30. Valuing our World

Meditations in Meaning & Values  30. Valuing our World

Gen 1:1,31   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ….. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

We could not end a series about values without thinking about the world on which we live. Over the past fifty years a number of organisations have sprung up concerned with the welfare of the world. For instance Greenpeace whose vision statement declares “The underlying goal of all our work is a green and peaceful world – an earth that is ecologically healthy and able to nurture life in all its diversity.”  What has been a shame is that Christians have been so heavenly minded that they missed the boat when it come to caring for God’s world.

So let’s ask a basic question: why care about this planet, what we do to it, how we treat it?  A hundred years ago we would probably have viewed it as a big planet which was immune to our activities upon it. Today we see it as a ‘global village’ and holidays to all corners of the earth are common making it feel much smaller. Global warning has made us aware that what we do on the earth does affect it. Back in the past century there was a growing awareness that pollution could devastate local nature. Preservation and conservation are common words in the call to care for wildlife, plant or animal. All of these trends have caused voices to be raised in the name of preserving this world, saving the earth from destruction. Survival has moved on to the agenda. But is survival, as important as some would make that appear, the only cause to think about this world?

As Christians our starting place must surely be that the Bible firmly tells us that God created this world, He made a great job of it, and He made it for us.  The Bible tells us that God is spirit (which I sometimes define as ‘energy with personality’  recognising that is about as far as we can go in understanding ‘spirit’) but He created and formed a ‘material’  or ‘physical’ world. Various thinkers from the past, Plato being a notable example, distinguished between material and spiritual on a bad and good basis. This was a false dichotomy because God creates both material and spiritual and when He had finished making this material world we read, as in our verses above, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”.  If material had been bad then God would never have had his Son come to the earth in human form. After he was raised from the dead Jesus still had human form, even though it appears to have had some additional abilities. Amazingly when Jesus ascended back to heaven, he did it with a physical, human body.

When you start contemplating the world that God has given us, the mind starts to boggle. I always remember the quote that I once heard that there are well over a thousand sorts of edible bean in the world. Why? Why not just six, say? Our TV screens give us the answer: God clearly likes variety.

Solomon clearly had revelation when he wrote the book of Proverbs and no more so than in chapter 8 as he personifies wisdom in what has to be a description of the Son at the Father’s side during Creation: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” Prov 8:30,31) What a beautiful picture! Rejoicing in his whole world”! And even more, “delighting in mankind”.  How amazing, the Son enjoying the wonder of the world his Father was bringing into being and allowing him to help with.  This says this world means something to the Father, it is His work of art and therefore the way we think about it will reflect something of how we think about Him. This world reflects Him as the apostle Paul wrote, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Rom 1:20)

But of course Sin entered this world and it is not quite as it was when God first made it: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:19-22) Whatever else these complex verses say, they say that the world was affected by Sin (which God knew would happen) so that death and decay are ‘normal’ parts of it now, but the coming of Christians points to a new possibility yet to come. We see that new possibility right at the end of the Bible: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1) However we see this, certain things can be stated: a) this present world has a limited duration, b) God will remake both heaven and earth at some future time but note c) there is no indication that the ‘new earth’ is anything less than the original material (physical) earth that God originally created. A new physical earth appears clearly on God’s agenda for the future – yes, a physical earth. God clearly likes the physical dimension He has created, as well as the spiritual dimension.

So here we are, a world to care for and to enjoy, God’s gift to mankind. It is of limited duration because, it would appear from the revelation of the New Testament, God knows than mankind will abuse the present world, and so He plans a new earth at some future point. Enjoy it, thank Him for it, be careful with it. It is of immense value to Him quite clearly, so may it also be so for us.

And with that, I sense this series should come to an end.

29. Laws that Value People

Meditations in Meaning & Values  29. Laws that Value People

Ex 20:12-15   “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house.

We considered in the previous meditation God’s first ‘laying down the law’ in respect of the sanctity of human life. When He said, ““I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man,” He not only warned about being held accountable for taking a human life – and by implication forbade the taking of human life, but He also warned of what the repercussions would be for taking a human life.

When we come to the Ten Commandments, the first half are about relationship with God and the second half about relationships with other human beings. The start of those instructions go to the heart of community and indeed civilisation, relationships within families. Parents are the building block for the next generation and they are to be honoured, not only because they are made in the image of God as we’ve seen before, but also specifically if they are dishonoured or disrespected, the following generation will be at odds with God’s design for a harmonious world.

The following commands are all in the negative form – “you shall not” – and are so sharp and clear that the consequences for ignoring them are not spelled out by God there. They are in respect  of a) basic human life,  b) marriage relationships, c) personal property, d) human reputation and e) human peace and security.

