Saturday, 18 December 2010

Skeletons in the cupboard? The highs and lows of Christ's geneology.

I'm one of those people that usually skips over the long lists of genealogies, places or tribes when I'm reading the Bible. But for some reason - maybe I was thinking that there must be SOME reason for them being there - this Christmas I took a closer look at the first chapter of Mathew which begins: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:"

We have two genealogies of Christ from the gospels - one in Mathew and one in Luke. On the surface, these introductions to the birth of Christ provide him with an impeccable lineage from King David to both Mary and Joseph as his biological and 'legal' parents respectively. Indeed it was because they were of the 'house of David' that they visiting Bethlehem ("Royal David's City") for the Roman Census at this particular time.

The other high points of this lineage include the central biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah (one of the 12 sons of Jacob from whom the Jews - the tribe of Judah - were descended). Also we later have King David, and his son King Solomon (who built the first temple in Jerusalem) as further links in a continuous family tree down to Joseph. The later names do differ between the two genealogies (at least for the generations between King David and Mary and Joseph), as it is believed Mathew traces the legal descent of the house of David using only heirs to the throne, while Luke traces the direct bloodline of Joseph back through David to Abraham and further still back to Adam.

Given that Mathew's listing emphasizes Jesus's birthright to the throne of David, it is interesting that he alone chooses to include four women (besides Mary) in the family tree. Why these four women? The reasons may be shocking to some. All four were of 'low' estate - either they were not Israelites, or they were involved in adulterous relationships with the men in the genealogy, or both. There can be no reason to think that Jesus
was who he claimed to be simply because of a sort of high spiritual or royal inheritance.

The four women mentioned in Mathew's account are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah the Hittite).They are certainly worth knowing about.
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
[Mathew, Chapter 1, 1-6]
If you think the Christmas story is a sanitized one, prepare to be shocked by the story of these four female 'ancestors' of Jesus. But I should state the obvious - there is no suggestion that the blame for the adulterous side of this story is to be laid exclusively on the females!

the mother of Perez

Tamar was a Canaanite woman married to Judah's son Er. When Er died, his brother Onan refused to take Tamar as his wife as was the custom. When Onan also died, Tamar returned to her Canaanite home with Judah's promise that if she lived as a widow she would have his third son Shelah when he was old enough. But this promise was broken, and when Tamar heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was coming to shear sheep near her own father's house she took off her widow's clothes and disguised herself with a veil at the roadside. The unabridged version of what happened next is from Genesis, chapter 28:
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.

20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.
27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.
And so we have "Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar".

Rahab the
mother of Boaz

Rahab is commonly referred to in the New Testament as 'Rahab the harlot'. It was in her house or inn built into the walls of Jericho that the Israelite spies stayed, and when Joshua took the city in the first days of the conquest of Canaan, her life was spared because of her help in hiding them. A scarlet rope hanging from her outer window in the walls - the same window that the spies made their escape from - was the given signal. Joshua honoured the promise and the Canaanite Rahab, who now confessed her faith in the Hebrew God, married into the Israelites. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says:
30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. 31. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[Hebrews, Chapter 11]

And in James, chapter 2, we have:
25. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies?
And so we have "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab".

Ruth the mother of Obed

Ruth was a Moabitess who married two Jewish farmers despite the statute in Deuteronomy explicitly forbidding Jews to accept Moabites into their assembly.

In the first place she married Mahlon, one of the sons of Naomi and Emilelech in her own land, but when both her husband and father-in-law died, she returned to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Here she met her second husband Boaz, who was a near-relative of Naomi's, while gleaning in his fields at harvest-time.

There is no implication of immorality in the familiar story of Ruth, quite the reverse in fact, but a parallel is frequently drawn throughout
the Old Testament between the sins of adultery and intermarriage with gentiles.

And so we have "
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth".

Bathsheba the mother of Solomon

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a foreign mercenary fighting for King David in the Ammonite war about 1000 bc. When the war was in full swing, David watched from his palace as Bathsheba bathed on the roof of her house below. He sent for her to spend the night with him, and when she fell pregnant, David sent orders for Uriah to be placed in a battle position so that he would be killed. Guilty of murder and adultery, David eventually married Bathsheba after the baby of their first union had died.
Bathsheba then had four sons to David, including Solomon who was to succeed to his throne.

