Category Archives: Easter

The scattered traces of his being

Have you ever wondered why we are here? Many of us have asked this question at one point or another. As Augustine hits his stride in this first book (XI) of Part 2 of The City of God he asks a number of incisive questions: why do we exist at this moment in time? Why here in this part of space? What is the origin of the two cities? When did time start?

As this book pivots away from ancient discussions on the spiritual realm to the very real existence of planet earth, Augustine is diving head first into deep waters. He is unafraid to tackle the biggest issues head on – the origin of humans, angels, demons, goodness, evil, and philosophy. Through it all he keeps his Rule of Faith to guide him in what is truthful, helpful and appropriate.

Two discussions in particular are worthy of highlighting: his treatment of the origin of pure & fallen angels and his masterful handling of God’s creative purpose (ie the who, how & why of creation).

It fascinating to read how Augustine builds his case using the creation account in Genesis 1. He proposes that time began with creation and that “the world was not created in time, but with time” – hypothesising that there is no time without change and motion, which both started with the act of creation.

Augustine refers to Job 38.7 as evidence that angels existed before stars were made. As the sun wasn’t made until Day 4 he proposes that the “Let their be light” of Day 1 refers to the creation of angelic beings, with the separation to greater and lesser light being the division of the obedient and fallen angels.

“Thus the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became lights, and are called “day”, by participation in the changeless light and day, which is the Word of God, through whom they themselves and all other things were made.”

XI.9

Building on his consideration of creation, Augustine reflects on God’s verdict on his work – declaring it is good. Like an expert surgeon he unpacks this divine declaration, on multiple levels. He recognises that “it is not that God discovered that it was good, after he had made it. Far from it… he is not discovering that fact but communicating it”.

Augustine goes on to say how God experiences things is totally different to us. He is not time bound like us mortals, no rather “he sees in some other manner, utterly remote from anything we experience or could imagine”. He says

“God comprehends all these (ie past, present & future) in a stable and eternal present. And with him there is no difference between seeing with the eyes and “seeing” with the mind, for he does not consist of mind and body”.

XI.21

So, says Augustine “he saw that what he had made was good when he saw that it was good that he should make it”. And why was it good that God should make such things? We find the answer by asking: “who made it, how he made it, and why he made it”. So for the statement Let their be light, the answer to these questions are: God / He said “let it be” / it was good!

“There can be no better author than God, no more effective skill than his word, no better cause than that a good product should be created by God, who is good.”

XI.21

This has tremendous implications as we consider our own existence: “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know we exist, and we are glad of this existence and this knowledge” XI.26.

In a world that has lost its grip on the divine intent and pleasure behind our existence it is no surprise that we are also losing our sense of purpose, inherent self-worth and the preciousness of existence.

If we take one thing away from Book XI it should be that each and every one of us is crafted by the heart of a God of love who is delighted at his good handiwork. We are his prized possession – one he was willing to rescue by sacrificing his only Son. May we discovery this afresh this Easter Sunday.

The Real Deal

A kids talk for Palm Sunday – The Real Deal!

Today is a special day in the Christian calendar…yes it’s Sunday, but does anyone know what special name we give to the Sunday before Easter? Yes, Palm Sunday – the day in Jesus’ life when he came into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people recognised him as the Son of David.

Do you remember what they did? Yes, cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And they sang Hosanna to the Son of David! Well, as I was thinking about Palm Sunday I remembered something that happened recently that was also about recognising the real deal.

Do any of you know what has changed about our money? Yes, there is a new £1 coin. Have any of you seen it? Well, here it is…come and look.

Do you know why they changed it? It’s because there are some people who don’t want to work for their money, they just want to figure out how to make fake money.

Apparently if we had 30 £1 coins here, one of them would be fake. Can you believe it! People try and copy the real thing so they can buy things they want. So the people who make the real coins have decided to make them even harder to copy, by making the coins different to the old one but also giving it special characteristics, so that people can more easily recognise the real from the fake.

One thing they have done is make it combining two different properties – see here:

  • It is shaped by a rough side and a smooth side – it is made from a sliver bit and a gold bit
  • Here there is a number 1 and a pound sign in the same place, depending on what angle you look at it.
  • The small Lettering has One Pound on one side, and year of production in the other

So by combining two different elements in different ways they have made this coin very, very hard to copy. It struck me that it is the same with Jesus Christ the Son of God. In order to more easily recognise the real thing God made him to uniquely combine different properties…

  • He was man, and God in the same place
  • He was perfect in everything he did, said or thought
  • He was the most loving person ever, for both people and the truth
  • He perfectly combined grace and truth in one person
  • He did miracles that no other person could do
  • He taught as no other person ever did
  • He sacrificed himself for others despite being deserted by everyone
  • He chose to become poor, so that we might become rich

And when people saw him some of them said to themselves…this man is the real deal. And on that day when he rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people held up this man to the test of the Old Testament predictions and said, yes, he fits the description, he is the one we have been waiting for…he is the chosen one, the messiah.

