Something I need to repent from…

trump1I had a hunch,

so I looked through all four gospels.

I was right!

Which means that I was wrong originally,

and also that I have to go back to that part of my book to rewrite it!

Let me explain: I had a dilemma in reading through the Sermon on the Mount. Well, just one of the dilemmas Jesus throws at us when we seek to examine his words. This bit:

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt. 5:21,22)

Strong words indeed! Calling someone a fool will place us in danger of hell!!!? That’s what he said! This is a command to his followers, which we must heed. Why say we follow him but not do as he commands? Actually, we can’t, or we would be liars!

However, Jesus himself did get quite insulting at times, calling Pharisees and other religious people ‘vipers‘, ‘whitewashed tombs‘, said their father was the devil, for not accepting him, even violently ejecting those he called a ‘den of robbers‘ from the Temple! This is often excused as ‘righteous anger’, and so it’s easy to take what Jesus said about anger and place it in the context of his actions and come to a conclusion that if your anger is ‘righteous’ i.e. it comes from a sense of right and wrong, and is in response to something unjust, wicked or evil, then it is perfectly fine and excusable.

So I continued on my quest to oppose such things and allow myself to get angry with people who were unrighteous and particularly those who were inciting, encouraging or legislating for others to do unrighteous acts. This of course, meant mainly politicians. All along, though, the words of Jesus kept ringing in my head. Do they not ring in yours? Surely there are situations and times when you look at yourself and realise that your behaviour, your attitude, even your thoughts (which wsub-buzz-26075-1475600325-1as a major thrust throughout the Sermon on the Mount) are not in keeping with his commands… if you say you’re a follower, yes? Righteous living is about more than who you hang out with and what you eat or drink! In fact it isn’t even that at all! I was being told by a few people, my wife included, to stop getting angry at Trump, or Theresa May, or Jeremy Hunt (whose name is prone to abuse!), or… well, there’s a fairly long list!

[The great thing about Trump is that he can produce sheer bundles of mirth from me! I’ve found that laughing at all the things he says is much more edifying. Laughter is good for you. Try it.]

What I kept trying to do was an exercise I made myself do some time ago; try to look at everyone through the eyes of Jesus. Everyone is made in the image of God and is loved by that all-loving God. While it is sin and behaviour that God does not love, his love for the individual is unswayed and beyond our comprehension. Each of these people that annoy me are each a human creation, capable of receiving the love of God. So also should my attitude towards them be.

That’s when it hit me, and I searched Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Jesus never personally insulted anyone! Any individual who came to him might have felt rebuke or admonishment, and certainly received teaching from him, but there was never any name-calling or abuse. With one exception: when Peter took him aside to tell him that he would not let Jesus go up to Jerusalem to be killed, Jesus rebuked him sharply with the infamous “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter was very familiar and dear to Jesus, and had only just been praised for announcing that he believed Jesus to be the Son of the living God. While Peter would have felt the sting of that rebuke, he would have known the deep love Jesus had for him, like a parent has for a child they rebuke. He had overstepped a mark in trying to interfere with Jesus’ intentions. However, Jesus was never that way with anyone else, unless they were in a group! All the insults hurled as I listed above were in the plural! Jesus was getting angry with a group for good reasons, since they were meant to be religious people and users of the Temple, but they were ‘blind guides’ leading people in the wrong direction or lining their own pockets from the proceeds of religion. Any one of these individuals could come to Christ and be redeemed, as happened with Matthew the tax collector (an utterly despised group of social vermin in the Roman period), and Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee.

To go back to Jesus’ command, as I must do, we can set it in context: Jesus was talking about murder, and then likening it to anger, as if he’s labelling that as the root cause of murder. We can go right back to the first recorded murder, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Note what God said to Cain…

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ (Gen. 4: 6,7)

Cain was not right in his heart, which God knew, with sin ‘crouching at his door’. In which way? We know he was angry towards Abel. This led to him murdering his brother. God knew Cain’s heart, and so his sacrifice meant nothing. Cain’s acceptance was based on him ‘doing what is right’. Anything we do for God means nothing to him if our heart is not right! It is repeated right throughout scripture, particularly from the prophets and in the Psalms. Cain was angry with Abel and that anger grew. He did not ‘master’ it as God warned him to do, and it grew into the act of murder. Thus why we have Jesus stating that anger towards an individual, even silently within our heart, is to be expunged from the true follower, or we will be judged for it.

