Category Archives: God

Who is the author of Job?

‘Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?’              (Job 26v4)

I don’t know how you read this but presumably the answer God is expecting of Job is for him to reply that it was the Divine who gave him words to speak: that God Himself placed the spirit within Job’s mouth to help him find voice. And yet, I imagine that at this moment as Job stands before God – broken by the death of his family –  giving an answer to the obvious does not come high on Job’s agenda  (even when the question is asked by God).

Job is hurting. True, God will provide the ultimate help but Job needs time to grieve. Words may pour forth from his mouth but Job can barely understand what he’s saying right now as he tries to make sense of all that has happened to him – or put another way,  the nonsense of existence and and its unfair outcomes.

Now – at the risk of upsetting some  – I would be less then professional with this passage if I did not address the elephant in the room. That is, when God grants permission to the devil to test Job? Why would a God of love grant permission to a fallen angel – who is seeking to overthrow creation – to do this to Job, especially when it goes against the nature and love of God?

And here, we must return to the question of who is the author of Job? Who is this unseen  eavesdropper who is privvy to the discussion between God and Satan and then feeds it back to us. Moreover, is the character of God – as portrayed in the Book of Job  – in anyway reminiscent to the God revealed in the person of Jesus who is God incarnate?  For God not to be consistent is for us to accept a dualistic rendering in which the God in the Old Testament is wholly different to the one revealed in the character and person of Jesus Christ.


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Act of God or human interpretation?

The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon…(and)… were brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families.  But they were unfaithful to the God of their ancestors and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day. (1 Chronicles 5v23-26)

So, to summarise….

  1. we learn that the half-tribe of Manasseh who although proven warriors for God in the past now worship the gods of the fertility cults that are around them.
  2. next, we have the interesting take on events in which God is credited as prompting the Assyrian king to overrun the half-tribe of Manasseh so they are forced into exile.
  3. then, lastly, the conclusion that what the half-tribe of Manasseh has done is so dispicable that these people will never return from exile as a result.

Okay, firstly, the fact that the half-tribe of Manasseh has fallen away from God is not news. Syncretism – the amalgamation of different religions and cultures – was commonplace and a problem for all of the tribes of Israel who often hedged their bets by worshipping many dieties. Not that this was right but being chaste to the one God was a steep curve for many of them and is for us today who also struggle with the love of self and possessions.

Next , the narrator credits God as orchestrating the exile of the half-tribe of Manasseh when other explanations keep God both good and consistent in His Love of Creation. While it’s an easy assumption to presume that God made the people pay the price because of their idolatry  – this sort  of thinking renders God less than loving as it suggests the Divine is prepared to set aside human freewill to effect a punishment. It also neglects the more obvious explanation that in worshipping other gods, the half-tribe of Manasseh moved away from God and isolated themselves to the point where they were overrun by others.

And lastly, the inference that the half-tribe of Manasseh committed an unforgiveable sin. Or put another way, that because the strayed from God, their punishment was final and total. Surely, if this was the case then what is the point of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Or is it that everything points to the cross of Christ – to the God of forgiveness – to the dead who will rise to life eternal and know the true God where bodies, minds and hearts are reborn imperishable and will never stray again. This is the God of love and of such things is His Provision.

 

 


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Scripture reading that keeps God good?

‘And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, “I will entice him.”

“By what means?” the Lord asked.

“‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,” he said.

“You will succeed in enticing him,” said the Lord. “Go and do it.” (1 Kings 22v20-22)

Okay- bear with me, there is a point to this as on 1st November 1755, the city of Lisbon was rocked by an earthquake. It was All Souls Day and many Christians were at church. The earthquake lasted 4-6 minutes and caused total devastation, demolishing virtually all of the buildings in the city. Unsurprisingly, it killed between 60,000 and 90,000 people and destroyed valuable works of art. As the majority of people around that day were Christian believers, this group suffered large in the death toll. Those who managed to escape the earthquake and resulting fire took refuge in Lisbon’s less developed sea front area. Here, they did not run the risk of being struck by falling debris or inhaling smoke, but the choice was not a good one. A short time later, several giant tsunamis swept in from the Atlantic killing the majority of those who had escaped the earthquake.

This event, more than any other, shook the foundations of religious faith within Europe because it challenged the conventional understanding about God in the post-Enlightenment era – an understanding that suggested God was best understood through Nature and events in the natural world. If this was the case, then it seemed God was angry and violent towards creation – moreover, God appeared aggressive towards people and their environments, particularly those who believed and worshipped the Divine.

The indiscriminate destruction caused people to question whether God was the great orchestrator of natural disasters. Many questioned why the Divine would carry out His judgement in such a haphazard and unreliable way. In the aftermath of the Lisbon earthquake, many sceptics heaped ridicule on the Church for its unchallenged beliefs about God. French philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire wrote a poem about the tragedy in which he ridiculed why Lisbon should be singled out by God when other cities in Europe, more notoriously decadent,  were allowed to survive.’ (The God of the Cruel World, sic B. Eckhard)

Now, although many Christians initially considered Voltaire’s observation unhelpful, it did in fact prove instrumental in bringing about change to the way people thought about and understood God in the light of natural disasters. Which brings is nicely on to these verses…(And let us be honest here) Do we really believe that God who is pure and holy can abide to keep deceitful spirits around his throne let alone charge them with the task of enticing and corrupting or killing another? To which the only answer has to be ‘no.’ God is light and in the Divine there is no darkness. So what are we to make of these verses?

For me, the answer is to be found in the the verse in which Micaiah asserts that he sees the Lord – though actually it is a vision in which the Lord is sat upon a throne with the multitude of heaven around him. In this dream-like state, Micaiah hears what he wants to hear – that God also desires that Ahab die.  However, whose words are we hearing thereafter – that which God spoke or that which Micaiah would have Him say to justify his own upset and need for revenge? Indeed, as Voltaire observes elsewhere:’ Those that can make you believe absurdities, can cause you to commit atrocities.’


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Fruit of the Spirit – faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23)For many Christians, the call to faithfulness is obvious. The trouble is that while God’s Holy Spirit lives within each believer, our ability to make good decisions depends on the way we choose to orientate our freewill – either towards God or away from Him. That’s why Paul writes:

‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’

Faithfulness to God requires that just like real fruit, spiritual fruit is cultivated through the discipline and desire to nurture it to its full potential. A process that means setting aside our own agenda and taking up God’s plan as we allow this to permeate our daily lives. Yes, there will be times when we take a wrong turn and follow a different drum but the call of God is always to faithfulness.


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Fruit of the Spirit – kindness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23) Continue reading Fruit of the Spirit – kindness


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Fruit of the Spirit – love

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v22-26)We start today with a new series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit –  a ‘checklist’ of the things for someone following Christ who is responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The term ‘fruit’ is used as a metaphor for what the believer will exhibit in the world. Actually, the word ‘love’ has always seemed a bit nebulous to me as we use it today to describe everything from clothes to music, food to locations, as well as a whole range of affections that span friends and family and everyone inbetween. So what is love and how should we understand it?

Well…in his book ‘The Four Loves’,  author CS Lewis identifies four different verbs for love in the New Testament of:

  1. Agape (unconditional love of God to us)
  2. Storge ( love of those related to us by blood line – brother, sister, mother, father, etc)
  3.  Eros (sexual love for a partner)
  4. Philia (love of friends bound with whom we share a common affinity)

Interestingly, the love that Paul encourages the Galatians to produce finds its ‘best fit’ somewhere between philia and agape. A call on each believer to demonstrate the unconditional love of God to those around them. Why? Because this is exactly what they experenced from God when discovering Jesus’ death and resurrection had set them free from death and judgement. Or as singer Matt Redman so ably pens it:

Here is love, vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as the flood
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom
Shed for us His precious blood
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten
Throughout Heaven’s eternal days


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Grace to all?

