a tale of two statues

jesus wept

This statue is ambiguous. It’s a statue of Jesus. Thanks to angalmond’s comment on this bloggage I now know that it represents Jesus weeping and is in St Joseph Old Cathedral in Oklahoma City. It is opposite the Oklahoma City National Memorial and is a response to the bomb that killed and injured hundreds of people in 1995.

But to me it also looks like Jesus is doing a face-plant of incredulity. Both seem to be fair responses to my flawed attempts at being a follower of his. The Bible makes it clear that our actions affect God: we can cause him to experience sorrow.

I believe that when I get things wrong it doesn’t just affect me and those I love, it also creates a fracture in my relationship with God. It causes God distress. Jesus weeps because of it. I believe that there are times too when Jesus must do a metaphorical (or maybe literal) face-plant with some of the things I get wrong: responding like Homer Simpson: “D’oh!” or Victor Meldrew: “I don’t believe it!” (sorry if these culturally bound references don’t make sense to you).

Now, let’s be serious for a moment because I am not trying to trivialise this and I am sorry if you feel I have. The stuff that we call ‘sin’ is awful and has at its root a selfishness that elevates ourselves, our wants and our ambitions above those of God. It’s a subversive act that is a reversal of the true order of things. Whatever you think about the Garden of Eden narrative with Adam, Eve, a serpent and an apple* at its heart is the heart of the problem for each of us… it’s our story too – we displace God.

If I asked you to name the Ten Commandments I wonder how many you would get…

Adultery, murder, lying, theft… yes they are all in there.

Coveting, honouring parents.. yes there’s something about that too.

Keeping the Sabbath (ie resting once a week) is in there.

and then there are the ones about not making idols, not dishonouring God and having no other Gods.

If you analyse them they are all about putting ‘me’ before others and before God. I have boldified the first person in my explanations below to try to illustrate the point I made earlier:

Adultery is about satisfying my desires rather than honouring my commitments

Murder is saying my life is more important than someone else’s

Lying is based on the assumption that truth is less important than the reason why I lied

I steal because I want something that someone else has

Coveting (envy in action) happens because I am dissatisfied with what I have

Dishonouring parents happens when consider myself more important than them

Not keeping a Sabbath is saying that know better than my Creator about what my body and mind needs

Making idols is an act of rebellion against God to give myself or something else credit that is due to God and saying that in my opinion something or someone is worth more than him

Dishonouring God is more than being disrespectful, it’s a statement that don’t consider his reputation or character to be worth anything and by extension consider that my opinion of him is the one that matters

More often than not the breach of the ‘no other gods’ is because have put myself in that place – am in charge of my life thank you very much: an expression of the ‘I know better than God’ syndrome

So, if the Top Ten can be expressed in this way I reckon all other things that are sins have the same root: the first person singular. Me, myself, I…

Sin causes such sorrow to God because it’s a distortion and subversion of the way things should be – the optimal way in which he created things (and what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have redeemed) which is us in a relationship with him. It’s a denial of the relationship between me and him – the thing that he prizes more than anything else in Creation. And astonishingly we find through Jesus and his teaching that if we seek a ‘You’ relationship with God where we put him first he responds by making it an ‘us’ relationship with him.

So does Jesus weep and face-plant? Maybe not literally (or maybe so) but I can certainly create that response in him. But unlike the statue that represents that effect it doesn’t need to be the end of the story. Although statues remain static and unchanging the Good News is that we have another statue (Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro) that represents the open arms of God that long to embrace us when we return to him and reminds us of the extent of the love and what he did to restore the relationship that we have sullied. If we recognise that we have caused the first statue he offers to replace it in our relationship with the second one if that is what we want.

jesus

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, I know that it’s not specified as an apple

has God become god?

I am musing about a question that has bounced around in my brain for decades. I am not suggesting that I have just come up with THE answer: I have probably just discovered some more questions. I have decided to do some God-thinking here about it. Apologies if you came to this bloggage hoping for something different.

The perpetual question is: why do Christians (me included) keep on doing wrong things? I should make clear that ‘wrong things’ covers a multitude of sins. Literally. It includes the little things that don’t bother us (such as ‘a little white lie’) through to the things that create a scandal when they become public. And everything in between.

