Thursday, April 25, 2024

Something greater than me

Our post-Easter break was cut short. Something came up that necessitated the wife and me returning home a day early. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened. On the contrary. We had booked a week in the lovely Herefordshire village of Eardisley. The original intention had been to arrive on Easter Monday and stay until Saturday. But that’s not how it worked out. After the reservation was made it was announced that Paul Weller was due to perform at the newly refurbished Bristol Beacon on the Friday evening. Hence the change of plans.

I’ve been a fan of Weller ever since I was a teenager and he fronted The Jam, followed by The Style Council, and then as a solo artist. He has a new album out this month, called ‘66’ (his age this year, apparently). Back in April he played a series of concerts across the UK to promote his latest offering. At the Bristol gig Weller played a variety of old and new songs, including the first single to be released from his forthcoming album, ‘Soul Wandering’. It’s an intriguing track, full of spiritual yearning. Weller sings, ‘I want to believe in something greater than me’. You’ll find it on YouTube if you fancy a listen.

It seems that even being a successful rock musician has not satisfied the singer’s soul. The idea of believing in ‘something greater than me’ put me in mind of the teachings of Anselm (1033-1109 AD), the great Medieval Archbishop of Canterbury. His writings are an expression of faith seeking a deeper understanding of God and his ways. The theologian proposed that God is, "something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought". He is a perfect being, without flaw or creaturely limitations.

But how could such a God be known that we may believe in him? The Christian faith teaches that God has revealed himself to us through the universe he created by his powerful Word. The world we encounter each day speaks to us of the wisdom, power and goodness of our Creator. Further, God reveals himself by his written Word, the Bible. The pages of Scripture disclose God’s matchless being, mighty acts and righteous laws. Above all, God has revealed himself to us by the Living Word he sent into the world, Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit he has poured out upon his people.

According to the Bible we are lost and wandering, far from God due to sin. Jesus came to bring us back to God by laying down his life for our sins on the cross. Are you also longing to believe in, ‘something greater than me’? Your wandering soul will find rest in returning to the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is none greater.

* For the May edition of various local parish magazines 

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Time Passes


“Time passes” wrote Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood, “Listen. Time passes.” It certainly does. The ebbing away of an old year and the promise of a new one makes us acutely aware of the passing of time. The joys and sorrows of 2023 are gone and can never be recovered. Crane our necks as we may, we cannot peer into the future.
In his great work, The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) ponders the nature of time. He can’t quite pin it down, reflecting, “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would be no present time.
Augustine addresses the question, ‘What was God doing before the creation of the world?’ He points out that the question is based on a misunderstanding. ‘Before’ is a time-bound category. We should not think that God waited for ages and ages before creating the universe. The world originated not in time, but with time. Modern day scientists agree. The clock only started ticking at the beginning of creation.
God is infinite and eternal. He had no beginning and will have no end. His life does not depend on anything outside of himself. The Lord God  exists beyond the world of time and space that he created. The vast universe cannot contain him. His power is not diminished by the passing of time. As the Bible says, “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
God created all things by his Word and through his Spirit to display his wisdom, power and goodness. What the Bible calls ‘sin’ is our rebellion against the Creator, our stubborn refusal to live for his glory. But God did not write off fallen humanity. He entered the world of time and space as one of us to rescue human beings from sin. John writes in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Time passes. The old year has gone and a new year has dawned. Many opportunities will no doubt present themselves in 2024. Above all, let us seek the Lord while he may be found and call upon him while he is near. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

‘You shall call his name Jesus’


“What's in a name?” asked Shakespeare’s character, Juliet, “That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.” Smell as sweet, maybe, but I can't help thinking that roses are called roses and turnips, turnips for a reason. Although, maybe the Bard had a point. When it comes to the names our parents bestowed on us, or we gave to our children, I doubt the meaning of the name was a big factor.

My mum wanted to call me Alexander, which has a rather distinguished ring to it. But my dad registered the birth and dubbed me Guy. The name means ‘wood’, apparently. I  guess the name was chosen more for how it sounded than what it meant. Unless he thought I looked as thick as two short planks. Oh, well. I’m stuck with it now. 

