Dear Slugtail

I’m sure you’ve read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This post is an homage to this book. The subject is the SCOTUS (Supreme Court . . . ) decision from a few weeks ago. Apologies for the delay. Do share. Thanks.

DEAR SLUGTAIL 

Dear Slugtail,

May I first congratulate you on your promotion. I never much liked Wormwood, although I often massaged his ego. How surprising that he didn’t notice my condescension. Or my lies for that matter. After all, the Enemy says I’m the Father of Inaccuracies – my spin, of course. So, welcome. And down to business.

Well, first I must express my disappointment with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. That slow-burner was producing tremendous fruit. I fail to see your logic in tipping it over the edge towards an actual decision. There is no question that it has caused immense damage in the few days following the decision, but couldn’t you have kept the issue smouldering for a little longer? Well, we are where we are.

In mitigation, I must applaud you on the way you have taken advantage of the darkness in the human heart, which this issue brings to light. Our light, of course. How pleasing first to see believers turn on each other. You are right to concentrate on relations within the Body of our Enemy. Undermine the communion of the faithful and the whole enterprise collapses. And this particular issue has always worked marvellously well to take their eyes off the goal. So little talk of the wonders of our Enemy, so little reference to the Son, that hated man.

In addition, they do find it so very difficult to exercise self-control. Before they know it, the insults creep in, offence is felt and temperatures rise. All achieved without almost any action on your part, Slugtail. I have watched this with immense satisfaction. I notice, also, the manner in which they fight. They speak past each other, hardly hearing what the other is saying. The qualities desired by our Enemy, graciousness, tact, not to mention love, are almost completely absent. It is a joy to watch.

And so to the substantive issue, which has little to do with same-sex marriage. In fact, such unions interest me little. No, far more importantly, this issue has had a most pleasing effect on the manner in which believers interpret The Books. There is not one verse in the entirety of them which espouses or reinforces same-sex union. Not one. And so they argue over ‘context,’ which leads most of them a merry dance of confusion. In despair, they end up invoking our favourite hermeneutic of all: love. Oh, we’re making tremendous progress with that word.

There is much talk of re-defining marriage. How ridiculous! Marriage can’t be re-defined, even we know that. It is discovered by man and ordained by the Enemy, more’s the pity. No, it is not marriage that has been re-defined. We have gained something far greater and more valuable.

We have re-defined love itself.

The holy grail. Re-defining love has far greater power. Do ensure that believers don’t refer to the actual definition found in The Books: And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments. 2 John.

It’s particularly galling to see John talk about ‘walking in the truth.’ Never forget. It is incredibly important to keep emphasizing that love has no connection with truth. The moment they go seeking what the Enemy actually desires, we’re lost.

No, as you have done so well up until now, guide humans towards their own definition, ‘love means approving of whatever behaviours I tell you make me happy.’ It’s gloriously coupled with the admonition you have worked so hard to cultivate: ‘do not judge.’ Presenting love as ‘approval for whatever behaviour I tell you brings me happiness’ is truly a masterstroke. I see it everywhere, especially between believers.

And how gratifying to see how effective you’ve been in ridiculing those believers who present a considered, balanced and clearly argued perspective. No sooner out of the mouth or typed into a website than the believer is denounced as ‘hateful.’ This truly warms my heart. Of course, the media has always helped us with this, but now, believers are turning on each other with the same accusation.

I see that you have also carefully co-opted strategically important vocabulary to achieve your goals. Just as those who sought to protect human life were labelled ‘anti-choice,’ so now believers – merely by presenting their heart-felt convictions, well, they’re ‘anti-gay.’ Who can support people who are ‘anti’ anything!? We have cornered our enemies and made them look like killjoys and hate-driven bigots who are out of touch with people who ‘just want to love each other.’ Ho ho, on reflection, perhaps that Supreme Court decision was the necessary catalyst for all this escalating conflict. It certainly fills me with joy, I must say.

Keep up the good work,

Screwtape

© Richard Collins 2015

 

 

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Messing with the Police

On August 9, 2014, Police Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.

