Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger226125
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Some tentative thoughts on suffering

Sat, 19/05/2018 - 18:13
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Tentative because I am neither an expert on suffering nor an expert on knowing God ( a "theologian")
I have some very limited experience of suffering, more mental than physical. I have a loving family, I live in a country with a wonderful free health service, so very different to most people in the world.
I hope the below is of some help but i am very conscious that the subject of suffering is so easy to get wrong. As one of the examples shows. I hope my tentative thoughts may be of some small help to any fellow sufferers. 
Sin and evil 
The Bible begins and ends with no suffering, its the bit in the middle that the problem. 
In the middle, the root cause is our sin, our bad choices. Other people's sin we are happy to point our finger at - a school shooter, an abusive parent. But we are reluctant to put our finger on sin. I am reluctant to do that with my sin. 
The utterly good God created a good universe. We humans rebelled and rebellion like a cancer is now everywhere and we can’t escape it. 
That does not mean that our suffering is always or even usually the direct result of our own sin. Sometimes it is - for example someone drunk drives and crashes, severely injuring themselves. But often its not at all linked and to suggest otherwise is wrong. Which bring us to:
Job's comforters
When trying to help in suffering its vital to tread with absolute humility as its so easy to get it hideously wrong. Job, which is an ancient and mysterious book in the bible, was a righteous man who mysteriously (from his perspective) suffered a series of terrible losses. In one day he lost all his wealth and his entire family apart from his wife. He then lost his health. His only remaining family member, his wife, urged him "to curse God and die". We the reader know that God has allowed the devil to inflict these sufferings on Job. For behind the suffering is evil and behind the evil is the devil. Yet, mysteriously, behind the devil, is God. 

This if you like "complexity" or I would prefer "mystery" was lost on Job's three friends. After a decent and honest silent grieving with Job, the three friends spoil their good start by opening their mouths. They argue as follows:

God is just
You are suffering
Therefore, you have done something terribly sinful which you must confess

Job thinks as Christopher Ash points out along similar lines and argues:

I am suffering
I haven't done anything terribly sinful
Therefore, God is unjust

Finally after lengthy backwards and forwards, God himself appears to Job in a storm. Great, you think, finally we will get the answer we are waiting for: "What's suffering all about?" But we don't. Instead, God asks Job 77 rhetorical questions (rhetorical in the sense that both God already knows the answer and because the answer is obvious. For example God asks Job "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the belt of Orion? Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?". Of course, Job has to admit "No, I cant for i didn't make the universe". He humbles himself before God. 

So together with Job we have to acknowledge that in suffering we often reach the limit of our understanding. We simply dont know sometimes. Gods ways are not our ways. We don’t understand many things. There is a place for a theology of suffering but it can only take us so far. We must beware standard answers and a dogmatism.  "Christianity that is nothing but mystery leaves nothing to proclaim but Christianity that is nothing but certainties becomes haughty and arrogant." 

Sometimes there is nothing helpful we can say and the best thing we can do is simply grieve with our grieving friends. As Jesus did with Lazarus. 
We must go further. Even morally evil things (sometimes, not always) may not only have a good result but may be good in Gods intent even if evil in human intent. 
This is what Joseph said to his brothers. The story is well known (I hope) and in fact last night we went to see a friend Adrian in a production of "Joseph and His amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". It was funny and enjoyable and very well performed. No suffering there! 

But, the real biblical story is really dark. Joseph is almost murdered by his jealous brothers. He is then sold instead into slavery where for a second time he is unjustly thrown into prison. But eventually, after many twists and turns, he not only becomes Pharaoh's right hand man but after many years saves his brothers from starvation. They are horrified when eventually he reveals to them who he is. They fear he will return evil for evil but instead he says  “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them."
Tower of Siloam 
Questions about violence and natural disasters are nothing new. In Luke we read
"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? 3I 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?  tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

(*i.e Pilate the Roman governor had murdered them)

Jesus did not assume that those who died did not deserve their fate. All suffering and death comes from sin. We Christians don’t actually believe what we say that we are miserable sinners who deserve Gods wrath. We actually think as Christians that we are not that bad at all. And when it comes to it that my suffering is unfair (see Job).
Jesus doesn’t treat wars and natural disasters as agenda items in a discussion of the mysterious ways of God but as incentives to repentance. Judgement on evil is imminent: if you like it’s the default option. We tend to think of it the other way round that we deserve happiness and that times of suffering call into question Gods power and even his existence. But Jesus doesn’t see it that way at all. To put it in modern parlance Jesus says its not about "when bad things happen to good people": rather its about when "good things happen to bad people".
But we need to go deeper still. For the last word on suffering for the present must be not judgement but rather mercy and compassion
1 Peter 3:8 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”
Why did God ultimately allow evil and suffering? We simply dont know, though we do know that the defeat of evil and suffering glorifies God.
 But this we do know: that God Himself became human and suffered to bring us back out of our suffering, to God. Who will 'wipe away every tear". 

His suffering opened the door back to Himself, it broke our chains.  
Hebrews says “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature in order that through death, he might deliver those who’ve been held in lifelong bondage by the fear of death”. 
Angels can’t suffer. They cannot do evil. Only humans can suffer because only humans can sin. Thats why the Lord Jesus became human - so he could suffer in our place - yet without sin. We looked above at Joseph, who suffered so that his brothers who tried to kill him could live. Here there is a far greater example. At the cross, evil intent and actions produced through Jesus suffering the greatest victory for good in the universe. 

Suffering and death make me afraid. But Jesus has gone before us, has "cleared the way" so that he could deliver us who are held in lifelong bondage by the fear of death. Our "brother" Jesus, whom we hated, like Joseph was hated, suffered instead of us, so that we could be free from fear.


