Blame for Wars?

13 03 2014

In many ways this is a follow on to my previous writing about who was to blame for World War 1.  To even attempt to write this blog I have to confess my ignorance. Not only am I painfully aware of so many areas of ignorance about life in general, but specifically, here at least, I need to confess my ignorance about the two world wars of last century. I guess that this ignorance is shared by a great many, and many would say, does it matter? I suggest it matters if for no other reason than it should make us think (and pray) and learn from such times.

Aware that we were going into a centenary year this year,  in respect of The Great War, I determined it was time to remedy some of that ignorance and started with World War 2, simply because I had run across Max Hastings’ book on it entitled, “All Hell Let Loose.”   It is a meaty tome of some six hundred pages and I grab a few pages when there are a few minutes spare – which is not the best way to read such a book – and I am about half way through.  It is not all about strategies etc., but about what went on affecting ordinary people and ordinary soldiers and as such is, I suggest, compulsory reading for anyone with romantic ideas about wars. It was a most terrible time in history if for no other reason than the shear numbers of casualties and the ways they died or were injured or were treated.  If Max Hastings is half right no one comes out it whiter than white; in fact the exact opposite.

As I have picked up this book, again and again as a Christian I could not help thinking, “Where is God in all this?”  Now I know I covered much of this in the previous blog but it bears repeating or expanding upon.

The crusading atheists berate a God who is supposed to be love, and when it comes to examining the last century, a God who apparently either caused it or sat on the sidelines and laughed.  No the atheistic viewpoint gets two-faced at this point because if you don’t believe there is a God you can’t blame ‘Him’ for such events, and if you can’t blame Him then you are left with a simply miserable view of mankind.  All of the humanists’ optimism is revealed as complete bunkum when you examine the history of the last hundred years. You can’t just blame Hitler or Stalin, because they both had powerful underlings who could have stopped it all early on.  But more than that, the record shows that vast numbers of ordinary Germans were just as excited about their nation’s imperialistic aims as Hitler was.  The things happening in Crimea today indicate that Russian nationalism is as strong in ordinary people as it is in Putin and his leaders.  Little changes.   I think the optimism of the Humanist Manifesto has to be  one of the best examples of self-delusion that you can find on the planet.  Go to virtually any continent on the globe and you find self-important people being unkind to other people (the nicest way I can put it.)

Put aside the atheists for a moment, for they are a minority grouping.  The majority  grouping believe in a God, even if many of them think He is either impotent or not concerned with us.   But what are the options that you are  left with if you do believe there is a God, when you come to consider these two wars?  At first sight, there are just two: either that He caused them or that He just sat back and did nothing about them. Perhaps we need to consult the Bible for a parallel example to help us. The apostle Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and speaking about how Jesus had died, declared, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  In other words Jesus’ death had been part of God’s plan and He foresaw the way events would work out as sinful human beings rejected His Son and eventually crucified him.

Now let’s take a mundane example from everyday life. You are a school teacher of a primary school and as you watch them play in the school playground you see they constantly fight. You go outside and tell them off and tell them to stop fighting. After this happens three times, you call them all in and they are all made to sit in their classroom in silence for half an hour.  So far no one is objecting to that.  Now, to change the picture, supposing some cattle or sheep contract a contagious and virulent disease. We know what happens, we’ve seen it in recent years.  The government order whole herds or flocks across the country to be destroyed and burned. Suppose a wounded soldier’s foot injury contracts gangrene. The only way to save his life is to cut off his leg.  Suppose ten terrorists take hostage a school full of children and start shooting them, one an hour until their demands are met.  We watch as the SAS go in and the body count of dead terrorists is 100%.  We all cheer.  We measure these things against the harm that will be caused if such drastic action is not taken.

OK, I’m speculating now.  Suppose God could see the direction and outworking of the 18th and 19th centuries and could see that in response to His enabling/allowing the advancement of science and technology, our foolish response was to reject Him and turn to godless atheism (examples of which were seen in Hitler and Stalin and many others). And suppose the logical response of that was to lift off all restraint which, if left unattended, would result in inhumanities beyond our present wildest dreams that would affect the entire planet and rob us of our very humanity.  If we had the eyes to see that, would we not stand in awesome silence and say, “God is just, God is wise, we are so stupid, this was the only course of action that could have happened to save us as a world.”

