Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .
I feel like Bilbo . . . thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I’ve been holding my breath for so long now, I’ve forgotten how to breathe properly.
Been waiting for over five months now for an answer to a very important question. It’s like hanging, being suspended, at the mercy of ‘other.’ But it shouldn’t be.
It’s all about faith. Of course it is. Isn’t most of life about faith?
I often take inspiration from my favourite OT character, Abraham. Promised a son by a Voice. Then kept waiting for 25 years. 25 years! I have thought deeply about this. Why did Abraham have to wait for so long?
How are faith and waiting connected?
We tend to think of waiting as a sedentary or at least, a static act. Waiting at the bus stop. Waiting by the phone. But godly waiting can’t possibly be static. Abraham certainly didn’t stay where he was. Indeed, he travelled a huge amount. All over the place. He never stayed in the same place for very long.
So, when I think about waiting, I have come to see it as something we do actively.
But how can you wait actively?
Abraham, we’re told, believed God. He believed. And every time he failed to live as though he really believed, he got himself into trouble. He lied – twice – about his wife on visits to Egypt, because he feared man, not God. And he slept with the maid, when the waiting was just too much. His faith evaporated, and his life reflected the unbelief.
In some ways, we’re all waiting. During the day, we wait for the quiet of evening. During the week, we wait for the weekend. During term time we wait for the holidays.
But we don’t stop living.
We live as faithfully as we can during the week, with eyes on the present, but hearts also anticipating a glorious future. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Rom 8.19). Along with the creation, we’re waiting for the Day of the Lord, when God’s glory will be revealed.
This thing I’m waiting for is out of my control. I’m tired now and I struggle. But I believe. And if Abraham had to wait for 25 years for the son of the promise, then I’m in good company. One of my chapters is entitled ‘Greater Goods.’
In fact, the whole book is really about growth.
Why did I think I could write about growth without actually growing?
Adam stopped and sat down on a boulder next to the path. He drank deeply from his water bottle. Over to his right, he thought he could see his son, Ben. Yes, his son was scaling a rock face, ropes tied to his waist and his partner guiding him from above. No, hold on, who was that? He recognized himself on the ledge above, recollected the exhilaration of watching Ben make his way up. The day was one of sun-drenched perfection, wasn’t it? Yes, there they were enjoying the view out towards the mountains.
Adam placed his hand over his eyes and peered down towards the ocean, far far away. It seemed to undulate like a vast blue blanket buffetted by the breeze. He started walking and walked all afternoon. However, when he took a rest, he discovered he was no closer to his destination. The last scene he remembered was from yesterday. He’d helped a couple move into their new house. A whole crowd from church had been there, carrying wardrobes and tables and beds. All working together in a shared act of love.
And then it struck Adam. There would be no more scenes from his life because he had yet to live them. Before coming over the hill, he knew about the ocean, but thought little about it. Now he felt himself drawn towards the vast expanse that lay ahead. Not because he was eager to die, but because he had come to understand the value of every step of the journey. And because he felt deeply inside the truth that those steps were finite. One day, they would end. Which meant that each one was priceless, gifts held out to him by a loving Father. And yet when he contemplated the ocean far far away, he felt no fear. Only gratitude. And as he walked, he began to hum one of his favourite songs,
Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much.
I wrote this for a sermon I preached on 1 Corinthians 15. Death and Resurrection very much on my mind right now.
This is Part One.
OVER THE HILL
Adam was walking steadily uphill, the day bright, the breeze rustling the grasses which lined the path. As he passed a field on his right, he stopped short. Not far off, near a school building, a game of football was taking place. He watched as the boys flowed back and forth up and down the pitch. The strip one of the teams was wearing seemed familiar. And then it dawned on him that he was watching his team from when he was 12 years old. Yes, there he was, dancing round a fullback and sending a shot just past the post. And then in an instant, the players, the goals, the supporters who stood on the touchlines . . . they were all gone.
Adam continued on his way and came upon a busy street full of people. The scene was immediately familiar to him – yes, there was the watch shop where he’d taken his first job. Mr. Judd, the owner, hair wild and disheveled, crouched over the counter, peering down at several timepieces, a monocle squeezed into one eye. Adam moved on, but as he walked, his surroundings began to take on the appearance of a pencil drawing. Slowly, they faded away. He rubbed his eyes and was heartened to discover that the world was still there.
He found himself in a park, where families strolled and fed the ducks. The sun was setting and off in the far corner, he noticed a couple sitting together. His heart warmed as he watched the woman. She was so beautiful back then. The man knelt down and pulled a small box out of his pocket. Adam could hardly bear to watch. He could see beads of sweat forming on the young man’s forehead and when the woman peered down at the open box, she immediately tilted back and howled with laughter. In his rush, he’d left the ring at home and his belovéd, Jane, couldn’t hide her amusement, much to his embarrassment. It was a long time ago, but the memory still stung a little inside.
And so Adam walked, the gradient becoming steeper as he progressed further uphill. His first job, his promotion, his holidays, first house, the time when he’d come home distraught at being fired, he watched each scene and his heart and mind, well, he remembered it all as though it was yesterday.
And then he reached the top of the hill. When he looked back, he remembered well the many things for which he was grateful and all those things which had hurt and wounded him. His life was a mixture of joy and sadness, pain and exhilaration.
Adam knelt and gave thanks for it all. From the top of the hill.
And then he began the descent down the other side. Ahead of him the land was covered in a thin grey mist. He couldn’t see what lay ahead at all. Yet all of a sudden the mist cleared and before him in the far, far distance, an ocean stretched out all the way to the horizon. As he came down the path and strained to see, he made out two people, one his great-aunt, Doris, the other her best friend, Ethel, whom he’d come to know in the care home where she and Doris both lived.
He pulled out some binoculars. Yes, there they were, walking along a cliff arm in arm. Adam had to strain to see them but it wasn’t hard to work out what happened next. One moment they were there, the next they had disappeared over the edge. And then the scene became clearer. Dozens and dozens of elderly people reached the cliff and were taken from sight. On occasion, Adam saw young men and women running down the slope and throwing themselves over the cliff. Such a sight filled him with great sorrow, for such things should never happen.
And then he saw his parents. One after the other, they disappeared from sight and Adam wept for a loss too great to contemplate.
When he looked back, he realized that he could no longer see the gentle slopes of his earlier life. He was over the hill and could no longer see them as he had before. Instead, his attention was captured by the vastness of the ocean before him. It was endless and he began to turn his attention to the space between his footsteps and the cliff which drew him relentlessly towards his fate.
To be continued . . .
‘Are you having great sex with your wife/husband nowadays?’
I wonder how you’d react if someone asked you a question like this after church one Sunday. And imagine if they wanted details. I doubt if you’d start sharing.
In Britain, we’re relatively private, so we don’t ask questions like this. Actually, I’m not sure I know of any culture where people make inquiries of this sort. However, there’s another question we never, ever ask and it’s this one:
‘Would you mind sending me your bank statements for the past year?’
When you think about it, your financial affairs are probably just as private as your sex life. You don’t want people knowing how you spend your money. Why is that?
Just as the question about sex focuses on the most private details of how you use your body, your financial data tells them something far more important.
It tells them about your soul. Who you really are.
Your spending, your giving, your priorities, your values, they’re all to be found in your bank statement. And who wants to give away that kind of information?
So be careful of judging people based on appearances. You have no idea how much they are giving away, or even what their expenses are, let alone their income or savings.
Second, bank statements don’t lie. If you’re ready to be challenged by God, then get on your knees with a Bible in one hand and your bank statement in the other.
And please don’t worry. If I see you in church, I won’t be asking you about your income.
Or your sex life. Promise!
Apart from watching The Wizard of Oz, ever met a straw man? Straw man is code in discussion forums for ‘an argument I’m not making.’ You struggle to make progress against the actual argument, so you mischaracterize your opponent’s argument, making it easier to dismantle.
Presumably because a straw man collapses so easily. Poof! It’s gone.
Here’s one you’ll hear a lot:
We secular humanists, we can be good too! You high-and-mighty religious people, you claim we can’t be good. That’s so unfair!
Behold the straw man.
So-called religious people – that is a perjorative very often, for Christians – never claim that secular people can’t be good people. That’s the straw man. Poof! Down he falls.
The argument we make is this:
Secularism cannot give a sound basis for ‘the good.’ There’s nothing here about a secular person not being virtuous or anything of the sort. It’s a philosophical argument, and it takes deep thinking to tease it out.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or secular, don’t mischaracterize your opponent. It’s wrong and misleading. Christians do it too. So, be careful to understand what your opponent is saying, so you can answer. How else will you be faithful to 1 Peter 3.15 if you’re not listening properly?
Have a great day.