You see if we Christians really put into practice what we say we believe surely we would not fall down flat on our moral faces, would we? If we live in a relationship with GOD (caps intended to convey bigness, majesty, divinity, and all of the rest of the attributes we would give him) and are filled with his Spirit to help us to live in a way that follows Jesus and reflects that relationship then surely we wouldn’t give in to temptation, we wouldn’t get things wrong, we wouldn’t wander from the path, we wouldn’t trip up… or any other euphemistic metaphor you want to use.

inspired“Ah,” I hear some of your say, “but God has given us all free will and that means we can choose how to live and what to do.”

Yes he has. But having free will is as much the freedom to choose to do what is right, albeit with the potential that we will choose to do what is wrong. Why don’t we always choose to do what is right? The reality of free will does not explain why Christians let themselves and God down, it just explains how it is possible.

“OK,” others say, “But add to free will the reality there is evil in the world that tempts us and seeks to distort the way God intended things and mask our experience of God.”

Again, yes. Evil has the capacity to take what is good and use it nefariously. For example, ‘leadership’ is important for human organisation and society to run smoothly. At its best it can empower, encourage and serve the well-being of all. But it can become distorted towards tyranny and even dictatorship if unchecked. The presence of evil in the world explains what is happening behind the scenes when anyone does something ‘wrong’.

But it still doesn’t explain why Christians, who have had an experience / awareness / understanding (limited) of God would give in to unwise short-term pleasures in place of doing what they know would be right. However it’s important to recognise that nobody is perfect and we are all still subject to an inherent bias away from God that we have learned and perfected throughout our life. We won’t always get it right. Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in a very honest admission of his struggles (Romans 7 (NIVUK):

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The internal battle between the old and new, between the bias towards evil and the desire to serve God, between good and evil is clear in this passage. And it’s something that I know all Christians wrestle with. We are all a work in progress. The war has been won but the battles rage on. An eventual awareness of that is what stopped people stoning a woman who’d been dragged before Jesus when caught in the act of adultery: “The one who is without sin should throw the first stone!” was Jesus’ intervention.

Maybe there’s also something biological here (and that can be distorted by evil working on our free will). We humans are organic beings and our complex systems (created to allow us to respond to outside stimuli in appropriate ways) include the capacity to experience pleasure. In his generosity of creation God has made us with the capacity to enjoy. The hormonal surge of pleasure we can experience in positive circumstances can be very powerful and even diminish our capacity to think rationally. It can distort our thinking in the heat of the moment. How often have you heard, “I wasn’t thinking” as a pseudo-defence when someone has been caught out? Is it that the pleasure-urge is so powerful that for Christians it can override our consciousness of God in the pursuit of short-term pleasure? For example, a Christian should know that gossiping about another person is wrong but the pleasure of having an audience (and their reaction to us) and being able to denigrate someone else might take over before they have thought clearly about what they are saying.

There are some things everyone would classify as wrong – murder for example. But while there is a life-sentence for murder there would be an outcry of someone was given a life-sentence for parking on a double-yellow line (it’s a no parking zone for non-Brits who may be reading this). But with God there’s no hierarchy of wrong. If it’s wrong it’s wrong. But maybe because we have a judicial system that gives different sentences for different crimes we have inadvertently allowed ourselves (maybe subconsciously) to categorise things that way for God. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to become tolerant of some things because we deem them to be less serious offences to him. We allow the occasional lie, the hidden malicious thought, the occasional cruel mockery because the harm is not so great.

And then there’s grace. God’s grace. Christians know deep down that God loves us and if we come to him genuinely seeking forgiveness and restoration he will do that. Every time. Is the knowledge of that aspect of God’s character distorted (by evil?) to cheapen God’s grace? Do we know so much about his grace and forget how much evil is abhorrent to him? As we remind ourselves of the lengths God went to in order to deal with the problem of human rebellion against him because he loves us so much, have we lost sight of how much that human rebellion offends / hurts / injures / scandalises / exasperates God?

Yet when the rubber hits the road I can’t help wondering whether the real problem is that for many Christians God has become god. Is it possible that in a well-meaning attempt to help people understand who God is we have diminished him? Is it possible that emphasising God’s love (which can never be over-emphasised) and approachability in Jesus we have lost some of the awe and wonder? Could it be that the many other things that demand our time and attention become elevated in importance above and beyond the primacy of our relationship with God?