Of course we have not learnt and we are still so tainted by this self-centred godlessness that we probably laugh at such an idea, but it is the most rational one around. As with what Peter said about Jesus, suppose God knew the path that foolish and wicked men left to their own devices, would go down resulting in World Wars, and if that is what they chose, maybe, just maybe, they might learn from it and the future of humanity be saved.  But have we learned? The signs are not great.

If God allowed us a financial crash (brought about by the greed and folly of men) with some longer term effects, has that brought us to our senses?  The signs are not good.  Is God gently lifting off His hand of restraint again so that foolish and godless imperialistic semi-dictators can do their own thing yet again?  If not Moscow, might it be some other ‘power’?  Gloomy talk and I don’t like gloomy talk, but when will we come to our senses?  Have the various movies coming out of Hollywood portraying a nuclear disaster ending, been a warning?  Put this all aside if you like but the key question still stands – are you, are our leaders, is our nation, demonstrating godless, self-centredness, and if so, then what hope is there for our future?

The Artist

12 09 2010

The Artist

Once upon a time there was an artist, a young man who was a Christian. Being a godly young man he prayed, “Lord, take me and use my work to glorify your name.” Day in, day out, month in, month out, he laboured at his art and people came from far and wide to see the young man’s work. His works of art weren’t about spiritual things but he believed they honoured his Lord who was the creator of all things.

One day he wondered how he might yet reveal his master more clearly to the world and so started to develop spiritual themes in his work. He sometimes added texts to his work to clarify even more the purpose of his creations. His works sold well and his name became very famous, yet, as the years passed, within he had a sense of frustration that somehow there was a goal that he was missing.

One day when he was alone in his studio working on his latest work, early in the morning before most visitors came, a young woman quietly entered and walked around the gallery looking at the works. Unusually the middle-aged artist stopped his work and watched her. “Do you like what you see?” he asked. “Like isn’t the right word,” she replied, “I am moved by what I see.”  He walked over to where she was standing and saw tears running down her face. “What is the matter?” he asked gently. “Your pictures are so beautiful but they reveal the ugliness of my life,” she answered. Together they talked for a while and eventually he explained how his Lord had come to take our ugliness, and a light seemed to come on in the face of the soulful woman. She left hastily. He returned to his work and thought, “I must catch up; I have wasted time this morning.”

Another day a similar thing happened but this time it was an elderly man. Again a conversation ensued and again the artist shared his faith. At the end of the conversation the elderly man asked, “Would you pray for me?” The artist was startled; he was an artist, not a priest, yet he honoured the old man’s request and simply asked his Lord to help this man in his dark years. When he finished praying, there was a look of peace on the face of the elderly man.

Many year later, outside of time, the artist stood with his Lord in a great gallery in heaven and shared how he had never felt that he had reached the peak of his ability. “Lord, I sought to honour you with my paintings and I sought to improve my work, yet I never had a sense of having achieved that. I wanted to glorify you with the gift that you gave me but I never felt that my painting truly did that.”

There was a smile on the face of the one who stood beside him. “My son, your works were merely the means that I used to attract people to you. It was not your paintings that I used to bring glory to heaven. Come see.” And he led the artist through an archway that opened out onto a balcony overlooking a beautiful room full of people all talking animatedly.

“Who are these, Lord?” the artist found himself asking. “They are the people you stopped and talked to. The ones you gave time to, gave a word to, and prayed for. All these ones found me through you. It was not your paintings but you who glorified me.” And tears of joy ran down the face of the artist who now understood.

Chameleon Church

13 07 2010

Increasingly I am self-doubting about writing general blogs, but sometimes things hit the headlines that just defy silence. I am after all a Christian and a church leader of a non-denominational church. This week that faithless institution, the Church of England Synod, have been at it again; this time over the subject of ordination of women as bishops. The analogy of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic will not go away.