When it came to naming Jesus, Mary and Joseph had little choice in the matter. For according to the Gospel accounts he was named by the angel of the Lord. First, Mary was told, ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ Then Joseph was informed concerning Mary, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus’, with the added word of explanation ‘for he will save his people from their sins.’

‘Jesus’ is the Greek version of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’, which means ‘the Lord saves’. In Jesus’ case his name could not have been more fitting. The Bible teaches that the Son of God came into the world as a human being to bring us back to God. He lived a perfect, blameless life, died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead. Now we may be saved, by faith in Jesus.

As the angel of the Lord said to the shepherds of old, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’

‘What’s in a name?’ In the name of Jesus we find salvation.

*For various local parish magazines 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

When dinosaurs roamed the earth

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there', wrote L.P. Hartley. Just how foreign and exotic is the past was brought home to me the other week. My wife and I went to hear the author Tom Holland give a talk on his new book, Pax: War and Peace in Rome’s Golden Age (see report here). In the opinion of Edward Gibbon, the era covered by this work (69-138AD) was ‘the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous’. Not so much, perhaps, if you were a woman.

These days there is widespread outrage if allegations are made that a powerful man has exploited his position to gain sexual favours. #MeToo scandals have engulfed the words of politics, business, entertainment and the police. All that would have made no sense in ancient Rome. It was the expectation that rich and powerful men were entitled to pounce on anyone they pleased. 

As a boy Holland was fascinated by the heroes of Rome. To him they were the awe-inspiring apex predators of history. But as he grew up and immersed himself in the ancient world, the author found himself appalled by the monstrous cruelty and depravity of Rome’s overlords. Holland realised that he was viewing the mighty emperors of old from the perspective of someone who lived in a culture that was steeped in the Christian faith. He tells that story in his previous work, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind.

In his preface to Pax, the author describes Christians living in the period of Rome’s ‘Golden Age’ as ‘Mesozoic animals in an ecosystem dominated by dinosaurs’. Those tiny Christian ‘mammals’ seemed pretty insignificant as they scurried  around at the feet of towering T-Rex figures like the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. But they sparked a revolution that still affects the way we think today.

Christians held that men as well as women are made in the image of God. That is the basis of equal rights. Christ is pictured as a husband who loved the church as his bride and gave himself up for her on the cross. In the light of that the church upheld the importance of marriage and men were forbidden to use women just as they pleased. The #MeToo movement only makes sense in that context. 

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians we discover the meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs. The impact of that meteorite is still sending shockwaves around the world centuries later: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28)

*For November editions of various local parish magazines 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Losing our religion

According to a survey cited in The Times newspaper, around 75% of Church of England clergy believe that the UK can no longer be called a Christian country. The latest census data bears that out. In 2011 the number of people identified as Christian was 60%, but by 2021 that had dropped to 46%.

For hardline secularists the decline of Christianity in our country may be an occasion for rejoicing. But as Rod Liddle argued in a recent column in The Sunday Times, what we’re left with as Christian influence has receded is a more individualistic society, devoted to the pursuit of material gain. The trouble is that looking after number 1 and buying endless stuff online hardly satisfies the deepest longings of our souls.

Similarly, as Celia Walden reflected in an article in The Telegraph, we’ve swapped the worship of God for the worship of self, “as a secular society, we’ve thrown ourselves into the cult of self, precisely because we’re flailing, with no basic spiritual scaffold to keep us steady.” Welcome to the brave new post-Christian world.

But if we broaden our perspective to take in the global picture, Christianity is not in decline. The faith is advancing in China, Africa, South America and even Iran. Even here in the UK Rod Liddle points to the “rapidly growing numbers attending Pentecostal and evangelical churches — where eternal biblical certainties are still enjoined upon the worshippers”. This is evidenced in a piece in The Spectator by Dan Hitchens, Inside the fastest growing – and shrinking – churches in the UK

The worship of self and wealth are poor God-substitutes. The eternal biblical certainties set before us the one true and living God who is worth worshipping.  He is the God who sent his Son, the Lord Jesus to die for our sins and be raised from the dead that we may have the hope of everlasting life. Jesus calls us to renounce the cult of self saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

* For various local parish magazines and newspapers 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

God's emotions!

