Tag Archives: creation

Controlling Fertility

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you…

Psalm 81:1-10

…O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not proclaim ourselves;

we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. …

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken;

struck down, but not destroyed;

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. ….

Mark 2:23-3:6

… “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

…He (Jesus) looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart …

The readings today carry us through that narrow place between the absolutes of the law and the freedom we have as people to show compassion; the way the world should be and the way it is.

For most of us, life throws perplexing circumstances and we find we cannot know what to do; there is no answer. Jesus commands us to be obedient to his word and his word is that we are to love God and love our neighbour. The high calling for us is to come to Jesus with the decisions we have in life and know peace as his teaching is not a burden; God from the beginning calls us to choose life.

So where do we stand when people celebrate the freedom to abort babies? We are told it is a human right that women are able control their fertility. We are told that the right to life is a human right. The UK has amongst the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is available up to 24 weeks and beyond if necessary. The foetus has no human rights until it is born; up to this point it is only the life of the mother that is considered to have human rights. As a follower of Jesus, the truth is we know the reality of hardship and its ability to crush us; we look around and we see people despairing and abandoned.

Personally, I stand with new life being life from the beginning. I have known people tormented by the power of nature to abort. I have accepted as natural babies being lost through miscarriage and been saddened by hearing of babies being born dead, alive till the moment of birth. I have communed and rejoiced with those desperate for children who in conceiving one life have destroyed the remaining embryos. I have grieved with those whose babies have been born disabled. Am I conflicted?

Abortion will happen: John Wesley in his book Primitive Physick opens with how an abortion could be done. His heart was to see health care extended to the poor. The tragic stories of the lengths women would go to abort a baby remain in our folk memory. John Wesley’s response was to make this safe. To some of us this may be horrifying.

For the Jews, controlling fertility was at the heart of the story of Moses; his abandonment under order of the authorities resulted in him becoming a prince in Egypt. In our time the Chinese have tried to control fertility as have the Russians and the government of Peru to destroy the native population.

At the time of Jesus and into the first 300 years of Christianity, child exposure was practised by the Romans to get rid of unwanted infants, but not by the Jews. Two abandoned babies were said to have been the founders of Rome, brought up by wolves. Babies were left out to die or be claimed as slaves. Many were disabled and most were girls.

What was the Christian response, but to collect these babies and care for them. This has to be my response; my path between law and human freedom. Life sucks for some people and we need to care for all. Yes, the rejoicing over abortion sickens me but what I need to do is show compassion.

The ideal is that life starts at conception, the reality is that every birth is a miracle. This has been my own experience being at the birth of my own children; life is fragile. The world is mucked up.

Given the widespread practice of infant exposure, the Christian practice was to care for the poor and the abandoned, not condemn the poor. By 374 BC they had shown the way and the practice was made illegal. Our weapon is to love, not condemn.

I know it is wrong to argue from silence, but nothing in the scriptures condemns the practice of infant exposure, but we know it is wrong. We do have the wonderful story of John the Baptist recognising his saviour whilst in the womb of Elizabeth and our heart tells us that life is precious from conception.

Conception and birth are redeemed in Christ. Being in Christ, our practice is to care for the afflicted, the crushed; those abused and abandoned. Through our being true to love we can work to create a world around us where there is no abortion only hope.

Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.

Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.

Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.

Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.

In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.

We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.

I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.

To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.

Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.

The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.

Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.

We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.

Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.

Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.

The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone,  by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.

You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.

Victory in Death over Sin

In putting aside arguments about the literal meanings of Genesis, we allow it to tell us the truth of who we are. In stepping back from the controversy we have the room to go deeper. With the rest of the scripture Genesis tells us, God created us to be holy; righteousness is at our heart. Together with God, we were to form and fill the Earth, caring for it and showing loving kindness, each born of God, acting through faith in God, obedient to his word, wholly other than God. I suggest we were created to live by faith in God, growing in faith through the fulfilment of his word that all is good. By faith, we are to work with God in the perfecting of creation.

This is the joy set before humanity. We are created to be part of the divine nature. This is the message of Adam and Eve in the garden. Our created selves are set apart by God so that we might live by faith, trusting and obedient to his word of truth. In our obedience, our faith brings glory to what God has placed within us. This is our high calling.