This may all seem rather down-beat and depressing. So let me offer some positives too. I remind myself that with free will comes the freedom to choose good as well as the freedom to choose bad – bad is not inevitable. I remind myself that God has given us his Spirit and that he does prompt us in the right direction (even if we choose to ignore him) – he counterbalances the bias towards evil and can even diminish it over time. I remind myself that love wins in the battle between good and evil. I remind myself that God’s good plan for people is that we enjoy ourselves. I remind myself that God is for LIFE and not just for Sundays and when my relationship with him is a daily, hourly, constant experience I am more likely to choose God’s way. I remind myself that I am not alone – I have family and friends who encourage and support and pray for me (as I do for them).

I remind myself that Jesus taught his followers to pray “deliver us from evil” so praying about it is a good idea to reengage myself with his help. I ask that God will help me become more aware of who he is, how he is, what he is and ever more aware of him.

It helps.

I’m not perfect. I am not sinless. I want to be. But I know that I can’t be without God’s help and that this side of eternity I will always struggle with the allure of evil, as all of us will. But please God help me so that my relationship with you deepens daily and may one of the outcomes of that be that I sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

three rings

old phone 2It used to be ‘three rings’. ‘Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring’.

In the dim and distant past, before mobile phones were a commonplace part of our experience, when people were travelling somewhere and needed to let someone else know that they had arrived safely they would give ‘three rings’. They would dial (probably actually on a rotary dial, young people) the number, let it ring three times and then ring off.

It meant that the call didn’t cost anything, no lengthy phone conversation was needed, and the person at the other end would know that their friend / loved one had arrived safely at their destination.

There were a few problems. One was that sometimes, when you listened at the other end, it would start with a ‘half ring’ – ‘ring’ before going into full ‘ring ring’ rings. Did that first half ring count as a proper ring? If it did, then you should hang up after another two rings, but would the person at the other end know that it counted? If you went for another ‘ring ring’ so there were three of them, the person at the other end might think it was four rings so it wasn’t you and pick up the phone, negating the reason for doing three rings.

And, when you think about it, it was technically six rings (or five), not three.

And of course there were also the times when the person you were ringing forgot to wait for three rings and picked up the phone anyway.

A seemingly simple process was fraught with complexity!

Today all we have to do is send a text message to another mobile phone, or an instant message on social media.

But we still have to remember to send a message. The technology may be better but, a bit like with my satnav (see Monday) the weakest part is the human part.

Prayer is an instantaneous and low-cost way of communicating with God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need to be in a special place, you don’t even need to dial. All you have to do is remember to pray. God’s there, listening and waiting. However the weakest part is still the human part isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

possibly the most difficult service of the year

virgin and childIn the UK this Sunday is marked as Mothering Sunday. And, when you are a local church Minister, it is one of those Sundays that takes a disproportionate amount of thought and preparation. It is a day when, when I have got it ‘wrong’, I have had more complaints than any other in the calendar year! Allow me to let you in on some of the things that have to be considered and how I have not got it right on occasions…

Gifts – do we give a gift on Mothering Sunday? If we do it should probably go to all women so that nobody feels excluded. Will a small posy of flowers be a blessing, or is it just a token? Will some women feel patronised by being included? Can we afford that number of posies of flowers? Who will organise getting the flowers and sorting them? Who will give them out? When in the service will they be given out? Are there any alternatives to flowers?

Inclusivity – not all women are mothers. Some would desperately love to be a mother and others would rather not. Some mothers no longer have their children with them – they might have moved away, they may have lost contact, some may have died prematurely. Some people did not get on well with their own mothers and would rather not be reminded of them. Some people are mothers and find it a joy, others find it a struggle. How can we prepare a service in which we take account of and include all of those different emotional needs and circumstances?

History – Mothering Sunday was not originally about mothers. It emerged in the era when the wealthy had lots of domestic servants in their homes who worked all hours and (if allowed out on a Sunday) attended the same church as their master/mistress. This was one Sunday in the year in which they were released from the obligation to attend that church and could go back to their Mother church and also visit their home. That’s a tradition that is no longer observed due to changed cultural and social structures. Mothering Sunday has now become about Mums. But if we focus on the historical roots of the day it could become a ‘Back to Church Sunday’, yet my experience in local church is that this would not be something that many would appreciate.

Language – It used to be ‘Mothering Sunday’, now it is ‘Mothers’ Day’. That change of language reflects the change of purpose of the day. But if it was a day to think about mothering it would be different from thinking about mothers. We could sensitively reflect on mothering as a positive concept and perhaps avoid upsetting some people by reminding them of past hurt or current pain.

