Ransom

This arose out of some emails I exchanged with someone I hold in great respect. Should you read this I apologise for not telling you first.

I have always struggled with the idea
of Christ being punished for us.
Many believe He was,
but it was punishment set by us,
not by God.

I cannot feel God saying,
‘Someone must pay for this.’
and Jesus replying, ‘Yes,
but I shall pay instead.’

Did Christ die for our sins?
take our punishment on Himself?
Did our Father send His only begotten Son,
begotten, not created,
beloved, pleasing, one in love with Him,
to die as a blood sacrifice,
as the Paschal Lamb,
for us?

We rejected and murdered Him,
but that is not why He came.

For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.

I came that they might have life, and have it more fully.

Like Dame Julian of Norwich,
when I see Jesus Christ
I see the Trinity in Him,
God the Father
acting in His creation,
and in Love.

I see our Father in Jesus
showing the length that He will go
to show His love for us,
to suffer, in Christ, to save us.
As our Lord said,
I and the Father are one.

His suffering was more,
infinitely more, than crucifixion.
He loves us as his dear children,
eternally loving, not condemning
though we betrayed Him.

To bring damned sinners back
He went into the deepest hell
(which we made for ourselves,
bolting the door inside).

One day I shall write on my understanding of hell.
For now give it any meaning you wish.

What debt was paid upon the cross?
The amazing depth of love
in Jesus’ sacrifice
is more than any debt,
more than any price.

What debt was paid upon the cross?
The Aramaic Jesus spoke
had just one word for debt and sin,
and was guilt paid in pain?
Or was sin paid in death
to a wrathful, punishing God?

The Son of Man, the Son of God,
who prayed we may be one
as the Father and He are one,
suffered and died on the cross.
What ransom, what debt, was paid?
If He was not sacrificed for sin,
what debt, what ransom, was paid?

Because I live, you also will live.
In that day you will know
that I am in my Father,
and you in me,
and I in you.

Was our Father, in Christ on the cross,
a true lover grieving, bearing
anything for his beloved,
though we turned on Him murderously?

Is our debt that infinite love?
Was Christ’s crucifixion
not a ransom for our sins,
but a statement of that debt;
not cancelled on the cross
but rewritten in love,
which we owe in return.

Collar and Tie

I was challenged in my teens (long, long ago in the late nineteen-fifties, but still seems like yesterday) for wearing a sweater to church, ‘You would not turn up at work dressed like that so why do so in the house of God?’

As I was a student in London, and under my sweater was wearing a collar and tie. You might think I had a readily available answer but in those days even students wore jackets and ties to college. I gave a mildly apologetic response.

Things have changed since then.

Within ten years I had stopped wearing a tie to church; not from lack of respect but because I noticed that when strangers came into a service they often had open-necked shirts and looked self-consciously out of place. The presence of a few others similarly dressed gave them a chance to feel more at home.

Now things have changed even more; the wearing of ties has become rarer. For many, ties are not worn even for church. I find myself only wearing them on those autumn or winter days when a scarf might be too warm. One day perhaps I might sport a tie more regularly to ease the embarassement of strangers who come dressed in what they have seen in their only attendences at weddings and funerals – or will these also follow the current fashion?

There may be worse reasons for not dressing for church:

There is a story, a parable, of a king inviting guests to his son’s wedding feast
(which carries echoes of the King who invites guests to His Son’s wedding feast).

The kingdom of heaven is like a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He sent his slaves to call guests to the banquet,
but they would not come.

He sent other slaves, saying,
‘Tell those I invited,
“Look! The feast is ready.
My oxen and fatted cattle are slaughtered,
everything is ready.
Come to the banquet.” ’

But they were indifferent and went away,
one to his farm, one to his business.
The rest seized his slaves,
insolently mistreated or killed them.

The king was furious!
He sent soldiers to put those murderers to death
and set their city on fire.

He told his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready,
but those invited were unworthy.
Go into the main streets,
invite all you find to the banquet.’
They went out into the streets and gathered all they found,
filling the wedding hall with guests.

But when the king came
he saw a man not wearing wedding clothes.
He asked him,
‘Friend, how did you get in without wedding clothes?’
but he had nothing to say.
The king told his attendants,
‘Tie him hand and foot
throw him out into the darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing teeth!’