Some good books on suffering 

The Bible, especially Job, Psalms (e.g. 22, 23, 33, 34, 46, 103, 116), Isaiah (the suffering servant), the Passion narratives in the gospels, Acts, Romans 8, Hebrews, 1 PeterChristopher Ash: “Job the wisdom of the cross” (Crossway)Thomas Boston “The Crook in the Lot” (Banner of Truth) John Calvin (edited Joseph Hill) “Suffering: understanding the love of God”. (EP)Don Carson: “How long O Lord? reflections on suffering and evil” (IVP)Tim Keller “Walking with God through pain and suffering” (Hodder)JI Packer (on Richard Baxter) “A Grief Sanctified” (Crossway)RC Sproul “Surprised by suffering: the role of pain and death in the Christian life”. (Reformation Trust)p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica}
Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale “Why suffering?” (Faithwords)
Categories: Friends

Thoughts on my birthday: extra time

Tue, 08/05/2018 - 06:52

Today is my 55th birthday! Thank you for your kind birthday wishes. 
I am so happy and thankful to be alive. I honestly never thought I would make this day, given three years ago I was told I had 18 months to live. Every single day now feels like “extra time” — a wonderful gift from God, especially when it's such a beautiful day as the last few have been. What's more at the moment I dont even feel ill. I do when I go through chemotherapy, but the last bout was at the end of last year and I have pretty much fully recovered. Certainly my hair has regrown, though sadly not blond and curly.  
A story in the bible come to mind, about someone who also got "extra time". You can read it below. Here is a summary. A man called Lazarus was a great friend of Jesus, as were his two sisters Martha and Mary. Yet, when Lazarus was critically ill, Jesus waited and waited...until he died. Gods timing and Gods plans are far beyond our understanding.  When Jesus went eventually to their house, both sisters, in different ways, reproached Jesus for not being there. Jesus shows in response to sickness and death both anger (literally "he snorted with indignation" or "became angry in spirit and very agitated") and grief (he wept). Why? Because even though we all deserve death because we have all sinned and are in a fractured relationship with God, God Himself (i.e., Jesus) recognises the mess we are in and feels deeply for our broken state. Death is not the way its meant to be. 
Whats more Jesus is about to do something about it. He will shortly amazingly bring Lazarus back to life, make him walk out of the grave. Thus proving he is God. But Jesus is trying to teach them all — and by extension us — something even more profound. To have faith in the Son of God is far more important to me than to have health and comfort in this life, yes even than having life itself. (Though I am very happy to have that!) For faith leads to eternal life ,as this miracle will show. Faith is both a gift and something that can increase from a tiny beginning, for here Jesus is talking to those who have believed in him already, and yet he says this miracle is "so that you may believe." A commentator writes "Each new revelation is taking the disciples nearer to the ultimate revelation in the most extremely scandalous event, the cross--the ultimate revelation of God's light and life and love and thus the ultimate manifestation of God that faith must grasp hold of."  The disciples didn't have faith because they were religious or good people. Rather their faith was because when they heard the voice of God they believed him (to some extent) and responded despite having many doubts, issues and questions. If we take the first faltering step of faith homewards, God meets us with 10,000 coming the other way
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Lazarus heard Jesus voice calling him by name and came out. As pictured above, he could see the light and he went towards it. He could have stayed where he was in the darkness!  This journey from death to life is available to anyone who when they hear Jesus calling their name (which he does to all) similarly respond and exit the tomb. Lazarus came out awkwardly because he was bound up in the grave clothes which were mummy like wrappings. But he came as he was, encumbered with all sorts of things, because he believed the voice of God was calling him to life. Thats what I believe and I hope that you will (despite all the doubts and “mummy like wrappings” which we all have) will do the same. 

John 11

'A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people[b] in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!" '
Categories: Friends

How to help people in existential distress: response to Angela Tilby

Sun, 29/04/2018 - 12:58
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How should we best help those in deep distress? 

A desperately sad article in this week's Church Times 
poured scorn on the idea that those in "existential distress" should be "jollied along to Jesus". No doubt there can be a wrong way of talking about Jesus. However the one thing the Lord will never say to us when we meet him face to face is "You spoke too much about me": though he might well  say to  some of us "You haven't spoken rightly about me". As God did to Job's comforters
Now I am all for free speech and evangelicals can and do often get it spectacularly wrong. If you are in deep distress then yes "tea lights" are not the answer (but that sounds awfully like a straw man being torched). No doubt too we evangelicals can be patronising (my apologies to all of my family and friends when I have done this!) and sometimes we  can certainly be crashingly insensitive and lack gentleness, fair enough. (Though its ironic that the battle cry of Angela and her allies is inclusivity and diversity for all — except those awful evangelicals!) 

However, as far as I can tell, the thrust of the article seems to be that people in "existential distress" need something other than a personal encounter with Jesus. I am not at all sure what is meant by "the abandonment of traditional religion with its respect for privacy" (is that perhaps code for "Dont talk about Jesus?" If its "dont use tea lights on the distressed" then I would agree!)
But if I have a choice in my distress between knowing Christ and knowing "traditional religion" thats no choice. 
My solace in existential distress (incurable cancer) is Jesus Christ. That's who I want, not platitudes or bromides or "traditional religion" (whatever it means).