Bible – linked to ‘language’, the Bible constantly talks about God as Father. Far less frequently is God referred to as ‘mother’ or even in the feminine, although there are a few passages – you can find a good summary of them here. I was in the congregation of a service on one occasion when the person leading opened with a prayer that began: “Mother God…” Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we have paid insufficient attention to the femaleness of God, and that we have ‘maleified’ Genesis 1:27 when the Bible talks about male and female being made in God’s image: if both genders are made in God’s image, what does that say about God? And I don’t actually think that to talk to God as our Mother is disrespectful, blasphemous or wrong. But to begin with those words upset almost everyone in the church (male and female) because it came without explanation or warning. I don’t think many people remembered anything about the service after those two words. There is still a lot of patriarchy in our theology and practice in church and Mothering Sunday has the potential to run aground on the rocks of that prejudice.

Tradition – I have found to my cost that if you try to change the way that Mothering Sunday has been done before you will get criticism. There is something important for people (which I have underestimated) about tradition (and that’s coming from a non-conformist branch of the church). One year I took the decision not to give out flowers but said that we would use the money instead to give to a charity working with bereaved mothers. I had not asked many people about this, I had not sought approval from the leadership team for this, I acted out of good motives but rashly and unilaterally. I naively thought that this would receive universal assent and affirmation as a new way of doing things. Nope. Cue lots of unhappy people (men and women) because I had changed from the traditional way we had done things. I’m not having a go at those people – their upset was genuine and I had not taken their feelings and thoughts into account. I’m just illustrating how deeply tradition is felt and how not to go about changing it.

Commercialisation – I do struggle with the way in which Mothers’ Day (Mothering Sunday) has been hijacked commercially. Cards have to be sent, gifts have to be bought, meals with the family in restaurants are booked (when usually people spend the time differently). Again, don’t misunderstand me. I am not against showing people that you love them by sending cards and gifts. It’s just that it sits uneasily with me, especially when there are people (identified above) for whom this is a difficult time and everywhere they go there will be reminders.

All of this may lead you to think that I am against Mothering Sunday. No. Not at all. It’s just that it’s so difficult to prepare for when you have to take all of the above into account, and that’s alongside the intention to prepare a service in which people can worship and encounter God, and a sermon through which God can speak. The beauty is that when I have got it right, it has been a very special time. For me it starts with preparing a service in which people can worship and encounter God and a sermon through which God can speak. But then it’s entirely right to take into consideration the issues I have mentioned above.

I think it is important that we encourage people to be who they are in church, not putting on a pretend, happy face when inside we are weeping. It is important that we bring all of our lives and experiences with us into church and seek God’s Spirit to minister to them, not leaving the difficult items at the door to be collected (unchanged) on the way out. Prayers can be inclusive, allowing time and space for the pain and hurt to be expressed to God alongside the thankfulness. If I was doing it again I would probably still want to make a gift to a charity working to support bereaved parents, but it would be alongside not instead of existing traditions if they were helpful to people.

Exploring the nature of God (including in the feminine) is something worth doing, and worth doing well. One of the moments that I think worked well was when we got some people up to have a ‘dandling’ competition using some of the dolls from the crèche, coming from this image in Isaiah 66:12-13:

‘I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will feed and be carried on her arm
    and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.’

(If you don’t know, dandling is playfully bouncing a child up and down on your knee.) The congregation voted for the best dandling and then we explored what it meant that God’s people (Israel in the Old Testament) are described as dandling – playful, secure, comforting, loving… and how that might be true of us.

I hope that, whatever Mothering Sunday means to you, it will also bring with it a greater awareness of God’s love, compassion, protection, joy, pride, enthusiasm and, yes, dandling into your life.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

prioritisationing

What are your priorities?priorities

That’s a good and important question. I can remember a session at Bible College where we looked at this and how you set priorities. We used an urgency / importance matrix like the one below:

The idea is that you evaluate how urgent and how important things are, and then prioritise them accordingly. That is good advice and has been helpful to me as it is very easy to get caught up in only dealing with the things that are urgent (but not necessarily important) as they are the things that seem to have the most pressing deadline.