When we move on to the main covenant laws in chapter 21, we find guidance laws about dealing with servants (slaves) i.e. respect within employment (Ex 21:2-11), the penalty for murder (v.12,14), manslaughter (v.13), a child attacking or cursing its parents (v.15,17), the death penalty for kidnapping (v16), and so on. It is a steady catalogue of instructions about dealing with people and the whole chapter is about dealing with circumstances where life is threatened.  The first 15 verses of chapter 22 are about dealing with property problems  and although the remaining verses are a mixture, we still find some that are specifically about protecting people, e.g. virgins 22:16,17,  aliens (22:21), widows and orphans (22:22-24), i.e. protecting the vulnerable.

Into chapter 23 and we find laws about justice in general, about not helping the wicked (v.1), not perverting justice (v.2), not showing favouritism (v.3), not denying justice (v.6), not making false charges (v.7), not using bribes (v.8), not oppressing foreigners (v.9) and then the rest of the chapter is essentially about their relationship with the Lord when they enter the Promised Land. But note that the first nine verses of that chapter 23 are about making sure that people are dealt with fairly (justly).

In all these ways we see that the underlying value of the importance of each individual human being is being covered by a law to protect them. The reality is that we live in a Fallen World where sin prevails and therefore we need these restraining laws or laws to deal with a situation where sin has prevailed.

Many years ago I used to teach law and in the first class always asked the question, why do you think we need laws, and the answer always came back unanimously in two forms: first because “people are not nice” and, second, to protect the weak from the not nice people. Those students, year after year summed it up well. The fact of having the laws does not stop people breaking them and, as we’ve seen before, people will only hold to valuing human beings when they have some form of relationship with God.

The major destruction of human life last century by Stalin and Hitler, were abuses under atheistic and godless regimes, but they simply characterise on a massive scale what we are each capable of. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies  characterised what happens when restraints are lifted off human beings and survival of the fittest prevails. It is a grim picture but it is the honest picture of a fallen human race where Sin prevails.

Now you might think that a holy God would give up on a fallen human race and knowing that some of Israel are going to break the laws anyway, why bother to have the laws?  The answer has to be twofold. First, to show God’s design and lay down a charter which the majority will adhere to. Second, the laws show how to deal with miscreants, how to deal with situations that go wrong. Now although we might see these as the two primary reasons why God gives these laws, it doesn’t stop there, for we also find in Leviticus a whole series of lengthy requirements about offering sacrifices and those laws are all about how a guilty sinner can get right again with God.

Getting right with people came through restitution; getting right with God was about appeasing the conscience and showing by an outward act contrition and repentance. The outward act was coming to the Temple with a sacrifice. Although we may see them as lengthy and inapplicable to today’s living, they nevertheless did do the job of enabling people to come back into a right relationship with God. God’s respect of the human life He has created thus extends to caring for it, even when it has turned away from Him, even when it purports to follow Him (Ex 19) and yet fails in wrongful human behaviour. There are times when, for the sake of the rest and for the sake of His name, God does bring destructive judgment on human beings but even when you study that you see a remarkably restrained hand. God is constantly looking for the good for humanity, and that He seeks to convey to us so that we might convey it to one another. We are to value human life.

28. Valuing People

Meditations in Meaning & Values  28. Valuing People

Gal 9:5,6   “I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.”

We won’t do much of a recap today, we did that in the previous meditation. Instead we move straight into considering the worth or value of human beings. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes in the first 6 articles, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood, everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms, no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” (We missed out the lengthy article 2 to save space) What do these articles tell us? We respect, honour and value human life. Human beings are important and we should be careful how we treat one another.

Now I am not questioning in any form these articles, for I hope we all accept and subscribe to them, but I do have a question. Much of our Western world rejects God and many would say our only meaning is found in evolution, and humanists and atheists (who tend to be one and the same) say that evolution is about survival and we have arrived at a point where we are sophisticated human beings who now act on more than just instinct. We have developed reason and rationality and so we see that it is sensible, if nothing else, to think well of one another if we are to survive and not enter another world war which would undoubtedly be even worse than the previous two. To survive we need to think well of one another.

But here’s my question: if that is so, what has happened to survival of the fittest which is a key element in the theory of evolution? Observing world politics we may pay lip service to human rights, but where are those when it comes to scrapping over national sovereignty? The Balkan states were in ferment prior to the First World War and nationalism is still rife in that area and may even be behind much of Russia’s posturing in this same area today. Where are the human rights when China or Saudi Arabia or a multitude of other countries actively persecute Christians?