And so we have "
David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah's wife".

What does all this mean? The stories of these four women, all gentiles, who are included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, maybe draw a cautionary line in the sand about the veneration of his lineage - not just in terms of the morality of key figures like David and Judah - but more significantly about the Kingship of Christ over Jews and Gentiles alike. One thing seems clear; these four women were deliberately selected for inclusion for SOME purpose - and one that would have been transparent to Mathew's contemporaries.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Trinity of Psalms: King David's vision of Christ, 1000 b.c.

When Saint Patrick was a herd on Slemish mountain in county Antrim, he found liberation in the words of Psalm 23 which begins "The Lord is my Shepherd ...". Thousands of years earlier, and thousands of miles away, King David had written this Psalm with its images of shepherds and green pastures that struck a chord with Patrick.

I don't understand the replacement theology of some "New Testament Alone" churches. There are many reasons why it doesn't hold up, but for me it is like trying to ride a 1-wheeled bicycle, or rather, a 2-wheeled bicycle with one of the wheels removed. I heard two sayings recently that struck home. The first was that "Christ is in every page of Genesis", and the second was:
"the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, while the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed".

The 23rd Psalm is the one that every Christian, of any denomination, still knows best. Maybe it is because it contains a complete summary of the gospel message that very few folk read it in the context of the two psalms that embrace it, the one before and the one after. It sits in the middle of a 'trinity' of psalms (Psalms 22, 23 and 24) that take the central one out of the realms of symbolism and metaphor into the sphere of prophetic detail.

The first Psalm of this trinity is Psalm 22 and it is a quite stunning vision of Christ's death and passion on the cross, while the third Psalm 24 is a breath-taking vision of Christ's victorious entry into and enthronement in the Kingdom of Heaven - on the third day.
It is only when I read these three Psalms together that the full impact of those 3 pivotal days in world history comes alive.

Psalm 22 (I have highlighted some verses for reasons which will be obvious to anybody familiar with the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion)

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax;it has melted away within me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him — may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him — those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.


Moving then to Psalm 24, the scene moves to the Resurrection, but not from the perspective of the empty tomb on the third day, but that of Christ's triumphal entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty— he is the King of glory.


With these two pillars of support to the 23rd Psalm, like the prelude and finale to a pastoral symphony, I leave this (King James) version of the old, old story without further comment.

Psalm 23
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Instinct for God - from before 'original sin'?

When birds migrate half-way round the world, they know where they are going 'by instinct'. I suppose if any one bird was unfortunate enough to have a more developed brain so that it was aware of other options and choices, this instinct would be drowned. But then it could always just join a flock and follow for the sake of it.

The patterns birds make in the sky when preparing to migrate are hypnotic. They seem to take on a collective mind, and can even appear like a single organism. This picture looks to me like a giant fish in the sky.

But what of mankind? If we have 'original sin' in our make-up, ought there not to be a remnant of even earlier (before the fall) perfect connection with God? A connection that would be truly 'original', although it could not again be wholly innocent or perfect in this world.

This train of thought began with wondering why 'fasting' seems to have no place in the religious tradition I was brought up in. Everything I read about fasting, and its association with prayer, seems to make sense. Not only did Jesus fast for 40 days, but he appears to have taught self-denial (of power, wealth, possessions, etc.) - or at least that all self-centered worldly desires should be secondary to the love of God, and the love of one's neighbour. His example was such: born in a stable with nothing, died on a cross with nothing and lived 'without a place to rest his head'. Where the prosperity gospel comes from, Heaven alone knows!

I was told that fasting can actually bring on a sense of elation - is this true, and why? The one thing I'm sure about is that when my life is busy, busy with 'stuff', and when my mind is a constant buzz of 'interests', even religious 'duties' do not bring me to a frame-shaking sense of His presence. Maybe fasting is a state of mind, uncluttered by the world, where the voice of God can actually be heard.

Before I finally shake off my denominational baggage and head off for a hermit's cave, I suppose I better reflect on the fact that fasting and self-denial was never an end in itself, but a preparation.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Wrestling with the Truth

When Jacob wrestled physically all night with a man who turned out to be God, surprisingly, neither prevailed, and finally God dislocated Jacob's hip to bring the struggle to an end. I can understand why Jacob ('father' of the 12 tribes of Israel) got disappointed - no, not disappointed, but angry - with God when things were not going well for him on his return to Canaan after 20 years exile. Can we prevail over God to get his blessing on our plans, when he has some other thing in mind for us?