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Why was the guest thrown out for not wearing wedding clothes? Was he too poor? Probably – he had been called in off the street when the king’s rich friends turned their invitations down, but the king knew that and would have allowed for it. So why was he not wearing them?

He seems no better than the rich guests, disdainful of the king’s generosity. He came to eat but without bothering to wear the clothes provided. Rich or poor we can still get it wrong.

We have the King’s clothes to wear
for the wedding feast of His Son:
compassion, care, a held-out hand,
love and the acceptance of love,
the Image of God that God bestowed on Man.

Who is the bride?

The earliest account of Christ’s Great Commission,
translated literally from Mark’s Greek, is
When you have gone into all the world,
preach the Good News to all creation.

All creation is His bride,
over which as His hearers believed,
God set all Mankind to rule.

The true clothing of a ruler
is that of the Servant King:
compassion, care, a held-out hand,
love and the acceptance of love,
the Image of God that God bestowed on Man.

The Language of religion (2)

In February last year I wrote on our use of ‘religious’ words in The Language of Religion. I wrote on much-loved words: I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know… relating them to faith. In spite of  being apparently easy, well-known words,  we can use them without realising their depth of meaning and how they relate to one another.

This post, and others to follow, deal with words which cannot be described as much-loved: today: wrath & anger…  not easy words, neither easily understood nor comfortable. Later posts may not fit this category but I have chosen them because they involve words I once thought I knew so well they did not need explanation, and have since found I was wrong: forgiveness, justice, eternity…

There will be gaps (we still have not moved house, although it is drawing closer)

Wrath…
Anger…

For thousands of years
we have associated these words with God.
Their use has changed,
but echoes remain.

Wrath and anger are now synonyms,
words with the same meaning,
but anger shares no roots with wrath.

Words grow like trees from roots far back in time
branching as they grow.
Sometimes suckers rise, sharing roots,
or cross-pollinated seeds
send stems from the earth,
with new roots to a related tree.

Wrathstems from Old English,
Anglo-Saxon, Scandanavian words.
The roots of wrath involve turning,
particularly turning away;
wrath shares them with wreathe and writhe,
with twist and twine,
with wrist (a turning joint),
turning awry words
which wring,
and wreck,
and wreak wrong.

Angeralso has Scandanavian and Anglo-Saxon roots,
but in New Testament Greek the word is οργε (orgé)
from this root come anguish and grief,
and angina (a constricting, choking pain),
yet it was not translated as anger,
but wrath.

Anger carries emotions of grief and regret;
an anxious response to imposed grief.
We see God’s anguish as anger,
then interpret anger as wrath,
seeing ourselves as hated things
because of our failings.
In this we increase our grief,
and His own.

God’s wrath is not a twisted,
writhing, turning away from a hated thing.
Wrath and anger are as different from one another
as over-strict, vicious punishment of a childs’s wrong…
turning the child away… turning away from the child…
is from the true, grieving response of a loving parent.

The True Parent grieves,
but the True Parent has no wrath.
The True Parent’s grief and regret and correction
is not wrath.
If it is anger, it is compassionate anger.

Two months before I wrote The Language of Religion I posted  How we Love Children which compares our Father’s love for us with parent’s love for children. Everything we feel and hope for is contained in our Father’s love.

Made in the Image

Cneius Pompeius was the first of our countrymen to subdue the Jews. Availing himself of the right of conquest, he entered the temple. Thus it became commonly known that the place stood empty with no similitude of gods within, and that the shrine had nothing to reveal.
Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, chap. 9

When Cneius Pompeius entered as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies, did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God?
an empty room?

Did nothing in that empty, holy shrine,
ask the great question of our common daily tasks,
those shared hopes of yours, and mine, and his;
the great perhaps that there might be
something there that speaks beyond desire,
beyond you, beyond me, beyond him,
that knew his name?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
hidden or lost since that first temple,
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
half a thousand years before?
Did holiness remain?
or any thing?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
Was that image in the seige-towers?
The battering rams?
the hand to hand facing with the enemy?

