jeudi 1 octobre 2009

The question of evil

I'm preparing a talk for a youth week-end away in Pierrefonds concerning the question of evil. Toughie.

I was asked the same question a while back by a member of my youth group, and this is the e-mail that I sent her. I re-read it preparing for this talk... Here it is. (Yes, I do like writing long, theological articles.

Hello!

Comme promis, here's what my answer is concerning the question of evil.

Now at the university where I studied, they would teach us that the Bible doesn't give us a theoretical explanation to the question of evil. God is sovereign, so everything happens according to his plan for humankind, and yet God is good and there is no evil in him. And yet evil does exist. How these three things come together in one is the only real incomprehensible mystery inside the Bible. They call it "le mystère opaque", whereas things such as the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ (the fact that he is fully man and fully God) are called "mystères de lumière": they aren't fully graspable, but you can put into words how it works, without totally managing to get your head around it. You can understand what the mystery is not, even if you can't understand what the mystery is. With evil, they say, you can't even say what the mystery is not. There is no humanly conceptualisable answer. And the Bible, although it doesn't give a theoretical answer to the question of evil, gives a practical one in the person of Jesus Christ, and his death on the cross, defeating sin, illness and evil. You can find a thorough explanation of this position in a book called "le mal et la croix" (or "evil and the cross": it was written in both languages), by Henri Blocher.

Now this doesn't satisfy me. Maybe it's my sinful nature that's desperately trying to find an answer, and not managing to let go of a question that bugs me, and simply lay it in God's hands, admitting the impossibility of knowledge. But I think that somehow, the Bible does give an answer to the question of evil, and it is most eloquently exposed in the line of thinking and theologizing of John Calvin. John Calvin, and his disciples recognize in the Bible a pattern which points to God's glory as being of primary importance. God IS glorious. If there is one word to describe God, it is his glory (in the sense of his ultimate greatness, unfathomableness, radient beauty and compellingness that shine through all that he is and all that he does), and that glory comprizes all of the other important attributes of God such as his holiness and his love and his infinity and his unknowableness. And therefore, as God in his glory is the ultimate truth, the ultimate good, the ultimate reason for existence (Calvin's followers coigned up this incredible phrase in the Westminster shorter catechism: "the chief end of man [meaning the main purpose of man] is to glorify God and enjoy him forever") it is God in his glory that must be pursued in order for the ultimate good to be pursued. We were created to reflect back to God his own glory. Because that is the ultimate good. That is the most noble thing possible. It is the only thing that is pleasing to Holy God: that he be glorified. Does he need us to glorify him in order for him to be glorious? Certainly not! Is his glory incomplete if we fail in our task? By no means! God remains glorious whether we admit it or not. But God takes the most pleasure in us when we take pleasure in him, and therefore give him the most glory. It is by admitting that God is the most glorious, worthy of praise, and desireable thing in this universe that God is the most glorified.

And it is good, not evil, that God be so radically God-centered, because for God to not be God-centered would magnify a lie: it would be accepting the lie that there is something more worthy of focus and interest and praise than almighty God, which of course is a heresy! For God to not be heretic he needs to love God above all things, and want him to be praised and seen as glorious. In fact, not only is it good, it is the most good thing in the universe, and anything that must be judged as to whether it is good or not must be measured up to how glorifying to God it is, in intent as well as in deed (therefore 10 000 € given to a poor man, with all good intentions in the world, except for the intention of glorifying God is not as worthy a deed as 10 € given to a poor man with completely pure motives, including the desire to glorify God). So God, to be good, has to desire his glory in all things.

So that is the basic theology of calvinist thinking: radically God-centered theology. God is not first and foremost for Man, he is first and foremost for God. Even his death was not first and foremost for Man, it was first and foremost for the Glory of God. Christ died to redeem for God people of every tribe and tongue and nation, that God might have for himself a redeemed people. And not only is Christ's work at the cross for God's glory first of all: the whole plan behind the salvation of mankind is for God's glory: it all happened in such a way that God may get all the glory. Indeed, we are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, so that we may not boast of deserving God's heaven. It is God who gives it all to undeserving men. And I believe, as a proponent of predestination, that our faith does not come from our own free choice of God: we were dead to God in our sinfulness, and God, through the work of his Holy Spirit, out of sovereign grace, irrespective of the man's primary condition, brought believers out of the darkness, and into the glorious light of saving faith in Christ. It is not ourselves, by any superior spirituality, who save ourselves, and accept Christ by faith. It is God who gives us faith, so that none may boast, and so that all the glory go back to God. And because predestination to faith in Christ is the only system which fits totally with biblical data concerning salvation, and which totally magnifes God's glory, that is why I believe in it, and that is why Calvin was such a staunch defender of predestination.

Now to your question: why does evil happen? Now, imagine a world that had remained perfect, bearing in mind that the ultimate good, and the ultimate reason why man was made is so that God may be glorified, and he is most glorified when men reflect his glory back to him, through our praise and by displaying his works. In a world that had remained perfect, God would have been able to reveal to us his love, his goodness, his perfect logic and wisdom, his infinity, and other such attributes. But there are many other ones of his attriutes that we would never have known. We would not have known his wrath which is an essential part of understanding God's love. And most of all, we would not have understood grace. If there was no reason to save us, God would not have had to become flesh, he would not have had to die. The mass of redeemed sinners who will one day worship in heaven will make God's praise so much greater than anything that a blissfully edenic Adam and Eve could have mustered, because we were lost in the pits of our own sinfulness, and we have been saved, washed clean by the only great God. God is revealed in all his fullness in a world which contains evil. And so he not only let evil happen, he ordained that evil be. He ordained that Adam and Eve might fall, and that he would put on a rescue plan.