What’s been your reaction? And how do you respond if different wording is used?

Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown.

Our own prejudices and the baggage we carry affects profoundly how we see a case like this. For me, this brings about a strong case of déjà-vu: 1994-5, the years I met my beloved wife (and then married her!) The years of the OJ Simpson trial. I still remember where I was when I heard the verdict. I had followed the case closely and the evidence was damning. Blood all over OJ’s clothes, his house and car. It seemed impossible that he would be found ‘not guilty.’ But I was naïve about the effect of race on a trial like OJ’s. As many have concluded, he was never going to be found guilty by a majority black jury. Not in a million years.

I still remember my wife recounting her conversation with one of her co-workers, a black female psychologist, middle class, educated and successful. Paraphrasing, she said something like this, ‘It’s not that we think OJ’s innocent, but just this once, it’s nice to see one of us ‘beat the system.’ Black men, in particular, receive such poor treatment at the hands of the police, for once it’s the police who didn’t come out on top.’

And despite being white, I understand this sentiment. The reality is, race is still a huge issue in America and black men are often treated badly by the police to put it mildly. They aren’t just pulled over occasionally. It happens a lot and it’s clearly based on race. But black men are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, comes the response. Yes, that may be true. Or is that a function of class rather than race? It all becomes very messy.

Back to Michael Brown.

I have read a fair amount about the Michael Brown shooting and I’m still somewhat confused. Brown was caught on CCTV robbing a convenience store. That one’s easy. An altercation took place between Brown and Wilson at the car. Some say Brown reached in and punched Wilson. Others say he didn’t. After Wilson fired a couple of shots, one grazing his assailant, one missing, Brown took off down the road and then stopped and turned towards the policeman. Here we then have several witnesses whose testimony is contradictory. Some say he ran towards Wilson, some say he raised his arms, some claim he didn’t. Whatever happened, Wilson fired 10 more shots at Brown, killing him. Obviously he claims self-defence. That’s all he needs. The exact wording in the legal code which permits lethal force is this:

The suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others.

OR

The suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

You can see the problem, I’m sure. As long as the officer thinks s/he’s in danger, s/he can use force. That’s how it works. And that’s often how black men die and police officers avoid prison.

Let me back up and tell you a little story of my own. We’d just started living in Torrance, CA and I was returning from our local store with a bag of groceries. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed three hooded figures tracking me on the other side of the road. I guess I wasn’t switched on enough, because as I reached a darkened area on the sidewalk, they ran across the road and demanded money. One brandished a knife.

Playing for time . . . er, or just being rather foolish, I tried to slow them down and allow myself time to think by asking a question! I know, I know, not the brightest spark. Now, come on, just hold on a minute. What are you–? . . . at which point, the guy with the knife moved forward. They grabbed my bag and took off. With a quart of milk and a lump of cheese. Oh and my wallet – that’s when I realized why I’d been stalling. So, of course . . . I immediately ran after them. No thinking. No concern for my safety. No consideration about further endangerment, possibly guns. Just . . . ‘hey, you’ve got my stuff!’

They jumped in a car and took off. I eyeballed the license plate and within 15 seconds of the robbery, I was calling the police. Two of the officers were very professional. A third was an imbecile, knew nothing about my case, but arrived to poke his face in the back of the Cruiser and ask stupid questions.

Here’s a remarkable end to the story. The following day, a man knocked on our door and handed me my wallet. He’d found it in a gutter about 200 yards down at the junction. Evidently, after seeing me pursue on foot, the thieves had panicked and tossed it out of the window. All my credit cards were there, my driver license, all but around $50 in cash. I thanked the man and then praised God!

What did I learn from my brief adventure? First, that under stressful circumstances, we don’t think, we just act. And sometimes we act foolishly. I have no clue why I ran towards the thieves. I just did. Second, police officers in the States carry guns. They bristle with them. Guns kill. Very quickly. Always, always obey a police officer. Simple as that. You do not need to understand, you just need to obey. Why? Because guns kill . . . very quickly.