And were his gods in the victory parade,
passing like a sword through vanquished, sullen-lined streets?
Or in the holy place beyond the double veil?
The Holy of Holies of the only God of this strange race?

Pompey returned to his daily soldier round,
to his home’s embrace, his wife, his children,
and was His image there?
Did he recall in the empty shrine
that image of God seen there,
in himself,
and in the little things of home?

Two thousand years have passed, and more,
since Pompey came as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies.
Did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God that asks,
as we are asked now,
in our homes, our daily tasks,
our homely shrines, where we,
wives, husbands, children,
each made in the image of God –
are asked to see,
and love and be loved.

Why do we bicker, in and with His image,
with weapons forged of words,
of sighs and glaring eyes,
with those whom we should love?
How, faced daily with His image,
should we do anything but love?

The Debate Of The Gaps

Can science explain faith? Perhaps, but ‘explaining’ must not be misinterpreted as ‘explaining away’. In the debate between science and religion the debaters are often separated into those discussing how we exist and those discussing why. Sometimes the religious argument is described as plugging holes that science has not yet explained – a retreating ‘God of the gaps’, but this is reversible. There are gaps on both sides. We can too easily treat the discussion as ‘either/or’.

There is a move away from the ‘God of the gaps’ to an equally erroneous ‘science of the gaps’ such as the apparent counter to Big Bang Creation theology by multiverse theories which avoid a single creation moment by postulating an infinite supply of them; or the infinite-finite source of Hartle-Hawking space which does the same by making the creation moment unattainable. It is easy to point out that neither answer the ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ question, but nor does religion. Both skate round an unknown centre.

There is neither a God of the gaps nor a science of the gaps. They are two views of the same whole.

Even if we could remove the need for God it would not necessarily remove our desire for Him. Lovers do not need each other, they want each other. Richard Leonard touches on this in ‘What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake?’, describing a friend struggling with some religious work or duty suddenly feeling the peace of knowing God did not need him but simply loved him. If he died or did not finish, someone else could do it. Although God loved him doing it He did not need him.

Removing the need does not remove the love or the lover.

How Do I Love Thee?

Oceans roll across our turning Earth,
wave on wave on wave,
from shore to shining shore,
an echo of our turning universe,
a harmony of fluid time and space,
light-wave on light-wave,
from star to shining star.

When creation’s waves flowed in the deep,
like a dream new forming in a sleep,
the Spirit brooded on them,
found them good,
and God so loved the world.

As a child I stood upon the beach
waiting for the seventh wave,
‘That was a big one!
one, two, three,
four, five, six,
seven!
Wow!’

Truth to tell it was sometimes six or eight,
or more, or less.
But seven’s the one I’d wait.

Now I am older I see the waves on waves,
small upon larger,
large on larger still.
And the seventh, seventh wave,
that like some moving hill
comes with thrust and thunder
like the boom in sea caves yonder
that echo with the thrill
of rising, turning sea-storms
which pass, and all is still.

Oh, You who love the world:
How do I love thee?
Let me count the waves.

God’s Daydream

Last September I posted a scientific parallel of Genesis. Here it is again as a children’s story:

Some of God’s days are longer than others and some much shorter. Some are made up of lots and lots of our days. Peter, a very good friend of Jesus, said one of our days could be like a thousand years for God, and a thousand of our years could be like just one day for Him. He really doesn’t mind.

This story is about God’s days, his first special ones.

God’s First Day – Let there be light.

It is a story before all stories, the story of a daydream. It wasn’t a dream in the night because there was no night yet, and it wasn’t a dream in the day because there was no day yet. It was a daydream about a day that hadn’t happened. There was nothing, an emptiness with no people, no animals and no places for them to be. But the emptiness shimmered with little almost-waves like the surface of a calm sea just before the wind comes, but these were not almost-waves of water, they were almost-waves of light.

God knew His day needed light so he blew on the almost-waves and said ‘Let’s have light.’ They shimmered and shimmered until suddenly there it was, beautiful and dazzling and a little bit frightening. Well, actually, much more than a little bit – it was very frightening.  That is it would have been if we had been there to be frightened but luckily for us we weren’t and God liked it and there was no longer nothing. There were great, glorious waves of light.