Christianity teaches that when we die we get new bodies, becoming like God, and dwell with him as sons of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. The end of our life on the Earth is the gateway to a new life in God. In Christ’s resurrection, we see what this is like, as he moves freed from the constraints of the here and now. This seems fantastic and hard to understand and beyond our experience.

Death is part of creation and not just the end of life. We see this in the cycles of nature as materials are reused. We see in nature the selflessness of creation giving itself up in the formation of the future, pouring its present into the new life of the future. This is the mystery of fruitfulness. In Christ, I believe we see the creative cycle of life and death redeemed and remade good. In Christ, the gift of life is revealed to be everlasting, ever renewed and ever present.

Humanity receives this in God in Christ’s self-giving and submission to the will of God on the cross. Through the cross, Jesus’ death brings humanity into a new life with God, which is perfected by life in a wild and dangerous creation, formed by chance and time, wholly independent of God, bound only to him by faith. From dust we came and to dust we will return. Though our bodies enter the cycle of recycling, we do not fall to the ground and die, lost forever in the molecules of another’s life. The fruitfulness of our created being realises its purpose to be like God, forever in his renewing presence, freed to be like him.

We cannot grasp what appears to be a weird idea when what continues cannot be seen. We can reflect on the story in the Bible and try to absorb its fantastical message but its truth is beyond reason. Added to this we struggle to understand the fantasy of immortality in the knowledge of our ever-present failing to live up to our own expectations of the way things should be. We look through the lens of seeming futility and suffering, and a horror of death. Death as inevitable seems to be the only real fact.

Our reflection begins with Adam’s loss of faith and self-will. He chose his own way and selfishly grasped what pleased him- he rejected God’s warning of the consequences. His eyes were opened to judgement and he felt shame.

Adam had everlasting fellowship with God and he was by faith righteous. Adam was good and had no sin. Receiving the breath of God, he lived in Eden with God and did not sin. His righteousness was his own. In his righteousness, he was wholly separate from God, wholly other than God, bound in intimacy and companionship with God through faith. Adam was the whole of humanity and from Adam God formed Eve. Eve was taken out of Adam, and she became wholly other than Adam. Adam and Eve were two individuals bound together in a relationship which when consummated made them as one person with the purpose of filling the world with offspring. All humanity is created to be righteous by nature, to be bound in a relationship with God, but wholly other than God in its righteousness, living with God, righteous by nature and fruitful, giving and receiving love and creating new life. This is what was lost and what we are redeemed to.

Grasping pride and self-regard in the heavenly realm formed one who was to stand against God’s will and, with those who rebelled in the heavenly court, could contend with God in creation. The father of sin could move freely in Eden. In the heavenly courts the Satan appears to have been, before his fall, the prince of Eden and he became the prince of this world.

The father of lies tempted Eve and through her Adam, and they turned from God. God had put all creation under Adam as a gift and so in following the lust of his eye, all nature came under the thrall of the evil one, the Satan. No longer was righteousness by nature to mark out humanity. All humanity fell. God, though he had been scorned, lied about and rejected, clothed Adam and Eve and then in mercy banished them from the garden. Adam was banished from Eden where the tree of life was.  He was now in the power of the principalities and powers ranged against God- a rebel subject to the prince of this world.

Humanity becomes subject to a curse and is separated from God through sin. But this is the God who teaches us to be endlessly forgiving when sinned against. If we focus on the curse, we miss God’s loving kindness. Humanity does not physically die when it sins and humanity finds itself continually before a just and merciful God. We worship him and call upon his name.

This is our story; in the depth of our despair; in the pit of our desperate condition, before God, we find the glory of our forgiveness as we see God in Christ, on the cross. We find him to have been there from the beginning, an eternal ransom. Through faith, humanity is forgiven and called to please God.

Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift from God, not from the imaginings of men, or their clever doctrines, the mangling of the scriptures to suit their traditions and approve their power, or their appeals to our emotions. Faith is the rock on which he builds a people. This people is founded on the revelation of faith from God that we are loved and forgiven through God and held in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When we come to know Jesus, we discover the ground of our forgiveness, and the truth sets us free. We are reassured that the God of love, separated from us by our sin, forgives us and through the cross, restores us to his presence and clothes us again in righteousness, washing us clean by his dying in our place so that in death we can walk in glory. Our merit is restored in him. In him we are made worthy and guilt and shame are no more; the wages of sin are no longer drawn down; God who has always been our ransom enables us to walk free from slavery to unrighteousness; free from the grip of the evil one.