Tim Keller says "When faced with an aspect of Gods will in our life that we want to run away from, we must cling to Jesus and say "Your will be done". Then we can expect the joy of being with him."
I think it would be helpful to look at how Jesus helped the people he met who were in such distress — the sick, suffering, lonely and dying. While we cant do many things that Jesus did (such as raising people from the dead) if we follow him we cant go far wrong.
What can we learn from Jesus in helping people? I list a few stories at the bottom to illustrate my points
The Boy with the evil spirit
1. It's not about us its about him. When the dopey disciples - perhaps they were evangelicals?  :) - tried to help those in distress on their own they fell on their faces. They made a bad situation worse. They hadn't asked God for help. We can help a little someone in distress, but we know someone who can help to the uttermost. We are not the rescuer, he is. 
2. Be gentle, compassionate and and kind. He could have ticked the doubting man off for his lack of faith, or even walked away. Rather, instead, he fans the mans faltering faith into a blaze. We take one timid step homeward and Jesus meets us by taking as it were thousands of steps towards us. 

The man born blind
3. Meet the person where they we are 1 on 1. If we read John's gospel we see Jesus meet all kinds of people everywhere. He mainly mets people in the road, in their place of work. "Few (of his meetings) were in religious settings. Instead, Jesus talked with people about spiritual issues where they were most familiar. He did not need a special environment or control over the circumstances to discuss things of eternal significance." Christians - get out of the church. Go and meet people where they are.
4 Don't view the person in distress as a theological case study. This lets be honest is a temptation we all fall into and especially we awful evangelicals.  The disciples certainly did make this mistake — who sinned this man or his parents? (as he was born blind did they believe in reincarnation? ). The Lord is about meeting people where they are and helping them, not about giving them theological lectures. 
The Samaritan women
She is maybe not in existential distress but she is certainly in deep need
5. He listens and so should we. He knows everything (which we certainly dont) yet most of the conversation is her talking to him. Gently, kindly, he guides her to what she needs - Him. Very often Jesus got the person in distress to tell him what they wanted him to do — and so should we. Wait for the appropriate time (e.g. when they ask "How does Jesus help you in your suffering?") and tell them stories about how Jesus helped people in distress in the bible and how he is helping you now. 
6. Be with the person as long as they need (subject to appropriate boundaries). We are all often prisoners of our too busy diaries, our endless church meetings and committees. I know I am. Jesus, the Son of God met (apparently) randomly this insignificant woman and ended up spending days with her. Often the most important thing that we can do is just be there and listen. Job's comforters did OK until they started giving advice! 
7. Be unshockable. He doesn't condemn her for sleeping around but he gently and kindly puts his finger on the brokenness in her life that only he can heal. When people are angry with God, remember that God criticised Job's comforters for bad theology but not Job for his deep distress and yes anger. 
8. Grieve with the grieving. "Jesus wept". Sometimes thats all we can do, just weep and grieve with the person. We dont have to have answers for everything. Sometimes all we can say is "Lord have mercy". 
The thief on the cross
9. This is very hard, but to the extent we are able, in our own suffering, think also of others. Nailed to the cross, dying, the Lord was witnessing to others and showing them the same love and compassion he did throughout his life. 
Pilates' victims
10. Warn! So far we have thought of how gentle Jesus is with people experiencing suffering. But sometimes suffering is theoretically raised by people who aren't in existential distress, as people did with Jesus who asked him about those murdered by Pilate or killed in an accident. Here the Lord is very clear and stark. Death and suffering in general is a call to repentance. We will all perish away from Jesus unless we turn to him. 
Jesus said to his disciples “....People can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God."
There is only one hope in existential distress. There is nowhere else to go. 

Stories of Jesus dealing with those in distress

the boy with the evil spirit
When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him.“What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked. One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The man born blind
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.[a] The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
The Samaritan woman
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim,where our ancestors worshiped?”Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept.
The Thief on the cross
 One of the criminals hanging beside him (ie Jesus) scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise".
Pilate's victims
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About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
Categories: Friends

Personal thoughts on Psalm 91

Mon, 23/04/2018 - 20:12
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Psalm 91 says
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.    He will shelter you with his wings.    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,    though ten thousand are dying around you,    these evils will not touch you...
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer,   I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honour them”

These are wonderful words of comfort which speak powerfully to me.
They can be misused and in fact the devil used this exact Psalm to try and persuade Jesus to throw himself off the temple. Nor do they mean that we will escape illness or death - as I am a good case in point! I am very grateful to be alive but am not cured. Being a Christian is not an escape from suffering. 
But if the Everlasting Father is our "place of safety" we know that ultimately we are "untouchable" for he has given us eternal life. 
This wonderful offer is available to anyone.
How can you then make God your shelter and receive the gift of eternal life?
Firstly, real faith which means more than intellectual assent: it means trust. The one who makes God his dwelling has given his life to God, and trusted God wholeheartedly. Many people say to me "I wish I had your faith". But, its not my faith its a gift from God. If you want it just ask him. 
Second, love. "those who love me" . Our small flickering love comes from Gods love immense and costly love for us "This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins."
Third, personal relationship. “those who trust in (or know) my name” If we make God our shelter then God lives with us and we have a personal relationship with God. Friends this is I have found amazing in tough times. 
Fourth, talking to God (what Christians call prayer). “When they call on me, I will answer”  If God is our Father and our shelter, we can (and must!) call out to God when we are in need. he invites us to do so.
And what are the results of making God our “shelter”?
First, protection. “He will rescue you.” Suffering is not at all excluded from the experience of Christians in this world, we are the same as everyone else, but the final defeat of sin and evil is assured if we are his. "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Second, help. “I will answer him” . God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we would want, but his answers are always for our best, because “Our Father knows best”. 
Third, presence. “I will be with them in trouble”. God has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus said "Yes, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age"
Fourth, rescue. "I will rescue and honour them". This life as my father used to say many times is a  "vale of tears". Being a Christian doesn't mean we can build a bypass round this vale. But it does mean that ultimately God will bring us hime to be with him "and He will wipe away every tear". -------------------With thanks to Geoff Gobbett for drawing my attention to an article by Josh Moody, which i have adapted and modified. 
Categories: Friends

Discussions with friends 4: does the bible really tell us anything about God?