In a previous post I argue that God does not have emotions, see here. In this post I want to assert that God does have emotions like us. Joy and sorrow, compassion and anger, astonishment and disappointment are all part of the range of feelings experienced by God. 

But I am not contradicting myself.

How am I able to hold that God both does and does not have emotions? Because God did something that enabled him to do things that God cannot do. Given the aseity (self-existence) of God, he cannot die. His life is self-sustaining. Given his immensity, God cannot be bound by space. Given his eternity, God is not subject to time. Given his impassibility, God experiences no fluctuating feelings. But the God who has life in himself became mortal. The omnipresent God was bound by space. The eternal God entered time. The impassible God experienced fluctuating feelings. How? Because 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14).

At the incarnation the Son of God took a human nature. In his human nature our Lord not only had a human mind and will, but also human emotions. B. B. Warfield writes most helpfully on this in his essay, The Emotional Life of Our Lord. Even in his exalted state, Jesus 'knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust'. He knows what it is to be a member of suffering humanity from the inside. Jesus  can therefore sympathise with us in our weaknesses, having been tempted on all points as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15).

The Reformers developed the idea of the 'communion of attributes' to help clarify the relationship between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ. They certainly did not mean that divine attributes are communicated to Jesus's human nature, or the other way around. At the incarnation the Son of God became what he was not [man], without ceasing to be what he was [God]. That is the so-called extra-Calvinisticum. According to John Calvin, 'The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning. ' (Institutes of he Christian Religion, II:xiii.4). 

The 'communion of attributes' is an aid in making sense of passages in the Bible say things like, 'they... crucified the Lord of glory' (1 Corinthians 2:8), or 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). Does that mean Jesus suffered as God and died on the cross? No. Should we understand, then, that Christ's human nature died for our sins? No. We believe the person of the Son of God gave himself to the suffering and death of the cross in his human nature. The Second London Baptist Confession explains,

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature. (8:7 - see also WCF and SDF) 

It is in that sense we may speak of 'God's emotions', because in the person of the Son, God entered into the sorrows and joys of life in our fallen world, 'tears and smiles like us he knew'. We don't need to cut God down to size to make him more relatable when he has already descended to our level. In other words, if you want a God who feels like us, don't deny the impassibility of God, proclaim the incarnation of God. 'And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us'.

See here for an earlier post on Anselm and the suffering of the impassible God.

Monday, October 02, 2023

God’s emotions?

In his article God's emotions in September's Evangelical Times, Psychiatrist Alan Thomas argued that God has emotions that correspond to our human feelings. He tries to square this view with the impassibility of God taught in historic Reformed confessions such as the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Here is my response. 

God's 'emotions' and accommodated divine self-revelation 

Thomas notes that biblical revelation depicts God as having 'a complex range of emotions', including 'raging, painful emotion' (Genesis 6:6). Such descriptions of God reveal something of his character - his wrathful response to sin, but are they meant to be taken at face value? After all, Scripture also speaks of God having 'hands', 'eyes' and 'back parts'. We usually regard language like that as anthropomorphic, or speaking of God in human terms. That is not because of some prior philosophical commitment, but because Jesus tells us, 'God is Spirit' (John 4:24). God is also 'one' (Deuteronomy 6:4). Divine simplicity rules out God having a bodily form, which necessarily involves being composed of complex parts (1 Corinthians 12:14).

The fact that the Bible uses anthropomorphic language of God tells us something about biblical revelation. It speaks of God in ways that are accommodated to our capacity as finite and fallen human beings. To get technical, Scripture does not speak of God univocally so that what is true of us is true in the same way of him. Rather, the Bible speaks of God analogically, or by way of analogy. When passages describe God delivering Israel from Egypt with his 'outstretched arm', they are speaking analogically of a display of his power on behalf of his people. We would not understand such speech univocally, as if God acts as we do by extending a divine limb through time and space.  

