56. Drowning in Confusion & Uncertainty

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 56. Drowning in Confusion & Uncertainty

Psa 15:1-3 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others;

Today: We are considering facets of the culture in which we live in the West today, things that threaten the lives and spiritual wellbeing of God’s people. Today we come to consider truth. Truth is important to God as the verses above show, and yet today we live in a time when truth and integrity are in short supply. Let me give you some examples of things that have stood out to me over the years in respect of truth that have contributed to getting us where we are today.

A Downward Slope: I have testified on these pages before that for seventeen years from the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s I taught Law. Each year as I started the course off I gave the students various group exercises about laws, rules, etc. and asked them did they believe there were absolutes, did they believe there were such things as right and wrong. At the beginning of the period in the late 1970’s about 1 in 60 said no. Over the years there was a gradual change so that by the mid 1990’s they all said, no, there were no absolutes, no such things as right and wrong.  Britain last century.

A Dubious President: I have always been a fan of Alistair Cooke who died in March 2004, having been an avid listener to his weekly quarter of an hour “Letter from America”.  In August 1998 he did a talk following President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky (and at least two others previously, all well documented) and the president’s four-minute address to the nation excusing himself for having lied to his wife and the nation. Cooke noted that a poll showed that 60% of the American population said that he lied, while 60% said that despite that he was a good president and should not be impeached. Cooke went on to consider what was meant by ‘moral authority’ and ended up citing a senior retired politician who suggested that those 60% were as morally guilty as the president. The key point was that the majority of the American population divorced personal immorality from public service achievement. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that today it is often suggested that what a person does in their private life should not be used as a criticism of them in their public role. America with a blot on its name.

President & Prime Minister: Both the UK and the USA have a foreign affairs history where we have supported seriously dubious world leaders on the basis of ‘love my enemy against my bigger enemy’. Neither of us have a good record in respect of international integrity. But when it comes to weighing the truth and getting it wrong, possibly the best example was that of George W Bush and Tony Blair embarking on a war against a nation that apparently had weapons of mass destruction – but didn’t! – and without an understanding of the religious nuances of the country they were attacking, and without a plan how to deal with the aftermath. The key issue that released all that was ‘questionable truth’. US and UK adrift.

UK & Brexit: And so we come up to date in observing the cultures and leaders of our communities in which we live today. Two years ago the UK held a referendum in which a majority clearly voted to leave the European Union. Since then there has been outright war, partly operated through the media, a war of truth. So great was this that earlier in 2018 a large group of academics established a website to counter the untruths that were being spoken. I could document this war in detail but will overcome that temptation. But consider what is happening here. In any ordinary election one party gets a majority and are elected and that is it (vote-rigging aside – but that didn’t happen here). We accept the vote of the majority as an outcome of democracy, and although we may grumble about this party that wasn’t ‘ours’, we accept it. Except with Brexit that hasn’t been happening. There have been big names (Tony Blair being one – where have we heard that name before?) and big money being offered to establish campaigns to overthrow or rather reverse this vote. So much for democracy, so much for truth and integrity. Britain again.

A Presidential Negotiator: I hesitate to make comment in this area as I have good Christian friends in the States who highly esteem your present president.  He clearly has an agenda which appears to have some merits and maybe some not so good, but that is true of any politician and our individual views, isn’t it?  But what has caused so much consternation has been the apparent contradictory approach to truth.  I have seen the newsreels where he has said one thing one day and the next day said the exact opposite excusing with such words as, “I didn’t really say that right,” or “that was not what I meant.” This is not about the media’s take on these things, but the actual words spoken.  Some excuse the approach saying he is not a politician but a business negotiator. Traditional politicians used the ‘pork barrel’ analogy to get money for their district by negotiating with Government on the basis of “we will vote for this is you give us some money for our district.” Tit for tat negotiation.