The simple point I would make here is that although we may subscribe to a particular view of people, we so often, as the human race, don’t live by that view. It sounds a good view but it is simply not expedient to follow it because of a spectrum of human dogma across the globe, when other things take priority that may go back to instinctive survival of the fittest or the strongest national grouping.

Simply writing a list of human rights does not mean everyone will keep them. They will not make a child obey its parent or the parent not abuse the child. They will not stop an employer abusing an employee or vice-versa. They will not stop politicians, or any other national leaders for that matter, acting corruptly. Laws may be good in general but a strong adherence to the values underpinning those laws (remember, we considered this a couple of meditations back) will be the only thing that guarantees we treat one other well across the globe and, as we suggested in a previous meditation, we will only hold those values when we see and accept the primary cause behind those values – God. Any and every other foundation gives way. It will only be those who hold fast to God, the loving God of the Bible who reveals His design for us, who will genuinely hold these values – and live by them! Let’s explore that.

In our verse above from Genesis 9, we find the Lord laying down the mandate for mankind. “I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” That is a strong start. You WILL be held accountable to God for the wrongful killing of another person.  We have to add ‘wrongful killing’ because as we investigate this further (and in the next study we will see how God’s values are expressed in the Law He gave to Moses), we will see that manslaughter and ‘just war’ and self-defence are legitimate exceptions to the general rule. The general rule is quite specific, even if today we think we know better and do away with capital punishment: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” i.e. a life for a life. Only in such a way will you honour or respect or value the victim’s life, but even more so, because “in the image of God has God made man.”

That alone is at the heart of valuing a human being. It is because every single one of us has been made in the image of God, we are His design in general terms (and when we get to heaven we’ll see how much God contributes to every individual perhaps). Human beings are not an accident of evolution. IF evolution is the method God used in Creation, it was with purpose. He was involved in every bit of it; if it was a minute accidental change that took place and survived and developed over millions of years (because that IS what evolution says), it was the purposeful act of God, it wasn’t an accident: “In the beginning… God created…” If you object to the concept of God you have nothing less than accidents of history to fall back on, and where we are today becomes pure accident, so any talk of meaning or values is really meaningless with no foundation.  If I am stronger than you, survival says I can do what I like to survive, which includes bombing your nation into extinction. If I see you as precious to God, I may think again.

A little while ago I had a revelation. I was struggling to cope with a particular person in my circumstances, yes a Christian who was obviously struggling with life, and suddenly I saw us both in heaven, both transformed and free from the effects of this sinful world. That was not only my destiny, it was also theirs. This present struggle is just that – a present struggle and it will not last long. Death will usher us into the next world free from the effects of this present sinful world. Wow! Not only does God see us both as made in His image, there is going to come a time when we’ll both be transformed. That thought changed how I felt about them. Have you got troubles with another Christian? Think on it. They’re not a Christian? Well add the word ‘yet’. Perhaps they will be one day, and perhaps you and I can help bring that about and they will change. In the meantime, they are still made in the image of God and thus valued by Him.  Hmmmm….

27. Assessing Value

Meditations in Meaning & Values  27. Assessing Value

Gal 5:2    I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all

We have started to think about ‘values’. We noted that laws flow out of values. We considered that we need to identify values but even more importantly, where they come from, their origin. We also observed that many people simply adopt other people’s values, often those of celebrities or ‘big names’. We concluded the last meditation by starting to ponder about love being a basic foundation for values and God being the ultimate source of love, but what if you remove God? Can you have love, can you have values without God? Well the obvious answer is yes, of course you can, because there are nations that do not know God but still have laws, and those laws suggest they have values.

You may wonder why we have chosen the above verse with the apostle Paul speaking of circumcision. Well essentially what he was saying was that if you were a Jewish Christian and you relied upon circumcision to establish your relationship with God (as Abraham did) then you had no need of Christ. Now we can go a stage further in this consideration of values and say that many people have desires to be ‘good’ but work to achieve that appearance of goodness and acceptance by others, and so their ‘efforts’ mean they don’t turn to God for His help or His way of bringing about goodness or righteousness. We can substitute activity for God, and this is what many people do, and in so doing they reveal that in theory at least they hold to certain values. They value the activity more than they value God, or God’s way of doing things.

