my faith stoked into greater flames that burn away the shards of doubt so that zeal for the Lord overcomes me.
This is no small task. And it strikes me as odd that there are people who would claim to be worship leaders. For it is not a position easily filled. Indeed, it is a position with only one qualified person available for to fill it. Our only worship leader is Jesus Christ.
As Jesus dies on the cross, a criminal is dying next to him. Jesus turns to him and says: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v43). This is a remarkable statement considering the bleak predicament of the thief. And it begs the question: how can this dying thief be promised paradise? How can he get to heaven?
Let's say we were in the position to judge his case. Perhaps we might start with all the good he has done in his life; do his good deeds outweigh his bad? That might make him worthy of salvation. But no, the punishment for crucifixion is reserved for the worst of criminals – at the very least he is likely to be guilty of murder. His life is altogether worthless. But how about the rest of his life? Could he not reform his ways and seek to redeem himself with suitable acts of charity? Ah, but, he's dying on a cross and will be dead within a day. He's in no position to do good, no position to do anything but die, his deeds are complete, nothing can change the balance on the scales. Hang on though, many people think they will get to heaven because they have been baptised once. But alas, he has not been sprinkled with water or dunked underneath. There's no hope for him there.
Indeed, this thief is not rich, powerful or intelligent (he was caught after all) and has no friends to help him or priest to bless him or even anyone to pray for him. He has nothing and has done nothing worthy of salvation and can do nothing to make him worthy. We know as well that he even insulted the very man who is now promising him heaven (Matthew 27v44 records both criminals insulting Jesus). The last hours of this man's life would seem to be hopeless but then we have the promise of Jesus that this thief would join Jesus in paradise that very day.
This would beg two questions: how can such a salvation be promised and who is Jesus to make the promise? The answer to both those questions can be found in the one answer. If we go back a few verses and get the whole scene we can learn more:
As the normalisation of homosexuality becomes increasingly prevalent within the United Kingdom then the evangelical church finds itself increasingly at odds with the moral views of society. And over recent months this conflict between 'secular' morality and Christian morality has become more intense and has even led to more than a few churches leaving, or committing to leave, the Church of Scotland. The most frustrating thing about the debate is the amount of false accusations levelled at Christianity. It comes as no surprise, for in any battle it makes sense to portray the opponents in the worst possible light. So there is a great deal of confusion out there on what Christianity teaches and why we object so strongly to gay marriage and homosexuality. This is an attempt to clear up some of the myths.
Myth: Christianity is all about hating gays
This is, I think, the most understandable myth in the sense that usually the only time Christianity makes the news is in relation to the issue of homosexuality. But it's still a myth. To illustrate this point then I'd like you to guess how many sermons I've heard on the issue of homosexuality. Bear in mind that I've been going to church all my life and heard an awful lot of sermons... The answer is zero, while it's been mentioned in passing if it was relevant to the Bible passage we were looking at then I can't recall a single sermon that was centred on this issue. I'm not saying ministers never preach on homosexuality, they do, or that they shouldn't, but I am saying that there are a lot of other things in Christianity which are, frankly, more important.
My second objection to this myth is the use of the word hate. For while, as a Christian, I object to the practise of homosexuality it does not extend to hating people who are gay. The command of Jesus is to "love your neighbour as yourself" and that means that though I do think homosexuality and gay marriage are both wrong then behind all my actions must be a love for all my fellow human beings.
Having watched The New Adventures of Superman when I was younger than I have a lot of nostalgia tied up with the character. Some people find him boring but, you know, he flies and can punch through concrete and lasers come out his eyes, I still think that's pretty cool. And it came as no surprise to me when a link appeared on my Facebook feed to an article on the parallels between Superman and the Gospel. The last movie, Superman Returns, went the whole hog and played up the parallels big time by portraying Superman as a Messianic type figure including one scene where he floated above the city, arms spread out in crucifixion pose listening to the cries or “prayers” of the people,
Even in the latest film, then there was a lot of talk about “believing” in Superman with Russell Crowe even saying that he would be like a god to the people of earth. But despite drawing heavily on religious, specifically Christian, imagery and thought then both films, indeed, any positive comparison between Superman and Jesus misses the point of who Jesus is. Of course, the big difference is that Superman is fiction and Jesus is both historical reality (when he walked this earth) and eternal reality (glorified in Heaven). But laying that aside there is still much to discuss.