Michael Brown was a petty criminal and he was foolish to stand up to a police officer. He made a foolish mistake. After taking off down the road, he turned and faced the police officer. Who knows exactly what he did next? It certainly seems as though he ran towards a policeman who was pointing a gun at him. What was he thinking? Answer? He wasn’t thinking. How easy it is to damn such foolishness. Yet, panic and stress cause people to do foolish things.

I’ve done it myself. I’ve run towards danger, not away from it and for the life of me, I don’t really know why. Except I can be foolhardy sometimes. If one of those youths had turned, pointed a gun and shot me, my explanation to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, ‘I ran towards them and they shot me’ would surely have caused the great saint to shake his head in disbelief. That didn’t happen thankfully. But it could have, I suppose.

In Michael Brown’s case, his actions cost him his life.

I was watching a show the other day called ‘Forever.’ A police sergeant talked about shooting an assailant in the leg as part of their training. It mystifies me that Officer Wilson shot Brown twelve times. Four of those shots hit his head and neck. The rest hit his right arm. None hit his legs. I’m sorry but I don’t accept the defence, ‘you need to shoot to kill.’ No, you don’t. Not when you’re the only one carrying a firearm. Michael Brown was clearly unarmed. But he was reaching into his jacket, wasn’t he? Possibly. The testimony on that is the most confused. Some say he had his hands raised. Others dispute this. Regardless, I don’t accept the ‘shoot to kill’ defence. Feel free to disagree.

Okay. A few final thoughts, based on Christian conviction.

First, rioting never solves anything. It’s simply the unlocking of our baser nature and damages not only local businesses (often black ones) but race relations generally. We hate the police so let’s commit crimes . . . bringing us into contact with the police. How foolish is that?

The massive divide between blacks and whites in America was highlighted by the OJ Simpson case. Around 90% or so of blacks approved of the verdict. Only 10% of whites did. The chasm may have been even larger. Two communities with vastly different perceptions of ‘how the world works.’

Enter Jesus Christ into a world of kings and slaves and violence and greed and religious hypocrisy. Each class in Jewish society separated and the gaps impossible to bridge. In first century Palestine, you were born into your class and you stayed there. Enter Jesus with a message of salvation for all people. The wonder of the church is that it’s a community of both Jew and Gentile. Read Ephesians. Jews of every class and Gentiles of every shape and size. A radical, world-changing concept. Perhaps even more remarkable is that this idea of unity between classes, races and genders dates from two thousand years ago. Aristotle and Plato never imagined such a thing. Nor did the Founding Fathers, tied as many of them were to institutional slavery.

Yet how could it be otherwise in a faith founded on Love?

Furthermore, the one thing which seems impossible in our world has been accomplished by God: Reconciliation. Of all the people in the world, Christians should understand this best. God has bridged the gap between Himself and his creatures. And he calls for us to be involved in efforts of reconciliation which reflect his character. We shouldn’t need Nelson Mandela to show us what reconciliation looks like. God has already provided the perfect model in his Son.

I have a dear friend in California who’s black. We worked together at the Red Cross. I worked with a lot of African-Americans at the Red Cross. I haven’t spoken to him about Michael Brown, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he viewed the shooting very differently to me. Nevertheless, what unites us far outweighs that which divides us.

We are brothers. We are sons of God.

We are neither black nor white but children of God.

Called to a ministry of reconciliation. For the sake of the one whose love cost him his life. Poured out to reconcile us to our heavenly father. Amen.

© Richard Collins 2014

Love and Death

I wrote this piece quite a few years ago when I lived in Southern California, when my son, Luke, was a small boy. Now he’s the second tallest in our family. I think I have two years left – maybe – before he takes my top spot! Anyway, here are some reflections on love and death. A book could be written on the connection between love and death, of course, but here’s a start.