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 09:42
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I am truly grateful for all the many questions that have come pouring in and I am doing my best to answer them, apologies to some of you as I have got a bit behind! I will get to them eventually, promise
ALL QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ARE MOST WELCOME. If you prefer to be anonymous you can email me on
The questions below are around "can we really trust the bible"? You might wonder "Does that really matter?". I would suggest it does. Imagine you ask me "whats your mother like?". i could give you 54 years on that (which would all be glowing of course - Mum's my mother!). But if you didnt know her at all, that would be very difficult, effectively you'd have to guess. But if I told you what she was like and you believed me to be reliable, then you could be pretty accurate.
The Christian claim is a striking one - "We know God: not only do we know about him but much more we know him personally." Unless we have some reliable eye witness accounts to go on, then its pure guess work.  To say nothing of the possibility he may not even exist at all. 
Even worse, what tends to happen is we select the bits that fit our culture e.g. "God is love" and remove the bits that dont e.g. "The wages of sin is death". Essentially, if we are guessing, not only will we get it wrong, we will create a God in our own image.
Therefore the reliability and believability of the bible is vital. If its full of errors then its not the best source to tell us about God. It also begs the question - "where does the bible come from"? If it was made up by well intentioned people guessing thats one thing. Our claim is that around 40 different people over 1500 years were inspired by God to tell us what he's like and how we can know him. 

Q: Most, if not all, the authors of the Bible came from the intellectual and religious elite of their day, not least for the reason that the ability to write fluently in antiquity was the preserve of the very well educated makes it unlikely Galilean fishermen composed any books of the New Testament. There are also other reasons to seriously doubt, for example, (that) Peter wrote the epistles attributed to him...during the canonisation of the NT, they made errors of judgment in including the Petrine epistles. (I have shortened some of the questions for reasons of space) 
A: They were evidently educated, but you didn’t have to be elite to be well educated. Ordinary people of course are often highly intelligent and men of all classes at that time in Palestine could obtain a reasonable education. Modern people often assume people doing manual work were uneducated and unintelligent, but it is clear that most people had to work in trades (often a family trade). Paul was a tentmaker, for example, and Jesus came from a family of carpenters. People were often educated by learning things by heart and rote.
Mark’s writing style is actually often recognised as being rather poor. It is therefor not at all implausible to say that it might have been written by Mark (Peter’s interpreter) and based on Peter’s testimony. It is plausible that he was amongst the Christian community, as he mentions, for example, Simon of Cyrene, being the father of Alexander and Rufus. This suggests he knew the figures personally (and that they were known to others).
Matthew is quite a sophisticated writer, but we don’t know exactly what that proves about his education, other than he was from Jewish background, so would have had moved in rabbinic and synagogue circles. One suggestion is that author is Matthew, the tax collector, who does a relatively task requiring a high level of education. 
Luke is a clever guy (classical Greek), who quite possible moved in relatively wealthy circles and if he was a contemporary of Paul, then that obviously is important for the transmission of the information. However, if Theophilis is his patron, he is not in the top echelons.
John's is not very sophisticated Greek, which is why it is often used in teaching Greek.
The issue of 2 Peter is particularly complicated, because it is stylistically different to 1 Peter, but what that reflects is an open question. Some respected commentators (eg Richard Bauckham) for example, dont think 2 Peter is written by Peter, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t connected. 
Q: The time gap between the latest writings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is not 500 years but a shorter period of two centuries. The book of Daniel consists of works by multiple authors, joined together. Daniel 12 was likely to be written near the end of the reign of the Greek Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE). 
A: The dating of Daniel is highly debated. Conservative scholars completely disagree with your conclusion which is the liberal view, although some on both sides would agree that it may have been at least edited at the time of Maccabees. Does that in the ultimate analysis matter that much? It would if it was something done to be dishonest, but it is understood to be in a particular genre and there are different reactions to that. The bible was clearly edited in many places (eg look at Psalms where the editing was not finished!) 
Q:  The figure of 24K extant NT manuscripts is arrived at by counting individual fragments as a single manuscript, and taking all manuscripts up to invention of the printing press in the 16th century.  The total number of manuscripts from 2nd to 4th century (when the NT was canonised) come to only 76.  The number of manuscripts for Plato's works up to 8th century CE is 114:  I suspect the figure of 7 cited in your article refers to manuscripts of a complete book.

A; I have made a point of the fact that the manuscript evidence of the NT writings is so much better than classical writings, but it is I agree not ultimately conclusive. It is designed to address the claim that we cant rely on them, they have all been doctored or miscopied.It does show that the disciples were busy and valued them and copied them (and to a much greater extent than the followers of say Julius Caesar). That kind of argument can be helpful when classical scholars take Tacitus, for example, very seriously even when there is hardly any evidence for hundreds and hundreds of years after. Furthermore, the scribes of the NT were very good. The bigger question is how true to life does the contents of the NT seem, given what we know about the history context. The answer is it does paint a picture that we recognise from that era.

Q: It is indeed remarkable the Dead Seas Scrolls show the bulk of the Hebrew Bible has not changed much during the 1000 years. Nonetheless it is an overstatement to claim "None changed in any way the meaning of the text." First, the Qumran scrolls contain books not in our Hebrew Bible, suggesting that the Hebrew Bible canon was still in flux in the 1st century CE. Second, there are significant changes in the meaning of some passages, which provide an illuminating insight into evolution of the ancient Jewish religion. For example, the version of Deuteronomy found among the Qumran Scrolls gives strong hint that the earliest Israelite religion, as practised by the deuteronomic author, was polytheist. 