Now I am not commenting on the subject in question. I have my own views about it, views that I would say were rooted in Scriptural logic and not cultural excuses. But that is not why I am writing; there is actually a far bigger issue at stake here, to which this dying dinosaur seems completely impervious. Last night on TV news, the reporters had what seemed to be an ordinary member of the Synod expressing an opinion why women should be made bishops. I don’t have his exact words but essentially in his reasoning he was saying that the church mustn’t get too much out of step with modern culture.

So here we have it, the Church of England wants to be a chameleon church, a church that blends in with the norms of society. No wonder it is a dying wing of the Christian church, and thank goodness that there are other wings of the Church at large that are alive, well and thriving.

Here was a man representing the governing body of this one diminishing denomination showing that he actually had little or no knowledge of the roots of his faith and, indeed, appears to lack faith completely, which is why earlier I referred to them as a faithless institution.

Where does this man, and so many like him, get this idea that the role of the church is to conform to the norms of the world, to blend in with culture? It’s supposed to be the other way round! The history and teaching of the whole Bible and the New Testament in particular is quite clear, despite the confused ramblings of those who don’t read and study it. Faith, it says, is responding to what God has said, and that is at the heart of the entire Christian Faith. It is all about the basic and fundamental belief that God has spoken and our role is simply to respond to what He has said.

Now you may not believe that and you may not believe the Bible but if you don’t, please don’t go by the name of Christian! You can call yourself what you like, but don’t call yourself a Christian. And don’t stand up and represent what purports to be a Christian organisation, for all you do is make it appear even more foolish.

If the Church of England wants to take on the norms of the non-Christian, unbelieving world, what makes it any different from any secular organisation? Why should people go to it? Their answer must be because they provide an emotional religious experience on a Sunday, a superstitious crutch for the nervous.

If people go looking for truth, an alternative to the confused, materialistic, muddled, humanistic and atheistic ways of so much of life in the West today, from the expressions of the Synod at least, the Church of England is obviously not the place to find it.

When will the leaders of the major denominations speak out prophetically against the folly of modern society that largely disregards God, works on a basis of anything goes and if it feels right, do it. The fruits of this way of thinking are patently obvious in our crumbling societies in the West today. Yes, there are still many good things, but that is the grace of God who constantly works to counter the folly we have just spoken of.

When will these leaders say to newspaper editors and TV journalists and interviewers, stop pontificating from your non-believing standpoint as it you had some sort of authority to back you? You don’t! Be honest and say, “I don’t believe the Bible, I don’t believe in God and I don’t understand what the Bible is all about.” At least, world, have that sort of integrity, but don’t speak on spiritual issues as if you knew what you were saying – and that obviously applies to some members of the C of E Synod as well.

Perhaps when the Arch-Bishops have the courage to confront these basic issues of belief there might be a slight hope for the Church of England, but until then, unless God moves in revival, the future is pointing to a graveyard for them. What is tragic is that, within their ranks, are many incredibly good church leaders with strong Biblical understanding and strong faith, but where are they when it comes to speaking to the nation? When will they have the courage to say, enough is enough? The rest of us are watching and waiting.

Thanks, Praise & Worship

8 12 2008

Just inside our front door hangs an old barometer, not very valuable I’m told, but at least of some sentimental value. It’s been around in our family for a while, and there are many people who come into our home who I catch just gently tapping it to see which way the arrow is going. It’s an indicator of the weather which means, in Britain at least, it goes up and down regularly. There’s something about that old barometer, I believe, that is more homely and, obviously for many people, even more interesting than the detailed weather forecasts on TV.

I’ve found myself pondering thanks, praise and worship recently and I believe collectively they act like a barometer revealing our spiritual state and spiritual direction. I believe that that order – thanks, praise and then worship – involves a development of understanding of truth and takes us from the state of self-centredness to the state of complete un-self-centredness. Let me explain.

