Jul 312014
 

A recent post from David – “Where’s your god now?” – prompted me to write a review on a book I have just finished reading:

yancey - disappointment with God

Disappointment with God: Three questions no one asks aloud by Philip Yancey

It is a book written to try and respond to the disappointment which, he argues, many people, for a range of reasons, feel with God. One of the triggers in writing the book – and around which much of the book revolves – is a conversation Yancey had with a friend who had come to a point where he no longer believed in God. Reflecting on their conversation, Yancey felt that behind what was going on were three large questions:

  1. Is God unfair?
  2. Is God silent?
  3. Is God hidden?

In his book Yancey reflects on these, and other, questions from a biblical perspective and makes some fascinating observations.

  1. He points out that in the Old Testament, God had laid out for his people a clear set of rules by which to live and receive blessing – and they soon turned away and neglected / rejected God. God was acting fairly towards them and they rebelled
  2. While the people of Israel were wandering in the desert God provided many instances of clear and direct guidance to them – and they ignored him and went their own way
  3. When God did turn up and appear directly to his people they were afraid and wanted Moses to act as an intermediary.

Yancey concludes, based on this study, that even when God was demonstrably acting fairly, speaking to his people and present amongst them they still turned against him and wanted something else. Yancey suggests that:

These dismal results may provide insight into why God does not intervene more directly today

As he continues to explore these questions he makes some interesting observations.

  • He points out that Old Testament is full of people asking similar questions of God and God choosing to answer in a variety of ways
    • That he hadn’t been silent – he had spoken through his prophets
    • He had withdrawn his presence due to his people’s behaviour
    • He wasn’t acting – as they were calling on him to do – as a sign of mercy
    • That he suffered along with his people
    • That he grieved over what was going on

Yancey asks what the life of Jesus contributes towards answering those three questions and he suggests that:

  1. Jesus, in what he said, made God’s will clearer than it had been before
  2. In Jesus, God has taken on a real, physical shape in the world
  3. Unfairness – Jesus healed some but not others, he didn’t “wipe away tears from all faces”

Yancey starts chapter 15 with these words

If ever the time was ripe to settle the question of God’s existence, it was while Jesus walked on earth. Jesus had one splendid opportunity to silence the critics forever.

He talks about how people called on Jesus for signs but points out that even though those closest to Jesus saw the miracles he did it didn’t stop them running away and deserting him. Even that wasn’t enough.

And Yancey points out that the question as to why God doesn’t sometimes act came into ultimate focus at the death of Jesus. And he says:

The spectacle of the Cross, the most public event of Jesus’ life, reveals the vast difference between a god who proves himself through power and One who proves himself through love

And Yancey goes on to talk about some of the results of this death:

  1. It made possible an intimacy that had never before existed – we now have direct access to God
  2. As we reflect on Jesus we see the Father
  3. None of the outrage and despair which we find in the Old Testament is present after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes there is still suffering but the way in which God’s people engage with it has changed forever due to the cross of Christ
  4. There is still a realisation that everything is not yet right – quoting Hebrews 2 “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to they. But we do see Jesus”
  5. We now have the amazing privilege of God dwelling in us through his Spirit

And then Yancey suggests that the way God engages in history has changed:

  1. In the Old Testament, the focus is on the powerful God, creator, holy, passionate
  2. In the Gospels, the focus is on the life and work of God the Son on earth
  3. In the rest of the Bible the focus is on how God’s people – the church – how to live as people “in Christ”

and he says:

He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.
Creation seems to be delegation through and through. I suppose this is because He is a giver

The progression—Father, Son, Spirit—represents a profound advance in intimacy. At Sinai the people shrank from God, and begged Moses to approach him on their behalf. But in Jesus’ day people could hold a conversation with the Son of God; they could touch him, and even hurt him. And after Pentecost the same flawed disciples who had fled from Jesus’ trial became carriers of the Living God. In an act of delegation beyond fathom, Jesus turned over the kingdom of God to the likes of his disciples—and to us.

One of the implications of this is that if God seems silent and hidden and unfair then the church has some significant responsibility for that.

There is much more in the book – his detailed look at the story of Job is well worth looking at – but Yancey avoids giving easy answers to difficult questions.

He speculates about why God doesn’t explain what is going on and suggests:

  1. God keeps up ignorant because enlightenment might not help us
  2. God keeps us ignorant because we are incapable of comprehending the answer

and he talks about two kinds of faith:

  1. a childlike faith where we “swallow the impossible”
  2. a “hang-on-at-any-cost faith” where we continue to believe even when there is no obvious reason to do so – and he points to some of those listed in Hebrews 11 as examples of that

And he points to a future hope when everything will be made well even while we struggle with the events that are going on around us.

Its a fascinating book and if you want to explore these ideas further, I suggest getting a copy of the book and working through it. You may not agree with everything in it but it gives some deep and challenging insights into some of these difficult questions which we grapple and wrestle with.

Jul 282014
 

At 1:19pm last Thuesday a report was published on the Guardian website stating that Isis had ordered all girls and women in Mosul to undergo FGM. This was based on a statement given by a United Nations representative. But, even in that report it was recognised that there was some doubt as to whether this order had actually been given.

As people heard about this and were shocked at the prospect, it was reported widely around the world and understandable outrage expressed.

At 6:29pm on the same day a further report was published stating that Isis had denied issuing the order

The TPM website has an article showing three tweets suggesting that the report of this edict is inaccurate.

I don’t know what is happening there. I hear of extreme pressure being put on Christians and my prayers are with them. I pray that women in that city won’t be subject to this horrendous practice. I pray for peace and justice.

 

In the wake of the plane coming down in Ukraine, conflicting reports and statements were made as to what had happened and who, if anyone, was responsible.

Regularly, in our Parliament, statements are made by politicians which are then challenged by other politicians and by journalists as to whether what they are saying is true or if they are trying to put a positive spin on situations and events.

And there will be many reasons which drive people to say the things they say.

  • They hear of something shocking which could affect many and want to make if public and, hopefully, generate an upswell of public opinion against it and put pressure on those who are contemplating horrendous acts. They may judge that making it public, even if it isn’t certain, will actually prevent it happening
  • They want to be the first to break a story and so aren’t able to take the time to check facts properly and to get independent verification. And there will be many pressures on people and organisations to do this.
  • They want to positively present their “side” in a debate or dispute and to convince others that they have the best proposal, strategy, product, service or whatever
  • They are seeking to get a particular verdict in a court of law which often ends up with two “independent experts” appearing for different sides

And I hesitate to write about the “niceties” of accuracy when events of such significance are happening misinformationaround the world with people in fear and danger and uncertainty as to what will happen next. But it is because these things are affecting so many that information becomes even more important if the rest of the world is going to understand what is going on and to be able to determine how to engage appropriately.

So my plea is for accuracy in speech and communication – at international, national and local levels.

  • That, wherever possible, things and situations are verified before speaking and – if not possible – appropriate caveats are used.
  • That information is presented clearly and accurately and not dressed up to serve a particular agenda.
  • That if incorrect information is given, a correction (and apology) is given as soon as possible

And that those of us who receive information will have the wisdom to assess it, to sift it, to understand it and to respond appropriately to all of the things which are happening in our world, and sometimes in our name.

 

Jul 072014
 

As part of the “Monday blog hop”, last week I had a post hosted on the blog of one of my daughters-in-law. This week I am privileged to host a post from one of my good friends, Vic.

Like others participating in this “hop” Vic was asked to respond to four questions:

  1. What am I working on?vic image
  2. Why do I write what I write?
  3. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
  4. How does my writing process work?

and this is what he said.

 

I was most pleasantly surprised to find myself being asked to take part in a blog hop – something akin to BBC’s ‘Chain reaction’ – a exercise where I answer four questions and nominate next week’s guest blogger. So here goes:

What am I working on?

Much of my time is taken up with my work as an Anglican Parish Priest and Missioner. This is leading me increasingly into the areas of Fresh Expressions (church for those who otherwise would not be in the company of Christians) and the development of  ‘missional’ (that is getting out and bridge building, serving and engaging) church. One of the ways of doing this is to train people on Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) courses and also seek to entice people into ‘being missional by means of Mission Shaped Introduction (MSI) – a shorter and nicely accessible taster for the MSM course.

Outside of this I find my time being taken up by Tamworth Street Angels – a bunch of great people who are helping to put God’s love out on the streets of Tamworth to assist vulnerable people (not a euphemism for ‘drunk’) – The National Memorial Arboretum (where I’m hon. Chaplain) and various other chaplaincies. I’ve also started to find myself getting into print and doing radio work – a new ands exciting direction!

Why do I write what I write?

The answer has to be, ‘For me!’ I started the blog in May 2007 but didn’t start writing until December and it started as a scratch pad for me to hang things on an electronic wall for later consideration and (generally internal) dialogue. I’d come in from a meeting and over a cup of tea check emails and scribble thoughts, promised follow-ups and other things that had come about from the meetings and encounters I’d had.

A ‘for instance’ is when I’ve been doing vocations work and the conversation has turned to something hitherto been ignored by either of us. I’d scribble it and hang it in the hope that during the absence my brain would put pieces together or bring examples, explanation and challenges to the fore so that I could resolve the need and post for the other person to use (and in doing so develop a bit more myself). The act of posting is an invitation to dialogue and, when the need arises, correction and/or suggestions of other places/things to consider.

The topics covered in the blog are everything from encounters in the parish through to struggles in faith or with colleagues or those with opposing views – the blog is a mirror to my personal, faith and ministry and it shows just how weird life can be. Or as they say ‘stranger than fiction’!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m often told that my blog is a very different animal from other Christian blogs. Combine this with the fact that I’m often told that it’s not very ‘Vicar-like’ (whatever that might mean) -something I take as a compliment.