A: This sounds highly unlikely. There is discussion about whether early Judaism had a view of the supreme God and other lesser ones. But by NT time, Judaism was quite clearly monotheistic, which is one of the major features of it and one that was highly distinctive in Roman times. What is extremely striking and jumps out a mile is how close the Dead Sea Scrolls are in the text to what we had before they were discovered. 
Categories: Friends

"Is the church serious about evangelism?" my article in Premier Christianity

Wed, 18/04/2018 - 19:22

The Church isn't serious about evangelism. But this new tool is bringing hundreds to faith18th April 2018Don't outsource evangelism to the 'experts', says Jeremy MarshallIn 1914 Britain was completely unprepared for a major land war.A tiny British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six infantry divisions was cobbled together at the last minute and sent to France to try and stop the mighty German steamroller sweeping west. Fortunately, a French army of roughly comparable size to the Germans was able to halt the German advance.But by the time the decisive victory was achieved in 1918 the British Army had over 6 million men under arms. Britain had finally mobilised its resources and achieved victory, albeit at a huge cost. We face a similar challenge regarding evangelism in our country to that of Britain in 1914. We are trying to carry out the Great Commission but we are simply not serious. We are only using a tiny fraction of our God given resources. Many Christians feel its wrong or hopeless to share our faith and even those who are trying to carry it out often don’t know how.Let’s be honest, how much of their time do our full time church workers put into evangelism? Their time tends to be more internally focused. Yes, they may run courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored. They may also preach evangelistic messages, but how many non Christians actually hear them?The burden of evangelism instead falls onto our BEF - a tiny handful of overworked evangelists to whom we have effectively outsourced the Great Commission. Yet Jesus’ orders are to all of us, not just the professionals. 18 months ago I discovered a wonderful new tool which has proved incredibly effective in helping me to be equipped to share my faith. I believe it could be a game-changer for us in the battle to save souls. It's called The Word One to Oneand the concept is very simple.You begin by simply inviting your friend to have a chat about the Bible. If they agree, you find a convenient location, sit down with a copy of The Word One to One notes, open John's gospel and off you go. I have found it an amazingly powerful tool which has been transformational for many of my friends. I've had 15 friends join me in this process of studying the Bible over the past 18 months. One friend of mine invited someone to look at John's gospel because he thought it would be comforting after the death of his friend’s wife. The man eagerly accepted, without saying that his daughter, living 4000 miles away, was doing the same thing with another Christian and had just said to her father that she was finding it very comforting! The use of Word One to One has spread like wildfire throughout the world and it’s been used in countless churches. It mobilises potentially every Christian, but it works most of all because it’s Gods appointed means to reach lost humanity. John himself told us “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)The Bible itself is full of one to one Bible work - Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch and the Lord himself on the road to Emmaus.When our friends read the Bible something supernatural happens - God himself steps off the page. When they read John they read about a series of encounters the Lord has with men and women and how they come to believe that he is the Saviour of the world. By the power of the Holy Spirit the same thing happens.A friend of mine led someone to faith using the notes and asked him what it was that he had said that impacted him. “To be honest“, came the reply, “I can’t remember a single thing you said, but John had me at ‘In the beginning was the word’. I suddenly thought to myself ‘You are a fool. Dawkins is wrong, there has to be a beginning. John went on to tell me who that Word was and what he had come to do. It was nothing you said, it was the Word.”It also works because it’s a low threshold for our friends to step over. In a biblically ignorant age, asking our friends to come to church is a high hurdle to climb over. A professional that they don’t know, speaking in a place where they feel very uncomfortable, surrounded by unknown people singing songs they don’t know, at a time that may not suit them, can be a high barrier. But The Word One to One takes a person through the gospel at his or her own pace and builds knowledge of God slowly and surely. God calls each of us to stand up, be mobilised and share our faith. We are not all Bible teachers but we are called to be Bible sharers.Jeremy Marshall is a banker, charity trustee, Watford FC fan, blogger and speaker For more information about The Word One to One visit
Categories: Friends

