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Archive for March, 2012

God of love, God of judgement?

March 5th, 2012

This question goes to the very nature and character of God. Why, if God is loving and merciful, is he not be more tolerant and accepting?

The Home Office has a motto, used on its stationery, “creating a free, just and tolerant society” but is it not entirely possible that tolerance can become the enemy of freedom and justice?

Tolerance is regarded as a positive virtue in Western society, yet the word is often still used in a negative sense (e.g. telling someone that their cooking, or company, was “tolerable” is not likely to be seen as a compliment!). Tolerating someone implies that you hold yourself superior to them. You cannot tolerate someone and disagree with them but you can respect someone and disagree with them. The old mediaeval idea of defending someone’s right to disagree with you is much closer to “respect” than “tolerance.”

Justice involves defending what is right and thereby refusing to tolerate what is wrong.

How then can a God of love and compassion also be a God of justice?

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth Bennet that he loves her against his judgement and better character, and is shocked when she is insulted by this. We live in a world where people often project a better image of themselves than they really are and so end up not knowing true love because other people fall in love with the image and not the real them. True love can only exist in the presence of true judgement.

This is also seen in a quotation from a Black Eyed Peas song, “If you’ve never known truth, you’ve never known love.” God’s love is meaningful because God has a true judgement of us – he knows what we’re really like.

To act with compassion is to make a moral judgement about something and be moved in the depths of our being to do something about it. If we are not moved in this way, or don’t act, then we do not have true compassion, only moralism, yet we can’t have true compassion in this sense without the moral judgement. God, who passes judgement on our hearts, also has true compassion for us.

How then is it fair that God must sacrifice his Son in order to have mercy on us?

Mercy always comes at the expense of justice. How then can God be both merciful and just? The answer is that God exercises his mercy through his justice, by fulfilling the law on our behalf and suffering the punishment of his justice on our behalf so that justice can be upheld and mercy extended to us.

But isn’t God’s judgement a massive overreaction to our sin?

There is evidence to indicate that more people are sold into slavery via sex trafficking in modern Britain than were enslaved when the slave trade was “abolished” in the 19th century. Whereas earlier movements fought against treating people as objects, we now live in a society where people are encouraged to treat themselves as objects (e.g. we “market” ourselves). The reason why God is so angry at sin is that sin dehumanises us, destroying our capacity to relate to him and to each other.

What is the appropriate emotional response to sex trafficking? God’s wrath at our sin is the appropriate emotional response to our sin.

Isaiah 42: 1-4. God’s justice is described in terms of repairing bruised reeds and not quenching dimly burning wicks. This passage was written in southern Iraq where the marshes produce strong reeds (strong enough to build houses with, unless bruised) to a Jewish community who were not permitted even to snuff out wicks on the Sabbath (dangerous if you live in a reed house!). God is telling us through this passage that his justice will not discard those who are broken from the outside or exhausted from the inside.

Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the church to return to true radical justice and love from his cell in Birmingham, Alabama. The modern church too needs to regain its compassion.

Michael Ramsden

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God of love, world of suffering

March 5th, 2012

Suffering is a vast subject, which cannot be addressed fully in a short talk like this.

There is a difference between the questions “Why?” (the intellectual question) and “Why me?” (the existential question).

There is a further distinction to be made between moral evil, and physical pain.

 

Some popular answers to the question of suffering:

1, The naturalistic answer – there is no purpose, that’s just the way it is.

This answers the intellectual question but we are still left with the pain and we have no hope (“We must live with a philosophy of unyielding despair” Bertrand Russell)

2. Karma – suffering as divine payback for things that you have done wrong (either in this life or in a former life) – this philosophy can be used to argue that it is unjust to alleviate suffering.

There is a Christian version of this second teaching (e.g. that the earthquake in Haiti was divine judgement for things that had happened in the past), however, Jesus opposes this view in Luke 13:1-5. He raises both the issue of moral evil and the issue of physical pain but, while not denying that the people who suffered were sinners, refuses to see them as worse sinners than his hearers. While some suffering can be related to our own actions, other suffering isn’t (cf. John 9:2). Jesus’ point is this, unless we repent, we too will perish. We have a finite period of time in which to respond to God in faith and repentance, and we will be held accountable to God as to whether we do this.

The Biblical narrative is that a loving God created a world which was able to choose to love him (for lifeless love and loveless life are terrible things), and gave the world a moral framework in which to love. Doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want is not freedom, it is anarchy. When we violate the moral framework, we have less love and less opportunity. When the moral framework is violated, love is violated (e.g. betrayal). By seeking to break God’s laws, we end up breaking ourselves. We live in a broken world.

Do we doubt God when we witness a disaster on the scale of the Asian tsunami? God promised that such things would happen (cf. Luke 21:25), so they should not cause us to doubt him, but we can be left wondering what it means.

Is it possible that we live in a world where an enemy is at work? An alien intelligence, evil spiritual beings. Not all suffering in the world is our fault. The ancient world saw spiritual activity everywhere. Christ did not come to show spiritual beings to be non-existent but to put them in their place.