Now this may seem like a great impiety to many. And I myself struggle with it. But I do believe that it would be more evil of God to not display his full Glory to men, because the ultimate good is when God is glorified, and the most loving thing for God to do, if his Glory is indeed the most enjoyable thing on this earth, is to display it for us to gaze upon it in all of its wonder. If God's glory is conceeled in any way by God, he is not allowing himself to be glorified, and he therefore isn't good, and if God is to conceal from us any elements of his glory to us, then he is not being loving, because he is not giving us that which is the most delightful thing in the world. So I don't believe that it is an impiety, but it is a very fine balance.

So that is why evil happens, if you want my full, blunt and honest answer. I may be a heretic, and I know that I am treading on very Holy ground here. But I think that it is the truth. May God give me his grace for any false teaching that I may utter concerning him, and may he have mercy on me for not understanding him enough. I pray that on this particular issue, he has given me the grace to see clearly.

Now there are a few questions that you may have, that this type of theology will necessarily raise. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask them to me, and I'll do my best to answer them:

- "How can a Holy God ordain that evil be? Doesn't the Bible say that there is no evil in God?". Yes, the Bible does say that. And anybody who claims the opposite is committing a horrendous impiety! God, bad? Never! However, I do not believe that God ordaining, through an unimpeachable decree, that evil be is the same thing as God comitting evil. The Bible says that God hardened Pharoh's heart. God did it! But it is Pharoh who is responsible. Simply because of this: when put in front of a choice, man can ALWAYS do what he wants to do. Our freedom in our choices, from God's point of view, is never totally free. But from our point of view, it is our decision. I can choose to say no to something. So even if God decrees that I will say yes, when I am in front of the situation, I don't know God's decree, and I can choose yes or no. And therefore I am responsible for it. The ultimate reason is God. But in the thick and fast of life, I know that the responsibility is mine. And so it is the same with Satan's fall, and Adam and Eve's. But that is also the case for good deeds. When in front of a choice, I can choose, from my point of view, to do good or evil. There is nothing stopping me from either option. So even if God has ordained for us good works that he's prepared in advance for us to do, when it comes to the thick and fast, I am responsible for my good choice. And it is the same for a decision of faith. I do not believe that predestination means that God zaps our brain and short circuits us as robots to obey his command. My responsibility and choice are real. Anti predestinationists have coined up the phrase: "whoever wants to come to God can come to God". A predestinationist will answer: "yes, but how does the person want to come in the first place, when he is in all ways fallen and unable to desire God?". So God's active and efficient decrees mean that whatever God wants comes to pass. However, it happens through the medium of man's responsible, albeit not absolutely free choice. So God doesn't do evil, even though he decrees that evil be. And that does not make God a sinner.

- "If God does whatever he wants, to his praise and glory, how do you explain passages that say that God hates evil, and does not want it to happen?" Again, these passages are true. And this objection is a real tricky one. I would answer, along with a theological hypothesis devised by Jonathan Edwards, which makes perfect sense of the biblical data: God has a kind of "two level view" on reality. There is the ultimate, panoramic view, in which everything that God wants to happen will happen, to his praise and glory, and this delights God! He loves his plan for history, because it is the only plan through which he will get all the Glory and be fully displayed and enjoyed by the Men who follow him. However he also has a close-up view, which saddens God. He hates wars, famine etc. He hates it when families break up, when sin happens, when his only Son is nailed to a cross. On that day, at Golgotha, God the Father must have had such mixed feelings: pain, sorrow, distress at the loss of his Son, and yet overflowing joy, delight, rapture and uproaring of sheer gladness that his plan for history was so great, and perfect and glorifying to Him. That is why the Bible says that it was the Father's good-pleasure to bruise the Son (I don't have time to look up all of these references... If you really want me to give them to you, get back to me, and I'll take more time to research this. Otherwise, you can use a concordance to look up these passages, or use www.biblegateway.com). And the internal dilemna inside the Son was the same: he was in utter anguish and pain and sorrow to be separated from his Father, cruelly nailed to a cross by these people that he loved so much. And yet Hebrews 12.2 tells us that it is with confidence and joy that Christ went to the cross. It is the same for the whole of history.

Voila.

I hope that you are not shocked by my answer. I even hope that it is compelling to you, and that you would embrace the God-centred God of the Bible (as far as I can understand it) that I'vetried to write about here. If I'm wrong, may God forgive me, because as I said earlier, I have trodden holy, holy ground in this e-mail.

Hope you have a great week,

In Christ,

Nathan

vendredi 17 juillet 2009

God to Nathan, can you read me?

Hey all!

Good being back! I've had really awesome holidays, and I feel so fresh and ready for an awesome year, and I feel that the youth group year is really going to kick off to a massive start with Soul Survivor. We've got a lot on this year, and it's going to be such a fun ride! Bring it on, and please help us, Lord!!

On holiday I took the time to read three books that I've really wanted to read for a while: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, an absolutely awesome book about rediscovering what it means to be a man. Great stuff. Then Incomparable by Andrew Wilson, an awe inspiring book about the character of God: thirty or so little chapters on who God is, revealing him in as much fullness and glory and splendour as a human being possibly could, aside inspiration. And finally Come, Holy Spirit by David Pytches, a kind of guide book to ministering in the Spirit.

And God has been speaking to me, and really pouring some of himself into the way that he wants to shape me in my heart of hearts, in my character, in my life and in my ministry. Over the past few weeks, and for the first time in a while, I've felt God calling me to various specific realms of ministry. Which is quite exciting, because I'm used to being a bit of an all-rounder, doing a bit of preaching, some worship leading, Bible studies here and there, a bit of graphic designing, soirée organising etc. It's all fairly intense stuff, and I tend to lose myself in the ocean of stuff there is to do as someone who's committed to see revival happen in my time, in my land and for my God...


