The other day I received a ‘prayer request’ through the web site which was actually a thinly veiled attempt to undermine my faith. Attached to it was a YouTube clip of Christopher Hitchens declaring why Christianity was untenable. Whilst I could argue about the individual points raised by Hitchens, it has caused me to think about the untenable position of atheism. This is a position that most atheists in my experience do not let themselves contemplate.
Essentially, the basis of atheism is that life, the universe, and everything in it is a product of completely random coincidences – of chemicals that happened to come together at the right time, in the right place, in the right conditions, so that from these coincidences life sprang forth, albeit of a very basic kind of life at first. Then over the centuries through selection, mutation and survival of the fittest, under the influence of randomly occurring climactic and geological conditions, we ended up with the mass array of flora and fawna currently to be seen on earth today.
Whilst I do not deny that some of these processes may have been part of the development of the earth and I am not a 6 day literal creationist, the atheistic position leaves me with two huge issues. The first is that the notion of a set of random events resulting in all that we see around us is just incredible (literally!). It has been said that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters and infinite time would eventually, by random key strokes, produce the complete works of Shakespeare. When we hear that, the corners of our mouths turn up into a smirk as we consider the sheer impossibility of such a random set of events coming together to produce that outcome, and yet , in considering the origins of the universe, we are expected to believe a random set of events which have infinitesimally less chance of all occurring at the same time. That is why I say this position is incredible.
My second issue is that this position renders the whole of life completely meaningless. If we are just the product of random chance then nothing we do and nothing that happens in this world actually matters. Carried to its logical conclusion, it does not matter if we destroy the planet; it does not matter if we kill millions of people in nuclear war; it does not matter if we leave the starving to die of hunger. Nothing actually matters because it is all just a product of chemicals coming together. There is no reason for morality and ethics; there is no reason for society and laws. My only motivation should be to live for myself, to enjoy pleasure and satisfaction to the maximum while this life continues, without consideration of the consequences for others or for myself. Even producing progeny is meaningless because if we are here by random chance, what is the point of continuing the species which could easily be wiped out by the next disaster, and why should I care about them anyway? What is the point of them carrying on my genes? The humanists argue that, whilst on earth, we should try and do our best for our fellow man, and not live in a way to harm others. But why? Just because I have a logical brain and can think, why should I give any consideration to anyone else? What benefit will it bring me in my attempt to satisfy myself, except for from some false sense of altruism which is contrary to evolutionary thought?
This position, if considered from this perspective, is indeed bleak. Without the notion of a creator (however he did it), life is completely meaningless ‘a chasing after the wind’. The only thing that can bring life any real meaning is a connection with the eternal. It is only by seeing life as part of a universal ultimate that my existence here and now on planet earth can have any significance at all. This is the only element in life that can give a true rational for love. It is the only perspective from which we can find a purpose for continuing the species – so that they too can experience contact with their creator. Without faith in something beyond this material world, the picture we see is just a lot of random dots with no definition. But when we hold up the lens of faith to the picture, suddenly, images start to take shape, and a story begins to unfold that shows us our place within the great drama of the universe.
In the incarnation these two elements, the eternal and the material, came together in one place, in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem. This is one of the most challenging articles of faith in Christianity, and yet without it, there is no Christianity. In choosing to believe the truth of it, in choosing to take a leap of faith, I come to understand that the creator kissed his creation and brought it back into relationship with him. That Jesus came to restore meaning to the world and to the creatures that live on it. Why? Because ‘God so loved the world that he gave…’
Jesus gives meaning to everything. Let him bring meaning to all your celebrations this Christmas.
Passion is a word that is overused these days. It can be associated with anything from Ann Summers to the commitment of a footballer to his sport.
The dictionary defines it as ‘a powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger’. Essentially, it means to feel strongly about anything. In fact, it means to feel so strongly that we take action in pursuit of that which we are passionate for.
This word comes from the Latin pati which means ‘to suffer’. In other words, to feel passionate about anything means to suffer in our physical and emotional self because of the longing to see the object of our passion fulfilled or achieved.
