Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Saturday, 11 June 2016
Thursday, 11 February 2016
Friday, 27 November 2015
Monday, 27 October 2014
First up: Created for Joy
The creation accounts in the book of Genesis do not tell us why God created the heavens and the earth. They just tell us that he did. To find the beginnings of a reason, we need to look elsewhere, to one of the other Old Testament books that develops a theology of creation: the book of Psalms. There, the creation exists as a reflection and expression of the goodness and glory of God himself. Psalm 19 begins with the classic statement of this idea: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps 19.1). Psalm 104 is perhaps the greatest creation Psalm in the collection, and here, creation is simply depicted as an act of joy. The poem is a litany of overflowing goodness, fruitfulness, creativity, which climaxes in v31-34 with this:
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
The creation is made so that in it the glory of God can be seen and ‘endure forever’, but even more, that God can ‘rejoice in his works’. The picture painted here is not particularly serious or earnest. Creation does not have to exist: it is contingent rather than necessary. And yet it does exist, simply because God wanted it to, as a cause for and source of joy and praise. Yet this picture of God rejoicing over his creation is only half the picture. Joy is not just the property of God, but of creation itself, in a kind of virtuous circle of enjoyment. This joy requires not just the act of creation, but involves a dynamic relation between God and the creation. The earth is not an inanimate object, an inert, dead thing that is incapable of response. Instead, it is called upon to reflect back to God its own joy in being created. Psalm 148, for example, depicts the entire creation in unison, praising God without words, but just by existing: “Let all things praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created. “ (v5) As Richard Bauckham puts it: “all creatures bring glory to God simply by being themselves, and by fulfilling their God-given roles in God's Creation.” Psalm 96 similarly depicts the creation itself praising God, but here, the same note is sounded: that of sheer unadulterated joy:
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord (Ps 96.11-13)
The creation exists for no other purpose than joy. It is not a means to an end, an instrument through which God can fulfill certain tasks, or even an accidental by-product of conflict among the gods, as the ancient Babylonian story of Enuma Elish imagined it. The world exists to elicit joy, both from God and from within itself, directed back to God in praise. As Genesis puts it, the climax of creation is when God sits back, looks at what he has made, and declares it ‘very good’ (Genesis 1.31).
Thursday, 17 July 2014
Michael Burleigh's book, 'Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda' is a long read, at times depressing and inspiring, but always impresssively erudite. One of the most interesting sections is on the Nazis extermination policies in the 1930s.
It started with the gradual acceptance of the idea (shamefully agreed to in 1930 by the 'Inner Mission' one of the main Protestant welfare agencies), that sterilization was 'morally legitimate', even perhaps an act of duty towards future generations, a necessary means of social progress. It seemed at the time a fairly harmless move, only voluntary, with no indication that it led anywhere else.
The next step was the decriminalization of voluntary eugenic sterilization in 1932. That again seemed a fairly harmless step. After all, no-one was forcing it on anyone, it was only for those who chose to have themselves sterilized on racial grounds, opening up the possibility that someone might choose to stop themselves bearing children in the future, and thus perpetuating their own race.
The next stage was the possibility of sterilization at the consent of a guardian, for those whose own behaviour indicated that their children could end up being 'anti-social'. Once the earlier rubicon had been crossed, this didn't seem too bad either. After all, if the principle of the benefits of sterilization had been established, then a legal guardian worried about a teenager's behaviour might choose to save society the trouble and cost of future aggro by preventing any possibility that promiscuous delinquent youths might give birth to other promiscuous delinquent youths. It wasn't a huge step then towards the legalisation of compulsory sterilization at the decision of the local Party, who decreed that certain elements of society should be nipped in the bud and no longer allowed to replicate themselves.
From there it became feasible to imagine not only the enforced sterilization of undesirables but their extermination. After all, if you are stopping a particular kind of person from reproducing, why not go a stage further back and stop them living?
The point is that Nazi Germany did not suddenly go from a 'normal' society to one that could tolerate mass state murder of its own citizens overnight. It happened gradually, incrementally, step by step, almost while no-one, even 'good' people, noticed. It is to my mind one of the arguments that should make us pause before legalising Assisted Dying, however desirable it may seem to stop someone's pain. You never know where it will lead once you step out on that path.
Sunday, 20 April 2014
"The Savior is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world.., to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes... the adulterer [cease] from his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious...