Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Talk one of Flinders Uni Jesus Week 2016google

‘Why does God allow suffering?’ is possibly the most common response people have to the Christian claim, ‘God is love.’

Some people feel that religion has nothing to say to us on the question of suffering. Maybe you are one of these people. Maybe you are sick of religious platitudes, ‘It will all work out in the end,’ ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ or even judgemental statements, ‘God is punishing you!’ ‘You just don’t have enough faith!’ Maybe you have been at the receiving end of promises to the effect that God will heal you or solve your problem, and it hasn’t happened. Or, maybe you just feel that religious answers to the problem of suffering just don’t cut it, or lack intellectual credibility.

It may be that you are reading this because you or someone you love is facing or had faced great suffering, and you are still searching for answers as to why it happened, and whether it is possible to believe that God is loving.

Or may be that for you this is purely an intellectual issue, because, like me, you have never really gone through serious suffering – at least compared to many people in this world. The danger for people like us is that we can treat suffering glibly – either by using one of those platitudes that I mentioned, or by using the reality of suffering as an excuse to justify a refusal to believe in God. Both of these actually trivialise suffering, and neither prepare us to deal with the actual experience of suffering.

Whatever our position, we cannot avoid the fact that every one of us has, or will, encounter suffering in some form. Even if your life is long and relatively comfortable, you will be confronted with suffering in the lives of people you know; not to mention the reality of your fellow human beings around the world who fill our news bulletins with stories of war, oppression, famine, poverty and plague.

Whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have some view on this issue.

Depending on where you stand, the issue of suffering is either complicated or simplified by introducing the idea that the is a good, loving God who created and is in charge of the universe. For some, a loving God and world with suffering are two incompatible ideas, and so they conclude that God is either not good, or not real. For others, belief that God is both real and loving, is the greatest comfort and source of strength when facing suffering.

I would like to suggest, based on my reading and observation, that the first response is more common among those who try to deal with the problem intellectually – ie. those who may be observing, but not necessarily experiencing suffering; while the second is more commonly expressed by those actually experiencing suffering. It is certainly true that religious – and particularly christian – belief is stronger and growing in parts of the world in which suffering is greater, and especially on places where people’s suffering is due to religious persecution. The Christian church, without fail, has always thrived and grown where Christians have suffered most, and is only declining here in the West where most Christians are comfortable and feel safe.

This begs the question: what is it about the Christian faith that enables people to not just cope with, but even thrive when suffering?

It has been said that religion is one of humanity’s attempts to come to terms with the enigma of suffering, injustice and death.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx)

All major religions do try to come to terms with suffering. And they take different approaches. Some may say that it’s a test – to see if we are worthy of God and deserving of entry into paradise. Some say it is an illusion – a symptom of our being trapped in this physical world – from which we must liberate ourselves through enlightenment and suppressing our desires. Others say it’s just the harsh reality of a live that is controlled by the will of a distant, uncaring God, and we must just surrender to it and not ask ‘why’.

Amidst all these attempts, Christianity offers a solution that I put to you is much more satisfying than all of these. When I use the word ‘satisfying’ I don’t merely mean it makes people feel better. Rather, I mean that it provides both the understanding and the tools that enable a person to both live this life with meaning and significance, and to have a hope for the future of both this world, and of life even beyond the grave.

Firstly, the Bible has a realistic and honest view of suffering.

Suffering is a major theme throughout the Bible, and in fact it contains several documents in it that are wholly concerned with the issue (Job, Lamentations, Habakkuk, Ecclesiastes, etc.). And the Bible is raw and honest about suffering, and in endorsing people’s questioning of God about it. Here is an example:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest…
…I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads…
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me…
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
(Excerpts from Psalm 22)

Note that the writer of this song is not merely pondering a question: rather he is requiring God to explain himself. The writer’s suffering is real, and he has very little – if any – hope left; as far as he is concerned, God has abandoned him.

What we need to see is that God is OK with having this kind of sentiment in the Bible. He is big enough to have questions asked of Him and to not be knocked off his perch. He does not get angry at people for being real about suffering, and for demanding to know where He is when they suffer, and why it seems that He is not responding to their calls for help.

If you have your questions, doubts, fears and anger about yours or others’ suffering, God welcomes you to bring it to Him. He will not reject you or be angry at you for asking Him to give an answer to your pain.

Secondly, the Christian faith provides a coherent reason for why suffering exists.

In the Bible, suffering is an intruder into a world that was designed to be good. God created the world and humanity to be living in harmony with one another and with God. When humanity, the world, and God are in right relationship, everything will function as it should. We are made to live under God’s loving authority, caring for one another and for the world in which we live. This, however, is not the case. Human beings have rejected a relationship with God on His terms, and as a result both we, and this world have become dysfunctional. Behind the problem of suffering lies a deeper problem – a moral one.

The Bible presents suffering, from this perspective, on two ways:

First, suffering is the natural consequence of human failure or ‘sin’. Because God has made this world the way it is, actions have consequences. If you smoke, you will most likely get cancer or emphysema. If you drink and drive, you will increase  the chance of dying or killing someone in a crash. If you treat people with disrespect, you will in turn be treated with disrespect. If we exploit and misuse the earth’s resources, we will ruin the ecosystem and cause problems for ourselves. A large proportion of human suffering can be traced ultimately to human greed, selfishness, laziness and malice. In that sense, we have no place to blame or accuse God for suffering which, to put it bluntly, is our own fault.