A basic dictionary definition of ‘value’ starts with worth, what we assess the worth of someone or something. We find that usage in the early part of the Bible in Leviticus where it was possible for Israelites wanting to dedicate themselves to the Lord, to give money instead of themselves. Thus you find, The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate persons to the LORD by giving equivalent values, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; and if it is a female, set her value at thirty shekels.” (Lev 27:1-4) Now I’m sure many of us leap up at the apparent demoting of women but I would suggest that in those days it was simply because the man was the breadwinner and the protector who even went to war to protect his family. In crudely practical terms, if he died it would be a greater loss and would threaten the very existence of that family (remember, in those days) than if the wife died and whose caring functions could be replaced by a servant.

I would also suggest there is an additional thing, that God knows men need additional esteem. I believe women (and in that society it would be most women of child bearing age) knew their worth the moment they had had a baby. The worth of this life bringer and one who will nurture the life into adulthood cannot be measured. We play down this function and in our misguided-values society we place more value on a ‘career’ as if working in a shop or wherever else is a greater career that raising a human life. But that is how we skew values today!

There, already in the consideration we have been considering the value of human life and of human gender, but it is what we all do subconsciously all the time and we show it by the way we respond to people.

I have always been struck by the way the apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders when he said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)  The more you pay for something the more you will value it or the more value is attributed to it. Now suppose my wife had a ring that I had given to her at our wedding. She will no doubt value it. Now suppose we are robbed at gunpoint and the robbers take my wife’s ring and I chase them to get it back – and do retain it – but get shot and die in the process. I would suggest that that ring multiplies in value to her as not only a reminder to her of our wedding day, but also of the day I gave my life for it for her. If Jesus bought the church with his blood (and he did!) then what must he feel about us?  The appropriate word, I believe is we are precious to him.

I suspect value – meaning in this context, worth – can be estimated by the amount you input into something. Parents when they look at their child graduating from university, say, look on with pride but so often with nostalgic memories, thinking back to all those things that made up the life of that child now a young person, the times of crisis (and staying awake watching over them all night) and the times of joy (when they won their first swimming certificate). I am sure that part of their ‘valuing’ this young person is linked with all that they have put into them.

It is true in so many aspects of life. Here is the man or woman who has just been praised for the wonderful garden they have. They seek to shrug it off but deep down they look at this garden remembering how when they first came there it was a wilderness of grass and brambles and weeds. Hours and hours and hours of hard work have gone into this garden to make it the wonder that it is now. How can you value that?  Similarly how can you value this painting that the artist has told me took fifty hours to create? An aged artist was challenged over why his masterpiece paintings cost so much. He simply replied, you are paying for fifty years of experience.

Here’s a question for us Christians: how much do you value the work of Christ on the Cross, this work which was planned in detail from before the foundation of the world, hinted at through the period of the Old Testament, brought to earth by Jesus the Son of God, fulfilled at Calvary on Good Friday and ratified on Easter Sunday?  Have these truths so impacted us that we see the wonder and we see the cost to God of them and therefore we hold on to them as precious? How much do we value this work of God? Value appears in all aspects of live and no more so than in the Christian context.

26. More on Values

Meditations in Meaning & Values  26. More on Values

Ex 34:6,7    And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

If we are to think these things through carefully we must take our time. In the previous meditation we said that if you look up ‘values’ you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals and values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions.  We also noted that laws flow out of values; we create laws according to the values we hold. Further we considered that we need to identify values but even more importantly, where they come from, their origin. From there we noted that many people have the values they have, not because they have carefully thought them out, but they simply go along with the crowd or are influenced by some ‘big person’.

Now one ‘big person’ (at least in the eyes of some of his followers) is Richard Dawkins who came out with a paragraph of vitriolic condemnation of God that is not worthy of these pages and so will not be quoted. But in producing this vitriolic condemnation Dawkins obviously read snatches of the Old Testament and misinterpreted it.  Compare the description I have just spoken about with the verses above where the Lord describes Himself as a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”.  Now to deny this description in this quote you have to say either Moses was lying to record this, or God was lying to say it about Himself, and in both cases it would be legitimate to ask the question, why would they bother to do that? What’s the point IF the evidence points in the opposite direction?

Now you may possibly be wondering why I am going down this path when it comes to talking about values. Why is God’s integrity of importance when we consider values. Well here’s my big statement: take God out of the equation and values simply become whatever any individual ends up holding at any particular point in their life. I put it like that because their values will change. I was once a college lecturer and sat in the staff room at lunchtime listening to a conversation in which about a dozen of my colleagues took part. I’ve forgotten now even what the subject was but I suddenly found myself pondering about a particular ethical viewpoint, “Why are they all thinking the same? This is most unusual”. As their conversation unfolded it appeared that they had all watched a BBC Panorama programme the night before in which a particular viewpoint prevailed – and now they all expressed it. Without God in the equation we take on views, we take on values with so very little thought.  We have come to a point in Western society where so many have rejected the idea of God or of God being an arbiter of values because they have listened to the likes of people like Richard Dawkins to form their value system.