The President appears to use a contractor’s approach of “I’m giving you nothing. I will demand a high price / tax or whatever, and while you worry about it for the next few weeks, I’ll let you put in a bid higher than you might have done before, and I’ll let you ease me down towards that.” Legitimate perhaps but different and challenging for politicians and media alike. The apostle Paul said, “Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?” (2 Cor 1:17) That sounds incredibly like that which the newsreels are showing. Does the end justify the means? Not in God’s book. Clever tactics maybe, but ones which are sowing mistrust, doubt, questioning and a demeaning of the image of the US abroad. Intriguingly these trends today are producing a spate of books to seek to handle what is going on, e.g.” A Field Guide to Lies”, and “Win Bigly”, both signs that confirm what I have been saying.

Fake News: Wikipedia defines it as follows: “Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” Call it what you like, ‘fake news’ is untruths, lies. However these is a distinction to be made in our understanding between ‘information’ (data) and opinions. If half of what is said on the Internet is true, then we are living in a world where nations hack the computers of other countries and also disseminate ‘information’ which is untrue. No doubt one day someone will produce an authoritative record of exactly what was said and what was actually true in the last presidential election in the USA and my implication as a mere observer is that the two things are probably not the same. In the realm of government and opposition predictions at election times, we should be very clear that rarely do any of the predictions work out. A confusing world.

The Impact: Now if this is the world in which we live then it is not surprising that there is a new sense of confusion and uncertainty that causes worry, antagonism and a general air of political rivalry rarely seen before in the modern Western world. A leading respectable member of the UK Parliament recently said, “I have been in Parliament forty years and I’ve never known a time of such hatred and bitterness and I’ve never known such a sense of drift.” And as one leading churchman added, “These are big things that we cannot control from (where we are) but they can make us anxious. What does an anxious church look like, what do we look like when we are caught up by anxiety? Instead of not being ‘of the world’ as we’re commanded, we’re to be in the world but not of it, instead of that we become in and of the world, we are no longer holy, we are not different and above all we cease to be resilient. We lose our capacity to deal with challenge, we only do it by defensiveness.” A drowning church?

God’s Perspective: We should, therefore, refocus our minds on God’s word to seek understanding and I would suggest that that brief extract from Psalm 15 that we used as the header verses demands our attention. David’s question is who may get close to God (believers) and what follows are the requirements for such a person. First it is someone whose walk through life is above criticism (there’s a challenge!). Second, they are someone whose life conforms to God’s will (which at the very least means seeking after it). Third, it is someone who speaks the truth from the depth of their heart, i.e. total honesty. Fourth they do not say false things about others. Fifth they do nothing to harm those near to them. Sixth they cast nothing untrue, false slurs or harming to others. Now line those things up with what we see around us today and ask two pertinent questions: Do these things match me? Can I support any leader of any kind for whom these things are largely absent? And let’s have no dividing personal and public behaviour, words and attitudes!!! Unrighteousness in one half of life mean an unrighteous person, full stop!

Here are again are those verses, check them out: Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others.”  

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55. Drowning in Social Media

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 55. Drowning in Social Media

Jn 4:24   God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Where we are: I nearly covered this subject in the previous study entitled, ‘Drowning in Unreality’ but felt that it was such a major and significant subject that it needs dealing with on its own. Remember, we are covering things that have a tendency to drown the modern believer. So that we are quite clear, let’s lay out the scale of changes in our world in this area of social media or social networking and our general access to the Internet.:

Understanding the scale of social media:

  • First a Wikipedia definition: Social media are computer mediated  technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
  • Also, Social Networks refers to a dedicated website or other application which enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. or a network of social interactions and personal relationships.”
  • Mobile or cell phones are probably the primary means of such communication across the world today. Here’s another breath-taking detail from the Internet: “In 2019 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. In 2016, an estimated 62.9 percent of the population worldwide already owned a mobile phone.”
  • This has to be one of THE most significant changes in the way humans run their lives that has come about in the last hundred years.
  • (Figures have recently been released that suggest that 70% of people accessing the Internet do it today via a mobile phone.)