Sentimental? Well, okay . . . perhaps. So for those of you with tender hearts, enjoy.

~~~~~~~~~

LOVE AND DEATH

My son smiles at me from the photograph pinned to my computer screen. He has an impish grin on his face. Mischief is on his mind. It’s a look that tells me he anticipates with relish all that life has to offer. He is five years old. He has his whole life ahead of him.

I love my son . . . so much it hurts. I cherish him. He is dear to me beyond description. Such emotion has the power to overwhelm, engulf and finally suck the life out of me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the tenderness I feel sometimes affects my ability to breathe. It’s as though love is starting to kill me.

Love and death. Irrevocably linked. “I would die for you.” “I love her to death.” If we’re human, we have either heard or said something similar. John Keats, the romantic poet wrote,

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion –
I have shudder’d at it.
I shudder no more.
I could be martyr’d for my religion
Love is my religion
And I could die for that.
I could die for you.

And we connect with the sentiment. After all, it is axiomatic in Scripture that true love leads to death. It is called the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My son sits on my lap and struggles with his reading lesson. He’s twisting and turning and complaining that he’s tired. I’m also tired. It’s been a long day, and it’s a little late to be working out words like “little” and “getting.” Especially when you’re only just five. But we’re here and we’re committed. Except that we’ve been on Lesson 57 for quite a while now.

We sit down for dinner. All five of us. Within minutes, my son has crawled onto my lap. He’s too big to be doing this, but he hasn’t seen his father all day, and he wants me to hug him. I push him off a few times, run out of patience, and then hug him. Satisfied, he returns to his food. Two minutes later, he’s back on my lap. It’s hard to eat with a five-year old wrapped around your neck.

I run into the hospital room where my son is lying clutching his finger. The top came off in a door at the YMCA and, on hearing the news, I have not just broken the speed limit, but almost burnt out my car’s engine on my drive to see him. He tries to be brave for daddy, but he can’t help dissolving into tears when he sees me. I hold him close and the world stops. It’s not moving at all. I’m sure of it. Love has met eternity. Right there in that little room.

Love stops time; exists for us within time, yet is above and beyond it. “He is not a lover who does not love forever,” wrote Euripides thousands of years ago. Shakespeare echoes the sentiment when he writes,

My bounty is as boundless as the sea.

My love as deep, the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

Love draws us to the eternal, and while infinity may contain the same connotations, it is not the same. Infinity speaks of something that never ends, but the biblical meaning of eternity has to do with relationship, not time. When the Bible talks of eternity, it has in view something qualitative, best expressed in John’s gospel. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

That they may know you. To know and be known. Isn’t that the essence of love? To hold and be held by our God. I have a photograph at work in which my son sits on my lap and looks up at me, smiling. He was three when it was taken. He adores me in that photograph. And I look down at him in love. For me, it is a picture of eternity.

“Can we do hiding, daddy?” Luke runs into our bedroom, jumps on the bed, and hides under the covers. I delay a minute or so, until I hear him calling “Come and find me!” whereupon I come into the room declaring loudly, “Where’s Luke? I wonder where he can be?” The covers start moving and muffled giggles can be heard, especially when I wriggle my hand underneath and start tickling. “There he is!” I gather him to myself and hug him. His joy at being found is only equaled by my joy at finding and then holding him.

I have eternity in my arms.

© Richard Collins 2014

Harry meets Tom

Harry attends a large church in North London. He used to work in marketing but now he’s a copy-writer for an advertising company. He leads a home-group and loves his family. He and his wife have two children aged two and four. His aspirations are few, his dreams limited to European football for his local team, Tottenham, who have lost their last two games. So much money, so little return.

It is Sunday and the service is over. People congregate in the church hall, chatting over weak coffee and biscuits past their sell-by date. The capacity for Christians to tolerate poor catering is legendary and Harry’s church is no different to many others. On Tuesday afternoon – he has been given flexi-time – he takes three hours off to serve lunch at church to people deemed ‘less fortunate.’ To some, the phrase is riven with middle-class superiority, but not to Harry. ‘Less fortunate’ simply expresses the brutal reality that life isn’t fair. It never has been and never will be. Some are born into privilege and others are not. Get over it.