Our knowledge of God is a gift of faith. Our thank offering to God is our faith. We know a relationship based on this flow of grace and thankfulness. Our whole being has its source in God. We drink from God and his goodness flows from us as we become immersed in him.

Our confidence is in the knowledge of the redemption won for us on the cross. Christ is in us, for us and with us in our lives. Death is separation from this gift of life. Death is the darkness caused by our sin. Sin is us not acting from faith. Faith is the substance of a relationship, a relationship found in Christ, lost in sin and restored in Christ.

Death separates us from our calling to life. We are called to choose life and, because of sin, death has a sting. The sting of death is that sin separates us from the holiness of God and the life we are called to. Our choices in life are what form us. By nature, we are created able to obey or disobey, accept or reject the grace of faith. We are by nature sinful. This is the pain at the heart of God- his deep love for us and our separation from him because of sin, grieves his Spirit. In Christ, God is glorified by showing us mercy. It is faith in a merciful God that turns away the sting of death- we are redeemed.

Christianity teaches that the spirits and powers at work in creation seek to bind us and separate us from God. Because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning under a constant onslaught of evil. The metaphor of death embodying separation from God is powerful in its conveying the horror and futility of a life separated from God. In physical death and the sting of death we are confronted by the agony of spiritual death.

The ground of our being is God and his love, yet love means we can reject love. This is the humility of God the principalities and powers rage against and we, with them are bound in death, given over to death, disobedient, turning from the loving kindness of God.

On the cross, Christ draws this evil to himself, and contends with the principalities and powers, through submission to the will of the Father. In meekness, he disarms their pride and violence. In facing down the curse they enact, he reveals the face of God. In our brokenness and contrite hearts, we find God there in the trials. In the constant onslaught of the evil one on our lives, Christ is our blessing and peace. We are formed to be like God as we suffer- perfected in him as, despite the onslaught, we receive the free-gift of faith and offer it back to God in thankfulness. On the cross God in Christ has obtained the victory and we are redeemed.

This is our story. Banished from Eden, we are separated from the possibility of eternal physical life and we go through physical death. Physical death frees us from the onslaughts of the evil one. Our experience of life is one of slavery to the prowling evil one. Bound by our natures to sin, we choose death but freed in Christ we chose life.

It is not our own fault that we find ourselves slaves but we are responsible for our own sin. Just as the people of Israel in Egypt were not there because of their own sin yet they were slaves, we are also in the realm of Satan through no fault of our own. God redeemed Israel from Egypt by his strong arm and he redeems us from the prince of this Earth by doing battle on the cross and releases us from the bondage of wilful sinfulness once and for all. We are born again to new life. Christianity teaches that the cross transforms physical death. Physical death is redeemed in Christ.

We still die. Death takes away the ones we love and is a threat- it troubles us. We can be consumed by the manner of our death and avoid discussing it in fear. It reduces some so they approach it in degradation and in complete dependence and all dignity is lost.

Dignity in death is prized. We can stave off death and prolong life but the quality of life is what people are worried about. Some want to control the manner of their passing. People want to choose how they are to die and if they lose hope, some want to be killed. Our wonder at life is lost in the futility of the cruelty of death.

Physical death is the ultimate separating from Earthly love. When someone we love dies, then all we have is memories and the inheritance of their work and wealth. This is their legacy; this can be a source of pain, or a measure of a life well lived. It can be a separation from suffering and a source of peace. We are often relieved that someone dies and death can be a release from oppression. Some see the taking of their own lives as a way out. We can see death as a severe mercy.

Our hearts ache when our loved ones die. To live well we must move on and accommodate their loss in a life well lived. We are healthy when we step out of the bad and into the good. Out of the dust of death we form a new life which includes the loss. Every life is sacred and no death is meaningless. The death of a person close to us forms us for good or for ill. Death is not the end. The effects of a life continue after death in the lives of others.

Christianity goes even beyond this though and teaches that, for the individual, death is the gateway to another realm. This realm is not to be feared as it is the realm of God’s goodness which is here now, to be experienced, amongst us in the person of the resurrected Christ, because of his death. The kingdom of heaven is amongst us but the fear of death is still with us. The fear of death seeks to separate us from Christ, the light of life. But his light shines in the darkness of our forebodings. Death is pure darkness to us but hope shines a light into it. Sometimes this is clear to us.