The Wind in the Syrian Willows

Sat, 14/04/2018 - 19:46

Now children, are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin
"Once upon a time there was a Wild Wood in which various animals — ferrets, stoats, weasels and pine martens, rabbits and others — lived. Not too far away lived the river bankers — badgers, toads, moles, frogs and rats. Some years before our story begins, the frogs and moles had purchased the wild wood and had taken out lots of wood to heat their homes. To decide which part of the wood  belonged to the moles and which to the frogs they had tried to build hedges to separate the different animals. This had proved less than successful and the animals got very confused about which piece of the wood was their’s  and which wasn’t, about which animals should live with which. This led to fights and even bloodshed. Just to make a complicated position even worse, just before they sold the wood the moles had given part of the wood to the rabbits. The rabbits had been preyed upon and eaten by the other animals so the moles felt sorry for them and had given them a part of the wood in which there were many rabbits but in which other animals lived. All the animals except the poor ferrets had their own piece: the ferrets had to do their best surviving as best they can. 
Eventually, after problems got worse and worse, the badgers had brought the wood from the mole and the frogs, though the badgers traditional enemy the bears had also tried (unsuccessfully) to buy it. Both needed wood as the wood in their countries was running low.
As our story begins, matters were relatively peaceful. Barack Badger invited his friends, David Mole and Francois Frog to a meeting to discuss what to do “You have really both made a mess of this wood” he chided them. “It is down to us badgers to find a plan to sort out your mess. We have decided we will encourage all the wildwooders to revolt, overthrow their rulers who seized control when you left and establish a nice liberal democracy and all be nice to each other.  Pretty soon everyone will be playing croquet and eating cucumber sandwiches. To start off this wonderful plan I will send in some nice new muskets to the oppressed animals  so they can remove their tyrants. What could possibly go wrong? Its worked so well in other woods, like Vietnam, Iraq and Serbia "
But do you know what children? Very sadly the badgers plan didn't work. Strangely enough the rulers didn't agree to be removed, not least because they saw what had happened to the ruler of another wood nearby where the three friends had decided to “help”. In fact, within a short time things had gone from mediocre to bad to worse. The sound of gunfire from all the new muskets became louder and louder and the river bankers as they played croquet and ate cucumber sandwiches on the lawns were disturbed by the noises. "Something must be done" said Barack and he summoned another meeting. This time David couldn't come as he had some family problems and even Francois was lukewarm. "Dont worry" said Barack "I will establish a plan". The other animals were glad to hear this so they did nothing. They were happy about this as they could go back to playing croquet and eating cucumber sandwiches and also didn't have to spend their money on expensive muskets. This was especially important for poor David as Mole Hall was in a terrible state. He had had to resort to taking in large numbers of young bears for their education to generate some income. While this paid the bills, the bears liked to party hard and study hard and from time to time, as bears will do, they left bear messes here there and everywhere. The moles were too polite to mention it.  
The other animals waited, and waited but of the plan there was no sign. Meanwhile the commotion in the wood grew louder and there were dark rumours of animals not only shooting and stabbing each other (which was within the rules) but even lighting fires to drive out the others from their homes (which was not). A steady stream of young and ill animals came pouring out of the wood, some were even found floating dead in the river. You would think that the river bankers would help, but they didn't want to disturb their croquet and cucumber sandwiches. Fortunately, Angela Vole who lived between the riverbankers and the wood and had pots of money was willing to take them in. So the riverbankers did nothing.  
Finally, things got completely out of control. Fires were raging every night and the shooting got louder and louder worse and worse. Vladimir Bear got fed up waiting for the badgers to decide what the plan was so made his own plan and sent in some of his bears to help the weasels who were fighting the stoats. The ferrets were mainly helping the weasels but also wanted their own part of the wood. The rabbits were thought to be fighting the stoats but actually seemed to be more worried about the weasels. Another neighbour, the turkeys, started fighting the bears but then to everyone's surprise joined forces with the bears because they wanted to keep the ferrets under control. It was all terribly confusing
The riverbankers tut tutted but didn't do anything. In particular, the moles didn’t want to do anything because of the money they obtained from the bears they were educating. Barack Badger got fed up and resigned and his successor was a rather strange badger called Donald. 
He called a meeting with the new mole and frog leaders who were called Theresa and Emmanuel. 
"Something must be done" said Donald. "This has gone too far. I dont mind if they kill each other by shooting and stabbing like civilised people but they shouldn't kill each other in uncivilised ways such as burning each others homes. Something must be done and we badgers finally have a plan."
Just then two other animals burst through the door (even though they were not invited) - Jeremy the Toad and Nigel the Rat
“This is terrible” said Jeremy “such imperialism, class oppression and feudal cruelty” (The Toads  felt guilty about their ancestors wealth and had spent too much time reading books by a very strange Vole who had many years ago had in lived in Mole Hall, from whose indescribably unreadable writings they had picked up these strange expressions )
“Ah good” said Theresa Mole, who could see a cross parliamentary consensus emerging "So you think Something must be done?"
“Definitely”, said Jeremy "we certainly MUST punish the rabbits, its all their fault"
"The rabbits?" said the other animals in surprise "But we thought Toad Hall was partly built and indeed currently occupied by rabbits? Now you dont like them?"
“Oh I am very pro rabbit" said Jeremy, trying quickly and surreptitiously to shove under the other papers the latest copy of "Toad Morning Star" whose headline read "Down with the rabbits". 
“In fact as a matter of principal I abhor war (except on rabbits) and think we should get actually get rid of any muskets we have left. But in the meantime despite the appalling nature of the crimes committed, we should do nothing”
Just then Nigel piped up. He had been nursing a pint and looking out of the window. "I agree with Jeremy. Nothing to do with me guv. Good thing I just persuaded the moles to build a moat. The hall is full. Pull up the drawbridge to Mole Hall I say!”
Theresa nodded "Moat means moat" she murmured to herself. 
However, eventually Theresa and Emmanuel decided they had to agree with Donald's plan. Theresa in particular remembered just in time that she was very grateful to the badgers because they had helped tidy up the previous week when the bears partying had got completely out of control. "We must preserve our special relationship with the badgers" she thought "especially since we have been so rude recently to the voles and frogs and the bears are increasingly a nuisance."
“Something must be done” they chorused in agreement
"Good" said the badger. "Finally we agree that something must be done! We cant just sit around and do nothing as my good for nothing predecessor Barack did. I am a man of action and besides which I have a few “fake news” stories about me at Badger House and a little distraction wouldn't come in amiss. I have a plan!”
So, the next day Donald and Theresa and Emanuel marched to the edge of the wood with a very large blunderbuss of Donald's and two little blunderbusses which Donald had lent Theresa and Emmanuel. They solemnly stood in a line and blazed away into the wood at random, not hitting anything that anyone could see, not least because they had told the bears first where they were going to shoot to avoid hitting a bear by mistake.
“That’ll teach them" they said. Jeremy and Nigel were too busy being nice to rabbits and building the moat respectively to pay any real attention. The two appeared to detest each other but yet their views were very similar and in fact Jeremy secretly adored the moat:  Nigel's views on rabbits are as yet unknown but he certainly didn't want any more wild wooders in Mole Hall.
Donald posted a large notice on a tree at the edge of the wood “Mission Accomplished” it said
And indeed so awed were  the wild wooders and the bears and the turkeys (to say nothing of the Dragons, whom space doesn't allow me to include) by the amazing brilliance of Donald’s cunning plan that immediately they stopped all fighting and started playing croquet and eating cucumber sandwiches.
And so they all lived harmoniously and happily ever after
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Categories: Friends

Paul: A Biography by Tom Wright (SPCK, Feb 2018)

Tue, 10/04/2018 - 21:35
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This is a superb new book which comes from the man generally acknowledged to be the leading living New Testament scholar, Tom Wright. It’s in many ways a culmination of his vast life's work in theology, much of which looks at Paul’s writings. Devotees of Wright will recognise many of his previous themes. Now however he has recast his great theological scholarship on the Pauline epistles into a biographical form. It is more accessible and somewhat less lengthy than the more specialist works and designed for the general reader, a category I certainly include myself in, rather than the specialist theologian. It is still pretty long (500 pages plus) and in places it is a little repetitive: the editing of a second edition could be enhanced.
Where Wright succeeds brilliantly is a picture of Paul as a human being. We can tend to see him as primarily a theologian, even an ivory tower dweller,  but the book brings out his much broader background - a businessman, a student, a traveller, a Roman citizen, a teacher. A man of energy, drive and great courage, who could at times argues Wright, also be bossy, experience depression and need affirmation from his congregations. Perhaps most importantly he places Paul at the intersection of Greek, Roman and Jewish life which enables us to see Paul much more as his contemporaries would have seen him. It is a world which is profoundly different to ours for truly “the past is a different country they do things differently there” and Wright is excellent at bringing that out. For example “ today religion...designates a detached area of life, a kind of private hobby for those  who like that kind of thing, separated by definition from politics and public life, from science and technology. In Paul’s day “religion” meant almost exactly the opposite”.
Wright, as you would expect from someone of his depth of scholarship is brilliant at looking at many aspects of Paul’s life and times that we might overlook. He points out for example that in Athens Paul was not in a university debating chamber but something much nearer to a courtroom and that he was dangerously close to the same charge that had led to the death of Socrates. Want to know how Paul probably proved he was a Roman citizen? Or what being a tent maker was really like as a job? Did you know that the debate about who was a Jew and who not, was key in part because Jews enjoyed an exemption from the general demand to  worship Caesar and as result were looked on as virtually atheists? He is also very insightful about Paul the embarrassed fund raiser or Paul the opinionated shipping expert - this book humanizes Paul, brings him down from some theological Mount Olympus.
Of the three great systems of thought listed above it is Paul the Jew that comes out most strongly. Wright makes a whole series of suggestions as to OT passages that inspired Paul - Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly throne-chariot on the road to Damascus, for exampole. By stressing the Jewishness of Paul he underlines the errors of the c19th German liberals who sought to do the exact opposite - to lever Paul out of his Jewish background. This Damascus road experience was hardly a religious conversion in the modern sense, argues Wright - “not for one second did Paul cease to believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...what drove him forward was the belief that Israel’s God has done what he always said he would....that Temple and Torah themselves were not the ultimate realities but instead glorious signposts pointing Jesus”. And that additionally all humans and not just Jews could be set free to worship the one God. 
And what was Paul pointing to about Jesus? Wright is surely right when he says that Paul wasn’t telling people how to live or how to get to heaven but that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. On the issue of what faith in the Messiah means - a burning one if you follow the ‘new perspective on Paul ‘ debate, if you’ve never heard of it don’t worry - Wright seems to hedge his bets. He asks himself the question “ is it justification by loyalty?” and seems as far as I can tell to answer “on balance, no”. He says the Greek word ‘pistis’  which we translate into English as ‘faith’ “also has overtones of faithfulness...and loyalty....that as well as belief there is the commitment that accompanies genuine belief that Jesus is the worlds sovereign. " This sounds to me a sensible place to rest but does leave a number of loose threads which minds of greater theological heft than mine will no doubt seek to untangle further. 
My only caveat is that Tom Wright in places seems to love to set up and then knock down evangelical straw men. Just to take a few examples - is Western Christianity really like Plutarch being about 
“leaving the wicked realm of space and time and matter to find a way to heaven from which pure souls have been temporarily exiled?” Are there really Christians who think being a Christian is 100% individualistic and zero about being part of a community? Do some Christians really think “the gospel is all about inner feelings and not at all about outward actions?” And for the early  Christians was what happened to people after death “unimportant, a mere interim”?
So while there are occasional axes being ground this should not detract from what is a brilliant book. Like all Wright’s writing one might not agree with everything but he certainly makes you think and strongly defends many orthodox positions, not least that the epistles were all written by the man himself. In fact he skillfully traces how he thinks Paul’s circumstances and chronology - which he adapts somewhat to include an Ephesian imprisonment - shaped each of the books. The only ones he struggles to fit into his scheme are the Pastorals. 
Wright deliberately avoids any application as to what Paul might have made of the church today -hopefully this might be his next book! This books succeeds because it humanizes Paul, explains his contract, even his inner thought patterns. The result is that we again realize that Paul, like all the Bible writers, was a real person pointing us to a real God. 
Categories: Friends