There are two things which God really spoke to me about as a result of the books that I read. 

The first one is that I should equip myself for spiritual battle a lot more than I do. I have been challenged to not only pray for Beki as I do right now, but to actually enter with full force and brutality into the enemy of her soul, who is trying to bring her down, to set our relationship asunder and to destroy her. She is my princess in a high tower, and captive to a blood thirsty dragon in so many ways, and I need to rise up and enter into warfare with the devil over my wife. 

But for that I need to prepare myself for battle more. I was about to go and declare war unto the devil yesterday evening over the areas of Beki's life that he still has a hold on, and I felt the most merciful of rescues from God, who said to me: "wait just a second! He will destroy you considering the state of your armour. Do NOT go by your own strength just because you are a bloke and that that's your job. A wise man takes all the help that he can: take me!" And I felt that there are some areas of my life that Satan will exploit so ruthlessly if I don't deal with them. So I am committed to confess my sins to Beki more often, to really open up to her in a way I've never done before. I know that that's what I need to do to get anywhere in this momentous battle for the wellfare of my beloved princess. It's all very exciting stuff, and I feel that I am walking in the ways that I have been called to ever since God endowed me with a "Y" chromosome.

The second thing that I feel that God has been calling me to, is to develop my gifts as an evangelist and as a prophet. David Pytches makes a distinction between two types of prophecy: foretelling (listening into God to hear what is in store for the future) and forthtelling (listening to God and speaking what he is saying and thinking about the present). Passages in the prophets where God condemns the actions of his people and reveals who he is and how he is to be worshipped is forthtelling prophecy, and passages concerning the liberation of the people or the coming of the Messiah is foretelling

And I have felt God more than ever calling me into a kind of forthtelling approach to evangelism. A ministry of bringing the Gospel to the world not by arguing finely for the existence of God and hoping for the best (which is something that I love doing and have been training myself to do since I was 16 or so), but rather by telling the world how great their God is, how awesome are his works, how manifest his glory is, if only they will see it. I want to speak forth how brilliant our Lord is and bring people, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to a recognition that there is a God, and he is mighty and is to be reckoned with, and they must realise this, because it is just so self-evident and obvious and the consequences of this truth are so deep and far fetching. It doesn't sound like a popular approach, but this is something which God has been telling me for a while now. I know that my way isn't to be a popular way. A few prophetic words that have been spoken over me over the past few years have pictured me as a kind of Jeremiah figure, and I really relate to him in a few ways, not least the young age at which God has called me to ministry and the stick that I've had to face, and continue to face for that. But I've also had sadness, sorrow and misery predicted as my lot because of my task as a prophet. Not in a bad way though, because of the joy that will result from the sufferings endured for the Gospel of Christ, the blessing that comes with the pains of the ministry of proclaiming on the mountains that our God reigns. So I'm also resolute to dig into the writings and biography of the prophet Jeremiah and hear from God through him, and let him continue to shape me through the life of this incredible man.

So that's what I got out of time with God on holiday. It's all fairly intense, and I'm starting to realise how inadequate I am for the task in front of me, as God continues to strip me of my pride. He still has a lot of work to do in me, but I'm encouraged by how hard I reckon the task of leading the youth group of St. Mark's is going to be this year. It means that God has to step in! And I'm looking forward to it so much.

And there's another thing which God had started to call me towards very specifically just before leaving for Tunisia: to redevelop the artistic skills which he gave me. I believe that God created a specific and blessed personality type that are the artists and that they generally have a grasp on the deep things of the world that others maybe don't have, and have a perspective on the world and on God which the church needs to hear in order to fully express God's glory through the diversity of human beings that he brings into his church.

I've talked to Paul Kenchington about the possibility of starting up a kind of artistic ministry at St. Mark's, and the possibility to expose some work of some of the artists in the coffee area to provide encouragement and challenge to the congregation, as well a forum of spiritual artistic expression to those with an arty bent.

So voila... A lot to think about and act upon as I start up work once again, and try and get into gear for Soul Survivor and click into gear even more for the coming year.

Hope the summer is treating you all very well.

'Til the next time people! And remember: keep blogging! (slightly inside reference to Captain Converter there...)  

mardi 23 juin 2009

It's about real life! (Lamentations of J.)

Hello. You can refer to me as "stranger" if you like. I'm going to try and keep my blog up to date... On va voir...

In any case, here's something I'd like to share with y'all:

It's difficult sometimes to know how to take the Bible, what to look for in it etc... I think that we often approach all of Scripture as one of Paul's letters: a kind of reasonable, systematic, precise account of what God is like, what he has done and how we should act in consequence.

It isn't at all so simple in practice. For example, which stories are told to serve as examples for us to follow and which ones are there to show that not even the greatest heroes are perfect bar Jesus? Let's take the life of David for example. He has a heart after God's own. A clear goody! Let's follow his example. He sleeps with Uriah's wife. Baddy! Let's recognize that Jesus alone is perfect and that God is so gracious in redeeming even the toughest of situations. However when the arch of the covenant arrives into Jerusalem and that David greets it with wild joy and dancing, I've always taken it as a call for us to be undignified before the world for the glory of God. However, there are a few things in this passage which seem to suggest to us that it is not a precedent for us to follow, not least the way that he speaks to his wife. 