The analogical view of divine self-revelation in Holy Scripture is in place to safeguard the Creator/creature distinction that is fundamental to sound Christian theology. If anthropomorphic figures of speech are taken univocally, what you get is a vision of God remade in our image. The same holds true when it comes to interpreting the Bible's 'anthropopathic' language, which speaks of God in terms of human emotions such as 'grief' and 'regret'. 

But how do we know that God doesn't actually 'feel' regret when the text of Scripture says he does? Consider 1 Samuel 15:11 & 35, where the Lord is said to regret making Saul King of Israel. Surely we should take these verses at face value and not try to rationalise expressions of divine disappointment? The prophet Samuel no less suggests otherwise when he says, 'And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.' (1 Samuel 15:29). God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11), including the appointment of Saul as King of Israel and his subsequent rejection. Taken literally expressions of 'regret' would mean that Saul's reign didn't work out as God intended, but that is not the case. God is not a man that he should feel regretful when his high hopes are not realised. A univocal reading of 1 Samuel 15:11 & 35 would be misleading, for in reality God is not like us in harbouring regrets.  

God's 'emotions' and divine impassibility

Thomas notes that historic Reformed confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Second London Baptist Confession teach that God is 'without body, parts, or passions' (1689, 2:1). He reflects on the theme of impassibility later in the article, arguing that it means that God is unchangeable and concluding, 'God has emotions, but he does not change.' But he has already admitted that our human emotions are in a state of constant flux as we interact with the world around us. Indeed, emotion may be defined as 'a strong feeling deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.'  (Oxford Languages). Which is why theologians have tended to be cagey about ascribing emotions to God. We are creatures of ever-changing moods. Circumstances affect how we feel, from the simple pleasure of eating an ice cream by the beach, to deep grief on losing a loved one. God is not like that. He is the ever-blessed God. There is nothing within him to disturb his infinite peace. Nothing outside of him can affect him. That is not because God is apathetic, but because he is perfectly fulfilled in the joyous perfection of his Triune life. That is precisely why the church has confessed impassibility.

What about divine wrath against sin, isn't that a case of the world impacting on God's emotional life? We must not think that God's wrath involves him being provoked into ‘losing his rag’. That would be a passion. Rather, God's wrath is the unchanging expression his holy justice when confronted by sin. Apart from the Fall God would have been eternally just, but his justice would not have been revealed in the wrathful punishment of sinners (Romans 1:18, 2:5). God's wrath is removed from sinners not because his feelings towards them change, but because his justice is satisfied by Christ's propitiatory sacrifice, Romans 3:25. God sent his Son to propitiate his wrath out of love for his people, 1 John 4:10. We benefit from the atoning work of Christ when we are united to him by faith. 

Properly understood, impassibility  does not make God cold or remote. The Lord is most loving and merciful. But his love is not a fickle passion that was ignited by our love for him and may be doused if our love should grow cold. His love for us is eternal and unchangeable, flowing to us from the infinite depths of God's being. The Father loves his people even as he loves his own Son (John 17:23, 26). That is why Paul can assure believers that, 'nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:39). Depicting God's love as if it were a passion or fluctuating emotion robs us of that certainty. Thomas knows this, saying, '[God] is utterly different from us as our exalted Creator who is eternal and unchangeable.' Yes, hence impassibility. 

God's 'emotions' and divine personality 

Thomas's tendency to start at a human level and then project up to God doesn't end with his handling of texts that speak of God in an arthropathic manner. He also reinterprets key theological terms in the light of human experience. For example, 'To be a person is to be a being who experiences emotions.' That may or may not be an adequate definition of human personhood. It is way off beam when applied to God, as the author does here: 'To be a person is to be in relationships, and such relationships always generate feelings. So since God is personal and eternally in relationships within the Godhead then feelings must be integral to who he is.' 

The Fathers who developed early Trinitarian terminology were very circumspect when it came to defining what is meant by divine personhood. Augustine confessed, 'We say three persons, not in order to say that precisely, but in order not to be reduced to silence.' In traditional Trinitarian theology the words 'person' or 'hypostases' simply denote what is true of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as they may be distinguished from each other, as opposed to what is true of the being of God, which is wholly possessed by the Three. Hence the formula: 'One God in three persons'. The three persons may be distinguished only in terms of their eternal relations of origin. The Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. That is their manner of subsisting in the being of God. The Fathers certainly did not read characteristics of human personhood such as having emotions into the divine persons. 

