Category Archives: Bible

Our collective wrongs

It has been said that every generation and every culture harbour a collective wrong. When we read through history, it is easy to find cultural attitudes and actions which violate the rights of a group of people. These attitudes are often couched in pseudo-scientific terms, and dehumanising phrases are commonly used by the proponents of these attitudes. Societies’ leaders would use moral imperatives in support of their arguments. In some cases, these wrongs were even perpetuated by well-meaning people with a sadly misguided world view.

Those who spoke out against what they saw as grievous wrongs were marginalised, or even hunted down.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller

These injustices have ranged from the tragic (stolen children) through to the terrible (slavery), right through to the monstrous (Nazi genocides).

It is easy to look back at our ancestors and condemn their actions. But are we as a society, today, ready to examine our own motives, understandings, and prejudices?

What are our collective wrongs? What injustices do we not see, or see, and not speak out against?

Corrie: why is she a hero?

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.”
― Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

Corrie Ten Boom suffered more than most of us ever will. And yet she was full of love. She had learned to live in the grace of God. Through the most devestating of circumstances, she depended on Him and His grace was sufficient for her needs.
If that bleak, black time comes for us, I guess all we have to do is ask our Lord for that grace. But perhaps the hardest thing of all is to do just that: it means giving up the hate and giving the hurt to Him, just to make that simplest of requests. No revenge, just forgiveness is all that can remain. He will help us, if we just once ask Him.
Corrie Ten Boom is one of my heroes, for she did not survive the most awful of times on her own willpower, or through determination, or even by being a super holy person. She is my hero because she was able to ask God for that grace.
I pray that I may be spared such sufferings. And yet, that if such sufferings come my way that He will protect my soul and not allow it to become hardened with resentment or hate. And that I can continually ask Him for that grace freely provided by the sacrifice He already made through His son, which purges our sins, and by so doing allows us to love those who have hurt us.

What value my life?

I sometimes ponder on what I value in my life. Or to put it another way, what it would mean to lose certain things. I go through the things, the activities, the people in my life and imagine what it would be to no longer have them there. My house? It’s a lovely house… We put a lot of effort into building it and I enjoy living in it. All the same, I can imagine not having it, and it doesn’t hurt that much. It’s a place to live and I thank God for His provision and yet I don’t feel bound to it. My car? Pfft. It gets us from A to B and the thing I value most about it is that it rarely goes wrong.

So how about my bike? I certainly enjoy riding it. But it just costs money to replace, and God has blessed us with enough money to buy a bike. I don’t feel so attached to the bike itself. Ok then, how about cycling itself?

I do love riding my bike. The challenges, racing and riding with mates, pushing myself physically, the exercise and the well-being it brings. And yet… I could let it all go, and my only real regrets would be losing touch with riding buddies, and the loss of fitness. I’d miss riding, but it wouldn’t destroy me.

My job, my career? The code I create — Keyman; the business I’ve poured myself into — Tavultesoft; and the relationships built, respect earned? I derive a lot of satisfaction from creating computer software: turning a concept into a tool that can really help people. So what if that all disappeared? My position, my abilities, my reputation, my creations? Would that devastate?

It would hurt. I’m sure it would hurt more than I can really imagine. And yet, I can imagine a world without this job. I can’t imagine what I would do, but I can imagine it.

And so as we cut closer to the quick, I start to draw back. All these various blessings of God — those that I take for granted through to those that I spend much of my waking life focused on — stripped away. Like Job. What if it happened to me? Can I really comprehend the pain of the loss of all that?

That pain. It would be as nothing to the loss of my family. That’s the one place I cannot imagine arriving at. The loneliness, my tether to reality severed, my life, my soul, spinning through the void. My wife and daughters: those who are so close and can infuriate, hurt, and exasperate. Those three people who bring such joy to me, a joy that others can only glimpse a pale reflection of when I post a comment on Facebook, or drop an email to them. Even to contemplate losing them stops my heart and starts a cold, cold hurt deep within.

I can’t imagine it. I shy away from the very idea. Job lost his whole family, everything, and yet he would not curse God, nor turn from Him. Do I have such a love for Him that I could continue to worship Him in the face of such devastation? To look for comfort, probably. To be angry with Him, almost certainly! But to worship Him? I don’t know, and my prayer is that He would not allow me to suffer to such a degree that I could come to doubt His love for me.

It is a selfish prayer. So many people in this world suffer such loss that I couldn’t bear. I sit here safe and contemplate this from the safety of my warm home, with my family around me, in a safe and comfortable country. Lord God, shatter me, make me dependent on You and You alone. I am too scared to ask this of You. But this is my tiny step of faith. I am like the father who asked Jesus “help me believe!”

Heroes of Yore

I suppose, if asked to name a hero from the Bible, that many people would choose David. After all, he killed giants, wrote inspiring poetry, and became a glorious king. He represents the pinnacle of Old Testament Israel. But is that really what makes him a hero?