I'm not entirely sure what to think of that one, but I will continue in the mean time to dance for God, because the Psalms urge me to, and I will not seek to glory in this world but in Christ alone, at the expense of ridicule. But it still remains tough to know how to read this passage.

But what is even harder is the Lament! I mean these people are moaning before God, and it sometimes really comes very close to impiousness! Read Lamentations of Jeremiah, as I did the other day, and notice how Jeremiah ascribes all of the evils that have happened to Israel as God's fault! I personally love it, and find that the theology of Jeremiah is so spot on (it would be, as an inspired and inerrant Bible author!) and it states a case for the sovereignty of God as opposed to the free-will of man. But I mean it sometimes sounds like Jeremiah is saying: "what were you thinking God? Are you crazy?! Look what you've done now! Did you have to go and pull off a stunt like that? Control yourself for heaven's sake (quite literally!)" I mean, he is really worked up.

And I don't know if this is a theologically correct way of speaking, and not every word uttered in Scripture in theologically correct (take Job's comforters for example). So the question is: "what's the point? Why does God include this in his revealed Word for us?" Is God saying: "go on, have a go at me!"? I'm not sure if God is so much commending the exact content of Jeremiah's words as much as the nature of the prophet and his relationship with God and to the world. The point of the whole Bible, as exemplified perfectly in the Lament is that a relationship with God is to be lived out in the real world, in real life, for real! And life sucks! And we get fed up of it! And we don't understand it! "Why did she have to leave me?" "Why can't I get anything right at work?" "Why do I struggle with this sin which I can't shake clear of?" These are real questions, in the real world, and in all of these, God is THERE! He isn't only orchestrating from far off, he's there in it with us. He's sharing our pain, and listening intently to our complaints. 

We've got to stop living as Christians pretending that everything' s OK. That is not biblical. It simply isn't. Simple trust in God doesn't mean that we should suppress feelings of doubt or of failure or of hurt. Trust in God is knowing that he is there with us. He cares about us, and will listen even to our sourest gripes. These may be sinful at times, and sometimes fringe on the heretic, but God is determined to be there. He prefers an open relationship with a worked up man than a closed, fake, smooth relationship with a seemingly perfect, all-is-well Christian. That's why Jesus went for the down-and-outs. Ever been in one of those uncomfortable situations when you're waiting at the bus stop, or at the station, or simply enjoying an afternoon read in mid-summer's sunshine and all of a sudden a bad-smelling, poorly-shaven homeless person starts complaining to you about how life sucks, and this society is all bad, and the government, and Sarkozy and bladibladibla... Well God loves those conversations! They're real! They're the people that Jesus chose to hang out with. He loves reality more than we do (agreed, he does have the slight advantage of knowing where it's all going, and being glorified by it all)...

You want to know God? Let him know you. Open up to Him. He wants you to tell him where it hurts. He doesn't want a fake relationship where you remain politely distant. He doesn't do politely distant! He leans close to your dirty, sweaty, stubbly, sinful face in all of its wretchedness and whispers in your ear: "speak to me, I want to know you. Use the swear words if they are what you really feel. Don't suppress them, we're going to work on them. I'm here to sculpt  you big time to bring about big time change. So you've got to let me know you big time. The is real life. And in your real life, I'm here with you."

"19 Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street. 20 "Look, O LORD, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 "Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets; my young men and maidens have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of your anger; you have slaughtered them without pity. 22 "As you summon to a feast day, so you summoned against me terrors on every side. In the day of the LORD's anger no one escaped or survived; those I cared for and reared, my enemy has destroyed." (Lamentations of Jeremiah 2.19-22)

vendredi 30 janvier 2009

I'm loving Jesus instead (to the tune of Robbie Williams' great song "Angels")

Over the past few months, I've noticed that there's a fairly big resurgence of Angelology in a few of the Christian circles that I'm part of... And it's been disturbing me without being able to put my finger exactly on what it was.

I would often try to shift my uneasiness aside and blame it on me lacking faith and being too rationalistic. But now I've actually realised what it is that bugs me, and I think that my unease was justified.

In fact there are two things, and here is the main one: the main moments where I've heard people talking about the angelic, have been in contexts of powerful worship or prayer times. I've heard these kinds of comments: "and there were even angels here this evening as we worshipped" or "I really feel that there are angelic forces moving around us as we pray". Todd Bentley was very much into angelology and this may well be what is fueling this, along with a lot of the content on God TV and other Christian channels. And it is disturbing for this one reason: angels are not creatures of God that are created to be the center of our attention. Angels are creatures of God that are created for one single purpose: worshipping God and giving glory to Him.

So when we're singing: "when the music fades, and I simply come, longing just to bring something that will bless your heart, as it's all about you Jesus", and you realise at the end of the worship session that people have been concentrating their awe on the fact that there are angels in the room, something's not right. There may well be a whole host of angelic beings, and dryads and nyads and fawns and dwarfs (not that I believe that the last 4 actually exist) in the room. But I'm focussing on Jesus! And I don't care if the earth is heaving beneath my feet and dragons and fairies and cherubs and seraphs (not that I believe in the first two of these) appear dancing around a campfire, I'm soulset on meeting with the living God tonight! The only reason why I feel excited about the fact that such extraordinary creatures even exist is because I know that they, even in all of their awesomeness, can but fall flat on the ground and cover their faces with their wings before the throne of God above. The Bible does not call us to centre on angels during worship, when there is so much more to be contemplated: Jesus-Christ is so high above any host of archangels all clad in shining silver. Just read Hebrews 1. I mean there is a passage in Revelation 22.9 where John falls flat before an angel. And the angel rebukes him and says to him: "no! Worship God!" So that's the first and primary reason why it bugs me.