The light that shines is God in Christ who has victory in death. In death, we sleep in Christ. The gift of God is that in our natural end on this Earth, the price of our sin has been paid and we are glorified in death. Death has been redeemed and we go to be with Christ in peace.

Death didn’t take Enoch. Death didn’t take Elijah. Moses and Elijah were physically present at the transfiguration of Jesus we are told. The ever-present Christ, Son of God, communed with Elijah and Moses. Enoch, we are taught, is a hero of faith assumed into heaven without dying. Jesus walked with the disciples, ate with them and rested with them after his resurrection. Physical death is no obstacle to God in the scriptures and may or may not have been inevitable from the beginning– it is spiritual death that separates us from God.

We now know through science that physical death has been our partner from the beginning, in the forming and the renewal of our bodies, cell by cell. Death nourishes us and detritivores are our friends in keeping our world clean. Each system in our body is set up to protect us, keep us from death and has always kept us from the beginning, even our emotions protect us. Our bodies mature and age in an environment where chance and time act. We are physically adapted by our pasts and our present changes us. We live and die in a real world. We are mortal. Physical death is not just an enemy.

In Eden, there could be found the promise of eternal physical life as fruit on a tree, but it appears Adam and Eve did not eat this fruit. Why was it there I wonder? From the beginning, physical death was present I surmise. The warning in Genesis, “You shall surely die…” carried a meaning that God did not have to explain. Adam knew what he was talking about or it wasn’t much of a warning.

In the garden, spiritual death came and the curse of a life separated from God. In the story, God’s anger at sin is made plain. God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden like animals. We sense the urgency and the absolute need to separate Adam and Eve from the tree of eternal life. This was God’s mercy I believe not his anger; a sin driven eternal life would be continuous hell on Earth.

Physical death is a mercy where there is sin. As sin takes its grip, life is shortened in the narrative of Genesis. This is the mercy of God woven into creation I think. Jesus’ life was surrendered up to degradation, violence and intense lonely suffering.

Before Jesus dies on the cross he cries, “It is finished!”. Death is conquered and he dies. Death is sanctified. Death is conquered for all humanity. Death’s sting is averted for all humanity as God in Christ becomes our victory over death. Before he died he told the criminal crucified with him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Death released Christ into glory.

In all our suffering, the scarred God is there, we are gathered to him in death to be with him in paradise. As Christians, we have the courage to say, death is like going to sleep, however untimely or degrading, and hold out this hope to all the world. It is not a matter of whether we deserve to die, but that, in death, sin separates us from life. it is this consequence of sin that God in Christ frees us from. This is the victory of the cross.

 

Easter 2017

As we move through Easter time towards Pentecost, we are encouraged to find meaning in the cross and resurrection. This is love, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. On the cross we see the cost of true love. Though we have rejected love and in our beings walked away from God’s love we know forgiveness. On the cross we see the One who is love, rejected and scorned; we see what sin looks like but we are also taught this is the source of our forgiveness. We struggle with the idea that the innocent One, the Son, suffered death at the hands of those in power and this was the will of the Father, because of God’s wrath.

I believe that we often confuse God’s anger with targeted physical or emotional turmoil. Events in the world and despair can be metaphors for God’s wrath but God’s wrath is spiritual, aroused by human sin and spiritual evil. God’s wrath can find expression I think in physical ways as sin has consequences and malevolent spiritual forces do enact evil. The creation has a loose weave of morality but I am not one of those who believes that these events of time and chance define God. God I contest is revealed in Jesus; in history and in a place. He came to us as a man and lived the life of a man. I believe we are free to choose death and this freedom is God given, an offering of his will in our wills and that, although life is held out to us, we know good and evil, are not in Eden, and each of us grasps our own destiny choosing death. Being the light of life, Jesus, the man, chose only life.

Eve was taken out of Adam we are taught. She was flesh of Adams flesh and I see Jesus as the new Adam, taken out of Mary, his mother, flesh of her flesh. Adam is all humanity, formed in the image of God, male and female Adam was formed. Eve’s humanity came from Adam, Jesus’ from Mary. Adam became the man when Eve became the woman and in Jesus we see that humanity realises the fullness of God’s image. There is no longer male and female in Christ. Christ is all humanity.