Now is this just a Christian rant or is it important to think these issues through carefully? Some of us belong to churches where all we receive is a ten minute homily each Sunday morning and we are left unchallenged and therefore give little thought to what is truth. Others of us go to churches where ‘the Spirit’ and ‘experience’ is all important and rarely do we hear anything which makes us think deeply. Others of us may go to churches where we simply receive a diet of legalistic rules and never the explanation why we have the rules. We need Spirit and word and within the word we need to consider these issues. You and I  may take it for granted that God is the arbiter of all we believe but I would make two comments. First, not everyone else does and we need to consider why they don’t and what is an appropriate response to them and, second, we need to be aware of the possibility of us accepting that general truth – that God is the arbiter of all we believe – but never get around to thinking why and, even more importantly, not holding fast to those values when the crunch comes. (We have already considered the apostle Peter’s denial failure in this context).

So why do we question the world’s value system that says self is all-important and the autonomous individual has the right to do what they like as long as it doesn’t harm others?  The simple and short answer is that we observe in modern society the fruits of such thinking and they are not good. In our society we may be like the frog in the example that is so often given who, if you threw him into a pot of boiling water would immediately leap out, but put him in a pot of cold water and gradually heat it to boiling point, he would tolerate the changes and eventually die. We may accept the values of our society simply because the changes that have come about have come slowly and steadily and we are dying spiritually as a people with the consequences of that following.

Let’s ask a question: what ‘values’, what principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals would you suggest we would like for our society, for our lives?  This is not as obvious as it might seem. Let’s make a suggestion. If love was the foundation of every principle, every standard, any morals or ethics, would that not be the ideal that surpasses every other ideal?  True love does not put self first, but we live in a society that relishes ‘self’. True love is concerned for others and constantly seeks their best, but we live in a society where others are a nuisance and life is too stressful to worry about others’ worries all the time. That of course is an overstatement for many do care for others, but so often as an outlet or means to achieve meaning for self. If selfless living is possible then it is worth considering. The Bible says God IS love. (1 Jn 4:8,16). If that is true then we need to think some further about the values He has, why He has them, and can we have them?  More thinking required.

25. Values

Meditations in Meaning & Values  25. Values

Gen 26:2-6    The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “…. I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

We have so far in these meditations focused mainly on meaning and purpose with little emphasis on values although they are inherently there embedded in so much of what the world says or the Bible says.   Look up ‘values’ and you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals. Values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. Values today, tend to be a little like justice which we considered in an earlier meditation, they appear hidden for much of the time and some people even deny they are there until suddenly it becomes personal and we hear the cry, “It’s not fair!” and someone is appealing to a supposed set of standards or expectations.

I looked up the word ‘laws’ in a concordance and our verses above came up as the very first reference in the Bible. Now I find these words above (and they are God speaking to Isaac) surprising because whenever I have read the earlier chapters of Genesis involving Abram, later renamed Abraham, I have not been aware of loads of laws being laid down by the Lord for Abram. But the Lord doesn’t only refer to laws for we also see Him referring to “my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”  Now ‘requirements’ are easy, simply meaning things God wants of him. ‘Commands’ are stronger – specific instructions of things he is to do, for example, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). ‘Decrees’ tend to add a sense of official governmental requirement to a command. A command is simply an instruction to do something, whereas a decree is a declaration of governmental order. ‘Laws’ are established rules for living.

Now values are the things that underpin all these so we may say we value human life and so establish a law, “You shall not murder”.  The law follows from the values held. Similarly we might say we hold the value that any personal property that an individual has either personally made or has legitimately bought with their own money, belongs to them and may not be taken from them without their permission, and thus we find the law, “You shall not steal”.

So, we may have started from the thought that laws are the expression of our principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals, but we have come to see that perhaps there is more value (sorry for the pun) in looking behind the laws to the values that create them. We so often focus on the law, whereas we might do better to ponder what is behind the law. This is why a consideration of values is important.

Now there are, I suggest, two important things about values to be considered now we have seen that they outwork in law, and those are first, what the value is and second, why such a value exists. Now this is going to take us into deeper philosophical thinking! But the moment I write these two things down I realise that the second thing is even more important than the first, because without some originating cause (why the value exists) the first thing (the value itself) cannot exist.

So why do we have values?  We all do in some shape or form but why do we have the values we have? In this meditation we will now only consider wrong ways of having values and then in subsequent ones consider better ways, Biblical ways, and why they are better, but until we see the wrong ways we work, we won’t see the point in turning to the Bible.