The second reason why it bugs me is because of the great amount of speculation that surrounds angelology. The Bible doesn't actually say all that much concerning angels. And the catholic church in particular has created a ridiculous amount of mythology around angels. But protestants, and evangelicals of the more charismatic bent in particular are very much prone to the same kind of nonesense as well. The Bible is very clear about what we should do with speculation: have none of it (1 Timothy 1.4). Don't centre your attention on invented stories. The truth revealed in Scriptures is sufficient to fuel awe for a life-time: Christ, God incarnate, died for our sins that we may be raised to new life in Him, and live in once-broken fellowship with Almighty-and-Everlasting-God. If you need extra speculation and more in your life than these truths, then that is because these truths have not yet hit you with enough power! You have not let the magnificence of God sink into your most inner being enough, or you haven't realised the extent of the impossibility of our realtionship with God prior to Christ's death, or you haven't been sufficiently moved to kneel by contemplating the pain, suffering and hardships that Christ endured for your eternal salvation.

Please, leave aside these pointless speculations. If in the next life they are helpful to us, God will allow us to know more. But for now, let us centre our focus on what is attested and sure, and worthy of faith, and truly great: God-Almighty. Not the creature, but the incredible, unfathomable Creator-Lord-Redeemer-Friend of our souls!

lundi 26 janvier 2009

Anthem to grace

Wow! Haven't posted in an age!! Sorry...

Here's something which I wrote this evening as I couldn't sleep... All I've got to do is find a killer tune, and I'll be singing this in church. 16 verse long hymn! Well, if I group together 2 verses at a time, it's only 8 verses long... And if I group 4 together, it's only 4 verses long. Oooh! And if I group 8 verses together, it's only 2 verses long!

Hear the tears and see this blood
Mingled as a stream, a flood.
This river like a hammer thud
Washing clean this heart of mud.

Dark the picture of the tree
Bleeding all its sap for me,
Rending heaven, earth and sea
All to see the slaves go free.

Souls have wrenched before these tears,
Sweetest melody to ears
Bereft of shame and guilt and fears
All gathered up throughout the years.

How could a man killed as a thief
Rejected as the sinners’ chief
Make claim to ever bring relief
To this earth’s sorrow, pain and grief?

How could it be that there is grace
Poured out upon the human race?
How could it be that in this place
A beaming smile forms on His face?

A smile and laugh so plain to see
Amidst the fears and mockery;
A laugh into eternity
That wreaks of heaven’s victory.

For it is finished, it is done.
Death defeated, Christ has won.
Only sinless, perfect one,
Now revealed as God’s own Son.

Holiness so plain and strong,
Substitute for all our wrongs,
Ever free from Satan’s throngs,
Saints will praise Him with this song:

“Holy is our Lord of might
Crowned with praise and clothed in light,
Brilliant king and God so bright
Who once endured this fearsome plight.

To know the everlasting joy
Of being Father God’s envoy
Into this earth – a fragile boy
To live with us and here employ

His love for God in such a way,
To hear and follow every day
His voice and always to obey
Each word that He would hear Him say.

Unto that cross He heard Him lead
And tell Him that He had to bleed,
Atone for each of our misdeeds,
And sow the reconciling seed.

Slain He was and there he died,
God’s good pleasure satisfied
That every man who here confides
May run to God and there reside.

In dying He was glorified,
For every human justified
Cannot in his own strength abide,
Nor dare to nurture any pride."

It’s all by You, most glorious Lord
That anyone could e’er afford
To not die from your blazing sword.
High King, forever be adored.

O awesome treasure, great delight,
Our souls no longer live in night.
But let us ever keep in sight
The price you paid for our birthright.

samedi 3 janvier 2009

Aaaah, the Holidays!!

Helo everyone!!

I've just come back from 10 days in England, visiting my parents. It was SO good to do nothing. Beki forced me to not use my computer (I still managed to negociate the rights to write a 5000 word talk and checked my e-mails a bit too much. I just can't stop...), which was really awesome. Well we'd kind of decided beforehand that we wouldn't do any computering... I'm just saying that Beki forced me to make it sound better. Which isn't very cool for her... Sorry Beki!

Anyway, was just blogging to say that I feel so relaxed, and the holidays have really had the effect that they are supposed to have: give you the energy to go back even stronger... 

And what's reaally great is that I've come back from holiday missing two things, mainly: my cat, Gaufre, whom I was reunited with yesterday, to Beki and my great joy and pleasure, and the second thing is the youth group, whom I'll see tomorrow!! It's awesome that I feel that way, because I've never been like that before. I really think that there's a fairly good dynamic in the group, as far as youth groups go, and I just love every single member of it. 

I'd also like to use this time to recommend a great film: Madagascar 2! It is absolutely legendary. I went to see it with some of the youth not long before the holidays, and found it awesome, but not all that quotable... And then I went to see it a second time with my family, and in fact, there are loads of really funny things to quote. The best part is when King Julian tries to convince animals in the savana that they need to give a live sacrifice to the gods in the volcano to allow water to return to the reserve. "Now, who would like to be eaten by gods? Any hands?" Well, you've really got to see it to find it funny, but it's actually hilarious.

"I don't understand why the sacrifice didn't work! The science was so solid!"

vendredi 19 décembre 2008

Opportunities missed

I was chatting with Beki this morning about an article that I read in YouthWork Magazine which really challenged me in the way that I was doing youth work. It was basically about radical living, and it got us talking about when we were younger, and how ashamed we were of being Christians when we were younger (if you want to know: Beki not at all, and me very much so... Shameful, I know!).