To our modern minds, before we get to the Cross, before we even speak of God, this is a stumbling block- even a brick wall! The whole message of who Jesus is, is disruptive. How can Jesus be fully human if he has not got a human father? My faith is that he was conceived by the brooding, creative power of the Holy Spirit- formed from Mary. Jesus is the first of a new creation taken out of the old, taken out of Mary’s flesh. He is a new humanity.

One cell became the man Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. I see this as being so important. Eve is fully human, the mother of all humanity, a type or metaphor for Jesus; it’s the message of Eve we need to focus on. God in Jesus became flesh formed from Mary; Christ, the Son, in Jesus was born from Mary.

Why couldn’t the son of Mary and Joseph’s natural union have been the made God by the power of the Holy Spirit? Central to my faith is that Jesus, though human, was not born of the will of man, but the will of God. Jesus is the first fruits of our new birth. I believe, in Christ, we are born of the Holy Spirit too, not through the works of men. The promise of the cross is to all and for all and the message is in the very body of Jesus. He is the mediator between God and humanity, disruptive in his conceiving and a block to our pride.

So hopefully you can see where I am coming from. To summarise, I believe we are made in the image of God, unconditionally loved and that sin and evil arouse God’s anger. I believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God. I believe on the cross we see pure love lavished on us when we deserve only pure anger. I believe if we truly are made in the image of God, there is the possibility that in death, we will be separated from God by death.

God should be angry at our abuse of the freedom to love. God, I see, as being aroused to anger by the hurt of our secrets, our ruling over one another and our enthroning of our needs and desires over others’ wellbeing. God should rightly be angry and pour out his anger on the abuse, the violence and the cold indifference of the world when he speaks only love. This is just righteousness and our coldness to his word is part of this dreadful system. We pursue our own way in the face of God’s love.

Don’t we stand knowing God’s love and mercy? Aren’t we in our very humanity aware of our need for redemption? To be brought back to a place of peace and freedom? In us is a need to be made new- our need is to be regenerated. We see our faults made plain in the failings of others. There is a great weight of bondage – a sense we are cursed. We know and feel that in ourselves things are not right; and we feel this from deep within. We recognise that there is a rightness. We measure our actions against our hearts desire; against what it shows us is right. How can we realise this humanity within all of us? How can we avert the just wrath that God rightly holds against us in our sinning?

I truly believe that we could not call God good if he were not aroused to wrath by our sin; by our inhumanity. This is the severity of the love of God; the other side of perfect love. God can be said to be struggling with himself and this is the pain that God holds, the pain of the vulnerable God who holds out love, which if it is true love may be rejected and who for the sake of the vulnerable knows wrath. Yet we know forgiveness. This is the light that lights the hearts of every person. In a broken and contrite heart we draw near to God and he shines his light into our darkness. God draws near to us.

God by his very nature is love; he is loving kindness and mercy. His very being is self-giving- he acts to give of himself from the beginning, pouring himself out sacrificially in the Trinity and from the beginning in creation. Jesus teaches that there is no greater love than the love that gives its life for another and we are called to be submissive and self-sacrificing- to be perfect as God is perfect. This is the life of God; this is the life of the Trinity woven into creation.

God is beyond our conceiving of good and even as we understand goodness, we know God by his very nature must be aroused in the vulnerability of love, to wrath where there is sin and it is my belief that this wrath is poured out on the cross. The penalty of sin is death; separation from life. God in Christ I maintain takes that penalty and sanctifies death for all humanity as Christ bears the curse of sin for us.

On the cross I see all the guilt and shame of my sin carried and dealt with and I am made free from it. In my sin, I carry death in my body. Deep down I know it. How can I be freed? In my own death, how can I come before a Holy God whilst carrying this body of sin? If God is Holy and loving, he must be aroused to anger by my sin. How can I avert this anger? How can I be made clean so that I can come in to his presence?

We glimpse love, righteousness and mercy; true justice; the goodness of God, despite our wretchedness. God’s goodness is revealed in his offering of himself in Christ as our ransom while we are still sinners.