The Fathers also carefully distinguished between the personal attributes of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as reflected in their eternal relations of origin and the attributes of God's being, which are possessed equally by the three persons of the Trinity. What makes God 'personal' is that the one God subsists in three persons. It is misleading therefore for Thomas to speak of God's 'personal attributes, including emotions' or, 'In personal terms, he is faithful and true' and, 'Since his emotions are the attributes of a person'. Faithfulness and truth, much like justice and love are moral attributes of God's being, not personal attributes such as Fatherhood and Sonship. The person-to-person love the Father has for his Son is the infinite and eternal love of God's being. The Son who is of the same divine essence as the Father loves him with the same infinite and eternal love. Trinitarian orthodoxy demands that the we maintain the distinction between what is true of the three divine persons and what is true of the one divine essence. In construing attributes of God's being in personal terms we are in danger of making it sound like his being is a fourth person alongside the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Thomas's novel definition of divine personhood plays havoc with Christology. According to the Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD), the incarnate Son of God is person with two natures, divine and human. The historic Reformed confessions like the Second London Baptist Confession reflect this understanding: 'two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person..which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ' (1689, 8:2). However, according to the author'To be a person is to be a being who experiences emotions.' Jesus experienced emotions in his human nature such as sorrow and joy, anger and compassion. Using Thomas's definition, that makes Jesus a human person, as well as the second person of the Trinity. The incarnate Son, in that case, is a union of two persons, rather than a union of two natures in one divine person. That is a Nestorian understanding of Christ, which is explicitly ruled out by Chalcedon. 

Concluding thoughts 

Of course, there is nothing stopping us redefining time-honoured theological terms and investing them with new meanings, but in doing so we may find ourselves inadvertently stepping outside the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy. For all their emphasis on sola Scriptura, the Reformers and Puritans were happy to identify themselves with the ancient creeds of the church. With its drive to reinvent theological wheels contemporary Evangelicalism is in danger of drifting from the Reformed Catholic faith of our Fathers. That said, we would be rather suspect if someone from the Evangelical family tried to rework the doctrine of Scripture so as to call into question its inspiration and inerrancy. We would also look askance at any attempts at including good works in a redefined doctrine of justification by faith. The doctrine of God, however, seems fair game for theological revisionism. Strange, that. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Tom Holland on Pax: War and Peace in Rome's Golden Age

Last night we headed for Waterstones in The Galleries, Bristol to hear the author Tom Holland give a captivating talk on his latest tome, Pax: War and Peace in Rome's Golden Age. I received the book as a birthday present from my son and have just started to dip into it. The last time we heard Holland speak at the same venue he was promoting his previous work, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (see a report here). 

The speaker began by taking us to Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northernmost point of the Roman Empire. The Emperor Hadrian liked to visit the outposts of his vast domain, which stretched from Scotland to Arabia. The point of Hadrian's Wall was not so much to keep the barbarous Scots at bay, as to rub their noses in the fact that they had been excluded from the vast cultivated garden that flourished under Roman rule. 

Nero was the last Emperor to have descended from the great Augustus. His demise triggered the 'Year of the Four Emperors' in 69AD. Wannabes Galba, Otho and Vitellius failed to maintain their hold on power. Those who followed such as Vespasian, Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian ruled for long enough to ensure stability. That stability was the product of good PR as much as the might of the legions at the Imperial overlord's command.

The Emperors had statues erected in their honour across their domains. Coins bore the stamp of the Emperor's face. These images depicted how the Emperors wished to be seen, whether as aged throwbacks to antique virtue, or eternally young and virile rulers. Roman noblemen were usually clean shaven, but Hadrian affected a soldierly beard, which also gave him the aspect of a Greek philosopher. Holland had a suspiring amount to say about imperial barnets and beards. Otho's toupee made him an altogether unsuitable candidate for Emperor. No wonder he only lasted three months and a day in office. 