Second, suffering is a reminder of God’s Justice. Once Jesus was asked about the tragedy of the slaughter of some Jews by the Romans:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:1-5

It may seem that Jesus is being insensitive and harsh here in his response, by telling people to repent lest they perish. It’s important to see that Jesus does not say, ‘These people were being punished for some sin they committed.’ In fact, he seems to complicate the dilemma by bringing up another incident – a ‘natural disaster’. It is most likely that the Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate had tried to rebel against Rome, and one could argue that they had brought their fate upon their own heads. However in the case of the tower of Siloam – ultimately the only question may be, ‘Why did God allow that to happen to people who were just minding their own business?’

Jesus does not give a direct answer to that question, but instead uses the incident to point his hearers to a greater issue: every human being faces the prospect of suffering that is too great for us to imagine, and which makes suffering in this world pale in comparison. This is the suffering of being banished forever from the goodness and love of God – something which we all deserve because of our rejection of Him – that which the Bible calls, ‘hell’. The Bible tells us that God has deliberately, but only partially, handed us and this world over to our dysfunction,  to be cursed, with all of the suffering that entails. This is in order that our suffering – whether caused by human evil or by ‘natural causes’ will serve as wake-up call, or a warning to us about the full consequences of rejecting God and arrogantly insisting on living life our way. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia series, put it this way: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Suffering is like the rumble strip on the edge of a road – a warning that if we continue the way we are going, we’re in trouble.

Thirdly, God has provided the only foolproof solution to the problem of suffering.

God does not stand at a distance or ignore human suffering; nor is He uncaring or unmoved by suffering, but rather comes closer to us that we can even imagine. We see this clearly in the person of Jesus.

A church near where I live has on its fence a banner saying, ‘Jesus was a refugee’. This is a reference to when Jesus’ family had to flee their home country to escape the king of the time who was trying to find Jesus to kill him.

During his public life, Jesus lived without a home, and was at times hungry, thirsty, and physically exhausted. Because of his teaching on love and justice, the time he spent with the outcasts and ostracised, and because of his claims about himself, the religious authorities finally had him arrested and sentenced to death. All his friends deserted and betrayed him. He faced an corrupt trial, and was handed over to the Romans to be beaten, publicly humiliated, and to face one of the most excruciatingly painful forms of execution devised by human beings – crucifixion (in fact, it is the latin word for cross, ’crucis’ that forms the basis for the word, ‘excruciating’).

But Jesus was not just a man who, as some have suggested, showed us how to practice the virtue of enduring under unjust suffering. Jesus is God in person. In Jesus, God the Son has entered into human experience, walked our streets, lived our life, experienced our pain. In Jesus we see that God has not chosen to stand at a distance and remotely fix the problem of suffering. If He did, the only way would be to remove forever every person who is responsible in some way for causing suffering – and they would mean everyone, including you and I. Instead, God in love has chosen to deal with the problem not from the outside, but from the inside. What is first and foremost ‘Revolutionary’ about the love of God is that this God, the creator of the universe, who is above and immune to suffering, has chosen to enter into our suffering and walk alongside us in it; to plumb the depths of human agony both physically and psychologically. In answer to our question, ‘God, where are you when I suffer?’ God calls out from the cross, ‘Here I am.’

But this is more than just God sympathising with us. In Jesus, God has dealt with the suffering problem by dealing with the moral problem.

Jesus not only experienced the existential, physical suffering of abandonment, humiliation, torture and physical death. He also experienced the ultimate suffering to which, as I said earlier, that all points. Moments before his died, Jesus called out,

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Did you notice that these are the exact words from the song we read earlier? In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the ultimate suffering: abandonment by God – the abandonment that all people rightly deserve.

Not only did Jesus share in our suffering, but he stood in our place and came under the punishment we deserve. The Bible puts it like this:

Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
(1 Peter 3:18)

In Jesus’ death, the moral problem behind evil and suffering in this world has been dealt with: by taking our sin and evil onto himself, and by suffering the consequences of our sin in our place, he has ‘reversed the curse’ for anyone who comes to him and receives what he has done for them.

God comes close to us in Jesus, and shared in our suffering, not simply to fix our problems, but to bring us into a relationship with Himself.

God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.
(German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann)

This explains why it is that Christians throughout the last 2000 years have persevered through suffering, and why the Christian message is able to give hope and meaning to people in the depths of pain. Christians have a revolutionary hope which is based on the fact that Jesus’ death was not the final act. God raised Jesus from the dead to demonstrate that this moral problem has been dealt with – forgiveness and reconciliation has been won by him – and that for those who trust in him, suffering will only every be temporary. Christians are able to make the outrageous claim that in comparison with what God has in store for us – a world which will not only be free from suffering, death and grief, but also a place where we will see God face to face and know only his goodness and love – in light of that our sufferings become ‘light and momentary’, not even worth comparing to what is to come.

That’s why Jesus word’s that we saw earlier, ‘Repent, or you too will perish,’ are not harsh words, but loving words. The same one who calls us to trust in him and turn back to God is the same one who has suffered our pain and paid the price to enable us to return to God.

I urge you to hear his call. Repent, and put your trust in him.

You’re all doomed. The world will be ending shortly, and Bill Shorten is the Anti-Christ.

Not really.

But it got your attention. So read on…

It occurred to me that in all the discussion and debate around so-called ‘marriage equality,’ I haven’t seen many Christians quoting from the book of Revelation. So I thought I’d give it a go.

The book of Revelation is a book that is profoundly relevant to both first century Christians and twenty-first century Christians, and in fact all Christians in between. I believe that both those who confine it to a first century milieu (sometimes called ‘Preterists’) and those who see it as largely a yet-to-be fulfilled end time scenario (sometimes called ‘Futurists’) have a faulty way of interpreting the book.

Revelation contains images that communicate the truth about a reality (‘apocalyptic’). The visions John sees are not literal previews of actual historical events to come, but an ‘uncovering’ of the true nature of God and His work in the world through Jesus Christ, and the true nature of the worldly system of rebellious human beings, in partnership with Satan, trying to undermine and overthrow God.