When disaster hits or you miss out on "the one good thing" that you wanted above all else - a job, a partner, a house - or even a 'good thing' like a cure from an illness or the 'fixing' of a broken marriage, the first question is, "Why, (me), God?" Has it all gone wrong as a punishment? Is it a test of my faith? - (and yes, it certainly is doing that all right!) Where is God's plan for me in this mess? How could a Sovereign God let it happen?

When Christian people I know have been thrown to the edge of depression by such 'undeserved' traumatic events, I used to find it very hard to answer their questions, until it all happened to me.

The answer to my own anguished prayers at a time of extreme trauma came when I was drawn, for some reason, to read the story of Jacob wrestling with the "Angel of the Lord" in Genesis, 32.

Although Jacob and Esau were twins born to Isaac, it was the second-born twin (Jacob) that was destined to inherit God's promise given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. But Jacob - whose name means 'deceiver' - thought he had to give God a helping hand by tricking Esau out of his birthright. When Jacob fled his brother under the guise of finding a wife from Abraham's kinsfolk in Haran, he had to work for 7 years for his first wife (Leah), another 7 for the wife he wanted in the first place (Rachel), and another 6 years for the flocks and herds he accumulated.

But this was all just a preparation for his return to face Esau and fulfill God's promise in Canaan. Afraid of Esau's reaction, he divided his flocks and household in two (one with each wife) and sent them on ahead to meet Esau. Alone, Jacob wrestled with the "Angel of the Lord" all night before crossing the river into Canaan.

The part of the story that hit me was that rather than let Jacob proceed as his old deceitful self, the Lord disabled him to ensure his submission. Only then did God bless him and renew the covenant promises given earlier to Abraham, and with the blessing, re-named Jacob as "Israel".

Why did this story strike me so forcibly?

Because I had been "crippled" in my own circumstances (both in health and in work situation), and I couldn't understand why my prayers had been falling on deaf ears. Then I could see that I was wrestling with God myself. I would not give up things, good in themselves, that had become the most important things in my life, and let God's plan take over whatever that might prove to be.

Any Christian will see how the teachings of Jesus demand the highest levels of trust, obedience and self-sacrifice. Sometimes God permits us to have life-crippling experiences to put us back on the track He wants us on.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Third Person, Singular

Can we see the wind?

Well, we can see what it is doing to the trees and the direction it appears to be pushing them.

As an unseen force, I like the image of wind as the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit. The third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, might be the hardest one to understand, but it is the one which gives understanding, power and life itself.

I don't particularly like the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. In the Genesis account of creation, the Spirit of God existed with the Father and the Son (the Word) in the Beginning:
'Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.' (Genesis 1, verse 2)
This is the only occasion, I think, when the Spirit is described as being in a waiting and apparently motionless state, but I suppose 'hovering' does imply a bird-like activity. The Hebrew word used here for 'Spirit' can also be translated (and is elsewhere in the Old Testament) as 'Breath' or 'Wind'. So in the creation account of Adam, ' the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'. In Job 33, verse 4, Elihu says to Job, 'The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.'

Of course the New Testament gives us the whole picture of the Holy Spirit, not only in the Pentecostal experience of wind and tongues of fire at the birth of the church, but before (in the teachings and promises of Christ), and after (in the teachings and experiences of the Apostles).

I used to think of the Trinity as being the same thing in 3 different forms - a bit like water being liquid (normal water), solid (ice) or gas (steam), but the parallel breaks down if it is taken too far, and stops being helpful. Sometimes you can hear a hymn sung hundreds of times before particular words strike home with a new understanding. This happened recently to me with the hymn "Breath on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew." At the same time I came across Jesus' own illustration of the Holy Spirit as being like the wind in John 3, verses 6-8:
'Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at me saying, "You must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'

We are all control freaks as far as being in control of our own destiny is concerned. It is hard to trust and obey an unseen God when it means letting go and sailing in faith with the Wind. But if I don't and just drift along with the earth's flow, where will I end up?