Benefits or otherwise of social media: Various websites extol the use of social media and without doubt the general use of the Internet can educate, build confidence and so on. Negative aspects about social network usage, that are highlighted in the increasing levels of concern being expressed, include Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction, Sleep Deprivation, Digital Footprint, Pornography and Sexting. In addition, warnings are given about general internet usage in respect of account hacking and impersonation, stalking and harassment, being compelled to turn over passwords, walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion and the privacy downside of location-based services.

Extent of Usage: Figures from the internet (although these vary from time to time) suggest Facebook with 2,200 million users is top of the usage charts, followed by YouTube with 1,900 million, Instagram with 800 million and so on. If you know anything of just those three you will realise the difference in types of site. There are many more in the table. Perhaps, rather than bandy figures about, a better means of observing the changes in culture worldwide in respect of social networking is simply to watch people around you in public spaces. For some people, to not have a phone in their hand would mean a serious sense of insecurity – we are not being dramatic here, it is true – and this, for us who are Christians should, I suggest, be a major cause of concern. We could be negative and speak about how intrusive the use of such a phone link is while in company, but the bigger concern is the downside of the wonderful friendship networking capabilities that has come about, which is this sense of insecurity if we are ‘not in the know’. One might also suggest for Christians, that a study on ‘gossip’ NOT being part of the kingdom of God maybe deserves revisiting.

A Pride Builder: Knowledge, they say, is power and as I have watched the use of the Internet and social media in both young and old, I notice one particularly interesting feature: a sense of ‘being in the know’ also creates a sense of superiority or, at the very least, a sense of self-worth. Knowledge is available as it has never been available before. With social networking, it is knowledge of what everyone else in my social hub is doing. Being ‘in the know’ creates this sense that once being a member of an elite club created. But there is being in the know in respect of the latest news or, for that matter, knowing about anything else. Google has become the most amazing source of information within a few seconds, whether it is to do with the local weather, the weather in your part of the world, how to freeze beans, how many sorts of elephant live in the world, or even what your street looks like! (The car on my forecourt is out of date!!!) Similarly, without doubt when my grand-daughters go out on their own, the presence of a mobile phone and instant access to home creates a sense of security. That is the good side but, although I watch the confidence etc. that exudes from the users of mobile or cell phones around me, I also note that generally there are still in their lives, many insecurities, worries, cares and concerns and, indeed, the knowledge of what is happening to everyone else (not always good) often adds to those things. Pride and superiority on one hand but insecurity on the other, and perhaps all three have increased with the use of the mobile phone.

An air of unreality: Living in the world of constant instant news, of knowledge of what all my friends are up to, and of this amazing sense of being linked in to all my friends is, I suggest, a source of creating an unreal environment in which to live. We think we know, but what we know is only superficial, basic facts of information.  We may think that knowledge is linked to wisdom, but it isn’t necessarily. We may think that information is the same as ‘understanding’, but it isn’t. It may just be the particular group of people I know in my local vicinity at present, but when I watch this culture I sadly find absent among the Christians the Spirit of God and it seems as if this reliance on networking and information acts as a substitute – and not a good substitute – for the presence of the Lord in your life. There is an absence of The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord,” (Isa 11:2) and one cannot help feeling there is a link. Accept no substitutes.

Concerns: Now I must confess to a real aversion to doing this study because I am aware that it flies in the face of modern culture, a culture that does have, without question, many benefits. Yet, as a spiritual observer it worries me as I observe the things I have commented on above. As I observe chat rooms and comments made by readers on news websites, it seems that so often this facility simply gives opportunity to bring out the worst of people, with hostility, criticism and general grumbling being regularly seen in such places. Not good.

The Source of Security: But perhaps the biggest issue must be, where do we get our sense of personal worth, personal fulfilment and personal security? Is it from being part of one of these networks, or of having knowledge available instantly, or any one of these other benefits? As good as they are, they should not be the primary means of obtaining such senses; it must be through the personal interaction with Almighty God, who is not merely available on the other end of a phone or Internet line, but He is there with you wherever you are and in whatever circumstances and instantly accessible. You will build up that sense of reality in prayer, in reading and studying His word, in Spirit-led and inspired worship. There is no substitute for any of these things.