Not so long ago, in a place not too far away, there lived a boy who would only eat Frubes. In his defence, he was four years old and Frubes are very nice. For those who have never had the delight of eating a Frube, they are long thin packets of yogurt that can be peeled open and sucked out. The particularly adventurous can even try to suck all the yogurt out in one go. Despite these considerations, the Boy's parents were not best impressed with their son's eating habit. "It's a phase; he'll grow out of it." They said to one another, the classic excuse for unusual behaviour in children, an excuse that is generally used until their twentieth birthday.
For six months they did nothing about it and the boy seemed to suffer no ill effects. He asked as many questions as usual, ran about with the same vigour and threw things in the toilet with the same regularity. As his fifth birthday approached his parents decided that enough was enough and they were going to cure him of his attachment to Frubes. Well, they tried everything: chips, cakes, chocolates, waffles, three course dinners, lobster, quail eggs, burgers, in desperation they even tried healthy foods! But it was all to no avail, he shook his young head at it all and went back to happily sucking on Frubes. When they took away his Frubes he stopped eating completely and threw tantrum after tantrum.
With all options exhausted, they took him to the doctors who after much prodding, poking, question answering and no less than three blood tests, pronounced him perfectly able to consume other foodstuffs. His parents shared a horror filled glance and asked what the problem was. Their doctor scratched the back of his head, uncertain whether his conclusion would satisfy them: "Your son is simply too lazy to do anything else. He doesn't want to chew, he doesn't want to lift up a knife and fork, it's all just too much effort."
This question does come with an admittedly large number of assumptions behind it. It assumes, for instance, that you will die this very night which is a hopefully unlikely event. But considering that death will one day take you then it is not so much an assumption as a jump ahead in time to that day when death will come. Another assumption the question makes is the existence of God and the need to defend yourself before him. We'll get to these momentarily. Suffice to say, this question is of no small significance and deserves sober reflection for the matters it touches upon are of eternal importance.
There can be nothing more important that our standing before our Creator. So many people think about God the wrong way round. They ask themselves: "What do I think of God?" when a far more vital question is: "What does God think of me?" It may be that you are perfectly happy with the idea that God exists. But what does God think of your existence and life before him?
The question above helps to get us to consider these issues. It is, I hope, a useful question to ponder. For death has a way of stripping us of all illusions and delusions and focusing our minds away from trivial matters and onto weightier ones. Naked we enter the world and naked we depart. Wealth, talent and success just isn't going to be of any use in death for we take nothing with us.
With my final ever university exam tomorrow and a desperate need to engage in some form of productive procrastination I was trying to think of a suitable topic to write about when Good Omens sprang to mind. It’s a fantasy book written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, before they were both famous, which I picked up a good five or more years ago. It’s something of a cult classic and they record in the foreword that many of their readers have dropped the book in the bath or some form of liquid. Thinking: “What a bunch of idiots” I then proceeded to do exactly that.
The story is a mix of Just William and the Apocalypse, where the ‘Anti-Christ’ is an eleven year old boy called Adam Young, who was meant to grow up the son of an American diplomat, thus setting him up for a life of pure festering evil but due to swapping the wrong children around he ends up being brought up in a quiet British village by normal parents. At the same time, Crawley, a demon, and Aziraphale, an angel, are both trying to stop the end of the world from occurring having grown fond of humanity and, more importantly, developed their own working friendship.
The first time I read it some years ago it made me uncomfortable as, though it is a fantasy book, it borrows heavily from Christian imagery, striking a little too close to reality. But this second time, I’ve found it easier to view it as pure fiction, no different than reading Harry Potter or any other fantastical work. And like all such works, it has a message, a grand point to make about human nature.
There’s a lot to say about the book but I’m going to concentrate on what’s probably their main point. It comes as Adam Young faces up to the forces of Heaven and Hell and argues for the continued existence of humanity, without any interference. Crawley says about Adam: “He grew up human! He’s not Evil Incarnate or Good Incarnate, he’s just… a human incarnate-” (italics not mine). This sentence is packed with worldview implications and it’s worth exploring them.