When we put on the Passion Play (and we are scheduled to do so next year, so please keep Good Friday clear), we are re-enacting the suffering of Jesus in pursuit of his bride – you and I. In his desire to be reconciled with us he went through the worst pain in every part of his being, but the result was salvation for the whole world – for all who ‘believe on his name’. In response to such a great outpouring of passion, what should our response be? Many of us are complacent with regard to the Passion of Christ. We are come-day go-day with respect to our commitment to his bride – that for which he poured out his life. We are dispassionate in our worship and in our love of his word. We are cold with respect to his people. But ‘if the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts’ (Romans 5:5), our passions should be stirred by that which God loves.
It was out of his passionate love for this World that God sent forth his son to be born in a stable, to suffer as a man, to triumph over the grave, and raise us up. As the carol says, ‘Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth’.
During this Christmas period, remember the passion of the father and of his son, and let your own passions be stirred again towards him.
I have now had a week to digest the One Event and, for me, the underlying message was ‘Go!’. This was crystallized on the Monday of the event when in the morning Andy Elms, and in the evening Glynn Barrett, delivered pretty much the same message concerning our responsibility to reach the lost.
This was supplemented by Dave Smith’s talk on knowing the seasons we are in and his reminder to us of the Smith Wigglesworth prophecy of 1947. If you are not familiar with this prophecy, the text of it is below.
“During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say ‘This is the great revival’. But the Lord says ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
“When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.
“When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.”
When we read such words we cannot help but be stirred in our spirits and encouraged to press on in the work God has given us to do, until we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ purposes for this world, until he comes again.
It is now the second day since I arrived back from India. I am just starting to catch up with things and a day or two more will complete the task.
Today in India is independence day. It is of course the day when they won their freedom from the British after a long struggle. The most famous person involved in this struggle was of course Mahatma Gandi who once said:
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Perhaps he was right to make this comparison. Which of us can ever really match up to Christ? On the other hand all of us could do with being a little more Christ-like, particularly in our dealings with each other.
Let the world see Christ in us and let us see Christ in each other. Who knows where it might lead us?
As I prepare to go to Kenya, I find myself once more trying to get things arranged: rotas sorted, speakers arranged, assignments finished, and a whole list of personal preparations to complete. It seems that everytime I go away I leave myself a mountain to climb, meaning the start of any trip is usually a stressful affair, although the plane flight – hours sitting and doing very little – usually takes that out of me.
Just to be morbid for a moment, if I was preparing for life’s final journey what would I want to ensure was in place? Most of us would think about our families – ensuring everything and everyone was taken care of – and ensuring nobody had to bear the burden of sorting out our affairs.
A few years ago, a preacher said, ‘If you knew that you only had a few hours left on earth is there anyone that you would like to put things right with before you go?’ There was a pause while we all thought about people with whom we were not in the best of relationships. He continued, ‘then what is stopping you doing it now?’
None of us know how long we have left or when our final day will be. If there is anything we need to put right, or can do to make the world a better place between now and then, we should do it without delay. What is stopping you?
I have spent most of January wrestling with complex theological thought. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know and it is as frustrating as it is rewarding. I haven’t quite finished yet as I have another assignmnet to hand in next Friday.
The two areas that I have been focussing on are the socio-political and ethical implications of Paul’s theology and Feminist theology. Within both I have found much that I have agreed with, much that I have been challenged by and some that is easy to discount as plainly heretical.
Why am I sharing this? Because I have come to the conclusion that, no matter how much we think we know about our great faith, there is always more to learn. No matter how much we think we understand there is always somewhere deeper to go.
As evengelicals, we tend to think that our belief system has come to us as a fait accompli, passed down to us from Christ, via the Apostles and dumped in our lap in the form of the completed canon of scripture. But the reality is that, over the last two thousand years, people have argued, fought, died, separated and been persecuted over differences of interpretation of scripture. Today, the Christian church incorporates a wide spectrum of perspectives on what is the truth with many nuances in between.
What none who are really Christians disagree on, however, is that God revealed himself to us in the person of His son; Jesus came to make known to us the love of the Father and to bring us into relationship with Him; and that the Holy Spirit lives with us to make the presence of God real to us as he shapes us into the likeness of Jesus.
As I conclude, I pray that in this month, the reality of God’s presence may carry you through all you encounter.