The harder something is to copy, the more sure we can be that we have the real thing…what is true for one pound coins is also true for our Saviour. Think about this over Easter, when you are tucking in to your Easter eggs…Let’s pray.

Hold on to hope

imageA poem for Easter written during our 40 hours of prayer as part of the 24/7 prayer initiative. I hope it encourages you to find hope this Easter.

Hold on to hope

In the darkness when all is lost
When guilt and shame reveal their cost
Hold on to hope

Unnumbered souls hang by a thread
Look inside all strength is dead
Hold on to hope

Feeling so weak, so small, so frail
Writing my sins, hammering the nail
Hold on to hope

Millions lost in the barren land
Desperate for love, but no helping hand
Hold on to hope

Despair creeps and crawls over the walls
Give up, it’s too hard the Devil calls
Hold on to hope

Not much to give, not long to live
One life to live, one life to give
Hold on to hope

Just a fickle love and a messed up life
Worn with age, like a blunt knife
Hold on to hope

Your love Lord is greater than mine
You sent, you gave, you wait to shine
Hold on to hope

One at a time you send out the call
So quiet, so unnoticed by us all
Hold on to hope

Thousands saved every day
But not so many in the UK
Hold on to hope

Do here what you do elsewhere
That all may see that you really care

Hold on to hope

One day all will see your glory
Just Help us now to tell your story
Hold on hope

Revive us Lord, we are so cold
Make your people strong and bold
Hold on to hope

Take all the glory, it’s all down to you
Revive our nation and, our love renew
Hold on to hope

This is our prayer for our generation
A million lights causing a conflagration

Hold on to hope

Easter is one man’s utter defiance of death

“You mean I’ll be able to dodge bullets?” “I mean when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” So Neo and Morpheus discuss the theoretical bending of the rules of the artificial reality: The Matrix. At its heart, the film is the story of one man’s journey of self-realisation. It is the realisation that The Matrix is not real, and that he is able to overcome the rules that it has imposed on his mind. He takes the most significant step when, after he has been shot and (“virtually”) died, his mind finally realises that the bullets and blood are not real, and he wakes back up. He stubbornly refuses to accept the reality of death and becomes the resurrected Neo.

It is this same utter defiance that is at the heart of Easter. However, it is not the story of a bending of the rules of nature, but of a divine overcoming. Not a rebellion against, but a submitting to, the will of the ruler of the universe. When Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus the reality and pain of death was intense and it broke his heart. It reminded him that this was the reason he came into the world, to destroy the works of the evil one. This was the alien death that had been brought into the universe at the moment of the first human defiance.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus chose to defy death – to so completely and utterly reject the finality and fatality of death that he was willing to submit to its rules. By submitting to its power and penalty, he brought about a transformation of death through the resurrection of his unconquerable, immortal nature.

As I reflect on this truth I realise that there are a couple of deep running assumptions often mistaken for realities in the world I live in, and that I utterly reject:
1. The false dichotomy that has been set up between “fair, reasonable and logical” secular humanism on the one hand and “irrational, bigoted faith” on the other. I refuse to join in the polemic tit-for-tat that only reinforces the view that Christians are small minded. I read, appreciate and listen to the leading atheists and take their critique of faith seriously. Christianity cannot be reduced to a purely rationalistic worldview, but the mechanisms and framework for understanding and applying it are rational. It is not against rationality, but rather supersedes the limits and capability of rational experience – for it requires divine self-disclosure and this will always involve an element of mystery. It is our presuppositions where we differ, our foundation; after that we both seek to construct rational worldviews.

2. The silence and retreat of the Christian voice from the public sphere. I refuse to accept that Christians should be silent in public issues because we are somehow “biased” by our beliefs. All of us have a worldview with underlying presuppositions that colour (even guide) our ethics and morals. If God is God and this is his world, then not following his path will be detrimental to our society. Christians have an obligation to sensitively demonstrate this truth empirically when we can.

I have learnt that the way to challenge these assumptions is not head on. Only rarely will people change their assumptions through argument. Like Neo, they must be shown that their assumptions of how the world works do not match reality. Like the example of Jesus, who demonstrated a better way by submission to the imposed rules, a life like this must be modelled. It must be graciously, sensitively and compassionately lived out in front of a sceptical world.

The Matrix teaches us that our assumptions are powerful forces, guiding our interpretation of reality. Easter teaches us that reality itself was once shaken – one Sunday morning, the very fabric of reality was altered forever. We now have the opportunity to live in the light of a death defeated, a purpose restored and a hope renewed.

This post was an article on Easter for the Scottish Baptist Lay Preacher’s Association, click here for the link.