Harry is standing in the church hall when he notices a man who has been attending the lunches on Tuesdays. He is sitting alone; no one has come to say hello. This isn’t usual in his church – it is, after all, quite a friendly place – but sometimes people slip through the cracks. If their bearing is . . . what is the word? . . . challenging, then many will avoid those who come on Tuesdays. Sometimes they smell of drink and almost all of them smoke; the odours are off-putting to say the least. Harry approaches the man whose name is Tom. He is also in his early forties. Tom smiles when he sees Harry; he remembers him from the Tuesday lunches.

The conversation which ensues is so simple, it hardly bears repeating. Harry enquires after Tom’s employment prospects and is soon reminded that Tom lost his job as a kitchen porter over a year ago. He took a sick day and was spotted out and about by someone from the company. They shopped him and the following day, he was fired. Do you have any qualifications? asks Harry. No O levels, GCSEs and certainly no A levels. No NVQs. In fact, nothing at all. Tom has nothing to offer an employer in the way of credentials. It strikes Harry at this point that had they been living in the nineteenth century, Tom would probably have been called ‘a simpleton.’ This is not a reflection of his lack of intelligence. In many ways, it is hard to ascertain how intelligent Tom is.

It is just that he comes across as a child.

He nods a lot and tries to make eye contact, but he cannot. He cannot meet Harry’s eyes, glancing away as he nods his head and smiles. He has a pleasant smile and an open demeanour but he retreats from another person’s gaze. Has he ever been married? No, never. Are his parents still alive? No, they have both passed away. Brothers or sisters? Yes, he has a brother and two sisters. The sisters he no longer sees while his brother also lives alone. Rather ominously, he is also unemployed, single and in his forties.

Tom’s teeth are cracked, some are missing and others are stained dark brown. Harry tries to make eye contact again but fails. Then, for some reason beyond him, his questions become quite personal. Did you grow up in a happy home, Tom? Yes, thank you. A little while later, was life difficult growing up? Yes, it was. His answer covers a multitude of painful truths. Later on there is mention of his granddad, who used to look after him. In fact, he still lives with her. Was he quite strict? Yes, he was, replies Tom, glancing away.

And there it is. Harry suspects, no he doesn’t suspect, he knows absolutely and for certain, that Tom has been . . . harshly treated. He hardly dare use the word ‘abused.’ He doesn’t know what has happened to Tom, but he feels it inside. He feels it so strongly that he turns away, unable to continue the conversation. He is internally wrecked. In fact, he must excuse himself for a while to weep alone outside the church building. He tries to calm his sobs, quelling them so that he cries silently yet without shame.

When he returns, he buys Tom a Bible from the book table. It is a children’s Bible, written in language which is accessible without being patronising. Tom has been attending church. He’s been learning . . . his words – about forgiveness of sins. Harry himself is struggling to make ends meet but he feels as though his purchase of the Bible is worth every penny of worldly wealth he possesses. In that moment, he would have sold his house to help Tom. But it is only a feeling and he knows that it will pass. Yet, right then, in the church hall, it swamps him.

And there’s the rub. Perhaps this is why he weeps. For he cannot save Tom. No, he cannot. He rages against the injustice which marches tall throughout the world. It is a world in which a boy is tormented by his granddad. Who knows what he did? Did he beat him? Did he humiliate him? Harry does not know. What he knows is that Tom faces a brutal future, with no qualifications and not much to offer an employer. He is alone with little family to speak of. And this is not right. It’s just not right and Harry is tortured by his own impotence before a suffering world. If he cannot do much to alter the life of one man in front of him, then at least there must be something to learn. But what? That he is a speck on an ocean of misery or well, what? Where is the value . . . what can be learned from someone like Tom?

Harry has read much about encountering Christ in the lives of the poor. He knows this truth through and through. That is why he volunteers at the Tuesday lunches. He knows full well that to care for Tom is to care for Christ on earth. But the contrasts are too much to take in. He struggles to understand what is plainly in front of him. Every service, he sings worship songs to a God of power and might. He is the Creator; he makes huge covenants and fulfils prophecy with dazzling efficiency. He is big and strong and well, he is nothing like Tom, that’s for sure. Christ was never abused by his granddad. He was beyond intelligent and whatever kind of dentistry they had back then, his teeth were surely in better shape than Tom’s. But most of all, he was powerful. He cast out demons and healed the sick. Effortlessly. At least, that is how it seems to Harry. And he’s been told in church countless times, that those with faith can live bold, powerful lives if they only exercise their faith. Victory is available for people who are like Jesus, who lamented his disciples’ lack of faith.

This is a world away from sitting with Tom.

It’s a billion light years from Tom himself, who can’t look people in the eye. Not only Tom, but Harry himself will always be failures in a world in which large acts of faith define the value of man. So what does Harry see when he looks at Tom? First, he sees himself. And then when he tarries long enough, he does begin to see the Lord Jesus. Slowly but surely. He sees first that but for the grace of God, he is sitting where Tom is. By an accident of fate, he has received an education and a better chance at life than the dishevelled man by his side. It is not fair but it is reality. He has not been humiliated by his granddad and who knows? Possibly much worse. He doesn’t give thanks as the Jews used to (in their case, the men gave thanks that they weren’t born a woman or a Gentile), no, he doesn’t do that. He thanks God for the opportunity to give a Bible to a man seeking a new life of faith. Parting of the Red Sea, feeding the five thousand, raising the dead, God appears to like the spectacular, but it is not so. He feels it. He knows it inside. In giving the Bible, he makes his own step of faith, small and soon forgotten, but then nothing is insignificant in God’s economy. Harry is sure of it.

And finally, he does see further in. He sees the Lord Jesus in Tom’s eyes, though the eyes dart away so very quickly. He doesn’t understand Paul’s words about being strong when we are weak. He cannot seem to make weakness feel like strength and his faith isn’t strong enough to hold onto the powerful God who is worshipped on Sundays. He is too far away and Harry won’t play word tricks on himself to convince himself that he is strong in weakness as though by saying it, it might just happen. And perhaps this is why in Tom, he finds a connection to the Lord Jesus. For he sees finally and for certain, that God is truly there in Tom. He is a man without qualifications, he is abused and forgotten and he smells. He knows that his Lord is all of these things to narrow the gap between human and divine. He is not far away and distant, powerful and remote. Not right now anyway. He is right there next to him. Weak and vulnerable and failing miserably at hiding his pain. Even when he smiles nervously, there is sadness.

When Harry sits with Tom, he understands that God didn’t just give up everything to come to earth in the body of the Lord Jesus. He did that, for sure, but that was a very long time ago. He understands that every encounter with another suffering person is a chance to be changed. To learn compassion, of course. That is easy to see. But much more. God is at once both transcendent – beyond us – and immanent, here with us. He is nearby in every act of generosity and every selfless move towards the ones who are so broken, just sitting with them hurts. Harry weeps not only because of his powerlessness, but also because he is being changed.

And change hurts. It is good but it hurts.

A few days later, he is in reflective mood. He doesn’t describe his encounter with Tom as ‘humbling,’ though that is tempting; it has been done many times before. For a moment, he doubts himself. He knows that vulnerability triggers sympathy and for a moment, he wonders if perhaps he is simply a victim of his own inability to control his emotions. But then he stops himself. Here, he senses, is an opportunity for faith. He is not strong enough to believe in large things, like healing or jobs. He simply prays for the opportunity to grow; he prays for Tom, whose needs are too great to contemplate.

And he prays for more chances to see Jesus in the every-day encounters with people deemed ‘less fortunate.’

© Richard Collins 2014

Power 2

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question, “what makes the world go round?” Sex? Money? Religion? You may remember that I argued that in the end, it’s all about Power. And yet, near the end, I claimed that Power and Love are intimately related.

That’s what I’d like to explore today.

How are Power and Love related?

Rather inevitably, perhaps, we must turn to the subject of God. The greatest power in the universe is God himself. Of course. That’s a no-brainer. And his first act in Our Story is to create, to display power on a scale which our puny minds cannot even fathom. We might think we can conceive of the creation of the universe, but we cannot. In Scripture, it is clear very early on, that God is defined in reference to his power. He is Elohim, the all-powerful Creator.

So Power is in view from the first moment.

But so is Love.

In traditional Christian theology, the universe is brought into being out of Love. Why create at all? Given his foreknowledge of our sin and its horrendous consequences, why bother? Two reasons: self-revelation and Love. The latter drives the former. He creates and reveals the wonders of his glory because he is Love. One of his eternal attributes is his knowledge of the costs of creation. In his state of perfection ‘prior’ to creation, he knows eternally that creation entails sacrifice. And not just any sacrifice, but the most heart-rending exhibition of self-giving love which can be conceived. Carried out to restore and renew a broken world. This self-sacrificial act will be seen as the very definition of Pure Love.

So, right from the start, both Power and Love are in view. They are intimately related.