The writer described the Roman Emperors as the 'apex predators' of history. They ruled unhindered by any Christian notion of what constitutes right and wrong. After the death of his wife Poppaea, Nero spotted a slave boy who bore a passing resemblance to his dear departed Mrs. He had 'Sporus' castrated and married him. Following Nero's death, Vitellius sought to win the approval of the masses by having Sporus gang raped at a gladiator show. The poor lad only avoided this public humiliation by committing suicide. The short-lived rule of Vitellius ended when he was slaughtered by his successor Vespasian's troops. 

Holland described Christians of the time as 'Mesozoic mammals in a ecosystem dominated by dinosaurs.' But it was the little Christian mammals who won the day. The reason why we are appalled at the blood-soaked deeds of the mighty Emperors is that the 'Christian Revolution' totally transformed the moral landscape of the ancient world. How that happened is the story told in Dominion.    

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The destroyer of worlds

'Ban the Bomb' was a thing in the 1980s. The Greenham Common women protested at the presence of nuclear missiles at the Berkshire RAF base.  A little more modestly, I braved being told off in school for wearing a CND badge. Those were the days. The prospect of nuclear oblivion haunted our teenage imaginations. In their number 1 single, Going Underground, The Jam lamented, ‘You want more money, of course I don't mind/To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes.’ Fun, eh?

The man who wrote the ‘nuclear textbook’ was the subject of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie, Oppenheimer. Richard Oppenheimer brought together some of the most brilliant scientists of his day to develop nuclear weapons ahead of Nazi Germany. Winning that arms race was a massive scientific achievement. The resulting bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II. Yet Oppenheimer was deeply disturbed by the weapon of mass destruction he had helped to create, ‘I have become death, the destroyer of worlds’, the scientist reflected.

You won't find me sporting a CND badge these days. Sadly, nuclear weapons can’t be uninvented, although I certainly hope they will never be used again. Oppenheimer highlights what is best and worst about human beings. We are capable of the most astounding scientific breakthroughs, yet we are also capable of unleashing death and destruction on a massive scale. The Christian faith recognises that human beings are made in the image of God. Hence our exceptional abilities. But the Bible also testifies, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.

Jesus came to deliver us from sin by dying in our place. Christ’s resurrection from the dead  brings the hope of a new creation for those who put their trust in him. The film Oppenheimer concludes on an ominous note, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear oblivion. The Bible ends more hopefully, pointing us to Jesus as the one in whom there is life, the Saviour of the world. In the Book of Revelation John is given to see this glorious vision: ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’.

*For September edition of various parish magazines 

Monday, September 04, 2023


Even Jesus needed a break. After a time of extremely busy activity he said to his followers, ‘Come away and rest a while.’ The trouble was that the crowds got wind of where Jesus was heading and followed him there. Cue the feeding of the 5000. So much for that break. At least the intention to stop for a rest was there.

The Lord did not make us to keep going 24/7. We need a good night’s sleep and beyond that, regular breaks from the daily grind. God commanded the people of Israel to rest on the sixth day of the week, or the Sabbath. The Christian day of rest is Sunday, the first day of the week. It was on that day that Jesus rose again from the dead.

It is often during the summer that people take time off work for their main annual holiday. But there is a big difference between rest and leisure. The American novelist Marilynne Robinson  reflected, ‘The Sabbath has a way of doing just what it was meant to do, sheltering one day in seven from the demands of making money. Its benefits cannot be commercialised. Leisure, by way of contrast, is highly commercialised. But leisure is seldom more than a bit of time ransomed from habitual stress.’

I’m sure anyone who has braved a busy theme park would agree. You pay through the nose to spend up to an hour queuing for the brief thrill of a rollercoaster ride and then its on to the next thing. Fun, if you like hurtling around while upside down. Restful, not so much.

Yet it’s rest that our troubled souls and weary bodies long for. Days off and holidays are of some help, but there is more. We were made for God and it is only in being reconciled to him that we can find true peace. Jesus died on the cross for our sins that we may be forgiven and be put right with God. He says to us, ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

* For the August edition of various local parish magazines