It was the first day and it went by in a flash, which was quite long enough for God.

God’s Second Day – space.

The dancing light waves pushed and pressed at each other like children fighting for sweets. ‘All that light with nothing to do and nowhere to go.’ thought God. ‘I think there should be some order here.’

So he made a rule: some waves could not be in the same place at the same time but other than that they could do what they liked (actually he made some other rules we call the initial conditions but I don’t want to bore you with that).

The waves did as they were told. They flew here and there (which was of course the first ‘here and there’ – before that there was nowhere). As they flew they changed. They became red and green and blue, and strong and weak, and big and small – all the colours of the rainbow and many more things you and I could hardly understand and the space between them became bigger and bigger. It was the second day.

God’s Third Day – the Earth forms with land, seas and early life.

God said, ‘If they carry on like this they will fly away and disappear again. Let’s have a little bit of gravity here.’

And the waves came together in space and, wherever they did, they behaved as though they were tiny specks, smaller than the smallest piece of dust, but so many that they made galaxies and stars and planets and moons and all sorts of places – and one of them was our own home, Earth.

In the Earth, and other places too for all I know, some of them got together and made tiny almost-plants like the first almost-waves and these made more and more until they got together and began to build real plants. Each new plant could make more, bigger and bigger and bigger ones.

It was the third day, a very long one. For us it would have been millions of millions of years but to God it was just another day.

God’s Fourth Day – the seasons of the sun and moon, life in seas and land.

God said ‘Let’s have a few changes here.’

Now, if you remember, everything was made of waves of light, so the plants needed light to grow and change and they got most of it from the Sun and the Moon and the stars. The Moon is big like a small planet although it is not as big as our Earth. We are like two planets turning round and round each other as we go round the Sun together. This makes summer when it is brighter and hotter, and winter when it is colder and dimmer, and the in-between times, spring and autumn. It makes the sea tides rise and fall, and gives us bright days and dark nights.

All these changes caused changes in the plants. After millions of our years some of them changed a lot but to God it was just another day. The fourth one.

God’s Fifth Day – the spread of mammals.

God’s fifth day was even longer. Slowly the changing seasons and tides, and days and nights, and all the changes that the plants had to make to keep up, made the seas swarm with plant life and some of them became almost-animals. God liked that.

‘Let’s have more.’ He said.

So just as the almost-waves had become light, and the almost-plants became real plants, so the almost-animals became real animals. It took a very long time, fifty million of our years, until the seas became the home of millions of tiny creatures. Fifty million years is a very long time but it took a hundred million years before a very different animal grew called Trigonotarbids. It was different because it lived out of the water. It was the first land animal.

Have you been counting? I have. So far God’s fifth day has been a hundred and fifty million of our years but it wasn’t over yet! It was another two hundred million years before much larger animals grew. You will have heard of these, they were Dinosaurs.

And still God’s fifth day was not over!

The Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for another hundred and seventy million years. There were lots of them: small ones, large ones, very, very large ones, even some that could fly, but eventually they came to an end and the only ones left were some of the ones that could fly. They became birds. I expect you guessed that. And that was the end of God’s fifth day.

If you have been counting it took five hundred and twenty million of our years, and if you weren’t counting it still took five hundred and twenty million.

God’s Sixth Day – the coming of Mankind.

Once the big dinosaurs were gone the world was safer for smaller animals. God’s dream was getting better and better.

‘I like them.’ Said God, ‘Let’s have some more.’

So monkeys and pigs and songbirds and horses and camels and little shrews and all sorts of creatures spread far and wide but God’s daydream was still not finished.

God said, ‘There’s no-one else here quite like me. I want someone to share it with.’

He didn’t mind what they looked like because he had made many different creatures, but he wanted someone who would be pleased with this world and love it like he did – friends who could look after it all. Once the animals had spread all over the Earth, which took nearly sixty million of our years, God breathed his spirit into one of the creatures and it loved the world he had made. After many more millions of our years it became us. That was the end of God’s sixth day.

God’s Seventh Day – He rests.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything in them, and on the seventh day of God’s daydream he blessed it because it was the day that he rested from all the work that he had done. The seventh day went by in a flash just like the first.

Then the serious work began.