What I witness is God suffering death in our place, so that we might be freed from the bondage of sin, the sin of our own making and the consequences of sin in the world. In Christ, we are redeemed and we can realise the deep need we need to be cleansed of our iniquities; to be cleansed of our defilement.

God is just in his anger and as he is good, in his presence sin and evil are consumed. The sting of sin- of not choosing life- is death. Christ’s offering pays the price and cleans us. His blood- his death- releases us from bondage to sin. His death washes us clean. Christ offers himself and though sinless, suffers the separation of death in our place. In his resurrection, he conquers death and gives us the gift of faith to believe in the God who is loving and self-giving and offers himself as our ransom- his life for ours. In our faith that God in Christ went through death in our place, we experience mercy. God reveals the mystery of how though, in our wilfulness we deserve death, God offers forgiveness. The way is revealed and we become people of the way of the cross.

On the cross, Christ chose the way of submission and peace, obedient to the Father to the end. He chose the way of self-offering. This is the way that brings life. His victory over death was in weakness and vulnerability. He turns the tree of disgrace into a throne of grace. Through his birth, baptism, ministry- his healing people, delivering people from bondage and his words of truth- and his death on the cross, God is transfigured in Jesus and the image of God in us is transfigured through faith. Faith in what Christ has achieved. Our work is to love, trust and obey the Father, and to offer this back as an offering of faith, an offering of hope; the gift that God freely gives us.

However small our faith, it is a gift from God; however small and smouldering our hope, however broken we feel, in offering it back to God, God moves mountains. God heals the broken hearted and welcomes the contrite. In our small offering- the tiny seed of faith- the mountain of our sin is moved once and for all. And our journey continues. Sin and death are dealt with and we walk free to bless and serve the world. Death has lost its sting. The veil of division is torn and the rock of our stony hearts broken open as we experience resurrection life and receive hearts of flesh. Out of death hope arises.

Holiness is brought near through the cross, and true intimacy begins to be reborn as we are clothed in Christ once and for evermore, brought into God’s presence and, in Christ, we learn to love.

Our adapted self, adapted to sin and the consequences of sin, reaches out to take the hand of Christ in the storms of life. In our messed-up mess, Jesus pulls us up and we become our true created selves, loved from the beginning, images of God, assured because of the work of the cross. God gazes upon us and in the love of the Trinity sees the Son; he sees himself reflected. This is the work of faith- a work of faith alone. Not clever words or theories, not of our own will, but of the Spirit working through faith – a gift of God. This is God’s grace so that we stand assured in the work of grace of the crucified Christ- our Lord.

 

 

The Bound Lamb: Love

01f35bd967d95cc6f56ffa87b9a603817eef74e83f

The idea that our salvation is achieved through sacrifice is unsettling to me. I can see God in the life of Jesus, a sacrifice- a gift to us- a perfect life lived in the Son. In Jesus, God in the form of man, God the Father shows us his love for us and how precious his image is in us by sending us his Son to walk among us. The unsettling part is the Cross being the end of that life, not the goodly old age of a life lived perfectly and our faith in that being our salvation. The victory over sin and our atonement for that sin are made perfect in the Cross not just the life lived without sin by Jesus. The Cross is included in the righteousness our faith wins.

Jesus, God in a body, lives life, pure and perfect, in a world subject to God’s judgement and experiences, in his innocence, the wrath of his Father against sin. He walks with us, but in redeemed peace, showing the Father’s heart, through forgiveness and compassion; a life full of self-giving. The mystery is that the love of the Father for the Son and the love of Jesus for God his Father, is made perfect on the Cross.

I understand Jesus, as a man bears the perfect Image of God, confronting and experiencing the power of evil- the wrath in creation- battling spiritual powers in the heavenlies. I can see, coming to understand this, and perfectly following the will of the Father in his humanity was the Way Jesus followed. Truly he carried God’s image and was the new Adam from his birth, redeeming humanity from sin, but the mystery is that he is also the Lamb slaughtered from the beginning. Our faith is that the Cross reveals sacrifice is an attribute of God; total, grace-filled, self-giving is perfected on the Cross and we see God.

It is revealed that the will of the Father was perfected because Jesus was obedient, even to death on the Cross. In the story of the bound lamb, we see in Isaac and Abraham a measure of what obedience is. We see Abraham, our father in faith, obedient, trusting in the will of the Father speaking in him. Isaac was the sacrifice God speaking in him demanded. Isaac meekly obeyed his father Abraham to the point of lying on the pyre and being bound.