The original readers would have understood the book to be describing their exact situation, and giving them hope to see that behind all the tumultuous events of their time, the Father is seated on the throne and overseeing it all, and that his Son is the true King and saviour in home they can rely 100%.

Revelation helps us as Christians to not be surprised when we see a great divergence between ourselves and the world; when, as Jesus himself predicted, the world hates us, tries to shut us down, and even kills us. In this age our cry is not, ‘Will you save us?’ but ‘How long until you do?’. The book gives us a sure hope for the future culmination of God’s plan to make the kingdom of this world into His Kingdom, when we will see Him face to face and know the gentle touch of his hand as He wipes the tears from our eyes.

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” (Revelation 13:15-18 NIV)

John’s terrifying vision of a dragon and beasts is an expose of Satan’s strategy to undermine God by mimicking His work in order to lead people into idolatry (ie. worship and service of anything that is not God). The Dragon of 13:1 is the Devil, the ‘Father of lies’, who attempts to usurp the Father; He brings forth from the sea a beast which mimics Christ (often identified the ‘Anti-Christ) and claims to be a powerful, resurrected saviour. The second beast is the first beast’s PR machine: it points people to the first beast and leads people to worship it, as it mimics – you guessed it – the Holy Spirit.

Having the mark of the first beast is a sign of ownership and loyalty. It marks the person out as one who was a worshipper of the beast; one who has surrendered their rights and privileges in order to be part of the worldly system.

Those who don’t have the mark – who refuse to give in to idolatry – are marginalised by the world, unable to even buy or sell in order to make a living and feed their families. Christians at the time were literally facing this exclusion, as they refused membership in trade guilds that demanded a pledge to the trade’s patron deity, and as their refusal to honour Caesar as God resulted in their execution.

The message for Christians was not ‘Whatever you do, don’t take the mark!’, but something much more comforting: after an unfortunate chapter break, in 14:1:

‘…there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.’ (Revelation 14:1 NIV).

Do you see the parallel? The redeemed already have a mark on them – the name of the Father and of the Lamb! Christians are owned by the Father, who has purchased them with the precious blood of Christ:

‘Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV)

So what we see in this passage is a call for Christians to stand firm on the grace of their salvation, knowing a rock-solid security in Christ, as the world around them seems bent on going to hell in a handbasket.

Notice that the 144000 are not called to fight the beasts or lobby for their downfall. That’s the job of the Lamb, their champion, who will lead the charge and defeat the beasts; and they can rest assured that they will share in his victory. (What a counter-cultural image – three ferocious monsters defeated by a lamb!).

‘What’s this got to do with gay marriage?’ I hear you say. Well, if you’ve persevered this far through my very long introduction, you’re about to be rewarded with the application.

Christians do not fit into the world today any more than they did 1900 years ago. It should come as no shock to us if our faith in Christ results in us being ostracised, demonised or even ultimately killed. Jesus’ promise  of hatred from the world was not just for his immediate disciples, but for anyone who would be his disciple.

Sadly, the church in the west today often seems more interested in winning the approval of the world than in standing with the Lamb and risking losing everything. When the world says to us, ‘If you don’t support marriage equality, you’re disgusting bigots!’ we seem eager to jump through any hoops the world wants us to, even to the point of agreeing with them when they tell us, ‘Jesus never said anything against homosexuality, so it must be OK.’ or ‘Jesus hung around with ‘sinners’ and didn’t judge them.’

By doing this, we are giving in to the campaign to set up an antichrist. An antichrist is not necessarily one who is explicitly opposed to Christ, but is a rival, or alternative christ. It is a christ made in the image of the father of lies; a christ that is appealing to a world filled with people who are rebels at heart and who will do anything but worship the true and living God. A christ that says, ‘Your sin is not that bad after all; in fact, you’re all OK doing whatever you like! See then kingdoms of the world? I will give them all to you if you simply bow down and worship me.’

So it is no coincidence that in a number of countries that have already legalised same-sex marriage there are a growing number of Christians who are being fined and forced out of business, simply because out of loyalty to the true Christ they are refusing to participate in same-sex wedding by providing their professional services. Already a church has already faced legal action for refusing to perform a gay wedding. Already Christian ministries are facing disadvantages for not complying with ‘anti discrimination’ rules, and are being labeled ‘homophobic’ even if they have said nothing publicly and explicitly about homosexuality.

How are Christians to respond to something that many are saying is inevitable? While different Christians have various views on this issue, as well as on how involved we should be in lobbying against the change, I think one thing is sure: Christians in the West who hold firmly to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality will find themselves increasingly marginalised as our culture moves step by step further away from the Christian values imbibed in it from the era of Christendom.

But it’s not cause to panic. And, in my view, it’s not cause to go out with placards and protest and demand that the beast of human rebellion and haughty independence not be worshipped.

Do we really believe that the Father is sovereign over the rise and fall of kingdoms and cultures? Do we really know that the only thing that is ultimately inevitable is the victory of Christ and the uniting of all things under Him? Are we willing to accept the truth that the decline of a culture into immorality is simply a sign of the wrath of God that is upon it, and is designed so that the grace and kindness of God may be even more magnified as He redeems people from the miry pit of their hard-hearted sinfulness?

We should not overlook what happens next in John’s vision:

‘Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth —to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. (Revelation 14:6-7 NIV)

As he stands gazing, at on one hand the seething mass of rebellious humanity revelling in its worship of the beast, and on the other hand the glorious risen Lamb with his redeemed people, he hears of the one thing that can bridge the vast gap between the two: the Eternal Gospel. It is a Gospel that calls people to repentance in light of the unavoidable fact of God’s judgement in and though the One He has appointed – Jesus. It’s a Gospel that calls people to true worship of the true God, who created all things, including – and this is easily overlooked – the ‘springs of water.’ In 7:16 we see these springs mentioned:

‘“…the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’ (Revelation 7:17 NIV)

So the Gospel is also a call to sinners to come and drink at the springs of living water that God’s grace and mercy provide.

