Month: February 2011

Quote of the week

Barnaby Joyce, God’s gift to newspaper editors everywhere, provides this rather funny comment on the Federal MP Tony Windsor’s presence at the press conference announcing Labor’s carbon tax plans:

"He said, ‘and please don’t construe through my presence here that I will be actually supporting any scheme’. Well, Mr Windsor, what were you doing there? Did you get lost on the way to the toilet and just stumble across the Prime Minister doing her press conference and decide to stand in on it? Please don’t tell me that we have to go through this teeth-pulling agony as you stand at the front of the political church in the big white fluffy dress saying, ‘I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know whether I shall say I do.’ "

Put as only Barnaby could…

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Is it just me?

After watching the excellent Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night on TV, I had a nagging question.

Is it just me or does Christine Milne, deputy leader of Australia the Greens,

ourleaders (on the left hand side)

Look like Dolores Umbridge, villain in the Harry Potter series:

phoenix5

If only the Greens were so transparently villainous with their mad eco-Marxist policies…

Duty to God, relativism and the gospel pt 1–the dilemma

When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of Scouts) replied,

“It does not come in at all.   It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding." (Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement– an address, 1926).

God has always been a part of Scouts and from an early stage, anyone’s understanding of God has been welcomed. Unlike modern Western society, Scouts hasn’t been ignorant in the role spiritual beliefs play in the lives and development of young people. Humans, unlike anything else in the universe, are spiritual beings, having the capacity and inclination to consider concepts not tied to the material universe – undoubtedly tied to being made in the image of God. It is fortunate that Scouts hasn’t followed the broader Western culture  into its scorning of the spiritual reality of humans.

Scouts tries to foster the spiritual side of all young people, no matter what their spiritual orientation (what a horrible turn of phrase – Ed) is, found in core idea of Duty to God. Whether you are Anglican, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Baptist or pantheist – you have a home in Scouts. Duty to God, no matter how God  is defined, is one of the bedrock ideas in Scouts and it is the role of adult leaders to help foster the spiritual awareness of their young charges.

However, despite this helpful emphasis on the spiritual side of people, there lurks a dilemma for gospel-centred evangelical leaders – relativism. Relativism (finding its roots in pluralism) is the concept that there is no absolute truth, having only subjective value (that is, it only has meaning to me as an individual). Relativism means that essentially all points of view are equally valid, instead of having only one true point of view, and has become widespread in the West, particularly as individualism has taken hold in the moral and ethical realms of the West.

Relativism is particularly manifested in a specific phrase used in the Australian version of the Scout Promise – duty to my God. I don’t have a duty to your God, or anyone else’s idea of God; I only have a duty to my God, whoever or whatever that is. God is confined to my own personal spiritual realm. I am the one who defines who God is and therefore what my duty to him is. Likewise, the only reason your idea of God would have any impact on my idea of God is if I decide to accept it. God becomes utterly bound to my own perception of reality, a plaything of my mind.

This couldn’t be in any more contrast with the real God, YAHWEH. As Psalm 86:

8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
   no deeds can compare with yours.
9 All the nations you have made
   will come and worship before you, O Lord;
   they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
   you alone are God.

As far as the Bible is concerned, the only God who exists is YAHWEH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, revealed ultimately in the person of Jesus. God is ultimate reality, the person who controls and binds the universe together through his powerful word. The Bible has no concept of relativism, of each person dictating the nature of his own subjective universe. God is the one who has determined the nature of reality.

Not only that but because God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, God is the one whom all owe their allegiance. All people are to turn and submit to him, trusting in Jesus alone to get to God. God will not tolerate us giving our devotion and praise to any other god.

It is here we find the dilemma for the evangelical Scout Leader, for on one hand, we operate in an organisation that encourages youth to, rightly, take responsibility for themselves and to develop all aspects of their lives – socially, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We want to mould youth so they can take charge of their lives and forge a path in the world for themselves, spirituality included.

On the other hand, we don’t want to seem to being giving credence to any religious belief but that Jesus Christ is the true and complete revelation of the true God. If people are to be rescued from God’s judgement against our rebellion against God, they need to come to Jesus and put him as their Lord and Saviour. We are to be witnesses to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for us on the cross.