Recently I heard someone who gave a different perspective on prioritising. You see, pedantically and semantically speaking, you can’t have more than one priority. The question with which I began the bloggage is a non-question because by definition the thing that has priority is the thing that takes precedence over everything else. There can only be one priority. You might be able to work out a lot of other things that are important and / or urgent and work out in what order you are going to deal with them but only one of them is the priority.

So, to change the question I started with, what is your priority? What is the one person or thing that is more important to you than anything or anyone else?

Whatever that is, it’s your god (or God). It’s the thing that has first call on your energy, attention, thoughts, resources, time and so much more. It’s what you worship. Do you need to change your priority?

Be blessed, be a blessing?

Sodium Chloride based nostalgia

There are quite a few passages in the Bible that trouble me. Some trouble me because they are like a mirror and make me reflect on myself and I don’t come out looking too good. Others trouble me because they are so far outside my understanding and experience that I don’t know exactly what to do with them. And, if I am honest, some trouble me because God doesn’t come out of them looking too good.

[gruesome alert] If you are squeamish you may like to skip today’s bloggage – or just skip. This is more of a sketch pad on which I am doodling some thoughts about God than a well-reasoned theological dissertation.

Let me give you one that has been puzzling me recently. It’s in Genesis 19:1-29 and concerns Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his family. It is a sordid tale that starts with two angels turning up at Lot’s door (which is lovely) but then spirals into depravity and hideousness I won’t recount here, but if it was ever made into a Hollywood film like Noah it would definitely be an 18 Certificate (especially if you dare to read beyond verse 29 [shudder].

The narrative ends with Lot and his family fleeing for their lives from Sodom while the Bible tells us that “The Lord rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah…” How do we equate that with the God of love and mercy that we see elsewhere in the Bible? He does not come out of it looking very good.

It gets worse. As they are fleeing Lot’s wife decided to look back and admire the carnage and “she became a pillar of salt.” Really? Just for looking behind her? Come on God, that’s really cruel.Salar 3

I have wondered about this passage for a while and this is what I am hypothesising might have happened… I wonder whether the ‘burning sulphur’ was a meteorite strike. I have no geological evidence for this, but this is my conjecture. God’s warning to Lot to get out of the town immediately and head for the hills may have been because he knew that the meteorite was about to strike and there was no time to lose. God’s injunction not to look back may not have been so much about nostalgic reminiscing for the good times (IRONY alert) in Sodom so much as not wanting them to pause for a moment given the imminence of the event. Perhaps Lot’s wife was not so much turned to salt (sodium chloride) for her nostalgia as she was covered by hot ash and incinerated because she stopped to watch. The white ash would have looked like salt. They were heading for a nearby town and perhaps Lot and his family made it inside the safety of the walls but his wife had stayed outside and… well, you know.

Okay, that may help me understand what could have happened. I am not saying that this is what happened, but it helps me to think that it was possible in that way. It puts a plausible 21st century understanding of the Universe onto bronze age events to help explain what could have happened. If that is the case, this was more of an emergency evacuation than a summary execution.

But it doesn’t entirely let God off the hook. Because the Genesis narrative says that the burning sulphur / meteorite was God’s punishment on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. If that is the case it’s even worse for God’s PR company because that would mean that when he set the Universe in motion and all sorts of celestial bodies starting whizzing around some / one of the smaller ones was set on a trajectory that would impact the earth at Sodom and Gomorrah at precisely that time, and that God would have planned it in advance because he knew of the evil of the inhabitants of those towns…

I am still troubled by this but have a few thoughts. One is that while we know God as a God of love and mercy, he is also a God of justice and we should not take that lightly. The second is that whatever the cosmic event was that destroyed those towns was it a deliberate act of a vengeful God or was it a cosmic event that happened and reminded people of God’s justice? I think that there is a subtle but important difference. Thirdly, is part of the reason that it is portrayed how it is in the Bible that this is how people viewed God in those days (sitting in heaven with his finger poised over a button marked ‘smite’) and we need to read that in the light of the New Testament revelation as well. The fourth is to look at what Jesus said, and he said that it would have been better for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah ‘on the day of judgment’ than for people who refused to welcome his followers who had come with good news.

This suggests that while the towns were destroyed by the cosmic event, the eternal status of the inhabitants was not settled by the cataclysm. I believe that the ‘day of judgment’ is when the God who gave us all free will honours how we have exercised it. If we wanted to be with him, he honours and accepts that. If we did not, he (disappointedly) honours and accepts that. Perhaps there were people in Sodom and Gomorrah who had called out to him even as the place was being destroyed. It would be just like him to respond to that call – like Jesus responded to the thief being executed next to him.