This is the main task of the church, and even more so as we feel like we are being assaulted from every side. We are not called to preserve or reform the social and political structures of the world; they are only temporary and are doomed to pass with the rise and fall of civilisation under the hand of the Father. It is only as we faithfully proclaim the Gospel that we will see hearts transformed, with the fruit of right, Christ honouring living coming as a result.

There are two things this does not mean for Christians as we face the demise of culture. Firstly, it cannot mean smugness. We cannot stand on the sidelines wagging our fingers saying, ‘I told you so – but then what else should I expect from reprobates like you?’ Remember, we only stand with the Lamb on Mt Zion because we have been redeemed. That is the only thing that separates us from our pagan neighbours: the gracious redeeming work of Christ.

And secondly, it does not mean we remain silent on the moral issues that face us. The Gospel is the good news of redemption from the power, penalty and pollution of sin. That means sin must be a topic we discuss whenever we are attempting to communicate the Gospel. When sin increases, grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20) – in other words, seeing the horror of sin only serves to magnify the lavish grace of God that rescues us from that sin. Out of love for our neighbours, we cannot stop pointing out their sinfulness, because then the Gospel will be seen for what it is – the best news ever.

1 Corinthians 7:25-31, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Our world recently has had no shortage of crises that have had some impact on us.

The Christians during the first century were no stranger to crises; in fact a significant proportion of the New Testament exists to some extent because of various crises happening either in the church, in the world, or both. Jesus was very clear that the time between his first and second coming – what we call ‘the Last Days’ would be a time of turmoil and tribulation, with God’s people by no means being immune from trouble. Christians are assured that we will be in a battle – a battle with a world which is hostile to Him; a battle with circumstances that comes from living in a world that is under a curse and is full of chaos, danger and confusion; a battle with others within the church who distort or water down the Gospel, or grasp for power; and a battle with the devil and with our own sin.

We are in a privileged position at the moment in Australia, where by and large life feels pretty stable. We all have access to our basic human rights, and can feel relatively secure with a stable government system, a wealthy economy, good law and order, and no major conflicts with our neighbours. For the majority of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world this is not necessarily the case. Many of them are born into crisis situations, and will die never having left them.

We should not become complacent to think that our comfort is going to continue forever for us or for our children or grandchildren. Recent events with terrorism happening on our own shores have reminded us that we live in a bubble – and some are fearful that this bubble will burst more easily and sooner than we might think.

And all of us also, no doubt, have experienced – or are experiencing – crises on a more personal level – in our family, work, community, finances or health. So, how should we view – and respond to – crises?

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

In our first passage, Paul is having a conversation with the Corinthians about the place of marriage. In the midst of this conversation he refers to a principle that should not only shape their approach to marriage, but to all of life:

‘The present form of this world is passing away.’ (31)

This is the reason he gives for why, ‘those who have wives [should] live as though they have none, those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods…’ (7:30) summed up I with the phrase, ‘…those who deal with the world as though they have no dealings with it.’ (31)

At first glance Paul’s words here might seem a little extreme. Is he calling for Christians to dissolve all their marriages, get rid of all their possessions, and live a life of complete detachment from all desires – as if there is something wrong with this physical world and bodies in which we live? When he says ‘the appointed time has grown very short,’ is he implying that Jesus will return within their lifetimes – even within the next week or so, and so they should simply sit and wait for His appearing, and to make any plans for the future is pointless and wrong?

A look at the context of Paul’s comments – both within the letter of 1 Corinthians and in the historical setting – will help us to understand not only what Paul was saying to the Corinthians, but also what God is saying to us, particularly at times of crisis.

What is ‘the world’?

Firstly, we need to understand what he means when he uses the word, ‘world’. Today this word can tend to mean simply the physical reality of the planet in which we live – our location within the universe. Sometimes the Bible uses it in this sense. But in this context, ‘the world’ is referring to the human world, the reality of human life and civilisation and its social, political, religious and moral systems. In and of itself it is not necessarily a negative term, however because of sin and human rebellion it most often is negative – ‘the World’ is a humanity that is living in organised, sophisticated rebellion against God, and whose culture – despite occasional glimpses of goodness and truth and beauty – is by and large striving to topple God from His throne and to set itself up as the masters of the universe. This is the world about which Jesus warned his disciples, ‘in this world you will have trouble,’ but then immediately comforted them by saying, ‘but take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) It is the world about which one day we will see the truth that, ‘the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 11:15)

‘The present crisis’

Secondly, in verse 26 Paul mentions ‘the present distress (or crisis)’. The Corinthians were facing some kind of crisis that was having a significant impact on their lives, causing them to have to think carefully and wisely in their decisions about what would normally be ‘everyday things’ such as marriage, business and leisure. Most likely, this ‘crisis’ was a famine which we know impacted this region around the time that Paul wrote this letter. With a shortage of food also came a degree of social unrest, as people developed uncertainty about their future, mistrust of authorities, and competition with their neighbours. Corinth was a wealthy city, but would nevertheless have been impacted by this famine.

The ‘world’ in which the Corinthians lived was, it seemed, crumbling.

So Paul’s advice about who should and shouldn’t get married is in the context of a particular time of crisis. Getting married was a big event, one that required many resources and much time. The Corinthians were to remember what it meant for them to live as God’s people, and how this living reflected the power of the Gospel. At the end of chapter 15 Paul tells them to ‘be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ He goes on in 16:1 to straightaway talk about the need for them to make a collection to help their much poorer brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He is calling them to be other-person-centred, to think of the needs of others before their own, and so to put on hold some of their own activities for the moment in order to demonstrate God’s generosity to others.