God intervened and provided a lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac did not die and God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac was fulfilled in his faith, as we believe by the birth of Jesus. God’s promise to us is that he loves us to the point where our faith in Jesus as Lord wins for us the blessing of his image in us through the gift of the Spirit; eternal life. This is the blessing promised to Abraham. In Christ we are redeemed, our sin is atoned for and we live eternal life.

The God of eternity, eternally pours himself out in love and so we have all creation. In his resting, his peace, every choice and chance become authentic and in its being is his image. In humanity this image is totally loved and freed to love; freed to choose life. Self-willed Adam chooses death. In Adam we are called to hear God and walk with him, working in creation to subdue and create through our fruitfulness in obedience to God. This is the eternal blessing of the image within us. Yet our pride of heart and our grasping after our own will separate us from this love and purpose, so our existence is futile. But God has committed to redeeming the life he has put within us, revealed in God speaking through the story of Noah. God does not give up on humanity.

This tells us that so that we are free to love, we are also freed to choose death. In Adam we choose death and are eternally lost to God. But God does not give up on us because he loves us.

In my imagination, we are Isaac, willingly bound by our own nature. Abraham is the father we love and trust and he is about to slaughter us. The law of life and death in Abraham will take our lives. God steps in and Abraham looks up and sees the lamb. The law of life and death is fulfilled in slaughtering the lamb. Jesus is our lamb and God is pleased. The lamb takes our place and dies instead of us. We are no longer subject to death at the hands of Abraham and we live. Death is defeated- Isaac walks free. The life that Isaac has is the gift of the blood of the lamb. The lamb’s life becomes Isaac’s life.

This strange story helps us understand the nature of obedience and how we are to walk with God. God is pleased to work in and through Abraham: God is glorified in faith and obedience to his speaking within us. God will use our spirit’s to move us on into a deepening understanding of faith and does not leave us alone. He will act to affirm us in our faith, testing our obedience to his voice within, and lead us to a more perfect understanding of himself by revealing his eternal will. Isaac is us and, in the sacrifice of the lamb, the lamb becomes Isaac and the mystery of our faith is that this is eternally true and is the freedom that enables us to love God. The Cross takes into itself this story. The Cross takes into itself the story of creation. The Cross is where God’s love is glorified. The Cross shows us perfect love. The Cross is where it is all heading.

Love is only love if it is authentic. If love is to be authentic there has to be a choice and to not choose life is to choose death. Love is not pleased by the death of the object of its love. This is the dreadful position Abraham finds himself in. Isaac is the embodiment of the promise and the story is that the word of God to Abraham is to slaughter Isaac. In God there is love- for love to be authentic the object of God’s love must die. The image of God in every person must suffer death.

God provided Abraham with a lamb which Abraham chooses to sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Isaac receives back his life in the death of the lamb. God is pleased with Abraham and Abraham fulfils the word of God to slaughter Isaac by slaughtering the lamb. So that the choice to love is authentic there must be death- we must be freed to choose death. The penalty of the gross sin of not obeying God is death. The sting of death exists because of love.

This is what we see on the Cross. We are the object of God’s love in which all life exists; outside this love is death and God’s love is so deep for us, his holiness is made perfect in his wrath at un-holiness which would separate us from him. We rightly call God a jealous God in this. Our sin carries the penalty of God’s wrath and his image in creation works this wrath through the freedoms in creation; the very freedoms that allow love. Faith speaks to us of freedom and calls us to repent and atone so that we may be at peace with the God of Love. Jesus is the lamb that atones for our sins and bears the death we deserve. God provides the One who will bear the penalty as he is the lamb who is slaughtered from the beginning. In the Cross the eternal sacrifice of God is revealed. Through the Cross we are moved on to a deeper knowledge of forgiveness, atonement and living the forgiven life. God loves the world through the Cross.

On the cross the penalty for Sin is borne, and we are moved on in faith because the One on the Cross is God, offering his life so that we might live. The life of Isaac becomes the life of the lamb. Isaac’s life is restored because Abraham in faith slaughters the lamb.

God knew only love for Abraham and Abraham loved his son.