Here is a quote from a book called Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller: “We were sitting around in my friend’s living room and talking about it and she was in a huff and at one point raised her fist and said, ‘Down with Bush!’ After that I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. It wasn’t because she didn’t like George W. Bush, it was because she had no idea why she didn’t like George W. Bush. She only went to a rally and heard a good band and saw a lot of cool people with cool clothes and hippie haircuts. She decided what to believe based on whether other people who believed it were of a particular fashion that appealed to her.”

The first way people so often hold to the values they think they have, is simply because they follow someone else and their values, not questioning whether there is a good base or not for their values. In the example above the girl in question held shallow views based on those held by the ‘stars’ in her thinking.

In his book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. ….  “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”

These ‘presuppositions’, these starting values that people hold, are responsible for the laws we write and the lives we live. In the previous study we considered the apostle Peter’s failure in denying Jesus three times, and I spoke about his fear. Now it wasn’t only fear of being branded with Jesus and possibly suffering what Jesus might suffer, but it was also surely the same as that which each of us so often suffers – the fear of being seen to be different. We don’t like being branded oddities, we want to be loved, liked, accepted and so we try to avoid controversy. That is why many people hold to the values they hold, to go along with the crowd. That is not a good reason to hold on to values that may be shallow or even bad. This is an area that needs some thinking about. if we can be clear in our own minds, we might be better at convincing other people. Are we ready to look at that we think, what our values are and why we hold them?

23. Memory

Meditations in Meaning & Values  23. Memory

Isa 44:21    Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you.

As we span the human spectrum of knowledge and experience in a quest for meaning, memory is one of those features that stirs interest and excitement. What is memory? Why do we have it, for what purpose? These are simple questions but they open up a field of interest. It is another of those things that seems so simple and so obvious we mostly take it for granted – until it starts failing and then we realise its immense value.

Memory is simply the ability to recall what has gone before. We have cited one verse above where God refers to His own memory and calls Israel to use their memory. The call to remember comes often in the scriptures and in a variety of forms. When Isaiah cries, To the law and to the testimony!” (Isa 8:20) it is a cry to remember the Law of Moses given centuries before and the testimony of Israel about God’s dealings with them. Remembering those two things was to be an anchor that held them.

If my evolutionary atheist friend is right, then how incredible that at some point in a million year space some cells in the most primitive of creatures started forming threads to carry electrical currents in a load of other cells eventually to be called a brain, that enabled the creature to ‘remember’ almost instinctively what ‘food’ was and where it might be found. You can do anything with an odd million years or so. But we cannot imagine even the earliest hunter gatherer not having memory so he knew where to return to collect the remains of a bison or whatever it was after his initial trip home after hunting. How far we have advanced so that we are capable today of taking in and remembering millions of facts before the awarding body will grant us, say, a degree.

I don’t know how true it is, but I imagine a new born baby’s mind is almost like a blank slate (except it is not because already it has deep memory of things experienced in the womb) but from the moment is born it starts to learn and each step in learning is built upon the previous one – it remembers things and builds on them. It learns that there are prohibitions in life (don’t take your sister’s toys) and that there are sanctions (or you will end up on the naughty spot, as modern discipline requires) and it remembers next time not to do it or if they do it, they risk the sanctions. We learn that it is wrong to murder and most of us don’t do it, initially at least, because murderers used to be executed and now get put in prison for a long time.  All these things we remember and what we remember influences how we behave.

Whole schools of learning are built on this, the ability to memorize the effects of rewards and punishments.  We recognize that pain or unpleasant things can strongly influence our future behaviour yet even within this there are dangers that we respond too negatively to such things. A friend from many years ago, when we were both in our early twenties, turned up on me one evening and poured out how his finance had broken off with him. He was in great anguish and in his tears said, “I will never let anyone ever get that close to me again; it is too painful.” He inflicted himself with a curse and I have watched with sadness over the years how that worked out. Memory can be very painful and sometimes it can only be the Lord who can comfort us and heal up the hurt. Yes, time they say heals, but actually it simply means we squash the pain with things that subsequently happen and try to forget it, but it is still there deep down and although our conscious mind may have forgotten it, our subconscious mind will not have forgotten it. It needs the loving ministry of Jesus to take it on the Cross.