I am still bothered by this passage. But that is partly because I am not God and don’t understand everything. Perhaps it is because I can sometimes get too chummy in my approach to God and forget that he is G-O-D! Maybe it is also because I need to be wiser in how I interpret the Bible, not imposing my own views and prejudices onto it, being willing to wrestle with it and allow it to wrestle with me.

And of course while I hope there is not a meteorite out there with my name on it, I do need to bear in mind that who I am, how I am and what I do is all in the sight of a holy God.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Ten good reasons not to believe in God

I think it is about time we were honest. So this Baptist Minister is giving you ten good reasons why you should not believe in God* and risking being burnt at the stake or excommunicated. Perhaps your reasons are in here somewhere…

Hand Count 101. It’s old fashioned – believing in God is not really a 21st century thing to do, is it? It’s like believing in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy and we have grown out of it, haven’t we? It’s as old fashioned as breathing.

2. Christians – yes Christians can sometimes be a good reason not to believe in God. They can be annoying. They can be overzealous. They can be hypocritical. And they can do things and say things that hurt us and put us off God. And haven’t Christians been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history – Crusades, Inquisitions…? Surely when you believe in God you become perfect don’t you?

3. Church – it can be a bit, well, churchy. Nobody likes being preached at. And sometimes it comes across as rather traditional and boring while at other times it seems to be trying too hard to be cool (and nobody says ‘cool’ any more). I wonder sometimes whether God doesn’t feel like going to some of our churches either. And while churches do lots of good things (we can’t deny that) so do lots of other charity organisations. Going to church is like looking at a stained glass window, it looks nice but it’s out of date and not very practical.

4. Bad stuff happens – this is surely one of God’s weaknesses (if he exists). How come he lets bad stuff happen? That’s not very nice, warm, loving and fluffy – not the sort of gentle Jesus meek and mild I was told about in Sunday School. God is supposed to be “in light in accessible, hid from our eyes” (as the hymnwriter puts it) – blindingly perfect. What sort of God would give people complete free will and risk them ignoring or hating him and doing bad stuff? What sort of love is that?

5. Bad stuff happens that is not anyone’s fault – you know, earthquakes, famines, tsunamis and the like. You can’t pin that on free will being exercised can you? If there is a God and he made this planet how come he made it with all of this hideousness as well? He can’t exist and if he did he’s some sort of monster. Car manufacturers put safety features in to stop them having accidents so why couldn’t God do the same? Admittedly the cars become less safe and more accident prone when you put a human behind the wheel and they decide not to obey the rules…

6. He’s anonymous – if there’s a God, how come we can’t see him? Why does he have to be silent, invisible and remote? If he was that interested in us surely he would let us know about himself, give us some clues, leave some fingerprints or DNA around the place from which we could at least deduce his existence? Surely he would show us how we can get to know him?

7. Science has disproved him – we humans are clever. We know how so much of this planet works, we have worked out the complicated maths behind so much of the Universe. We know so much of what happened from the fraction of a sliver of a tiny nanosecond after the Big Bang. We know about DNA and how it mutates and changes through the reproductive processes. From the smallest particle to the largest expanse of the Universe we know about it all. Yes, there are some bits that we don’t know yet, but surely it’s only a matter of time before we know how everything works. And ‘how’ is the most important question isn’t it?

8. Aliens – alien life forms disprove God don’t they? The Bible doesn’t mention aliens. What about Roswell, Area 57 and all of the evidence about alien life forms? Ha, God, get out of that one. The evidence for aliens is all around us. Everyone knows that.

9. The Bible is iffy – there are so many discrepancies and inconsistencies in the Bible. It’s been made up by people who wanted to try to explain why things happen – people who didn’t know about science. I’m sure we can all name hundreds.. maybe five… at least one inconsistency in the Bible.

10. If God is so nice, why does he send people to hell? That doesn’t sound very nice does it? Even if we can understand some of the horrible things that happen now, surely God wants everyone to be with him in heaven, so why does he send some people to hell? That’s not nice. If I invite people to a party what sort of host am I if I troll those who don’t want to come?