A wake-up call

It is in times of crisis that we are called to reassess our priorities. God’s actions of judgement upon the world are also a mercy and a gift, designed to shake us out of our complacency; to make us wake up to how much we have become engrossed in the things of the world instead of the things of the Lord.

I have recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where we did a tour of Christchurch and heard stories of the 2012 earthquake. We heard of neighbours developing a closer sense of community as they were drawn to work together to support one another. Apparently some people who used to sleep naked now wear pyjamas, since when an earthquake strikes at night you don’t even have time to put your clothes on. We also heard of the controversies that have arisen as people debate how the city should be rebuilt, with many complaining about the Anglican church not being willing to spend nearly 200 million dollars and 6 years to repair the cathedral (maybe some of those people might also complain that the church has too much money and should be spending their resources on feeding the poor instead of making moral judgements and trying to convert people.)

We had boarded the plane for New Zealand unsure of what was going to happen with bushfires burning in the Mt Lofty Ranges just 20 km from our own home. But even at that time, there was an almost overwhelming response of generosity from people offering accommodation and assistance to those affected by the fires. Possibly the magnitude of this response had something to do with the shock we had felt as a nation just weeks earlier with the Martin Place siege; people realised the importance of standing together as neighbours.

Now, these are examples are of non-Christian communities! These are people who do not necessarily know anything of the power of the Gospel to transform and reconcile. Yet these people are nevertheless people made in the image of God, and while crises can often bring out the worst of people’s selfishness and sinfulness, they are also marked by glimpses of how we should be. God, in what theologians call ‘common grace’ at times enables people to act in a way that is contrary to their own sinfulness, maybe so that people will stop and take stock, and say to themselves, ‘Hey! What just happened – what I did, or what someone did for me – seems to resonate with my humanity. I know that this is the way I should be all the time – so what am I not like it all the time? Why do I by default operate out of selfishness and greed? Is there any way that I might be able, somehow, to attain to this picture of goodness and generosity that I have just glimpsed?’

So we should be willing to welcome crises, knowing that the Father only ever gives good and perfect gifts; and our first response in these times should be, ‘Father, what are you teaching me in this? How are you using this time of trouble to make me more like your Son?’

Looking towards the End

While Paul is referring to this very specific situation here, he deliberately uses the kind of language that is also used to refer to the end of the age, the time of Jesus’ return. ‘distress’ is often associated with the last days. ‘The appointed time has grown very short’ and the present form of this world is passing away’ speak of the expectancy of a soon to come resolution to the turmoil of this life; the kind of language used by someone who is expecting Jesus’ return to be just around the corner. Paul wants them to think not just of their immediate situation, but in light of eternity. Times of crisis remind us that this world does indeed have a ‘use by date’. It is a kingdom that is being shaken, and will one day be completely overtaken by the reign of God the Father through His Son. Crises remind of who is truly King, and enable us to look forward with hope to the goal He has for us and His creation.

And so the reason for the Corinthians to make wise choices about how they live their lives is not simply a moral or ethical one on its own – as if there is some abstract moral standard that makes something right or wrong in itself. Rather, it is about Who deserves – and receives – the glory. And the One who deserves the glory is the One who is the true King of all things. This is a big focus in this letter – and in fact in the whole scriptures. We are created to be for the praise of the glory of God. Ethics and morality is not about conforming to a certain standard; it is about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – or in short, doing all things to the glory of God. Loving God is not about a warm mushy sentiment, but living in such a way that makes much of him, so that people see our lives and say, ‘God is good! God is love! God is gracious! God is my Father who is working all things together for good! God is worthy of all my worship!’

The power of the Cross

We will only be enabled to live such lives when we are able to say, ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14) And we will only be able to say such thing when we have a vision of the cross of Christ. This leads us to our second passage.

1 Peter 1:13-25

In this passage Peter sums up some general principles that Paul applied when giving advice to the Corinthians about marriage: being prepared for action, making wise, sober decisions, all in the light of the promise of Jesus’ return. (13) We are to desire to be holy – not for the sake of holiness in and of itself, but because ‘he who called you is holy’ – in other words, we should desire to have lives that bring glory to God be reflecting His character in our actions. And he reminds us that this world is not our home – we are to see ourselves as ‘exiles’ living temporarily living in the kingdom of this world until we see His kingdom break in.

What is the secret to living this kind of life – one of integrity, love and certainty in hope? It is simply knowing something: verse 18-20 We have been ‘ransomed… by the precious blood of Christ.’ This phrase in itself contains enough significance for a whole series of sermons, but we will look briefly at it, to see what kind of vision of the cross enables us to face crises with a confidence and hope that far outweighs anything this world has to offer.

Firstly, we have been ransomed.

This means that we were once slaves. This is terminology that comes from the slave market; a slave could be given their freedom by having someone pay all the debts they owed, effectively purchasing them and then setting them free. We were once slaves – slaves to sin and to our sinful desires, and slaves to the world and its systems, unable to resist all the empty promises of happiness and power and self-fulfilment that it offers. The world, the flesh and the devil – our three greatest enemies were once our masters, and when they said, ‘jump’ we said, ‘how high?’. Jesus has set us free from these masters by cancelling the debt that stood against us, and for which God, in His justice, had rightfully handed us over to. He has come and fought against the strong man, and has overcome him, and he now has possession of all that is in his household, including us. We are now free. Our citizenship in this world has been replaced with citizenship in heaven, and we no longer have to conform to this world and its demands and desires because we know that the world is passing away.

Secondly, the ransom was at the cost of his own blood.