Yes the question deepens, and we have all the gifts of the Spirit, baptism of the Spirit and so on. But then the denominational wrangles emerge and create a storm of their own. I think it's best to keep it simple so that you can actually feel the breeze that is directed at you.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

In the Beginning, Christ ...?

I passed a bookshop yesterday that has a 'new release' book called "CHRIST IN GENESIS". I haven't bought it yet, and don't want to until I put down my own thoughts first - just in case I get accused of copying!

Some folk will think this idea is out of sequence: surely Jesus wasn't born until the beginning of the New Testament? But most Christians will think straight away of the beginning of John's Gospel:
"In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. ...
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
The idea that Christ was one with the Father before creation, and was the agent of creation itself, is certainly a part of orthodox Christian theology. But I was thinking of something else - the idea that Christ's purpose in coming into the world was prophesied in the Old Testament, and 'fore-shadowed' by the events described.

The story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) always puzzled me. Yes, of course Cain's jealousy and murder of his brother was wrong, but it all came about because God rejected Cain's sacrifice of his 'fruits of the soil' in favour of Abel's 'firstborn of his stock'. After all, Cain worked the soil and Abel tended flocks. Only with the benefit of hindsight (i.e. the New Testament) do we understand the symbolic significance of blood sacrifice.

But the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22) to God's inexplicable request is even more striking. When the 'angel of the Lord' called out to Abraham at the last minute to revoke the request, the Lord provided a male sheep caught by its horns in a nearby thorn bush as a substitute.

The significance of this event as a fore-shadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross really hit me the last time I read this familiar story. Not the climax - but just before, when Abraham had taken the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on the back of his son Isaac for him to carry. I had not made any connection before with Jesus carrying the wood of his own cross to the hill at Calvary.

When they arrived, Isaac said to his father,

The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

We used to have an embroidered text on the wall at home when I was a small boy. It said "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found". It is certainly true when you read Genesis.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A day is a long time in Genesis?

Nelson McCausland, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland, has caused a bit of a political storm by criticising a new Ulster Museum exhibition on the origins of the universe. Here it provides only one storyline - 'Evolution Facts'. While the news story will follow predictable lines, his criticism is valid.

The late 20th century has witnessed a reluctant revolution in the scientific world which appears to have left the museum behind. The idea the the universe was infinite and absolute - that neither it nor time itself had a 'beginning' - was a stubborn tenet of scientific faith that has not been dispelled until this generation.

In 1915 Einstein introduced his General Theory of Relativity. He postulated that the universe exists in a space-time dimension that is neither linear nor absolute. Time and the universe had a simultaneous beginning. To talk of the time 'before' the beginning of the universe is like asking what is south of the south pole.

The discovery in the 1920s by Edwin Hubble (by measuring light from distant galaxies) that the universe was expanding in all directions led to the calculation that the entire matter of the universe must have been at a single point some 15 billion years ago - if the speed of expansion had been constant. Was this the 'beginning'?

In the 1940s, a group of scientists (unhappy at the prospect of having to accept a 'beginning') came up with the concept of a 'steady state' universe. This theory was abandoned by most scientists in the 1960s when a study of weak radio waves proved that the universe did not have a constant density in the past, and so a 'steady state' universe did not appear to exist.

Since the 1960s - largely through the work of Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and others as described in Hawking's best-seller A Brief History of Time - there is now almost universal acceptance in the scientific world of a 'singularity': a point of infinite density and spacetime curvature where time has a beginning. With this comes general scientific acceptance of the 'Big Bang' theory. Hawking is only concerned with events following the first microsecond of the 'Big Bang' - not with before or with its cause.
"The universe expanded by a factor of a million trillion trillion in a tiny fraction of a second. ... It produced a very large and uniform universe, just as we observe."
The speed of expansion of the universe as observed today is unlikely to be anything like the speed imagined a micro-second after the 'big bang'. A 'day' of those first 24 hours would have been a spectacular light show.

'Creationists' - by definition anybody that believes in a Creator God - have to contend with the assumption by atheists that they must believe in the 'Aunt Sally' of a literal 7-day (or more accurately, a 6-day) creation, where each day is 24 hours. The paradox is that many Christians are in denial about being 'Creationists' because of the implications that the label brings. So Nelson McCausland may not find much open academic support.