 

Skimming Kant

017ddcb9360a2de2c4fbd0dc3a205e91b7949fccd6Skimming Kant doesn’t imply any understanding of his ideas but my scant reading has fired my imagination. I am very loosely using an understanding of his ideas as a springboard- cod Kant. If morality is duty, not inclination, and pure good is God’s will, then morality –the tree of good and evil- is the downfall of humanity. The sin of humanity- rejecting the good will of God- is by nature our rejecting the good and doing our will not God’s.

Morality – the law- is death whereas the grace of God – the gift of his good and perfect will- is life. The breath of life is received in our spirit and being truly alive is to commune with God- in the coolness of creation’s Garden- and to do his will. Instead we sin, but the Father’s heart is to restore us to that communion, bring us to the place of his cleansing presence. Our reason is a slave to law and dead to God unless our spirits are made alive in Christ. It is God’s purpose, revealed through the scriptures, to know us and love us through grace not the law so that we may choose life. The good purpose of the law is to bring us to the place of grace.

Grace is revealed through Jesus, fully God and fully man. Being fully God his every action is entirely good- he is free of the law. Being fully man he suffers the judgements of the law. Though innocent, Jesus’ life was an affront and threat to the law which brought to bear the unjust penalty of death on Jesus- death on a cross. The glory of grace is revealed as Jesus, carrying the punishment of sin though innocent, defeats death by rising from death. The penalty of sin is served and defeated on the cross by Jesus who perfectly obeys the will of the Father, not counting his deity as something to be grasped. In the forsakenness of Jesus taken in our place, the man of sorrows, the suffering servant, takes the full penalty of sin, revealing, in his obedience, God who alone is good. In Jesus Christ’s victory over death we see the end of the law and the revelation of grace. The penalty we justly deserve is served on Jesus the innocent victim of wrath.

Through the cross, God restores us and speaks life in our spirits: believe in God- turn your reason to God- repent of grasping your own will, receive the gift of grace and take up God’s will. We are restored because in our believing we receive the goodness of Christ and are made alive in our spirits, purified by Christ’s life. Our will is redeemed. We receive as a gift the restoration of goodness for eternity and know the presence of God in our hearts by faith. The coolness of the Garden is restored in our inner being- a place of refining communion with God.

What am I being redeemed to?

0184136a84ba06f329f247d635c265d92966f6adf1God’s creation of us was good and with the whole of creation, very good. If my goodness is my heart intention or my will, then to be truly human is to have right heart intention: a good will- a will able to choose, free and sovereign, and acting within God’s will and reflecting God’s will. As humans, we are able to reason and act apart from instinct and, I believe, to know and be known fully in our human spirit by God. In God’s creation of us, God blesses us with a good will, able to reason and decide, and with our spirit alive in him. For me this is what it is to be alive; this is what we are redeemed to in Christ.

To say we are redeemed to a moral perfection rather than our original blessing isn’t true. A moral choice is one made by judging what is good and what is evil and choosing the good. So far so good, but we do this out of duty rather because, having judged something as wrong, we must do the good. We have set up a law within ourselves, act on our evaluation and seek to live by this law which we are free to choose to do. But where is the redemption- we can do this as we are. Our separation from God is as a result of our being able to make these choices, the scriptures teach- this is the root of sin and death. We are created to be alive in God not to slavishly follow laws. You can live a moral life without God- that’s the problem. You can choose to lead a moral life to your own harm and loss. You can choose to live a moral life to avoid the consequences of not doing so.

God I believe acts to redeem us from living by law to living under our original grace. Grace is God’s free gift given because of our faith in him not faith in our own moral choices. We are redeemed to that place of innocence that comes out of a higher relationship of faith in God and in Christ who saves us from law and makes us alive in our original life. Christ renews our hearts- redeems our wills- so that we are empowered to dwell in eternity with God. As we go deeper into faith our inclination is to do good because in Christ sin and the consequences of sin are dealt with- we are made good. Our lives in Christ perfect us in this as we live our lives in grace, knowing we are forgiven our sin through faith in the redemption of Christ.

Redemption in Christ is the gift of a life freed from the endless toil of being subject to the laws of our own devising- by command, culture and upbringing. In Christ we are freed to be virtuous because of faith. Our turning away from the inclinations of our own hearts to the principal of faith in God restores us to our original blessing and frees us to live the life of one made in the image of God. God created us to be in Christ.