This dilemma creates a tension in the evangelical Scout Leader – the desire to serve within the confines of a organisation that promotes a lie while at the same time, to testify to the truth of who Jesus is and the exclusive claims he makes on the lives of every person on earth. In future posts, I will hope to explore the right response that allows for evangelical Leaders to faithfully serve Jesus in the context of a relativist organisation.

Idiot of the Week

Bill Heffernan, that crusty old Liberal senator known for such stunts as impersonating an ASIO officer (a criminal offence), taking a swipe a Julia Gillard for not having any kids and calling himself the Devil around Rob Oakshott’s kids, has shown his classy side today during  Senate estimates today.

Alan Joyce, the Irish CEO of Qantas, was in front of a Senate estimates hearing when Senator Heffernan asked if he was from a ‘long line of Irish bomb makers’. Very classy Bill.

Bill Heffernan, you are this week’s Idiot of the Week.

The basis for Christian politics

So much is made of Christian involvement in politics, especially in the US. The Religious Right is a phrase that has gotten itself legs over the last decade or more, though I suspect that few people, journalists and political commentators in particular, actually have a really consistent definition of what makes you part of the Religious Right. For some, the idea of the Religious Right brings out chants of ‘Separation of Church and State’. For others, the Religious Right as they know it sounds like nothing they either are particularly interested in or find it totally incongruous with what Christianity means to them.

But what does the Bible have to say on politics? How do we frame an evangelical Christian political theology? Like any other theology, it begins with the gospel, God’s good news for the world. As Paul puts it in Romans 1:

1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4 NIV)

The message of the gospel, God’s good news, is about who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus is God’s Son, equal with God and sharing his divine nature. Jesus is also a descendant of David, the promised King who would establish David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:8-16). Jesus has been declared to be the powerful Son of God through his resurrection, demonstrating the effectiveness of his death on the cross over the forces of sin, death and the devil. The gospel tells us how Jesus is now Lord and Christ – the eternal King, with ultimate power, made possible through the cross.

In the gospel we find the culmination of thousands of years of God’s redemptive history, the bringing together of all of what God has been working towards in the person and work of Jesus. All of God’s plans and purposes, past, present and future, hinge on the cross of Jesus, the supreme expression of God’s love and justice.

So when Christians go to frame our approach to politics, it must be through the prism of the gospel. The gospel is God’s message to the world, the pinnacle of his revelation, and so our politics must be derived from the gospel. A truly Christian approach to politics will enshrine God’s gospel as the bedrock on which all of our political ideology will be shaped by. Any Christian political manifesto must begin with a sermon – they cannot be isolated from each other.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this dynamic at work within Christian political involvement in Australia. Much of the focus in overtly Christian political involvement revolves around three issues (abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage) and much of the analysis of these issues is independent of the analysis of the gospel. Martin Luther coined the phrase crux probat omnia – the cross probes (tests) everything. Sadly, I think much Christian political thinking, while not wrong, has lost sight of the fierce scrutiny that the gospel brings to bear on every issue.

But we must be careful when we start bring the gospel to bear on our lives and our thinking because it will challenge us at every turn. The gospel is a fundamentally radical message for all humans as it cuts away at the complacency and the human-centredness that often dominates our thinking. When we start bring the analysis of the cross to our political thinking, we will find a much more sweeping and far-reaching call to action than we are probably comfortable with. To bring the gospel to bear on our thinking is to see the world through God’s eyes and to share the priorities that God has.

I suspect that if we truly look at how the Big 3 (abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage) dominates Christian political discourse from the perspective of the gospel, we’ll find that important priorities have become all-consuming priorities. I personally have no idea what the political landscape in conservative Christian politics would look like but I think if the conservative Christian political movement wants to be truly God-honouring, we need to realign our priorities in accordance with gospel-thinking.

Suffering and the good God pt 2b–Unequal suffering

A follow up to this blog entry.

In part 2a, I put forward the Bible’s case that death is God’s punishment on humanity’s rebellion against him; how we have usurped God’s rule and put ourselves in his place. Death is both physical (expiration of bodies) and spiritual (broken relationship with God).

The question could (rightfully) be asked though, why do some die young (like Jessica Keep) and some get a full life? Why is there an unequal distribution of death if all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?