Seeing an individual among a collective is what Jesus did all the time. The woman in the pushing crowd who touched him in faith, little Zacchaeus who climbed into the tree to see Jesus in the middle of the throng, the blind man who called out to him as those around him told him to shush… and it is what we all must do too.

I can ground this back into the 21st century by going back to Star Trek again! Yeah, Trekkies will line up to tell me I should be saying the 23rd century, but I’m going to talk about the Borg, so it’s actually the 24th century. Ha!

6c0aea8b77658dcb0aeab96940263d1a4281bf5ba026d0ee1b65e4e77c66475cI am reminded of Hugh. Hugh the Borg drone. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the Borg were the most merciless enemy the Federation or anyone could face; a collective ‘hive mind’ thinking rationally and unemotionally as one, with their effervescent greeting: “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated into our collective. Resistance is futile.” In the ST:NG episode ‘I, Borg’ (which is a great one to watch for the current debate the West is having with extremism), the Enterprise takes on board an injured one of their drones, a half machine cyborg, that behaved as a bee separated from its hive would: only seeking to get back to the collective. The crew were given orders by Captain Picard to implant a stealth computer ‘virus’ into its programming and release it back to be collected again, and so infect the entire species with the virus that would crash their system and bring an end to them. However, as the drone lived on, away from the hive mind, it developed a personality, and even said “I” instead of “we”. The crew realised he was becoming an individual again, and even named him ‘Hugh’. They managed to change their view of the collective, and did not infect him, but allowed him to go back, because this was what Hugh wanted; he was able to decide he belonged with his own kind. However, his sense of individuality was released into the collective mind. It took on a life of its own, grew in the programming, and created an underground ‘subculture’ within the hive, much like the concepts found in ‘The Matrix’.

Seeing the individual within any collective grouping is the way of Jesus, as I said. In doing this, following in those footsteps, I see the likes of Trump, Hunt, Bush, Blair, etc. (all my political ‘enemies’) as those people whom God loves and can reach out to, just as he did for me. This assuages my anger, and redirects it at the collective. I hate the Borg, but not Hugh. I hate the alt-right agenda, but not Trump. I hate the destroyers of our NHS, but not Hunt.

When we empathise with ‘freedom fighters’ and understand their cause, and their anger at the injustice they see, we feel that pain, but also that wrath. Too often, such anger leads to the destruction of human lives, which is when they become ‘terrorists’ – were they to grasp the concept of the unique rights of the individuals they are impacting, would they not stop short of violence? It is the same with governments leading us to war; they, like those who radicalise young idealists, attempt by propaganda to control our minds as a hive to hate that which they want us to kill. Stop! Be the individual who will say ‘NO!’ to hatred, and see the individual on the other side.

While I continue to attack injustice and unfair policies, and evil attitudes, and try to make others aware of such things, I will seek to stop short of hating the individual. In the current political climate, I know this will not be easy for me. I value your prayers.

Of this I repent, Lord.

Grace be with you.

love-your-enemies

Star Trek and my rejection of Calvin

uss_wells

Star Trek and the Prime Directive

I’m an avid Star Trek fan. I have probably seen almost every episode of each series in the franchise, and all the films so far except for maybe two. One of the major themes that occurs in ST is the Prime Directive, the overarching law made by the federation that no ships encountering a more primitive civilisation shall intervene or interfere with their culture in any way. Later on, we were introduced to the timeships, which came from a future federation, covered by a temporal Prime Directive, which forbade them from interfering in a timeline by changing events, which would affect the future. This is a recurring theme in science fiction, since the possibility of travelling back in time always carries consequences for the future. The very appearance of timeships from the future surely poses problems for the temporal Prime Directive, since who knows what that might change, considering all the possible variables present. To be able to predict accurately, one would need to know everything that was going to happen, forever. This is impossible… unless you’re God. Yeah, only God would have the ability to ‘alter a timeline’. Hold that thought…