‘Thanks’ is an expression of gratefulness and when you are thankful you are grateful. When you thank someone you express your gratitude and inevitably it is thanks to a person. We thank someone when they have done something for us or given us something. Now with Christmas approaching I can’t help thinking of the somewhat strained thanks that we give when the present we have just received is definitely not what we wanted.

There was, I believe, a number of years ago, bad bit of teaching going around Christian circles that said “Give thanks for all circumstances” whereas the Biblical teaching is “Give thanks in all circumstances.” It’s a simple change but a vital one. So there were all these poor people struggling to be thankful for being abused, raped, mugged and goodness know what else. Nowhere are we called to be grateful for sin or for the perpetrators of pain through sin on us. When God hates those things, I think we’re doing mental gymnastics when we start trying to justify or make ourselves grateful for such things. It is something quite different to be thankful in the midst of circumstances that have their origins in sin. We can thank God that He is there for us in the midst of them and thank Him that His grace is sufficient for us, just as the Bible says. Similarly if our own sin brought the bad circumstances upon us, then it is folly to be grateful that we were so stupid. Repentance is a much more apt expression than thanks, in those circumstances.

But I started by suggesting that each of these things involves understanding. So much of modern thinking (call it post-modern thinking if you like) is nihilistic, full of negativity and it is not surprising that many people suffer depression and many others attempt suicide. Listen to the preface of master-atheist, Richard Dawkins, in his book Unweaving the Rainbow:

“A foreign publisher of my first book confessed that he could not sleep for three nights after reading it, so troubled was he by what he saw as its cold, bleak message. Others have asked me how I can bear to get up in the mornings. A teacher from a distant country wrote to me reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic pessimism. Similar accusations of barren desolation, of promoting an arid and joyless message, are frequently flung at science in general, and it is easy for scientists to play up to them. My colleague Peter Atkins begins his book The Second Law (1984) in this vein: We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.”

Although Dawkins could not take back his first book and its effects on people, he desperately tried to counter this ‘nihilistic pessimism’ by showing the wonder of the world that science reveals, but all he is able to do is basically say, look at the wonderful facts we have revealed. Of course in his mechanistic approach he is unable to answer the fundamental yearning that most of us have, to understand something of ‘meaning and purpose’ in life, because a ‘machine’ (the world of evolution) doesn’t have ‘meaning’, it just develops.

Perhaps Dawkins’ writing here may be summed up by the person who said, “I feel really sorry for atheists, who feel thankful but have no one to thank”. All of us want ‘someone to thank’ and when we are told there is no one, we feel cheated. But the very sense of feeling thankful, should tell us something. Why should we feel ‘grateful’ if we are just the result of accidental evolution because being ‘grateful’ implies being grateful to someone.

But I also started out by suggesting that ‘thanks’ is a self-centred starting point, but that isn’t always bad if it leads us on somewhere better. Again, when we speak of being grateful, we are recognising that we have received benefit and we feel good as a result. But it’s all about what we feel. Hence my initial starting point.

So what about praise? Praise is about acknowledging achievement. When we praise our children, we are acknowledging when they have done well. Praise takes the focus from on me to on them. Unlike thanks, it may be that we are acknowledging something that has not brought personal benefit to me. We are simply acknowledging how well someone has done.

The first time ‘Praise’ is used in the Bible was on the lips of Abraham’s servant: Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” (Gen 24:27). He was praising God for the way that God had done good for Abraham and for the way he had led his servant. It was about what God had done.

There is an interesting use of praise when Leah, one of Jacob’s two wives bears him three sons, each of whom she names according to the emotion she feels in respect of what God had done for her so far, and by the time she bears the fourth son, she realises that this has all been the hand of God on her: “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah.” (Gen 29:35) and Judah, the note in your Bible will tell you, ‘sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for ‘praise’’. Now she was acknowledging the goodness of what God had done.

Some time later Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gives an interesting response to what he hears has been happening: “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.” (Ex 18:9,10) so again praise was the response to what the Lord had done.