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2v7-12)As a writer, I love the subtle nuances found in this passage. Luke – who is the author of Acts – frames the dilemma of the visiting Jews who hear their native language coming out of the mouths of Jesus’ disciples. Now, while I don’t want to focus on the semantics of the piece,  there can be no doubt that the visitors curiosity is picqued by the ‘how’ of the situation they find themselves in

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? (v7)

Later, as Peter explains what happened to Jesus and how all of humanity are responsible for this rejection, he delivers his coup de gras:

‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v37)

Challenged by the fact they also are culpable, the visiting Jews respond in the only way possible:

 ‘Brothers- what shall we do?’ (v38)

 Peter’s answer doesn’t seek justice, restitution or payment.

 ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ (v39)

So, in summary: God is in the business of meeting with people. He does this by drawing alongside (through his people) and getting their attention.  A model, the church has found to work and been using ever since.

 

 


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Clothed for God?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (Matthew 6v28-30)

Following on from the Sermon on the Mount and God’s desire for us to live a worry free life, we turn our attention to the issue of God’s abundance to humanity – that is how everything that we need is available to us. Not in the prosperity gospel sort of way where we ‘name it and claim it’ but rather the idea that God’s abundance is much bigger than we can ever imagine.

Jesus addresses human worry by contrasting our experience of existence with what happens to withered grass that is one day here and the next day gone when thrown into the fire. And yet, with God even the withered grass that is burned will grow again on another day somewhere else  – such is the nature of its life that physically grows, dies then grows again in another field or margin.

The point Jesus is making is that just like grass, humans are adequately prepared. Not just for life in this world where skin, hair and other materials can be fashioned to provide layers of warmth and protection but in the spiritual realm also. Because of this, we (who are made in God’s image) are also destined for spiritual realities that require clothing that will not perish, rot or tear. Spiritual clothes for a spiritual reality because God’s favour rests on us both here on earth in the present but also in the eternal realities that await in the spiritual realm.


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Worry free?

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life."(Matthew 6v25-7)

Interestingly, this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount comes just after he has addressed his listeners about :

  • giving to the needy without later boasting about it so others will praise them
  • seeking God’s will when praying so as to not focus on their own needs/wants
  • fasting in a way that is not obvious so that only God knows about it
  • investing in God’s kingdom rather than using their wealth to feather their nest

Then comes Jesus’ coup de gras in which he reminds the crowd of how God’s creatures have come to trust in His bountiful provision without fear that it might one day run out. There’s a lot more that could be said here about how much creatures are in control of their own destiny or whether they possess an ability to store up or secure food for themselves.

That said, the point being made is that in the same way creatures are provided for by God on a day to day basis, so people needn’t fear for they are abundantly more precious to the Divine being made in God’s image. Moreover, logic dictates that where food is scarce, no amount of worrying about it will ever make it appear. Such is the nature of stress that levels of worry are more likely to shorten our days than extend them.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. People need to eat and where no food is forthcoming then stress and worry are to be expected. After all, parents would be derelict in their duty if they did nothing for their starving children. But isn’t Jesus’ point that humans should not allow themselves to be reduced down to their base needs but see beyond this to the God who provides and cares? Only as we grasp this do we ourselves rise above our needs so that we can offer praise to God with thankful hearts. In this, we mature to reveal something of God’s image within us as we seek God looking for nothing in return. Be blessed

 


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Mavericks wanted – apply here!

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. (Luke 5 v5-8)

I’m not sure what cultural mileau this photograph heralds from but it appealed to me immediately because of the contorted face of the central character. At first glance it looks like he is in a worshipful pose with hands raised high. However, it could also be that he is also in agony or anguish – a person bemaning his lot, pleading for realease rather than praising.

The scripture (above) is the next thing that came to mind with the words ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ Peter speaks them because whenever in Jesus’ presence he finds himself battling a range of emotion where he:

In short, Peter is a maverick – he’s unpredictable. He speaks rashly and acts in ways that no one expects – but there can be no douting his heart despite everything else that happens and for which he has to repent and learn from it in regard to the needs of the community.  I think we would all do well to be a bit more like Peter- despairing and delirious, encouraged and exacerbated, full on and falling off. Peter doesn’t live by half-measures. Moreover, God who sees the heart knows this ‘wild card’ is the rock on which He will build the Church.


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