So why doesn’t objectivity provide the basis for morality? Isn’t it clear what is good and what is bad? Well, no it isn’t. The reason is found in the meaning of two words:
Descriptive means the act of describing. You can describe as much as you like and what you have is information. How things are. Science is great for this. It tells us all kinds of things about our world.
Prescriptive means the act of expressing ‘how things should be.’ Politics is the art of trying to turn the world into the kind we think it ‘should be.’ Ethics is the discipline of determining how we ‘should behave.’
Descriptive activities, like science, tell us ‘what is.’ Prescriptive statements tell us our desires and our moral sensibilities.
From ‘what is’ to ‘what ought to be.’ Now, that is a vast chasm. Can it be bridged? I think it can.
But you need some imagination. Join me next week for an adventure.
Yesterday, I noted that prominent atheist Sam Harris doesn’t believe in free will. He follows the majority view among science writers. He’s a neuro-scientist.
His answer? Science can give us morals. No kidding. That’s his answer. Essentially, it’s this. Science describes the world. It is by far the best (and possibly only) source of knowledge that we have, so they argue.
It is not hard to come up with a description of human flourishing. Not subjective, but objective. Then, all we have to do, is use science to show us how to get there. Eg. A child dying of malnutrition in Africa is a worse state of affairs than a healthy child attending school in the West, where good parenting and positive social interaction and learning lead to a happy life. We just have to figure out – using science – how to increase the latter while decreasing the former.
Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? I think he’s right.
Half right. The half he’s right about is this: The world can be described objectively. In other words, there is such a thing as Truth. We can discover and evaluate, through a whole variety of disciplines, what leads to beneficial results for ourselves and our children.
But then we come to that word ‘moral.’ Objectivity, I’m afraid, doesn’t lead to morality.
Tomorrow, some thoughts on why that is.
Most atheists don’t believe in free will. Did you know that? In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris writes,
From the perspective of your conscious mind, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world.
Why is this? Because in a purely physical world, every event can only be caused by physical stuff. There’s no room for a ‘ghost in the machine.’ There is only the machine, whirring away. Consciousness is, therefore, something for which they have no real explanation. It just is. And free will is an illusion.
So far, so good. Your assumptions lead you to believe that free will doesn’t exist. Be my guest. But be bold, Sam, Richard D and Steven P. Follow the logic wherever it leads. Surely, no free will means no responsibility for our actions, right? Well, how could we be responsible if we’re not responsible for what we think?
Yet, suddenly, cold feet appear. Sam Harris certainly doesn’t want to exonerate those who commit hideous crimes, does he? No, he doesn’t. No one wants to look like they don’t believe in morality.
Tomorrow, his answer, which will make your head spin.
Ever heard this one? ‘You’re on the wrong side of history.’ This from David Cameron during the gay marriage debate: “Strong views exist on both sides but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country.”
This is about Progress, we’re told.
But arguing for anything on the basis of Progress is a bad idea.
It asserts that morality is ‘progressing’ and therefore our ‘current morality’ is superior to anything that has gone before. Yet, if we’re progressing, if we’re on a continuum, then why think that we’re correct just because we live in 2016? It amounts to this: This is what we think nowadays and because we’re living now . . . er, then we must be right. Because that’s what we think . . . now.
Bizarrely, this is counter to another popular viewpoint, namely cultural relativism. This assigns each culture’s practices an equal and inviolate value purely due to the status of being from a different part of the world.
Which do you prefer? Progress – everything is moving – or culture – we’re right because of our traditions?
God forbid we should actually argue for Truth.
You can’t buy God. That’s religion, isn’t it? Paying for God’s approval. Good behavior that earns God’s favour and love. Or let’s face it, a much baser assumption, you’ll get what you want. The prosperity gospel. Ugh.
But you can’t download God either.
This is a truth we struggle to cope with. Really? Stay with me.
Almost everything we do nowadays is done through the medium of the computer. All our shopping. Our social interaction. It’s the source of our news, our entertainment, our information, even our wisdom. It’s a tool so powerful, surely it should be possible to download the Creator himself.
But of course, that’s not possible. Downloading is initiated and controlled by the user. Genesis 3 reveals that we have an innate desire to be God, to be in control, the ultimate master of our own destinies. And we know how Genesis 3 ends.
You can’t download God because you can’t control him. He is unfathomable and like the wind, he blows who knows where. The desire to download God is like wishing you could herd cats, lasso the moon, make a woman love you.
You can’t. Because ultimately you’re not in control.
Time, instead, for a little faith.
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...the One who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine."
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The Bible, suffering, and the messy edges of life