It differs from others in that I find many Christian blogs tend to post about the same thing because it’s in the news and then having found a topic tend to rush for their prooftexting Bible to pontificate and quote in an attempt to make us Christians look extremely dry and terribly samey. It differs because having finished one course of theological study I went on to do applied theology where my first essay was tossed back at me with the command ‘rewrite’ scrawled on it. I enquired of the lecturer why they might have done something so foolhardy with such sublime theological scribble and was told that theological jargon was great if I wanted to be an academic theologian but if I was going to communicate in the real world I would need to lose the cool words likesoteriology, theodicy, hermeneutics and especially ‘hapax legomenon’ (even if it did only appear once) and write in English.

My job is to communicate the difficult concepts simply so that they became accessible and then make the accessible commonplace (ie. the daily reality of those I pastored). That’s what my blog is about. I’d rather develop concepts and get agreement and directions that start pouring on the references and quotes from my theological heroes. Agree the direction and let them see how the Bible agrees with them later.

How does my writing process work?

It works much like me in that I run multiple strands of thinking and writing and work and diversion all at the same time. I will internally dialogue with something externally acquired and discussed/made aware of and then throw it onto the electronic paper that is the blog in one marvellous splurge and then, purged of the immediate, I enter into another encounter and then having thrown that to the wall I return to the previous splurge for another conversation and so on. At some stage it will appear on the blog (usually within hours if not minutes of the initial stimulus) and ironically, the busier I am the more will appear and so the empty spaces on the blog are actually times when I’m least busy rather than when I’m rushed off of my feet – this is the opposite to everyone I meet’s assumptions.

I dash it all off and then re-arrange the words to see if there is a solution in what others have said and in what I have responded with or thought or realised I didn’t think and then it’s there. everything (this included is) has to fit my five or ten minute rule (this is a ten minute splurge because it’s alien and challengingly introspective). This makes for some real ‘vicisms’ and so excellent typos and grammatical collisions as the editing doesn’t always catch the errors transposition of words begets.

And there you have it – a look behind the scenes of ‘Vic the Vicar’ in which I’ve had to place myself on the psychiatrist’s couch and then walk home wearing nothing but the clothes I bought of of a tailor who used to make finery for some emperor or other (or is this merely something Freudian going on and I am just naked?).

Who knows 🙂

Nominate someone

I’d love to see the Beaker folk of Husborne Crawley follow this as it’s a place I find entertaining and challenging  http://cyber-coenobites.blogspot.com/

Jul 042014
 

chimps gestures

Earlier this morning I was listening to a report on the radio about the work some scientists have done in translating the communications gestures used by chimpanzees – see here for more details. It was an interesting study and provides insight into how this class of great apes communicate using a rudimentary sign language.

What I found interesting, and concerning, were the comments made by the reporter and radio host who were discussing the report. They made some statements which don’t seem to be backed up by the science in the report regarding the evolutionary relationship between chimps and humans.

They talked about how this study increases our understanding of how human language developed and talked about apes being ancestors of humans. The idea being that because humans are descended from chimps (or at least share common ancestors), understanding how chimps communicate will help us understand how our own languages developed.

The report on the BBC website was more balanced. One scientist commented that this study demonstrates that meaningful communication is not unique to humans and that

chimps are more closely related to us than they are to the rest of the great apes

Another, however, talked about the results as being “a little disappointing” and stated:

So, it seems the gulf remains

There is the sense that even though this work is being done to fill some gaps in our understanding of how human language evolved it hasn’t delivered all that was hoped for. But there was none of this nuanced understanding in how it was discussed on the radio.

I accept that the media have a difficult job in these areas as they are trying to communicate fairly complicated ideas in just a few minutes to a, generally, non-technical audience and they need to operate within the scientific consensus regarding evolution. But, from a quick look at recent discussions there are questions which the scientific community are grappling with regarding this putative direct link between the great apes and humans.

A report in the Los Angeles Times in April last year speaks of evidence which could help solve the “evolutionary ‘missing link'” but it acknowledges that not all scientists share the view expressed in the report.

A report in the Guardian in October last year speaks about the discovery of a skull throwing thefossil skull “story of human evolution into disarray” forcing scientists to:

rethink the story of early human evolution

A report in Scientific American in January this year speaks about a “missing genetic srgap2link in human evolution” and focuses on genetic material which is believed to play an important role in the brain. It is a fascinating report but one of the things that struck me is the level of honest uncertainty which is expressed by scientists with phrases such as “I think”, “My feeling” and “Much about the duplication process – and its implications – remain a mystery”. They are exploring and studying but recognise that there are still many questions.

 

A report in New Scientist in April this year raises the possibility that one of our “closest long-term relatives may never have existed” due to some confusion over some fossil remains.

A report in the Daily Mail science section (from less than a month ago) talks about finding a “missing link in human evolution” and claims that it is:

causing scientists to reconsider the path of human evolution

It is right and proper as part of the scientific process that scientists, in many different fields, should explore and study and critique to try and develop a deeper understanding. But it is important to recognise, as these reports – along with many others – show, that there are questions about the evolutionary theory regarding humans which haven’t been comprehensively answered and currently divide the scientific community.

While the debate continues to rage there, and media correspondents try to present snippets to their audiences, it is good to be reminded that we need to be prepared to dig a little deeper to try and understand what we don’t yet know and to not just accept blanket statements as fact.