The debate about whether the six 'days' of creation as described in Genesis were intended to be interpreted as literal or figurative is for another 'day', but the greatest discrepancy of scientific versus literal-biblical estimates of duration (amounting to billions of years) mostly relate to the 'first day' when, according to Genesis 1. 1-6:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day', and the darkness he called 'night'. And there was evening and there was morning - the first day.
A couple of things seem obvious to me. First, in the creationist debate about the meaning of 'day' (where a considerable body of Christians do accept this as figurative for 'age'), I find little recognition of the fact that these verses actually define 'day' as the presence of the 'light' just created. The creation of the sun, moon and stars to establish (govern) the seasons and day and night as we now experience them (depending on the relative positions of earth and sun) was not until the 'fourth day'.

The second thing that appears obvious to me is that the biblical account of the first day of creation and the current scientific theories of the singularity event at the beginning of time and the universe are in greater harmony of cause and effect than ever before. It is 'evolution' that has no place in the debate.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The seven ages of man

There are so many things I want to rant about I don't know where to start. So, as Julie Andrews says, lets start at the very beginning - a very good place to start.

When I first got on the train to glory - the redemption express - I must have been about six or seven. All I knew was the tickets were free and if you weren't on board you might as well kiss good-bye to life there and then. The message was pretty unsophisticated: 'Turn or Burn'.

Mark Twain once said that giving up smoking was easy - he had done it hundreds of times. By the time I was 30 I too had given up smoking, well, scores of times - and been 'born again' (or tried to be) almost as often. But that's another story, and although my 'church' identity has wobbled from 'what's a church?' to non-denominational Mission Hall to anti-church to Presbyterian to ... well, lets call it 'post-denominational'.

Much as I've chewed the cud on transubstantiation, predestination and all that jazz, two things have always bothered me: If there is no God, these things are only cultural, tribal, or whatever. They don't matter. If there is a God, these things are probably still only cultural, tribal, or whatever and they still don't matter as much as the big, big picture. The entire edifice of all churches and religion stands or falls on the truth or otherwise of the first four words of the Bible: "In the beginning, God ..."

Creation or evolution? Is one faith and the other science? Who or what caused the big bang on the first 'day' of creation? Well, having struggled though Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, I'm absolutely convinced that linear 'time' - be it 'days' in the literal or in the 'ages' sense - is a very human concept. A 24-hour day as we know it with earth and sun in their present relationships and velocities could not have 'evolved' until after the 3rd 'day' of creation! If, as the Bible says, God is eternal - without beginning and without end - the same yesterday, today and tomorrow - or as Jesus put it "Before Abraham was, I am", then the past the present and the future are all simultaneously 'present' with him. Now I think I understand that it is beyond me!

Evolution is fact as far as explaining the modification and adaptions of life forms within species. It is contentious theory when it comes to 'explaining' the common origin of different species, and it is improbable theory when it comes to 'explaining' the origin of life. To call the processes forming the universe itself 'evolution' is science fiction.

At the other end of the spectrum the beginning of my own life was contained in a microscopic event that already contained all the DNA information to predestine my variables of gender, sexuality, colour, size and inevitable baldness, as well as all the standard body parts! As far as I know I grew into an adult rather than evolved from a few cells. The programme was already there.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

drowning in churchianity

Calling all troubled souls who find their church, or any church, an impediment in their journey of faith.

I have always seen some 'high' church rituals and traditions as little short of idolatry. But that is OK when you are criticising others. What about things closer to home in your own church, your own 'favorite' things? Is it forbidden territory to have pride in my own denomination? Can I make an idol out of psalms, praise bands, the Bible, church leaders?

Is there anybody else out there who is unsettled by the way people in their own church seem to put 'church loyalty' before Jesus? I mean, although no-one would admit it, they get their buzz from the traditions, rituals and ethnic allegiances of their own church, and their lives are driven by church 'business' - even maybe the business of 'worship'. I'm not even sure if I want to go where this train - the 'denominational express' - is going.

But before anybody rushes to join the attack on denominations other than their own, we all do that. It is part of the problem. Of course we can see those bad traits in other churches, especially those most different from our own.

Now this is not an attack on 'Holy-Rollers' (but that may come later!); nor on priests or pastors (although that may come sooner!)

'Post-Denominationalism' is a term I heard somewhere (although my spell-check doesn't like it). That sounds like where I'm coming from. But where am I going? What will my next rant be? I'm spoiled for choice.