Calvinism

117629-004-9f92c82fI was introduced to the basic doctrinal argument/ debate of Calvinism v. Arminianism in Bible College: Laying aside the complexities and details, to boil this down, Calvinism is the belief that salvation is entirely down to the work and choice of God (predestination) and has nothing to do with any decision or effort on our part, since we are all incapable of saving ourselves from our inevitable all-encompassing sin, and salvation is set in stone and unalterable, whereas Arminianism is the belief that we can choose to follow Christ and then choose to stop following him. Coming from a pentecostal evangelical fold that is avidly Calvinist, I was already immersed in that theological perspective enough, and perusing over his doctrine I came to admire and respect it as a wonderfully concise and ordered theology that draws perfect little pictures from scripture; it is very easy to argue scripturally, and very hard to refute. I have never read his Institutes – they’re quite extensive – but they have been boiled down and explained so precisely by his followers, there is little need to, except for his most devoted disciples. However… there were bits of it I was never comfortable with, and I sought to marry the two views, while still describing myself as in the Calvinist camp, due to the enormous amount of supporting scripture in the New Testament.

My main objections were twofold, with a third growing on me over time:

1. ‘double predestination’

Once you adopt the belief that God has chosen his ‘elect’ and that this was done ‘before the foundation of the world’ then you have to agree with double predestination i.e. if God has chosen some to be his elected inheritors of his kingdom of heaven, then that means he has also chosen all the others to be eternally lost/ punished/ burning in hell. The moral compass we all have must scream at us that double predestination is unjust! If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision? The standard answer to this was always that we were not to question God’s ways, decisions or ‘wisdom’ but this dismisses that natural inbuilt sense of right and wrong we have all been given, by God! Had I been told this doctrine before my conversion, I would have concluded that the Christians’ God was a total jerk and had obviously not elected me! I would have refused to even wish to follow such a ‘loving creator’.

2. MY choice

The clear recall I had of the process I underwent myself when I chose to follow Jesus was something I just had to raise each time I was presented with the ‘clear’ scriptures of Calvinism. It had to be rewritten in my memory as something that God had done: this was ‘irresistible grace’ (one of the key points of Calvinism), and I could have done nothing to avert that moment in time or stop it happening, when I made the decision God called me. Each time, though, I felt like I was in a science fiction story as a robot that had never been aware that he was not a human!

I even wondered at times why we were singing “I have decided to follow Jesus…”!!

3. Hyper-Calvinism

In time, I came to the realisation that so often, Calvinists fall into the trap of hyper-Calvinism, as if it isn’t possible to be a ‘moderate’ Calvinist, and one will always end up believing that not just our decision the moment of salvation, but every single event that occurs, and every action we take, is predestined to happen too. Me sitting here typing this has been ordained by God to happen! This takes the robot analogy to an extreme, since every part of our lives has been pre-programmed by an inventor and/or code-writer.

If all this is the case, then why do we bother at all with anything? Once this has become ingrained, certain beliefs and behaviours may follow in some cases, such as;

  • Pharisaism and a superior attitude that ‘we are God’s chosen ones’
  • a belief that moral behaviour is not important since salvation is set in stone anyway
  • preachers who believe that no appeal to others to come and follow Jesus is needed, since ‘his elect will be drawn by the Holy Spirit anyway’
  • the church need not be concerned with society’s problems since this is God’s will and has been ordained by God to happen to a world that has fallen from him – when you add in the prevalent belief that we are in the last days, then no desire to change society for the better can be stirred. Why waste energy trying to bail more water out of a sinking ship?

Any objections I raised that cast doubt on the Calvinist position was routinely shot down. It was as if questioning Calvin was equivalent to doubting scripture! “Is it not possible that God’s ‘election’ of us is based on his omniscience and knowing who will choose to follow Jesus?” was refuted with a clear “No, God the Father is the one who makes all the decisions and chooses whom he will save, from before time began!”

This unwavering adherence to reading scripture in such an unquestioning way has led to some tragic situations, like I blogged on before. However, as with many dogmatic positions, it favours certain parts of scripture over others, though adherents would never wish to admit to this. Just a few verses, off the top of my head, that appear to undermine predestination:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Trying to fit this into the perfect picture of God selecting us before we were even born creates a lot of tight hoops to jump through. Or you can just ignore the hoops as insignificant (which is impossible for fundamentalist inerrantists!)