To Conclude: It is possible that if you are someone who has a phone in their hands most of the time, you will feel defensive by what I have said, but all I ask is that you check out the reality of what I have been saying: do you have a real and genuine sense of self-worth and of security that comes from the knowledge of the living presence of the Lord? And perhaps, even more as a test, if you shut off your phone and left it in a drawer for a week, would you still have that? If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ then no problem, but otherwise perhaps some thought needs to be given to making some changes in your lifestyle.

Presumably you are here because you have been reading these studies, and so I end with asking the very basic question, are we each aware of being in the midst of God’s process of ongoing redemption for us? If we are not then, is this particular culture a hindrance to that?  Let’s conclude with Psa 121 and may this be our anchor: I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”

54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)

Gen 1:1,2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Quick Recap: We have suggested that as science pours out more and more knowledge, sometimes the size and volume of that knowledge appears to challenge or threaten believers, undermining their faith. We considered big numbers, big people and big theories and in considering history, I said we would pause up and consider how the book of Genesis fits in with modern perspectives of history. I have to warn you that because I am going to invent a story in a moment, this will be even longer than usual, but stick with me if you can. I hope it will be rewarding.

Contradictions: “Ah,” says an atheistic historian, “it is clear that the Bible is out of kilter with what we know of early history. Your Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth century said the world was only 6000 years old (from today) according to the genealogies of the Old Testament.” Indeed, but perhaps both Ussher, our historian, and many other sceptics are guilty of, is making assumptions that don’t fit.

Genealogies? Taking Ussher’s genealogies first, to clear the ground, he assumed that Jewish writing was the same as modern western writing and therefore the names listed in the various genealogies were the only ones and therefore when you add up their apparent ages you only go back that length of time. However the mindset of those early writers was not like our modern chroniclers who insist on every detail being correct. The old Hebrew writers were not concerned so much with the detail as with the direction, so modern scholars believe the that genealogies are more signposts than accurate lists, theological points are being made, rather that detailed accurate-time history.

Adam and Eve? Did two such beings exist and if so, where in history? Traditional theology has assumed they were the first two human beings. Modern secular history suggests there were different strands of ‘being’ that became human beings as we know them today. But if the Bible lends itself to speculation so, no less, does modern history. If I may quote from the same book as before, “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter is remarkably honest: “There are almost no historical arguments as complex and heated as those about modern man’s origins. The reason is straightforward: scientific advances in the study of human DNA and in the dating of bone fragments and other material keep challenging, and sometimes overturning, earlier theories.”

Uncertainty: Listen to a quote from theologian Alister McGrath: “It is certainly true that the natural sciences aim to offer the best possible explanation of the world, and that they have had considerable successes in doing so. But there are limits to this. The scientist regularly has to propose certain ideas that certainly fit in with experimental evidence, but that cannot be proved, and are thus taken on trust. I notice a firm recognition of this point in … Charles Darwin himself. In his Origin of Species (1859), Darwin points out that his theory of natural selection has not been proven, and that all kinds of objections could reasonably be raised against it. But he still believes it was true, and that these difficulties will eventually be resolved.”

How intriguing and how honest. What am I saying here? I am saying that on both sides of the divide there are question marks. Yesterday I added to those question marks by challenging the concept of ‘uniform’ change. We just don’t know. The scientific world is concerned about what, in a different context is known as ‘false news’ which has arisen in the scientific world more than a few times, and to cite one reputable scientist (reported in the London Times newspaper some years back), “while plagiarism is undesirable, it may do less harm than the commoner practice of altering data analysis methods to achieve a desired result.”  Humility is called for on all sides.

Mesopotamia? As I child I was taught that Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (strangely detailed in Gen 2:14) was the cradle of civilization. I was prepared, with the passing of years, to see that that was no longer believed and was surprised therefore when I find my modern writer still identifying it as such; not the place where historians believe our upright ancestors appeared, but certainly the place where civilization was first formed and developed, the land where we later find Abram comes from, a land that keeps on imposing itself in the Biblical narrative of the life of Israel.