~~~~~~~

 It is not simply that God is powerful; it’s also the case that he’s extremely interested in the issue of Power itself. Our first sin was not only Pride, it was also a power grab. We actually believed, for a very short time, that we could live in our world according to our own rules. That wisdom sufficient for running our world and our lives, without the need for God, was accessible to us. The Fall is one massive, damning reminder that we are not powerful. We hurt, we hurt others, we fight, we destroy and then we die. Every day, we’re constantly reminded of how little power we have. We thrash around desperately seeking to exert power which we do not possess. In addition, God has chosen to use a particular form of power to point to himself.

This form is called the Miracle.

Right from the start, he used miracles. He absolutely loves them. Parting seas, staffs into snakes, talking donkeys, rocks spouting water, you name it, it’s all happening in the Old Testament. I don’t think there’s a book in the Bible that doesn’t either contain them, or refer to them. They’re everywhere. And of course, the most important event in human history is well, let’s just call it The Miracle. AKA The Resurrection. Why this obsession?

Given our very secular society today, I’m tempted to say, ‘he wants to irritate the heck out of atheists!’ I don’t actually believe that, though. I think he’s making a point about himself and about us. Breaking the normative rules of nature is surely a sign, isn’t it? What is more powerful than the wind and the waves which threaten to kill us? Only the one who can tame them, surely? Miracles tell us that God is powerful and we are not. Simultaneously. The dominant theme of the Old Testament is God’s saving power and the need for the Hebrews to trust Him. He’s powerful. They are not.

We’re still learning that lesson.

Faith is the correct response to God’s power and our lack of it. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Whenever I hear someone say ‘I feel out of control,’ I like to remind them (gently!) er, ‘you never were in control.’ Being human, by definition, entails ‘not being in control.’ It’s the state of not being able to control one’s environment, relationships, possessions and on and on. Faith is foundational to a fruitful, peaceful human life. No wonder we read, without faith it is impossible to please God.

One final thought.

While we may not be ‘in control,’ that doesn’t mean we don’t exercise power. Some of us exercise quite a lot of it. So, how should we use it? I think there’s a lot of wisdom in Philippians chapter 2.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Humble people don’t abuse power. They follow their Master, who gave himself up for us. And what happened to him after he showed us how to live? After he had healed the sick and cared for the outcast?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.

We’re once again among the Great Paradoxes of God. The most powerful people on earth, it turns out, are those who humbly give their lives away. In the New Living Translation, Luke 9.24 says this, if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

If you seek to hold onto power over your life, you will lose it. If you love, if you give up your life, you will save it. He who humbled himself, who made himself a servant, is the one who is highly exalted.

The Power of God is seen most clearly in those who demonstrate the Love of God.

Power and Love, when conceived of correctly, are intimately related.

Praise Almighty God, whose love never ends, whose love never fails.

© Richard Collins 2014