Jesus taught his disciples, ‘…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’(Mark 8:35-36) He said these words as the one who had already stood in front of the devil, who had offered him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him, and said, ‘“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’ (Luke 4:8). He then did just that – lived a life of total obedience to the Father, that took him to the cross to make that redeeming payment for our sin. This not only shows us the magnitude of our sinfulness – that it requires the blood of the eternal Son to atone for it – but also the great assurance we can have in our freedom, that we have truly been crucified to the world and the world to us. It is not just a metaphor; it actually happened that day at Calvary.

Thirdly, this blood bought ransom is precious.

It was not merely sufficient, something that just got the job done. And it was not just costly – worth a lot. It is precious – a word that means honourable, or held in high esteem. The Father looks at the obedience of the Son culminating in his willing death on a cross and says, ‘That is precious to me! This is the thing that I hold as supremely important over all things, that my Son has given himself as a ransom for sinners.’ That is what is meant in part by the phrase, ‘He was foreknown before the foundation of the world’ (20a). The Father created the world, knowing – in fact pre-ordaining –  the corruption and turmoil that would enter into it, because His goal was that His Son would be honoured and glorified above all things because of his willing incarnation and death to save sinners. Knowing the inestimable worth of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father should make it of inestimable worth to us also. It should make the crises of this world fall into their proper perspective, when knowing him is far more precious to us than anything in this world that we may lose.

Talk delivered at Flinders University on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There is only so much that can be covered on this issue in the short time we have. I will acknowledge at the start that this will not be a comprehensive coverage of all the questions and dilemmas that spring from what has been an uneasy tension – some may say an all out war – between the Christian faith and the LGBT community. You may finish reading this feeling dissatisfied or maybe offended at what you read; I hope though that you may at least go away with a clearer understanding of the foundation for the Christian view of gender, marriage and sexuality.

For the Christian, this is not a matter of just altering their views on a minor moral issue. As we will see, this issue cuts right to the heart of the Christian faith and message; to require sincere, Bible believing Christians to change their views on this is to require them to go against their conscience and therefore to deny who they truly are. A Christian is not merely someone who holds to a list of beliefs that may be revised and updated; no, a Christian understands that God has done something profound in them to make them a new person; their beliefs are an expression of their identity.

I suggest that for a Christian to deny their convictions is not too different from requiring a gay person to deny their desires.

I will also acknowledge at the outset that the church as an institution does not have a clean record on understanding, accepting helping and including those with same-sex attraction. For what it’s worth, I apologise – if not for my fellow professing Christians, then at least for myself – for the pain and isolation that has been caused by Christians acting and speaking inappropriately about this issue, and for any judgmentalism and hypocrisy expressed towards Gay people – whether it be those who battle with a conviction that their desires are wrong, or those who have decided to accept and celebrate their desires.

In the life and teachings of Jesus we see both extreme compassion, acceptance and grace towards those who are ostracised and condemned by society; yet at the same time a firm, unshakeable commitment to God’s moral standards. That meant he never shied away from calling sin what it was, and calling people to repent. Because of this, I believe that grace and acceptance are not mutually exclusive to holding to a firm, even controversial moral position.

There are three positions on sexuality that you may encounter from those who fall under the broad umbrella of ‘Christendom’:

  1. ‘The Bible prohibits sexual behaviour outside faithful, monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman; however the world has changed, and we have progressed in our understanding of sexuality since Biblical times. We therefore can disregard those prohibitions as being no longer relevant or helpful for modern society.’
  2. ‘The Bible does prohibit some forms of sexual activity, however its prohibitions are related to specifically abusive, dysfunctional and degrading sexual practices. The Biblical writers did not know of the concept of a loving, committed homosexual relationship, nor did they explicitly say anything that would give us cause to prohibit it.’
  3. ‘The Bible’s prohibition of sexual activity outside of monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is a principle that still stands, and presents a standard that all who profess faith in Jesus should seek to live by.’

This post today will be largely on showing the rationale for the third view. This is because the first two views essentially lack integrity:

The first, in that it diminishes the authority of the foundational document of the Christian faith – the Bible – allowing the influence of popular cultural opinion to override a person’s faith convictions. Doing so easily sets us up in a position of arrogance – where we become the arbiters of which aspects of our faith are valid and which are not. In the end, this results not in an authentic expression of Christianity, but in a tailor-made religion that is more an expression of someone’s personal preferences than it is a conviction that draws together and consolidates a community with a sense of purpose and identity.

The second, in that it does not do true justice to the particular texts in the Bible that deal with homosexuality. It claims to have only now shed new light on words and phrases that have already been clearly understood for nearly 2000 years by Christian Biblical scholars. It ignores the wider literary context of the whole Bible, and has a faulty understanding of the cultural milieu of the ancient world in which homosexual relationships, as we call them, did actually occur, and are documented.

The foundation of the Biblical view on sexuality is much deeper than simply the existence of a few statements in the Bible that prohibit or condemn alternate sexual expression. The reason for the Christian view on marriage is not that there are rules in the Bible about it; rather, the rules are an application of a deeper truth that goes right to the heart of who God is, what God’s plan is for the world, and who we are designed to be as human beings.

Now, you may initially wonder how what I am about to explain has anything to do with sexuality, but please ride with me, and I hope you will eventually see where I am going.

It begins with God. What was there before the universe? Some may say ‘nothing’, and suddenly there was everything, and we don’t know how or why it got here. Others – we might call them Theists or Deists – may say the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is actually God – that before the universe there was nothing plus God, and then God made it all happen, God is the ‘first cause’. The Christian view of things is much richer than this. We say that before the Universe there was Love. The Bible claims that:

‘God is Love’ (John’s letter to Christians, 4:8)

Trinity simple…meaning, God is a relational God; in fact God within Himself is relationship: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons, bound together as one God by perfect, self giving, intimate love. This is the Christian idea of ‘Trinity’ – a combination of two words: ’Tri’ meaning three, ‘Unity’ meaning one.