When we come to consider ‘worship’ we find something quite different. Worship refers to a bowing before a sovereign by a lesser subject, to kiss their hand or even feet, as a sign of subjection. This is what real worship is. It is not singing songs or reciting creeds, it is actually bowing before the Supreme, Almighty God, acknowledging His wonder and our smallness. We can see again and again in Scripture that bowing down is part of worship. It is submitting to and acknowledging the superiority of our God. Worship is getting God in perspective. When we realise who He is, of what He is capable of doing, and what He does, there really can be no other response.

Do you see now why I said at the beginning that this involves a development of understanding of truth and takes us from the state of self-centredness to the state of complete un-self-centredness? When we see God for who He is, we lose all sense of ourselves, for our vision is filled with Him and Him alone. We have developed or changed from being silly, puny individuals who make silly noises about God, to see that the One revealed in the Bible is truly like what we find there and, like those who had a vision of heaven, we fall on our faces in acknowledgement of our smallness and His greatness. If we don’t do it this side of death, we will do it the other side when we will see Him clearly!

So those things act like a barometer of our spiritual state and direction. If we never give thanks we live in a cold, sterile world of facts but nothing more. When we realise that there is a hand behind all the good and wonderful things in this world, we start to give thanks. When we develop our understanding, probably by reading His word, we see more and more His hand on all good things and we find praise starts taking us away from our self-centredness to starting to be God focused in a much bigger way. When we eventually realise His greatness and our smallness, we fall in worship and adoration. It’s there in the Book, and it’s truth. So what, I wonder, is the ‘barometer’ telling about you?


26 01 2008

Experiences linked with belief are interesting. It has been said, “As a man thinks, so he is” which makes what we think, the prequel to what we do and experience, you might think. Not always.  I wrote briefly yesterday about Richard Dawkins, a very bright man who has a very fixed set of beliefs – and they will lead him to live a very specific sort of life. Believing is not always easy.

I once sat with a student and talked about the merits of the Christian case for over five hours. At the end of it they said, “OK, you have utterly convinced me, I believe all you have said, the evidence is overwhelming, but I have to tell you that I like my life of sin (their words!) and I’m not going to change it. Thanks.” And with that they got up and left and I never saw them again.  Belief was overcome by experience.

I was talking with a different student and they eventually said after a couple of hours, “Well I can hear what you are saying and understand all you are saying, but I still can’t believe there actually is this God you are speaking about, who is real and personal.” I was stumped. After a moment I said, “Would you like to try an experiment?”  “What sort of experiment,” they replied.  “I want you to humour me. I want you to pretend to pray. All you do is close your eyes, I’ll pray and then you can utter words into the air. See what happens.”

They reluctantly agreed to do it.  I prayed some simple words to the Lord I knew, closed with an “Amen” and sat silent. After a moment or two, this person started, falteringly, to speak some words into the air, to a being that wasn’t there, just to please me. After about ten seconds they stopped and broke into tears and eventually sobbed, “He’s here!” Experience overcame belief.

It really is funny, this belief bit, because most of us have a set of beliefs but if we were challenged as to why we have them we wouldn’t be sure. Others of us have firm beliefs that were born out of negative experiences. As I read the follow-ups on-line to newspaper articles by atheists, there is often, it seems, bitterness in the supporters who seem to have had a bad deal with life or, more probably, with religion. For that I feel said.

It’s when you look at religious experience you realise how varied it can be – and often not good! I have travelled a fair bit of the world, and there are some freaky people around who go by the name of Christian, and that is disturbing (but God still loves them – which sets off a completely new train of thought!). The truth of that though, is that there is no great Magisterium that monitors every person and checks their beliefs – and their subsequent behaviour.  The result? Some freaky people doing some freaky things, but that doesn’t say anything about the Christian Faith at such; it just says there are some funny people who buy into it, and their outworkings of it are a bit strange, but then we’re all a bit strange, aren’t we, us human beings! It’s a good job God doesn’t write us off until we get it completely right!

I don’t know what it was initially that led me towards Christian experience because initially I was quite happy with my beliefs that I was a good person living a good experience. Yet eventually, one day something happened, but that’s another story.