Some of us use a poor memory as an excuse for repetitions of poor behaviour, but such an excuse does not hold water with God. One of my favourite quotes, a slightly quirky and not always true quote, is ‘the one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing’. i.e. so often we just don’t learn from our mistakes. When you observe the history of Israel in the Old Testament  you would have thought they would learn from their past mistakes and from their wonderful testimony with God, but they didn’t. The truth is, sadly, that with the passing of time we forget the reality of the lesson learned and every new generation has to learn these things afresh.

This is probably the reason that the Lord gave a variety of ways for Israel, and now us, to be reminded of things that had happened. For instance in the Old Testament the clue comes in the phrase “And when your children ask,” which in Exodus 12 flows on, “And when your children ask you, `What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, `It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.” (Ex 12:26,27) The ongoing ceremony each year pointed to the past deliverance. We find a similar thing later on with Joshua: “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, `What do these stones mean?‘ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” The stones were to be a reminder of the miraculous crossing of the Jordon.

In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul recording, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:23-26) Communion, the Last Supper or whatever we may call it, is a regular reminder of the basics of the Gospel that Jesus died to save us from our sins and form a body to continue his life and work.

Calls to remember come frequently in the New Testament. Jesus had to challenge his disciples to remember (Mt 16:8-12, Jn 15:20, Jn 16:4), the angels had to challenge them to remember what Jesus had taught before his death and resurrection (Lk 24:6-8), the apostles challenged us, their readers, to remember various things (Heb 13:16, 2 Pet 3:8,9). In the face of temptation we are called to remember who we are. In the face of doctrinal challenge we are to remember the apostolic teaching. Memory is a vital part of human life and even more so of the life of the Christian. Remember this!

22. Goals

Meditations in Meaning & Values  22. Goals

Phil 3:14    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We have been considering  the idea of us reaching to our potential in life and then that life is a process, a series of changes flowing on, one from the other, and it is going somewhere, and it is that ‘somewhere’ that we want to look at in a little more detail now, although we are aware it has been on the periphery of our thinking a number of times in these meditations.

Again we are aware that you may be thinking, but all these things are so obvious, so why are we bothering with them? It is because they are so obvious that we need to pause over them and reflect upon them for our great danger is that we take them for granted and fail to see and rejoice in wonder of the world and the life that the Lord has given us. So let’s recap or try to summarise as simply as possible where we have just got to. Life is made up of a constant series of changes which take time and for us human beings those changes have historically been talked of as ‘three score and ten’, although today people are indeed living on average a lot longer than seventy years. But life is a flow of changes, culminating eventually in death.

Solomon kept of facing this conundrum, what is life about when everything we do is eventually swallowed up by death? For example at one point he says, The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.” (Eccles 2:14) i.e. the wise and the foolish both have the same end, so he thought to himself, “What then do I gain by being wise?” (v.15)  A little later he writes, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.” (Eccles 3:19) Even later he writes, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” (Eccles 5:15). All of this process that we have been considering, as much as it may improve and change us so that we achieve our potential, simply changes nothing, we will all eventually die.  Thus the goal of this life can appear to the person thinking “under the sun” as very negative. What’s the point if all that is going to happen is that we are going to die and be forgotten. That’s where Solomon got to and where many people today get to.

This thought of an end goal, although we have briefly considered it before, needs further thought. What is our answer as Christians? What is the meaning or purpose in life if all that happens is that eventually it ends in death? (Yes, I know we have been here before but we are seeing it in the bigger context of working to achieve potential and working in the midst of a process.) There are two important conclusions to these questions. Very simply, the process is important and then end goal is important.

Let’s consider the verses that come before our verse above: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called.” (Phil 3:10-14) The very nature of the apostle Paul’s life meant that he was in a hot-house situation where reality was something which confronted him more than most. As a result, he looks at all he has learned and experienced in life so far and concludes that he simply wants to know God’s power through Christ, a power that will raise him from the dead, and in the meantime while he is waiting for that the best he can do is press on – do all he can – to get to that ultimate goal.

The ultimate goal was a primary factor in how he now lived. We spoke previously about sanctification, being changed into Christ’s likeness and later Paul is able to write, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13)  We considered being content in an earlier meditation, and Paul shows it as a sign of rest in God’s purposes. Because this was so important to Paul he challenged those he wrote to, to also be heavenly minded because heaven is both our present resource and our future destination: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col 3:1,2) When we focus on heaven it brings a new meaning to our present activities, a new purpose to life and to our end goals, to what our future potential might be.

We pondered recently on the problem of waiting, for these things that are not blindingly clear at the moment, of living in a ‘waiting mentality’. The prophet Hosea addressed this when he said, “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hos 6:3)  Meaning in the present it comes clear when we make God the focus of our lives. Meaning for the future becomes clear when we make God the focus of our lives. Process and goal are wrapped together by this attitude.