This means that God creating the universe was primarily an act of love, and that the universe finds its ultimate purpose in the context of loving relationships. The Bible speaks of God the Father creating the world for His Son, with the desire that everything in the world will be a witness to His goodness and love:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, 2:9-11)

Into this world God placed a type of creature – human beings – who are made in God’s image. We are uniquely made, designed to be a reflection of the relational love that is at the heart of God’s character. The two greatest commands, affirmed a number of times by Jesus:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength’

and,

‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’

…are a simple summary of what it looks like when a human being, living in harmony with the Triune God, is a reflection of God’s character.

Even more than this, we are designed to know our true and ultimate identity as children, relating to God as our Father in a relationship of love, trust and honour. God’s plan for this world that he made, as unfolded in the Bible’s story from beginning to end, is this: that we might know Him as Father, by being united with His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now I acknowledge that that is a statement that may seem to be full of religious jargon; essentially it means that we are made to be part of God’s family, and the way we know that status as children of God is through being united with His Son.

This is where the connection to marriage, gender and sexuality comes in.

We know that marriage is not merely about two individuals. When a person marries, they come into a relationship with their partner’s family. In some ways, they may relate to their partner’s parents as if they were their own parents. You may have heard the cliched phrase uttered by the father of the bride at a wedding, ‘Today we have not so much lost a daughter, as we have gained a son.’

This relationship – the one that we as human beings are designed to have with the Son, and through Him to the Father – is the ultimate relationship, the ultimate marriage; in fact, it is the true marriage. Rather than marriage being a metaphor borrowed by God from human culture to depict something of what our relationship with Him should be like, God specifically designed human beings so that an essential aspect of who and what we are as human beings would serve as a parable – an illustration or image – of this ultimate relationship:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Paul’s letter to Ephesian Christians, 5:25-32)

The writer here is saying that God’s design – a man and a woman being united in love, with an intimacy so profound that it is as if they have become a single unit – this is a picture of the relationship between God’s Son (‘Christ’), and human beings who have faith in him (‘the church’).

He speaks also of Jesus ‘giving himself up for her’. This refers to two things.

Firstly it speaks of his attitude towards human beings; he prefers to do what is best for us, over and above what may be best for himself, even if that means laying down his life so that we may live.

Secondly, it refers to a specific act in which Jesus did precisely that:

See, as a human race, and as individuals who make up humanity, we have rejected this family relationship with God. We prefer to do things our way, to be the arbiters of what is true or right or good. We are essentially rebel children, rejecting our Father’s loving authority, and refusing to honour or respect Him as he deserves. This means we have estranged ourselves from Him; walked out; left the family; refused to be identified as His children. Our behaviour is a display, or outworking of this attitude towards God; we seek to distort ourselves and the world we live in to escape the fact that we are actually running away for God. If God seems far away, it is we who have moved.

Yet this estrangement and all its consequences is also what we deserve. We deserve to be banished from the home, to be removed from the will, and to no longer be associated with the family name, because we are rebels. And we deserve the ultimate banishment – death – which is exclusion from God’s good and loving presence forever. This may to us sound unloving and ungracious of God, yet, as we have just heard, God’s aim is that we as creatures should be living in a way that gives the honour to the Son that he deserves. A world filled with rebels, whose rebellion is ignored or brushed under the carpet would be anything but honouring. The kind of God that ignores and minimises rebellion, injustice and evil is not the kind of God who can be trusted to run the universe.

Yet, what is God’s response to this rebellion that has driven us away from him? He has done something about it. He has provided the means by which the relationship may be restored; the marriage may be reconciled and healed, the family brought back together again. The Son has come and united himself to our humanity by becoming one of us. By becoming a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, he essentially came to walk in our shoes, to take our place. He lived that life that we have failed to live. And then when he was brutally put to death by those who hated him he face not only rejection from human beings, but abandonment by God, His own Father – the abandonment we deserve to face. Instead of banishing us from the family, the Father instead banished His only son.

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

The sign that Jesus death actually did what he meant it to do was that he was raised from the dead; this was the Father’s stamp of approval on his extreme love, his self giving, sacrificial death; by raising Him he has provided a guarantee for those who are now united to him through faith – trusting in his death and resurrection as the only way for us to be reconciled to the Father and be part of His family. This guarantee is of a relationship that lasts forever, that is deeply satisfying and intensely purposeful, which gives us a knowledge of our true identity and the freedom to live authentically as human beings.

There can be no substitute for traditional marriage as a picture for this relationship God brings us into though Jesus. Any alternative expression of gender or sexual intimacy is a distortion and an obscuring of this great love and mercy shown to us by the God who not only made us, but who gives Himself for us.

However the deciding factor that will determine whether we will know the reality of this relationship is not our particular view or opinion about gender, sexuality or marriage. Rather, it is how we respond the the news of what Jesus has done for us to bring us to God. The stereotype statement, ‘That person will go to Hell because they are a homosexual.’ is false. True, our lifestyle choices are evidence of what is in our heart and where our loyalty lies. Someone who claims to trust in and follow Jesus will be seeking to live a life that reflects his teaching and affirms the same scriptures that he affirmed. However the crucial question here today is not ‘What do you think about gender and sexuality?’ rather it’s ‘What is your response to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection?