And So? At the risk of shaking up some fossilized grey cells, may I make some suggestions, first those that are often now cited and then add a somewhat revolutionary concept for Evangelical believers. Let’s start with two general statements.  First the Bible does not seek to be a science book, nor for that matter a historical chronology, at least in terms of nailing dates to the wall. Having said that it is written largely as historical fact, i.e. these things happened in time-space history, and using those things we can see how it aligns with secular historical records. But it is not a science book and does not in any way seek to explain how things came about, only why they did.  Second, as we have indicated before, when it comes to people, those who are included are included for a specific reason and it is probable, therefore, that there are many others who existed in the Biblical period who have not been named. We would be wise therefore not to try to identify time by names.

The Big Purpose: Now if I may move on to a more revolutionary suggestion, in terms of the things to be remembered, third, may I suggest that Adam and Eve are certainly two historical characters who appear in a long, long line of human beings but they are mentioned, and their activities are mentioned (the Fall) in the Biblical record. Why? Because the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal a family line, through which God would reveal Himself to the rest of the world, that eventually became Israel. The goal was to show God’s unique dealings with a group of people in history, in a ‘manageable’ way that did not dominate, oppress or impose Himself on mankind in a way that would override free-will.  The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follow a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, showing a people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose.

The Ultimate Purpose: That purpose was eventually, at a given point of time in history, to create an environment into which to bring His Son from heaven, to live on earth and his life to be recorded, before dying by execution for redemptive purposes and revealing himself as the unique Son of God. Everything that goes before it in the Old Testament is working towards that. THAT is why God goes to such lengths in this ongoing redemptive process that we have been following over these past seven weeks, to keep Israel on the right track so that they will survive and retain and preserve their history with God.  Were Adam and Eve the first human beings in all of history, the only first human beings? No! Were they the first chosen by God to interact with Him? Yes? Did the events of Genesis 1-3 happen in time space history? Yes?

Read it again: Reread Genesis 1-3, not as a detailed-dates history book, nor as a scientific explanation but through the eyes of an inspired Hebrew writer, probably Moses, taking the stories passed down through the generations and confirmed and detailed by God in his times with Him in his forty years looking after Israel. Imagine Moses sitting in the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) in the presence of God, wiling away the years, but then being aware of God and a conversation ensues:

“Lord, it is an amazing world.”

“I know, I created it, everything. Would you like to write that down?”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

“What was it like then Lord?”

“Well after it had cooled down it was just a chunk of rock with a lot of water on it, and gases evaporating but just dark.”

“Wow!” “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”

“But it’s not dark now?”

“That’s right, I just said, ‘Light!’ and there was, and it shone on the earth, so it was light on that side and dark on the other. That’s what you call day and night.”

“Right!” “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

“So what happened next?”

“Well, as the waters evaporated somewhat thick clouds formed and created a shroud for the earth that kept it at a uniform steady temperature. (Necessary for dinosaurs to exist for a period)”

“Amazing!”  “Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.”  And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” 

“Was it just static in space?”

“Oh no, it was like it is now, turning every twenty-four hours”

“Oh, OK. I see.” “And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.”

And so the conversation continued on until Moses asked (in our imagination, remember):

“So we have plants and then animals and all the rest, what about man?”

“You’re not going to believe that but right back at the beginning I started it all off from just particles, dust if you like. So I’m afraid you all came from dust but with a very specific design and purpose in mind for the end.  I empowered him with life, my life.”

“Awesome!” “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

“Hold on, how did woman come to be, so different from a man?”

“You really wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I think I’ll keep that one a mystery from you all. I’ll tell you when you come to live with me in eternity but for now, let’s say you both come from the same origin, very different but the same. Yes, I’ve made woman capable of bearing offspring so if you want to write it poetically, to give my people something to ponder on, simply say I took the human I had made, in the form of a man and then from that one, made a woman. That will give them something to think about.”
“Wow, well, OK.” “the Lord God took out a part of the man’s side and … made a woman from that part.”