Instead of becoming so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use, as some have said when we focus on God, we find we become more fruitful in terms of blessing God’s world today, and we stride forward more purposefully with heads held high to achieve whatever God has for us. The excitement of today and tomorrow is that God has yet more to input to my life, more than I received yesterday and the days before. The process is ongoing with the blessing of God upon it, no longer meaningless drudgery, but receiving all of the goodness He has for me, to bless me, to change me, to use me, and as that happens day after day, we will be working nearer and nearer the potential He has for me on this world and then the next. Hallelujah!

21. Process

Meditations in Meaning & Values  21. Process

2 Cor 3:18    And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

In the last meditation we spoke about reaching full potential which, we said, only comes when we fully surrender and let God work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. The problem is that when it comes to understanding the world and more specifically my part in it, we want it now and we are impatient to have understanding now. We spoke briefly about the years it took to change Abram, Joseph,  Jacob and Moses and we did use the word ‘process’, but we didn’t really think about it beyond that and yet this concept of process is vital to understand as a Christian is you are not to suffer frustration.

The truth is that the Christian life seems to come in crisis moments followed by long periods of gradual change. For instance it was a crisis when you were converted and everything seemed to change all at once – except you came to realise there was an even bigger, more long-term work beginning which would carry on for the rest of your life. That life-long process of change is called sanctification. You were sanctified when you were saved and you are being sanctified for the rest of your life.

Simply observe a human life growing up into a bigger baby and then into a toddler and then a young child, and so on. If you are a parent you will be especially aware of that. Now if it happens in the physical world, why are we surprised that it happens in the spiritual world.

Thus Solomon in Proverbs wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) In that he was acknowledging that our live constantly change and he used the picture of the rising sun to convey a very positive change that takes place in us. The apostle Paul used a very similar picture to convey the same truth in New Testament terms as we see in our verse above: “we …. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”

Now both of these pictures convey a gradual change. It doesn’t happen all at once; it take time for it is a slow and gradual process. This is what frustrates us when we don’t understand the ways of God. God takes time because He knows that for any change to take place in you in any real measure, it has to take time. An oak tree doesn’t shoot up from an acorn in the ground in one day. It doesn’t form a strong trunk and branches in once day. Leaves don’t form and come out in one day. It takes months and years. Although it flies against that ‘instant’ or ‘must have it mow’ mentality of the twenty first century, it won’t happen.

Now this is made more complex for the Christian because the Lord may have spoken a prophetic word into you early on in life – and you are still waiting for it to be fulfilled. In the previous two meditations we considered the lives of Jacob and Peter, noting the crisis they each had to go through. Often the process of change is simply worked out in the ordinary everyday events of life – learning to cope with the boring and humdrum as well as with the busy and active, learning to cope with people, learning to cope with time or money pressures, all these things work to change us. But then there are also the crisis moments when our sovereignty is challenged and we have to see it must be handed over to God.

Now for so many of these changes to be brought about in us, there are two necessary ingredients in this material existence. They are time and events. I was sitting and pondering this in respect of changes in our church life the other day and found myself asking the Lord, “Lord why aren’t the changes that I know you want coming about?” His answer was, I believe, we are waiting for circumstances of change. i.e. the circumstances were not conducive to change. When everything is going smoothly, people are content to stay as they are. It is often only as things get difficult that people cry out for God to come and bring change.

The need to wait for circumstances to change is aptly revealed in the story of David. David was a shepherd boy but one day the judge and prophet Samuel turned up and anointed him to be king. The only difficulty was that there already was a king, Saul, and he was so insecure he wouldn’t tolerate any thought of a successor. So David carried on looking after his father’s sheep – a king (in God’s eyes) looking after sheep. Who does that remind you of? Circumstances meant that David ended up at the battle front where the warrior spirit within him meant him killing a giant (Goliath) and obtaining fame. He was taken into the king’s service but after a while the king’s jealousy meant that David had to flee or be killed. This resulted in him on the run from Saul, even having to take refuge with the enemy and even feigning madness at one point to survive – but he’s still God’s anointed. It is only when Saul dies in battle that the way is open for David to come forward as his successor, and then only initially as king over the southern part of the kingdom and it took a further seven years to become king over all Israel. In the process David was changed.

Very often we want instant understanding but we are called to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and understanding only comes more fully (not completely) with the passing of time and life-changing circumstances. Very often we think God is concerned with how well we perform the tasks He puts before us, but in reality He is more concerned about how we are changing into the likeness of His Son. That is the crucial issue. We need understanding but we also need patience and perseverance. The promise will come.