I urge you to ask, explore and seek to come to terms with who He really is, what He has done to bring you into the Father’s family, and how he can transform you and give you a freedom to hear what God says and find fulfilment and joy in living no longer for yourself but for him.

redletter

‘Red Letter Christians’ approach the Bible with the premise that the foundation and starting point for understanding the Gospel should be the direct words of Jesus, as quoted in the Gospels. This is a corrective, they claim, to the traditional approach of evangelicals in which the Pauline epistles are the lens through which the rest of the Bible is interpreted. It sounds all good and pious to say that the actual words of Jesus himself should be our starting point, and the rest of the Scriptures be interpreted through them. There are however a couple of problems with this approach:

  1. Not all the words of Jesus have a direct application to us in the same way they did to those to whom he spoke. As with all biblical passages, we need where possible to understand the situational context in which they are spoken, and to understand what they meant to them then, before we ask what they mean to us today. A classic example of this is Jesus’ exchange with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus commands this man to ‘sell all you have, give to the poor… and come follow me.’ Why then do Christians own things? If these are Jesus’ direct words, shouldn’t we all obey them literally and refuse to own any property? No, we understand that these words were given to this man at that time because it addressed both the deepest need and biggest problem he had – loving his riches more than God. This does not mean we cannot learn from this story, nor take action to remove those things in our lives that have become idols; however this example shows us that simply ‘obeying the words of Jesus’ is not always as simple as it sounds.
  2. Sometimes, especially in the Gospel of John, it is hard to be clear on exactly where the words of Jesus end and those of the Gospel writer begin. For example, is the world’s best known verse, John 3:16, (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.) the words of Jesus or John? My Red Letter bible has them in red, and continues the quotation right through to the end of verse 21. However some commentators would suggest that the quotation ends with verse 15 – and 16-21 are John’s commentary on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, directed to the reader. So, we have a problem if we are going to give a priority to the quoted words of Jesus, in that we cannot say precisely what they are!
  3. It’s really a false distinction anyway, to suggest that the direct quotations of Jesus are somehow more authoritative or inspired than the words of the New Testament writers. As Jesus commissioned his apostles, he commanded them to ‘[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19) Along with this, he had already given them the promise that the Holy Spirit would, ‘teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.’ (John 14:26) What this means for us is that the words we have in the New Testament – be they direct quotations of Jesus or the testimony of his apostles – are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and all an accurate communication of all that Jesus commanded.

We need to have an implicit confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit to faithfully communicate the will and mind of God to us in all of the Scriptures, and to avoid making false ‘red letter’ distinctions.

In 2012 I spoke at a conference on the theme, ‘The Word of God’.

Maybe because of our language and thinking for many of us this is synonymous with ‘The Bible’. However it is a phrase that is much, much richer than simply a volume of text. It means, ‘When God speaks He acts, and… God acts by speaking’ (Tim Meadowcroft).

The four talks are available as audio downloads below, along with the PDF here.

Talk One: God of the Word

Talk Two: Another God, another Word

Talk Three: The Word Who is God

Talk Four: Of God, the Word

charlton-heston-as-moses-in-the-ten-commandments

We can never separate God from His word. 

God’s word is not like a file sitting on a server somewhere that we can download and listen to at whim without direct interaction with God Himself.  We are used to interacting with words in a way that dissociates them from the speaker or writer; we read books written by dead people, and we listen to mp3 talks and songs spoken or sung by people on the other side of the world whom we will never meet, and who don’t even know we exist. When God speaks, ‘… he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.’

When we hear Him speak we encounter not just words, but God Himself; His words are always accompanied by His personal presence. When we read the Bible we can not only be sure that God is speaking as we read, but that we are in a sense coming face to face with the Living God.

The theologian S. Lewis Jones said, ‘In the 19th century, first Scripture died, then God died, than man died.’ What he meant was that the authority of the Bible was undermined by liberal European ‘Bible’ scholars who saw human reason and science as the ultimate authority. This led to a cultural revolution in which the church was no longer the main influence in society, which led to Frederich Nietsche’s observation:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

 It was thought that this social revolution would bring great freedom and progress for the human race, but instead, as Dan Phillips says:

‘It left man with no authoritative word about his origins, with no authoritative word about his meaning, with no authoritative word about his purpose, or even about the guidelines for life; and so what he hoped for was great joy and freedom, instead what he found was great despair, because he found that he had sawn of the very branch that he was sitting on…’

 We cannot reject what God says and think that we can somehow retain God apart from His word. If God were to stop speaking both this universe would cease to exist, and God would cease to be God.

God speaks in order to bring about relationship. Exodus 20:1-17 is an outline of the Ten Commandments, a summary of God’s moral code given to ancient Israel. Before we read it as a list of rules to follow, we need to read the introduction in vss 1&2:  ‘And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’ When people say ‘I keep the 10 commandments – by which they mean the last 6 of the 10 – it is meaningless unless they do so in the context of a relationship with God – ie. The first 4, and that they understand the God to whom they relate as the One who has redeemed them from slavery (ie. to sin and death).

In the course of receiving the Law, Moses was on Mt Sinai, and was talking with God about the need for His presence to go with them. He had just taken the Ten Commandments to the people, discovered them worshiping a golden calf, and had smashed the stone tablets on which the commandments were written. He had come back up the mountain to plead with God not to abandon them. After hearing God’s promise of faithfulness and grace, he asked, ‘Please show me your glory.’ (Exodus 33:18). God instructed him to re-carve another set of stone tablets, and then did as Moses has asked: he revealed Himself and gave him a glimpse of His glory. What is remarkable about Moses’ experience is that it wasn’t what he saw, but what he heard. God ‘proclaimed his name’ (Exodus 34:5) – He made Himself known by words:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

If you want to know God, you need to be prepared to listen as He speaks, because He is The God Who Speaks.

How do you approach the Bible? Is it just another document, with interesting information and rules to follow? Do you actually expect to have an encounter with the Living God when you open it and read? Do you think that God is somehow absent when you don’t have a warm fuzzy when reading?