A few months ago, a lot of my friends from when I was in 4ème and 3ème added me on Facebook, and we chatted about what was up in our respective lives. As I told them that I was planning to become a pastor, and that all this time I was a Christian but never really spoke about it or even admitted to it, a lot of them told me that they were in fact devote catholics as well and still are involved in their churches (which is just awesome!). And I was thinking this morning: what an opportunity missed! This school that I went to was a catholic school, not a public school, and so there may well have been the possibility to start a Bible study group or some kind of Christian union, if any of us had had the guts to do it. And then think of the chance to reach out and really make a difference in the lives of the other kids around us!! The school was maybe 200 people strong, and if 10 or 15 of us had met up to pray and talk about God together, the sky really could have been the limit. It would have had a big impact on the world around us, especially as the people who were Christians were fairly high-profile, quite popular people in the school. We would have had the two best basket-ball players (and basket-ball was big in my school), two italian twins who were the first to grow beards (at age 14! Insane! I'm still struggling to put together a half-decent goatie at age 21!), and the best artist in the school, whom everybody found hilarious... We really could have made a difference, but we snuffed it. 

We snuffed it because of shame, because of self-image, because of a desire to conform and a refusal to suffer for the cause of Christ. And I will have to account for that on the last day. I know it. 

Guys, we have a limitted amount of time on this earth. Do you know that, despite what church gatherings seem to suggest, Christianity isn't for the sissies?! It's not for the wimps! You want to follow Christ? You've got to ask God to give you the courage that goes with that calling! Because Jesus promised us that we would suffer, be mocked, rejected and jeered because we follow him and not all that this world holds dear. 

We've got to redeem Christianity in order to redeem this world! Bring on the warriors, the people who aren't scared to stand up, fight and die for the Lord that they swear allegiance to. The Bible asks for no less. We live in a world where courage is totally forgotten. Instead of it being a reason for us to feel depressed concerning our need to reach our world, let's count it a blessing: the current state of affairs, with the serious lack of courage in our fellow men, means that as Christians we will really stick out if we demonstrate courage and guts. And that is the best opportunity we have to make a difference. We have the chance to really grab people's attention if we live the life that Jesus wants us to live. It's now or never: you won't always be in this world. We've got to re-ignite a passion for missions, on our home soil, in France, and in nations, tribes and tongues that are unreached by the gospel.

What do you suggest we do? Are you ready to live and die for the Lord that you swear allegiance to? 

jeudi 11 décembre 2008

God's Providence

Yeah, I know, I can't resist a challenge. It's awful. 

I've been thinking for a while about doing this, so the answer by "anonymous" to my previous blog on predestination has spurred me to go for it.

In it, he stated that we can't be as black and white as I was when it comes to free-will and predestination. A more nuanced approach would be closer to the truth. Now first of all, let me say that I am a strong proponent of the happy medium. I think that it is healthy, and most often the closest answer in complexity to difficult questions. However, I believe that the tension between man's will and God's is not a tension between God's will being totally free and sovereign and ours being totally free and independant rather than one between God's will being totally sovereign - the prinicple cause behind every effect in this universe - and the fact that we humans have a responsibility for our actions. I won't go into trying to tie up the knots of the tension between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. I'll leave such a task for Donald A. Carson, in his book called (fitingly) Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

What I want to do is simply show that man can't determine himself if God is sovereign. 

Let's get one thing clear first: the Bible displays tension in many areas. God is three persons in one being, Jesus-Christ is a sinless God come into a decaying human world, born of a woman. The Bible is both human and divine in authorship. These are tensions but they are never contradictions. God is not three and one in the same way. He is not three persons and yet one person at the same time. When it comes to his being, he is one. There is only one God. When it comes to his personhood he is three (not the forms which he takes on, not the different characteristics that he has but rather the physical - or metaphysical - entities in which he exists). The greek word hypostasis (that which stands under) is helpful to understand the concept of personhood. So God is three and God is one. But not on the same level. If God were both three and one in being or both three and one in personhood, it would be a contradiction. It just can't happen!

It's the same with free-will and divine sovereignty. You can't say: "man can determin himself freely and God has control over him". It just doesn't work. It's a contradiction! Either man is totally free or God is totally determining. I'll try to show this with the help of pictures, trying to put the doctrine into practise: 

The common position that I meet in anglican church (who just love to compromise, sometimes at the expense of reason) is that God has a general movement to history that he wants to give. And he will make history come to a point where Christ reigns and the whole earth is under his dominion. And this reign is going to come in with the assistance of free, self-determining agents. 

But that can't work. Because this is what happens in a totally free universe (the "universe" that I'm depicting is the universe on its historical level, not its spacial level - obviously, as men can't go everywhere in the unvierse. It is the universe as far as man's ideas go and as far as history goes. There is a historical point which needs to be atteigned through the ideas, wills, movements and actions of men. This is what I've tried to depict here. It is a kind of "metaphysical" universe if you will. I am not quite happy with the word "metaphysical" but it comes close enough): 




If man is free, God can't do anything with man whatsoever. Because man's freedom and God's freedom are on the same level (in the same way that God being 1 person and yet 3 persons would be on the same level), they can't both coexist. If man is free, self-determining, ultimate, then God can't make sure that history will lead towards a specific conclusion at all because he is not the determining factor: man is. This is black and white because shades of grey can't be allowed lest we be contradictory, like saying "oh, there's got to be a way to make a square circle. Just take a circle and make it a little more angular... That's not a circle any more! OK then well take a square and just curve the edges round a bit... That's not a square any more!

Now what most common theologians hold is that, OK, God restricts man's free-will and directs it in a way that will ultimately lead to the conclusion of history.