“That’s how I did it from the beginning and many years later I chose this couple that you call Adam and Eve who lived in the area up between the Euphrates and the Tigris and we did stuff together there, and the rest you know.”

“But why did you do that? What about the rest of humanity, if they existed.”

“Oh they existed, but the point I am making to you is that this original couple that I chose, created a family tree that I have worked with ever since, right down to you – and I have lots more to do yet, but that’s not for you to know at this point in time. You focus on writing up the things that have been passed down the generations to you and I will add clarification as we share together.”

And thus Genesis to Deuteronomy came into being. Now that requires faith to believe but it accords with what is there in writing, and it makes sense!

Read this again: I am willing to concede that there is quite a lot here to take in, so I suggest you go back to the beginning of this particular study. There is a lot more we could have said but as we’ve gone way over our usual space, we’ll leave it there. Remember, take away all the ‘assumptions’ on both sides of the divide and I think you’ll find you can be a believer with complete integrity. Have I covered all the bases, dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s? No I haven’t and so where there are gaps, I’ll leave you to pray and think. All I’ve done is suggest some valid possibilities. We’ll have to wait for the complete truth until we arrive in eternity, but in the meantime, read the Bible more, study it more, pray more and be at complete peace in your understanding. Amen?  Amen!

53. Drowning in Knowledge (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 53. Drowning in Knowledge (1)

Psa 90:2,4 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God….  A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Quick Recap: We are still in the series about ‘ongoing redemption’ but are now looking at those things in our modern world that have a tendency to swamp or drown the unthinking believer. They are things I have observed the younger generation struggle with because they have been insufficiently taught both the Bible and about these things. The older generations struggle more at a sub-conscious level because these things have subtly become the atmosphere of modern life and they have a tendency to stifle belief and faith, but so slowly they are often hardly noticeable.

Today we move on to consider the subtle way big numbers in science, big people in science, or even big theories may appear to some to bring challenges to the truth in such ways that they stand above contradiction. So let’s be like Hans Anderson’s little unknowing boy in the story of ‘The Emperors New Clothes’ and ask some challenging question about things that are cast in concrete as far as modern science is concerned. Now I have to say from the outset that everything our leading scientists say may be absolutely right. It is unlikely because science has a history of changing theories and ‘facts’, so we should hold these things lightly. We won’t know the truth until we get to heaven.

Way Back! Let’s start with a history book on my shelves entitled “A History of the World”, an authoritative and comprehensive work. Page 1, line 2: “There is the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.” Page 1, second paragraph, “We could start more locally with the early history of Earth, beginning some 4.5 billion years ago.” I’m never sure about billions or trillions but Wikipedia says a billion is a thousand million. (Trillion = a million million).

Measurement: Now I am not a scientist, but my understanding is that we measure these periods not by a time machine but by observing an ‘expanding universe’ and extrapolating backwards in the assumption of a uniform continuation of movement to a point derived mathematically to have been the point of origin (The Big Bang). The other way of determining age is by carbon dating (used for objects less than 50,000 years old) and radiometric or radioactive dating, both of which assume a uniformity of decay.  Notice my emphasis on the word ‘uniformity’ which makes all we are saying here pure theory – you cannot prove it, you have to assume the uniformity and once you do, then, yes, it works. As I said before, they may be right, but it is a fool who is dogmatically certain.

‘Big Time’: I have a problem with “4.5 billion years” because it is utterly meaningless. It is merely a figure on paper (or screen) and although that figure is then broken down into smaller chunks of ‘events’, it is absolutely impossible for the human mind to grasp the concept of a million years, let alone 4500 million years. You and I struggle to envisage a hundred years. We do it by filling it with events. My wife and I have been married 45 years and we make sense of that time by going through all our past diaries and filled ten sheets with things we’ve done in that time.