Happy Easter: More Discussions with Friends, with help from Sherlock Holmes

Thu, 29/03/2018 - 14:12
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(this is a real email used with permission of the recipient, lightly edited) 
Dear X 
 So good to hear from you and so glad you asked this question about the resurrection and what happened and whether Jesus in fact even died.
Please do ask or dispute absolutely anything you like. I truly believe that the Christian faith is completely rational — if on face value surprising. We must be completely open to all questions and challenges. 
The question you ask is the most fundamental question of all. If Jesus rose again then one is inexorably led to the conclusion that he is, as he claimed, God. If he didn’t then it’s the biggest con trick in history. 
There are five explanations to the Christian claim that Jesus did rise from the dead
I. Jesus didn't die (your question)
II. He did die and:- A. Someone else stole the bodyB. The disciples hallucinatedC. The disciples lied
III. He did rise from the dead
So did he die? Muslim friends by the way believe he didn’t really die. As do many sceptics.I am personally utterly convinced he did die and here’s why. The stuff below is partly me and partly stuff I have taken from others in case you think "Wow Jeremy knows a lot" :)
1. The soldiers were skilled and experienced executioners and had every incentive to do the job properly.  In fact,  Roman law  mandated the death penalty for any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including surviving a crucifixion. 
2. The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus' legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead. Breaking the legs of the others hastened the death so that the corpse could be taken down before the sabbath 
3. John, an eyewitness, certified that he saw blood and water come from Jesus' pierced heart. This shows that Jesus' lungs had collapsed and he had died of asphyxiation. But John didn’t know that! Only in modern times do we understand that: this to me is the one of the most convincing arguments of all. John wrote something that 2000 years later was to be vital to show that God is at work, I suggest.
4. Jesus was flogged. Flogging was usually 39 strokes but could have been more. The whip that was used, called a flagrum, consisted of braided leather thongs with metal balls and pieces of sharp bone woven into or intertwined with the braids. The balls added weight to the whip, causing deep bruising and contusions as the victim was struck. The pieces of bone served to cut into the flesh. As the beating continued, the resulting cuts were so severe that the skeletal muscles, underlying veins, sinews, and bowels of victims were exposed. This beating was so severe that at times victims would not survive it even before they had to go on to be crucified.
5. Those who were flogged would often go into hypovolemic shock, a term that refers to low blood volume. In other words, the person would have lost so much blood he would go into shock. The results of this would be
- The heart would race to pump blood that was not there.
- The victim would collapse or faint due to low blood pressure.
- The kidneys would shut down to preserve body fluids.
- The person would experience extreme thirst as the body desired to replenish lost fluids.
There is evidence from Scripture that Jesus experienced hypovolemic shock as a result of being flogged. As Jesus carried His own cross to Golgotha, He collapsed, and a man named Simon was forced to either carry the cross or help Jesus carry the cross the rest of way to the hill. This collapse indicates Jesus probably had low blood pressure. Another indicator that Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock was that He declared He was thirsty as He hung on the cross indicating His body’s desire to replenish fluids.
Prior to death, the sustained rapid heartbeat caused by hypovolemic shock also causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs. This gathering of fluid in the membrane around the heart is called pericardial effusion, and the fluid gathering around the lungs is called pleural effusion. This explains why, after Jesus died and a Roman soldier thrust a spear through Jesus’ side, piercing both the lungs and the heart, blood and water came from His side just as John recorded in his Gospel 
6.  The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed. Even if he had survived, how would he escape from the tomb? 
6. The post-resurrection appearances convinced the disciples, even "doubting Thomas," that Jesus was gloriously alive. It is psychologically impossible for the disciples to have been so transformed and confident if Jesus had merely struggled out of unconsciousness , badly in need of a doctor. A half-dead, staggering sick man who has just had a narrow escape is not worshiped fearlessly as divine lord and conquerer of death.
6. How were the Roman guards at the tomb overpowered by a swooning corpse? Or by unarmed disciples? 
7. How could a swooning half-dead man have moved the great stone at the door of the tomb? Who moved the stone if not an angel? No one has ever answered that question. Neither the Jews nor the Romans would move it, for it was in both their interests to keep the tomb sealed: the Jews had the stone put there in the first place, and the Roman guards would be executed. even if for some reason they had moved the body it would have been simple to stop the pesky Christians with their ridiculous claim by then producing the body. 

The story the Jewish authorities spread, that the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body is unbelievable. Roman guards would not fall asleep on a job like that; if they did, they would lose their lives. And even if they did fall asleep, the crowd and the effort and the noise it would have taken to move an enormous boulder would have wakened them. 
8. Secular accounts written by Roman historians mention that Jesus was crucified and died. This is of course not conclusive but does make you think that it wasn’t just fiction. 
Having I hope shed light on the first two explanations, there are two other possible explanations which might explain it
- The disciples made it up- They hallucinated it (or imagined it)
Hallucination is very improbable.  The eyewitness accounts state that more than 500 people saw the risen Jesus  most of those had known him, while his immediate disciples knew him very well. A few people might do do, but not so many. Also when Jesus appeared it's interesting that the immediate reaction was surprise and disbelief — they thought they were seeing a ghost (that it was a hallucination). Jesus asked them to give him a fish which he ate. he was a real being not a ghost
The "lying" theory is in many ways the most improbable of all. The disciples were willing to suffer and die not for a general "faith' but for the specific claim that Jesus rose physically from the dead.  We know that a number of them were martyred — and they may nearly all have been (John probably not). But the point is whether they died or not, they were all absolutely fearless in telling others about the fact that Jesus had risen. Thats abundantly clear in the eyewitness book "Acts' which covers "what comes next"
In conclusion, Sherlock Holmes famously and repeatedly said "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?". 
To me the only explanation that is left and makes sense is that Jesus really did die and rise from the dead, thus validating his claim to be God. I hope that’s helpful. I base my whole faith and life on it.
PS: I am aware there are many more questions i haven't covered in the interests of space and happy to try and answer them 

Categories: Friends
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