So let’s stop worrying about God and get on with not believing in him. If we say we don’t believe in him then he won’t exist. Will he?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*This bloggage is incomplete without understanding the irony. Because irony is not obvious in the written word I wonder if some of you missed it or need the irony above explaining a bit, so if you need them here are some further explanations to what I have written above.

1. I imagine you haven’t decided that breathing is unnecessary, so why ignore the possibility that there is someone who is beyond and within time who gives us that breath?

2. Christians are not always the best free samples of Jesus. We are human, we are flawed, we are ‘works in progress’. If God used angels or any beings other than humans to tell others about him it would be very difficult for people not to believe in him because we will have seen the evidence of the supernatural so he takes the risk that Christians will mess things up in order not to compromise the free choice he wants all of us to have. I don’t excuse the hideous things that Christians have done in the name of Jesus, but atheists are no saints: Holocaust, Stalin, Mao…? I am not saying that you can excuse one atrocity if you excuse the other. But let’s not throw stones if we live in glass houses.

3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And if you want to see the best of a stained glass window you have to go inside the church to experience the light streaming through it – it’s the same with church and being a Christian. You can’t fully experience it looking from the outside. But do you trust your friends who are Christians? And people who are not ‘church’ doing good things doesn’t mean there isn’t a God, it could be evidence of his goodness at work beyond the church.

4. The existence of light mean there is also likely to be shadow? There is a ‘shadow’ to our world. Suffering can have a purpose – pain signals to our brain tell us that there is something wrong or to take our hand out of a fire. Sometimes people’s greed means that others suffer – why are shanty towns built in vulnerable areas: because the rich people have the good land. Sometimes we humans have to take responsibility for our own failings.You can’t give people complete free will without risking that they will ignore you and cause bad stuff to happen. And you can’t give people complete free will without allowing bad stuff to happen because if you intervened they would have no choice but to believe in you. Because if you built a perfect sentient robot with self-awareness and the ability to think for itself you couldn’t make some rules about it having to love you.

5. Yes, there is suffering in the world that makes no sense and has no human cause. But free will (if it is genuinely free) risks rebellion and that rebellion is at large in the world. You can call it evil, the devil or whatever you like, but this world is not as God intended it because it is at odds with him, just as a malfunctioning robot might destroy the environment in which it is based. The robot designer did not intend it to malfunction. And if there is a malevolent force around doesn’t it make sense that it would exist in the shadows of this world and try to point us away from God by making us blame him for the bad stuff that happens? Bad stuff happening is evidence of a malevolent force in the world. Wouldn’t it make sense for a loving God to be trying to sort that out for us?

6. Read one of the gospels and then ask if God is anonymous. And take a look around you. The Universe we inhabit is astonishing isn’t it? Isn’t it possible that it has a Designer? Why is that less plausible than that it happened purely by chance?

7. Science tells us how things happen. It doesn’t tell us why. Science can tell us how God put things together but it can’t say why. It can tell us about the patterns and laws and rules and maths behind everything, but it can’t say why those patterns and laws and rules and maths are so perfectly balanced to allow for this Universe (other than to hypothesise an infinite number of Universes so that this one can exist and sustain life).

8. You can believe in aliens but not in God? The ‘evidence’ for alien life forms is somewhat sketchy at best. And even if they did exist, why does that disprove God? Bearing in mind when the Bible was written, wouldn’t it have rather freaked out those people to have been told about beings on other planets?

9. The manuscripts of the Bible exist in many fragments found in many different places and they are in harmony with each other in 98.5% of the all of the manuscripts. The 1.5% were caused by mistakes in copying (no photocopiers or scanners, it was all hand written); explanations added in the margins and then incorporated; and some words changed to try to make it easier to understand. None of these differences make a difference to any of the major themes of the BIble. Did you know that 24 carat gold is 99.9% pure gold, but 18 carat gold is 75% and 9 carat gold is 38%. The Bible is almost 24 carat gold!

10. I don’t believe that God sends anyone to hell (whatever your view of ‘hell’ is). If he is consistent he will always respect our choices because he respects our free will. He won’t force anyone to be with him who doesn’t want to be with him. ‘Judgment’ (whatever that is) is about God (sadly, perhaps even reluctantly) accepting our decision whether or not we want to be with him. Whatever you think hell may or may not be, it at least is an absence of God: he respects our decision – if we want to be with him we are with him, if we don’t we aren’t. Whatever you choose, he will respect.

You may not believe in God, but he believes in you.