This, first of all, means that man isn't in fact free. He is simply given the illusion of freedom. Because this is now what the universe looks like: 



If God starts determining man in any way whatsoever, man no longer has free-will. He can't have a little bit of free will, because with this little bit of free will he could will to have more free-will. And more. And more. Like Aladdin wishing for more wishes if Aladdin was ultimate and determining and the Genie was relative and determined. Man doesn't in fact have free-will at all: if he had free-will, he could just by-pass God's vortex and get out of it, because he would be self-determining. What God is saying is this: "you may move around as much as you want, but you can't go out of the vortex. Because you're not free to. I don't allow it". So already, we've erased the possibility of free-will, if God is sovereign. Because they are on the same level, man can't determine himself and also have God determine him. It does not compute! It is a contradiction!!

Now the next problem, as is illustrated on this graph is that even if God allows man to move around only within the limitations of the vortex, leaving man totally free within this vortex, how can he be sure that man will head towards the point where Christ is ready to let his reign break in? It doesn't make sense of the certitude of God's promises.

So how about God reduces man's will a bit more, letting him go "freely" inside a square inside the vortex and slowly edging him towards the point of Christ's reign? Basically, concretely, saying: your day to day decisions are free, but I am actually taking you on a ride, taking you slowly into different regions of the vortex which will ultimately lead you to the end of times where my full will is done". Something like this: 


Now again, the issue for God is: "so that I can move on to the next section, I need man to go to point "x", with things like, for example, the death of Christ". And so God creates a smaller section in the vortex that man moves around in. And then a smaller one because still that one doesn't fit. And then a smaller one, until every one of man's details and minutes is predestined in every which way possible.

It is common sense that every action, however small has mass consequences, given time. I really enjoyed the film "Stranger than fiction" in which Will Ferrell, playing the role of Harold Crick, had unwittingly put his watch back by three minutes, which meant that he was a bit late for his bus, which made him cross the road at the exact right time to save a boy and get knocked over by a bus. And of course if the boy on the bike was there at that exact time it was because of the hug that he had given his dad before leaving his home. And if the bus arrived at that exact time it was because of all the minute details of the bus driver's morning leading up to her driving the bus. Everything has consequences, and leads to mass events, some of them dramatic. Think of the thousands of factors that must have been put together that meant that Christ would be crucified when he went up to Jerusalem around 27 a.d. It is just mind boggling. And then think of the millions of reasons why these things were the way they were. And the gazillion reasons why those previous things happened the way they happened. It is all too intricate for it to be the fruit of randomness, as far as God is concerned. There must be a sovereign ruler, designer, God up there making things happen.

Two last statements: the first one concerning randomness. Steven, in your very interesting answer to my blog post, you said that because man is rational, the fact that he is free to do what he wants won't lead to randomness and the order that we can see in this world is explained by the ordering virtues that man's mind has. Agreed. I just didn't express myself well enough when talking about randomness. I meant total "out of controlness" from God's point of view. I was speaking about God answering prayers. If man has free-will, he is totally out of God's control. Most christians will agree that God can intervene in history to make certain things happen. However, if God has no control over things in the first place, if he is to bring about a certain event, with, as a starting point, a world of mass complexity that he has no control over, there is no way, apart from through very weird and suspect turns of events (such as teleportation or the breaking in of freak randomness in someone's situation leading up to an answer to prayer) that God could answer our prayers. Our world is too complex to allow that, unless God has control and is the one intricately designing this complexity within the total control of his good will.

The second one concerns my first diagram. I know some people who will want to hold on hard as can be to the fact that man has free-will and that the first diagram must therefore be correct. This means that if God's will for this universe is to be done, and if we are to reach that point in history where man brings in the reign of Christ, that means that man is good enough, by himself, to make that happen. And I've been reading Genesis in my devotional time lately. And it depicts man's foolishness in such graphic terms: Adam and Eve, Cain, the population of the world before Noah, Ham, the people building the tower of Babel, Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot's daughters... It just never stops!!! it is just a whirlwind or man rebelling against God and God being gracious and working out his perfect plan for the salvation of mankind through the election of certain people, leading up to Christ, a Christ who is announced and proclaimed in typological imagery pretty much everywhere, from the creation of the earth, to the clothing of Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Melchizedek, to the Lamb slain in the place of Isaac. This is the main message of Genesis as far as I can see it so far: man is bad and God is in control, making things right. And man doesn't choose good. If history is to go anywhere positive (and it is: the cross tells me so, the promises of the second coming tell me so) then it has to be because God is in the business of determining history, not man! 

So voilà. What do you think?

lundi 1 décembre 2008

What's wrong with me??

I've been reading a book called "How to Read the Bible for all its Worth" by Gordon Fee and Gordon Stuart lately, and they say that to read the Bible well, you have to ask the question, constantly: "what's the point?". I think that I've never struggled with this, because that's what I do with everything. And one of my greatest wonderings has been: "What's the point of the church service? What's its focal point and what is to be sought through it?". I started by believing for a long time that it was all about oly Communion. Holy Communion was to be the central point of the service, and everything should lead up to it. We shouldn't have a service without Holy Communion, because it defeats the object. That was mainly taken from the fact that "church gatherings" in the New Testament were based around communities "breaking bread together". But that was much more a "bring and share" meal than Holy Communion, when one reads the texts properly (Paul reprimands the Corinthians for not sharing with the poor, and just eating what each person had taken along). And the idea of Holy Communion as the focus of the service has slowly slipped away, and I now think that whenever Christians are eating together and that bread ond wine are at the table, they should eat and drink in rememberance that Christ died for them. I try to do that, but often forget.