Over the last few months, I have been listening to Charles Swindoll’s book David, A Man of Passion and Destiny, on my bike commutes, and it has been an illuminating experience. David is, like just about every significant person recorded in the Bible, all too human. His passion is his strength and his downfall. The narrative in no way glosses over these failures, which is a big part of what makes the history so compelling. However, as a historical account, it is easy to miss the emotion and the import of key events.

Buried in the middle of a paragraph are a handful of words which I think represent David’s most heroic moment. These few words are uttered by David during the height of his reign as king, after the following story is related to him:

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.

Do you know who told this story and why? It was told to David by Nathan, a prophet, after David slept with a married woman and subsequently had her husband killed (read the full story).

Now David was at the height of his power. His wrongdoing has just been uncovered by Nathan. It would have been well within his ability to have had Nathan killed. But he didn’t kill Nathan. Instead he stopped and said: “I have sinned.” Just step back for a moment and think about that. When is the last time you heard one of our political leaders take responsibility for their actions like that? How hard is it to admit that you are wrong; and even harder when you have every facility within your grasp to avoid it?  David didn’t even have an opposition party to denounce him: he was king and could do whatever he wanted.

That’s heroism.

1 Samuel 4

In 1 Samuel, the Israelites use the ark of the covenant in a futile effort to wield God’s power against their enemies. They’ve just fought a battle against the Philistines, with devastating losses and are desperate for a way to turn the tide. They decide to take the ark into battle, and the high priest Eli does not stop them, though he is anxious about the outcome. But when battle is joined, the Israelites are destroyed: 30,000 of their soldiers are slain, and the ark is captured by the Philistines. How could God let this happen?

I know the idea of “God is on our side” in modern wars is neither new nor unchallenged. I’ve been thinking about a different aspect of this: the difficulty of Christians in power in western democracies. It certainly is the case that Christian morals, ideals and world view do not mesh with the whole electorate. This becomes a problem for the Christian in power as he is a representative for the people, and while he can lead with his Christian beliefs, at some point these will come into conflict with the wishes of “the people.” I think there is a tendency among us to try and elect a Christian because somehow having a Christian in power will further the cause of God. Are our Christian politicians like our Ark of the Covenant being carried into the battle to capture the country for God? What is the cause of God? Does He need earthly leaders to promote it?

And what if the Ark was captured? That is, what if our Christian politicians are compromised? Either by the exercise of power itself or by the insidious nature of compromise required by our modern democratic system?

Just like the Israelites, we need to be looking at our lives. If we are seeing chaos in our society, it’s partly because we haven’t done what we ought to have done. From sexual abuse by clergy, through to divorce in the church, from the politics of the organised church through to my own lacklustre commitment: these are the things that bring down our Christian community, and not the leadership of the country. Time and time again God has shown that he works in ways that are not the world’s ways.

None of this is to say that Christian leadership is wrong, or that we shouldn’t be promoting Christian beliefs and values in our society. But neither of these things in-and-of themselves are going to bring about the change that we are seeking: that change happens in each individual’s heart, and happens only with God’s direct touch. How can a Christian politician help in God’s cause? By being a witness to those around him. By obeying God and leaving the rest up to Him.

Luke 16

Luke 16 is a fascinating chapter. Jesus starts off with a parable in which, at a casual read, he seems to be commending devious behaviour, then he tosses in a single sentence about divorce before launching into a story with a very metaphysical flavour which differs radically from his normal down-to-earth parables.

We studied this passage at Bible study this week and our rector John preached on it today. I struggled a bit to understand what Jesus was really saying about money in the first parable: is he really saying that using money to win friends is good, regardless of whose money it actually is? Or is he using hyperbole: even a dishonest manager can use his resources to make friends: how much more should we do this? Another alternative is that the manager was cutting his commission. Or perhaps these were bad debts and he figured by cutting them, they’d be more likely to be paid, and at the same time he’d earn the friendship of the debtors, and the commendation from the rich man for making the best of a bad debt. Interestingly my wife had no problem with the parable. She read the final interpretation.

Whatever the meaning intended by Jesus, we can be sure that he was not condoning dishonest behaviour. The Pharisees reacted badly to this parable — I guess they read it as an attack on their high regard for material wealth.

The second parable is curious because it uses Jewish pictures of heaven and hell in a way that I can’t recall in any other parables. Jesus’ other recorded parables used scenarios from life: banquets, journeys, weddings and so on. So why did Jesus choose this imagery?

He makes a very pointed comment at the end of the parable of course: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” The message of the parable is also about the motivations of the heart: is it God or money that you are following? I like the picture and scenario: it’s very vivid! But I would still like to know why Jesus chose this imagery.

And finally, I wish I knew why Luke chose to sandwich the divorce passage between these two parables!