The brokenness of the world has broken God’s heart. “Jesus wept” is a polite translation. The original is a word of great outrage and deep emotional pain. But, if this is true, why did God bother to create in the first place?

(1) It is difficult to compare existence and non-existence (what standard are we using?)

(2) We mustn’t think that God created the world (a) out of need (God is not lonely, loving relationships require two or more personal beings, and God has lived in the loving relationship of the Trinity from all eternity) or (b) out of recklessness (God knew that we would rebel and what that would cost him even before he created the world (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-20))

The price that God pays to reconcile us to himself is the highest price that he could have paid.

The message of the cross means that all evil is dealt with and justice will be upheld.

The message of the resurrection means that God is big enough to be able to compensate us for our suffering in a new heaven and a new earth.

Michael Ramsden

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The bread of life

March 5th, 2012

John 6:25-35, 51 

  • Jesus is trying to teach about Himself with miracles – like the bread that came from heaven. Jesus is referring to Himself as the Bread that came from heaven.
  • 4 main points:
  1. The Bread from heaven
  • He came down – different to other religions, where the god doesn’t come down but is too high to come down into the thick of our lives. But God did come, becoming flesh.
  • If He didn’t come down then we would be left in confusion about who God is.
  • You can know God personally through Jesus Christ. Do you know Him?
  • God became vulnerable in this world, knowing it would cost Him His life. You can go to God knowing He has been there, known every form of vulnerability.
  1. He satisfies the deep hunger we have
  • Jesus is the only one who can satisfy the spiritual hunger we have for life.
  • We try to find fulfilment in various places – family, friends, career, etc. But at the end of it all we are empty still.
  • We have different ways of handling the emptiness we face – so many substitutes for the Bread.
  • The first step alcoholics take towards recovery is admit they have a problem and are powerless. We need to do the same.
  • Jesus is like the stimulant for life that we crave deep down. We receive true freedom and satisfaction from Him.
  • God the Father had His seal of approval over Jesus, God the Son, and was pleased with Him – before Jesus did any miracles. God’s approval is not dependent on performance.
  • Are you driven by fear of approval? If you accept Jesus, the Father accepts you and puts His seal of approval on you.
  1. He gives life
  • Jesus came down to give His life for us.
  • This is brought to a climatic point at the cross – Jesus gave His life for us; He gave up His life to save us.
  • God comes down and fulfils His perfect justice to pay for our sin, so we could come into relationship with Him.
  • We can’t achieve salvation through merely trying to follow Jesus’ example.
  1. He is to be received
  • V.29 – in order to achieve salvation there is no work to be done but to believe and receive Jesus. It is finished!
  • Jesus is a gift to be received.
  • You don’t “sort yourself out” or “clean yourself up” in order to come to God – you simply come as you are and give all your baggage to Jesus!
  • Seize the day!

 

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Jealousy

March 5th, 2012

1 Samuel 18:6-30

  • David is a huge celebrity after killing Goliath and Saul is jealous.
  • Fame is a poisoned chalice. We live in a culture where we lift people up to be able to shoot them down easily. It looks so blissful but countless celebrities say they can’t find their identity in all the glory.
  • David is different, he doesn’t get seduced by the fame while Saul is in agony watching people chant David’s name.
  • David is not impressed with himself ‘who am I?’
  • Saul cares to much about the opinions of people and it amounts to violence in his life.
  • Jealousy is what the devil got thrown out of heaven – we are not safe from envy.
  • We need to guard our hearts from jealousy as it can trap and poison us.
  • Samuel 18:10-11. Saul tries to kill David but David evades him twice.
  • Saul thinks David’s got it in for him but David doesn’t take himself too seriously.
  • We need to watch our hearts and recognise when we are being envious of good looks, career success etc. The Bible shows that envy can take you down.

How do we respond to envy?

  • We try to find ways of tearing the objects of our envy down in order to hoist ourselves up.
  • Proverbs 27:4 – There is such a thing as good anger but there is only bad envy.
  • Saul uses his daughter to accomplish murder. He’s become a monster and it doesn’t feel pleasant when there is corruption in your bones.
  • Jealousy is different to covetousness. Jealousy is where you’re not happy till everyone’s unhappy.
  • Esther 5:13 – jealousy prevents you enjoying the good things in your life.

How do you get free from jealousy?

  • Getting freedom from jealousy through revenge doesn’t work.
  • Saul bid David bring him 100 foreskins. Saul wanted to get rid of David and assumed he would be killed.
  • If you try going against someone that God is raising up, you’re doomed. Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him.
  • Saul’s problem is with God. He is consumed with being King.
  • We’ve all got a kingdom. God sends Davids into our lives – we can try to fight but we are doomed to lose.
  • We need to remember grace and thank God for our role in anything, even if that role in in the shade – it is God’s mercy that we be involved at all.
  • We need to throw ourselves into the grace of God on our lives. We are treated with such love and are able to sit with Him on the throne.
  • Jesus took all of the poison and ugliness out of our lives and took it to the cross so that we can be free.

 

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