Jesus deals with a similar question in Luke 13:

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus refers to two events involving unequal suffering. Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, had ordered a massacre at Passover, the most important religious sacrifice for the Jews, for sedition and had mixed the blood of those killed with the blood of their sacrifices, a most outrageous offence for the Jew. Jesus also mentions the death of many when a tower collapsed, killing 18.

The end of chapter 12 has Jesus talking about understanding the times, that God is coming in judgement against the Jews for their faithlessness and worship of foreign gods. Someone obviously thinks they aren’t as bad as that so they pipe in with those who were killed by Pilate but Jesus’ rebuke is stinging, and illustrative of God’s hand in suffering and death in this world. Jesus says to them, ’ if you think they are worse than you, think again. If you don’t turn away from your rebellion, you too will perish!’

This is gives us some insight into why Jessica Keep, a 23 month old baby, might be swept away in a flood but not the equally rebellious drug user spared from death in the Queensland floods. God’s message when we see this unequal suffering is to get ready because his judgement is coming and you are being given a second chance to repent. When we see terrible tragedies happening, we should be reminded that we have been spared from death so that we might repent – turn away from living for ourselves and to put God back in charge of our lives like he should be.

This call to repentance is given even greater significance in light of Jesus’ death. Jesus ‘died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus, on the cross, has taken our deserved penalty of death – the innocent Jesus taking the place of guilty rebels and suffering their punishment. God, in his mercy, sent Jesus to die so that we might find be forgiven and new relationship with God.

We respond to God’s kindness in Jesus is to repent (do a 180 degree turn away from our selfish rebellion and to put God first) and put our trust in Jesus, who has secured our forgiveness. These sorts of tragedies should drive us into God’s arms.

Suffering and the good God pt 2a–God and death

I’m exploring (slowly) how God’s goodness relates to suffering in the world. Check out part 1 here.

One of the fundamental issues that comes up as we look at suffering is God’s view of death. Our society has a strange view of death. On one hand, it is seen as the natural conclusion of a life and a part of the universe’s cycle of things. No one has an expectation that will live forever, as it is seen to be totally unrealistic.

On the other hand, when we experience death, we instinctively feel that death is unjust and we grieve for whoever we have lost. This is seen particularly in the death of children and young people. When the young die, the universal sentiment that they died unnaturally, that they should have had more time and you can see that their grief is heightened. The story of Jessica Keep, the baby who was swept out of her mother’s arms during the floods in Grantham is particularly heartbreaking and tragic.

God’s view of death is quite different from ours. Death isn’t a product of biological degeneration but it is God’s judgement on humanity for its rebellion against his rule. We find death’s origins in Genesis, chapter 2:

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. (Genesis 2:15-17)”

A man, made by God in his likeness, is placed in the garden to run it and control it under God’s rule. The man is told he can eat of any tree in the garden, except this tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Note carefully, man has just been told of what is good and what is evil by God. Man isn’t without a moral compass – he has just been given one by God!

What we see here in that tree of the knowledge of good and evil is actually about humanity deciding what good and evil is for themselves, confirmed by the snake in Genesis 3, where he tells the woman that if they eat of the fruit, they will be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Eating of this tree is about usurping God’s rightful place in the world as Creator and Ruler and placing humanity in his place. Sin is rebellion against God, placing ourselves in the place that God alone deserves.

So when God curses them with death, it is more than just the expiration of bodies – the heart stopping and the brain dying. Death is physical, as shown by the long list of all who died in Genesis 5, but it also penal and spiritual– that is, it is the punishment of God on rebels (penal); and it involves a broken relationship with God, the source of life (spiritual).

As we see through Genesis 4-12, the rebellion of humanity and its consequences start to take hold within the world, destroying all it touches. Death and decay become a universal phenomenon as humanity continues in its rebellion, infecting the whole of creation, culminating in God’s damning indictment in Genesis 6:5:

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

This fundamental reality – that death is God’s punishment on a humanity that has turned its back on God, and who live without him, is critical to understand when we come to the topic of suffering. All of humanity is a product of a system that has rejected the Creator and Sustainer of the world and has instead wrongly elevated themselves to God’s place. Each one of us has run our lives with ourselves in charge and so each one of us has been brought under the penalty of death. When people die, it is because they are guilty of sin, rebellion against God.

When we come for answers from God on suffering, we must face the reality of a fallen humanity – under death’s penalty for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).