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Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

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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Hannah’s Misfortune

January 18th, 2011

1 Samuel 1:1-7

  • This is a story of pain and agony – Hannah is barren, which is a traumatic thing anyway, but in the culture of her day it carried social stigma and shame. It was seen as a sign of disfavour and failure to not be able to have children.
  • Furthermore, living under the same roof as Hannah is her husband Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, who continuously mocks and taunts her and adds to her sense of inferiority.
  • We look at the 2 people closest to Hannah and how they responded to her suffering:

1. Elkanah

  • Although he wasn’t very sympathetic with his words, he did do something well: he dealt compassionately with Hannah.
  • He gave her a double portion ‘because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb’. He offered kindness and affirmation despite knowing that God has closed her womb.
  • He recognises that God has the power to open Hannah’s womb but hasn’t – he recognises God’s sovereignty over the situation, that nothing happens without God’s allowing it. He doesn’t try and excuse God.
  • The example of Job – people blamed his suffering on something wrong he had done, like modern-day karma. Whereas it was nothing to do with that.
  • The example of the blind man that Jesus healed in the gospels – the disciples queried whether it was his sin or his parents’ sin that made him blind; Jesus said neither, but so that the glory of God might be shown.
  • Our response should not be spectacle about why certain suffering happened, but compassion and love for that person and trust in God and His wisdom.
  • We often have no idea why God’s doing what He’s doing in our life and in the lives of others – but we do know that God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). He has a plan and a purpose.
  • Elkanah believed God was good even before the greatest act of God’s goodness and love took place – His Son coming to earth to be misunderstood and rejected and to suffer for us.
  • Psalm 73:16-17 – we need to keep the big picture in mind – eternity.

2. Peninnah

  • The same phrase is used about God closing Hannah’s womb in relation to how Peninnah responded. The same 2 people can have the same theology and understanding, but one can be compassionate and the other can be cruel.
  • We look at Peninnah and question how someone can be so cruel – but we should be careful because we are only a few steps away from acting the same.
  • She is probably jealous of Hannah – Elkanah gives Hannah a double portion and shows special love for her. Peninnah therefore cannot enjoy her own life and is robbed of joy.
  • Jealously is incredibly harmful and destructive – it is so easy for us to be jealous of people are are seen as more special than us, e.g. Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37:4).
  • Peninnah probably is satisfied with her lot of children – she wants what Hannah has that she doesn’t have, so she taunts Hannah about she has and Hannah doesn’t.
  • We secretly love it when the people we envy fall.
  • Envy rots your bones – Prov. 14:30.
  • Envy thrives on pride because we want to feel more special than others and for people to acknowledge it – in other words, we want to be worshipped.
  • We can only deal with pride through the gospel and understanding it. We see that we are desperately wicked and needy and deserve nothing, and that Jesus had to die a horrific death because of the evil of our sin and pride.
  • We can be freed to be truly happy for others and to offer kindness to others because God shows us such mercy.
  • Get to know Jesus and you’ll find you become more like Him.

Did Jesus Do Miracles?

November 29th, 2010

Did the miracles happen?

  • Jesus is well-known for his miracles  or the “mighty works” – not just as a good teacher.
  • We have to come to terms with the miracles. As Western, 21st century people, we try to ignore them – we find ways to escape them or suggest a sense of exaggeration. Like they are legends with inflated stories – well-meaning people wanting to make Jesus look great.
  • People try to pass off the stories as Chinese whispers – legends passed on and added to over time, like Robin Hood. But this won’t do to explain it away – we’ve looked already in previous sessions at how the gospels are well-documented, trustworthy historical documents, which kept to the original facts. Luke is one of the finest historical documents we have.
  • John the Baptist – incredibly well-known and respected in that day – and yet the historical books show not one trace of a miracle. This discounts the idea that popular teachers got inflated with miraculous stories.
  • Jesus’ enemies accused him of doing miracles by the power of the devil – they were trying to explain them away because they were actually happening. They didn’t deny that Jesus was really doing miracles.
  • If these stories were fabricated, the disciples would have come off better in the accounts – but they are not very favourable towards them. They often got it wrong – awkward and embarrassing stories. It’s easy to trust these accounts.
  • Someone (unknown to us, not one of the 12 disciples) was trying to do miracles in the name of Jesus – shows that all across the region Jesus was associated with spiritual powers.
  • It’s bad history to suggest these things were made up. Why then would people believe it was made up? Anti-supernaturalism – ruling out supernatural things – saying they don’t happen at all, like fairy tales. So we fit the evidence around that. But is this reasonable?
  • You can’t scientifically prove these miracles Jesus did – they’re part of ancient history. But does it mean they’re not true? The problem is that not everything can be proven using scientific methods, for example – the very notion that something isn’t true if it isn’t proved scientifically – this statement can’t be proven scientifically! It’s another leap of faith, an assumption.
  • There is an awareness that there is power, a miraculous power. We can take the miracles as history.

Why did Jesus do the miracles he did?

  • Motivated out of tremendous compassion.
  • Feeding 5,000 people from one person’s lunch – wanting to feed them and look after them.
  • So many examples of the mercy and pity and compassion of Jesus – he was always showing it.
  • Look at the way Jesus treated outcasts and those rejected by society, e.g. healing lepers, physically healing a socially outcast woman – those who people couldn’t go near because they were “unclean”.
  • We don’t fully understand how set apart from us God is – how we can’t just waltz on up to him. Bodily diseases like leprosy are symbolic of how unclean we are and how untouchable God is. And yet Jesus showed himself as willing and wanting to help.
  • Example of woman whose back was bent over for 18 years – a terrible infirmity, which would have also been humiliating. The religious leaders cared more about looking after animals on the Sabbath than people, like this woman – saying she shouldn’t be healed. Jesus sees that this is not right – it’s so wrong, not how his Father intended things
  • The man who asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life – Jesus looked on him with love. The same with us – we don’t fully know how much he looks on us with kindness, love, mercy and compassion – he is full of it!
  • Jesus also did miracles for other reasons:

1.     To teach as a parable, e.g. the fig tree that Jesus curses – seems harsh, but he’s really trying to show something symbolically – that God’s people, the people of Israel, are unfruitful and God will judge them.

2.     To show that we can do miracles with faith in him.

3.     To show his authority – his power to forgive sin.

4.     To show the glory of God, to show how glorious he is. We were designed by God to know the glory of God, to be satisfied by his glory. Any other glory we pursue will ultimately disappoint us.

5.     As signs of his kingdom. The world is under darkness and under the power of the evil one, the devil, who is real (not some mythical cartoon-figure), who hates God and hates people. We can see there is evil in the world – and that’s why Jesus came – to destroy the works of the devil and bring in a new, right kingdom – of peace, goodness and wholeness. Jesus won the greatest victory – one day he will completely eradicate sin and sickness and death, bringing in the fullness of his kingdom. We get a taste of it on earth with miracles that happen now. We are all invited into this eternal kingdom, and get to witness signs of it.