Next, I thought that it must be "worship" that is the center of a church service. Thankfully, very shortly after that, I came to a deeper understanding of worship, as being a constant attitude of reverance to God, and a constant desire to make his name high in everything that we do. Songs at church are just a moment to especially focus on that, like Sunday is a moment to especially focus on God, and only God, when our whole lives should be focussed on God in all that we do. So in a sense, the end of a service is to worship God, as should everything else in our lives. But the songs aren't the focal point of the service. They aren't the main reason why we "do church".

Then I moved on to another conception: the traditional evangelical conception, which says that the point of a church service is to edify God's people. The focal point of the service is the sermon, and everything should serve the purpose of building up people's knowledge of God. When the early churches met up, they were taught by the apostles. Could that be the main focus of the service? I have always struggled with the idea that songs are made to edify people. Of course, they musn't carry false theology and lead people into error, but they are made to bring people to an expression of a heartfelt love and admiration of God rather than for edification. For myself, it is the more "wordy" songs that do that most (In Christ Alone, Before the Throne of God Above, Crown Him with Many Crowns etc. have just extraordinary lyrics). But sometimes, just a simple: "Oh how I love you Lord, you've won my heart" (that's the pre-chorus from Paul Oakley's "Majesty", a song that I don't sing enough. It's just great!) carries me into unequaled adoration for God. I just don't see edification as the main purpose of the church service. There should be edification, but t isn't the main purpose.

So what's left? Well right now, I think that the community side of it is so important. It is one of the two focusses of church as far as I can see, for now. We need to be united in singing when we come to church, and that is what needs to give it an extra dimension, otherwise, you might as well stay at home and sing on your own. There is power in all declaring together: "Our God Saves!!" over and over again, as in the chorus of Paul Baloche's great song. It is the together that makes it different. There is greatness in all being together and shouting out Amen in our hearts or aloud when the preacher faithfully exposes God's word. Otherwise, why not just use podcasts and be content with listening to sermons on the train? And I'm not saying that one shouldn't do that! I myself am a sermon podcast junkie! I've listened to a great proportion of John Piper's sermons, available at DesiringGod.com and I recommend them to you. But that can't replace corporate teaching. And there is something about being taught and lead by the spirit-inspired sermons which are specific to each church. And then Holy Communion: I've already tried Holy Communion in places where I wasn't in communion with the people, and was pretty convinced of the absence of true faith in a lot of the people receiving the bread and wine (how judgemental of me, I know...). And I hated it so much that I stopped taking communion there. Since moving to St Mark's, where community is so strong, and where the value of saving faith is an essential part of church membership, communion has just put on a whole new meaning for me. It is just spine-tingling stuff to be with this band of brothers and sisters who all love the Lord and all share in his salvation, and to share in the bread and wine together. So community is something that is the essential part of a church service. One of the two main focal points.

The second thing is so obvious and in front of my eyes that I forgot to see it for so long: why is church on a Sunday? Because Sunday commemorates Christ's resurrection, our salvation from sin, our reconciliation with the Father, our hope of life everlasting. Sunday is PARTY-TIME!!! We've been saved from our sins. We were slaves to the enemy of our souls, and Christ died to grab us out of the grasp of darkness, and bring us into his glorious light! Church services are supposed to be parties. Birthday parties are yearly, because they a bit of a little deal. Christ's cross and resurrection is a MASSIVE deal, so we celebrate it every week. Church service are supposed to be the weekly gathering of the saved, redeemed, overflowing-with-joy, party animalesque community! We're coming here to party. In the words of Kool and the Gang, "We're gonna celebrate and have a good time!"

And so as I said in my title: "what's wrong with me??" Because over the past few weeks, I'd been planning last Sunday evening's service at St. Mark's. And I'd decided to have it as a chilled, relaxed, mellow service, with candles and calm music. I mean what kind of a party is that?? That's the kind of party where people go out saying: "well that sucked!!" It was beautiful, and very awe-inspiring, but it was just another ritual. A service for the sake of having a service. It wasn't a celebration of the all-singing-all-dancing comunity of the redeemed. And I'm just annoyed at myself for having done that, because as far as I'm concerned, church shouldn't be like that. It is remainders of paganism that have introduced icons, candles, choirs etc. into the church. That is not what heaven will be like. It is not what the New Testament church was like. 

So next time I lead worship, I'm comitted to start with this remix of Kool and the Gang's classic: 

There's a party going on right here:
A celebration that's been going throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too,
We're gonna celebrate salvation anew!

(Come on now!) Celebration! We're gonna celebrate and have a good time!
Celebration! We're going to celebrate and have a good time!

It's time to come together, And dance along, that's our pleasure!
Everyone around the world, Come on!

Celebrate the Christ, come on!
Celebrate the Christ, come on!

It's time to come together, and shout to God, our great treasure:
"Our Lord reigns and our Lord saves!" Come on!

Celebrate the Christ, come on!
Celebrate the Christ, come on!

That's what church should be all about, in my opinion.

jeudi 20 novembre 2008

The anchor and the roc.

Isn't God good? Isn't God amazing? 

I was writing down a prayer this morning (I find that when I'm praying, writing it down helps me to concentrate more on what I'm saying), and I was thanking God for being the anchor which holds me down to the roc (same old classic christian crap, which sounds religious but is just a bit cheesy...). And then I thought: "Wow: and the roc that the anchor is holding me too is God as well". God the Holy Spirit is the anchor, who keeps me firmly rooted in faith in God, who is my roc and my fortress. It is so good to know that God never fails us in the sense that he is the unmovable roc, and he never fails us because he is the anchor that will not let us stray from the roc. 

Have a great day. Delight in God. Make Him your treasure.