Quantum theology

I have long tried to present theology as similar to our quantum universe. Without going into the intricacies of quantum mechanics/ physics, let’s just say that it is now known that certain things in the micro-particle world defy logic and present clear evidence for two truths/ facts to co-exist in our universe, at the same time. For me, the apparent ‘contradictions’ in scripture are also contained in a concise way in the mind of God, the Creator of this quantum universe (in a way that is totally illogical to mere mortals).

However, it would be better if we could find things that do fit into a logical understanding, yes? If God wishes to be revealed to us, and that we should know him, then a clearer knowledge of him in our minds must be within his will. I realised that my original idea (most likely not original to me in that nobody else ever asked it) held some weight; what if God, at the beginning of time, knowing all things that were to happen, saw me on that day in 1979, seeking him and asking for him, and decided, there and then, that he would jump ahead of me (like a time traveller going backwards to ‘fix’ a timeline) and provide that ‘irresistible grace’ for me to respond to and so give me the means and the power to be able to follow him, since he would know that alone, I could not do so, and would fail at any attempt to be a ‘faithful disciple’?

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)

God looks down from heaven on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Ps. 53:2)

As I said, this was rejected by those who had studied Calvin: “No, God chooses us, we have no part in the process!” However, it has always struck a chord in my heart, since we know that in Eden, God clearly gave freewill to Adam and Eve; it was their choice to eat the fruit that was forbidden, and there was no high fence around the tree!

When we go to the favourite passage of Calvinism, we can analyse it quite easily:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30, emphasis mine)

Note those two words I highlighted: the Greek word for ‘foreknew’ is proginosko, but I don’t even need to go into any depth on that. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, and each time simply means what it translates as – ‘knowing beforehand’. The passage states first that God had foreknowledge of us, and then he predestined us! The choice was ours, but the empowering and the process is all his!

Still not with me? Confusing? This is deep theology, and trying to simplify it is an uphill task – I have gone over this a fair bit to make it easy to read, believe me. Let’s try the trusted tool of explanation for these things that Jesus used; the parable.

The Parable of the Determined Son

A father was asked by his children, what he would like for Christmas. He answered them that there was nothing specific that he’d like, except for one thing that he knew was far too expensive for them to buy him, even if they pooled all their savings, and he told them he knew that. They were to buy some smaller presents and not worry about it. The youngest child later told his older siblings that he was going to save up enough money to buy this present by going to all the neighbours and asking them to pay him for washing their cars or tidying their garden. No amount of explanation from them that he’d never earn enough would deter him.

They realised how determined their youngest was as he started putting money into his piggy bank, so they told their father. The father did not wish to dishearten the youngest by telling him to stop his quest, nor let him be disappointed, so late one night he sneaked into the boy’s room and put the amount of money needed into the piggy bank. When Christmas approached, the youngest came to his siblings and asked them to count his money with him to see if he had enough. When they added it up, they of course could not believe that it was all there!

What does this mean?

The youngest child had been the one to decide to get this present and put his heart into achieving it, but he was never going to be able to. The father saw the love and determination his son had, and provided the means for the son to be able to give his father the present he knew he wanted and that the son wished to give. If we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” as Jesus commanded us (Mark 12:30), then this must require effort on our part, borne from love. Such love produces action from us, or it is not love (John 14:152115:101John 2:33:225:3). Yet this action cannot produce any ‘saving power’ (Eph. 2:8-9) or achieve what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). God foresees all these actions, this determination to seek him, and intervenes to save us before we think that we must do these things to save ourselves.

To go back to Star Trek, what then is God’s Prime Directive? Freewill! The answer to the question of why he doesn’t intervene in the world more than he does, is that we know that he always left us to our own will and he will not make ‘first contact’. The ST version can be ignored once a civilisation develops warp drive and is about to embark on space travel, and so God ignores his own Prime Directive until we are the ones to seek him! For God to enter into our lives uninvited breaks that and makes a mockery of our statement that we are ‘left to our own free will’!

c-s-lewisI’m not rejecting predestination, I’m rejecting Calvin’s narrow and shortsighted interpretation of it.

I don’t accept his version, I accept what I read in my Bible.

I’m not saying that God does not ‘elect’ us to salvation by his own power, I’m saying that he doesn’t select us. Scripture teaches election, Calvin teaches selection. After all, when we elect someone, they have to stand for election in the first place!

In Calvin’s defence, though, he didn’t get to see Star Trek!

Grace be with you.free-will