Stephen Hawking was the expert on time with his book, “A Brief History of Time”, bought by many, understood by few. My only problem with people like Hawking or Einstein, is that with brains the size of a bus they are beyond contradiction by the rest of us mere mortals. If, as some predict, we will live longer and longer lives, if I were able to live another hundred years (more ‘time’) I would break a habit of a lifetime and lay a bet (who would take it?) that another genius will come along and question the current theories of all of these great men – but of course that is heresy in a scientific world that worships these men uncritically.

A Crutch for Evolution: I don’t have a problem with the theory of evolution; it may be the way God brought the present world into being, but I doubt it (note that would have to be ‘guided evolution’). I say that because there are so many holes in it that any intelligent critical person (not a negative person, but a person who questions, which is what is missing in life today) will say, “Yes…. but!” You know the biggest ‘elephant in the room’ of evolution that evolutionary scientists struggle with – biological sex! If you dare think about it, the very concept of male and female ‘complementary equipment’ as coming about through survival of the fittest, is pure nonsense.  I leave you to seriously ponder that one.

But the thing about evolution is that it only becomes vaguely credible if you have staggeringly big times to play with, for ‘accidents’ to happen, for mutations to die out or develop. It isn’t just a case of this is how it happened, it is a case of this is how it would HAVE to have happened. It is only when you think about millions and then billions of years that you have a big enough, long enough laboratory for the necessary changes to come about. If one day some super-mathematician appears and says, “The maths is all wrong; here is a viable alternative,” or scientists suddenly find that uranium breakdown occurs in spurts rather than uniformly, and both conclude that the age of the earth is say ten thousand years (now currently a scary, stupid or impossible thought) suddenly evolution would be in trouble, even more, impossible.

I am simply setting up what ARE possibilities to challenge the set mind, the mind set in concrete that is thus not ‘scientific’. When Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” he perhaps unwittingly laid down a challenge to mathematicians and scientists generally, because at the moment, people (clever scientists) are persecuted for saying of modern scientific dogma, “I’m not sure about that.”

More Big Figures: It is big figures that intimidate us. Try this from a book of science on my shelves; this is about the ‘Big Bang’.  Health Warning: “A yoctosecond (ys) is a septillionth of a second or 10–24 s”. Can you think that small? Here’s my science book quote, starting to explain the Big Bang: “At the moment of the Big Bang, the entire Universe was much smaller than an atomic nucleus. Within a tiny fraction of a second, it underwent an inconceivably rapid expansion called cosmic inflation”.  Additional notes suggest that the temperature was “100 trillion trillion deg.C”.   Hullo? Is your mind still switched on? Well, let’s see the additional note of how fast the first change took place: “a hundred-billionth of a yoctosecond.” Wow! We saw how small a yoctosecond was just now and now you’re saying a hundred billionth of one septillionth of a second!  That was only the first part of the explanation of the Big Bang; there are four more stages of incredibly short periods of time, but you can do you own research. But I do like the word ‘inconceivably’ in that quote above.

Why all this? Why have I bothered to fill this Bible-blog with scientific information? Very simply because I find that when books baldly state these sort of things, people generally, let alone believers, are intimidated by the ‘fact-ness’ of print, the certainty of modern science. When it comes to Christian believers, it is almost natural, when looking at the short period of history covered by the Bible and the Bible’s lack of scientific detail, to wonder about the reality of all that we have been thinking about to do with ongoing redemption in this series. I will say it again: the numbers are meaningless, the results of mathematicians’ and scientists’ speculations, sounding so credible – if only we could understand them. I am not saying don’t believe them, but I am saying hold them lightly, see them as theories that are not so set in concrete as many would like to suggest, and see them (IF they are true) as explanations of how God made the world.

The God-Perspective: Our starter verses attempt to poetically convey something of God’s greatness: Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God….  A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”  Not an explanation of how, but simply an attempt at conveying greatness.  The apostle Paul suggested that all of ‘Creation’ reveals the might and majesty of God (Rom 1:20).

The modern atheistic scientist (and many aren’t) seeks to explain the world in purely ‘mechanical’ terms so that there is no need for a God, because if there is a God that you and I speak about, that would lay a question against that person’s life – how should I live in the light of the knowledge of the existence of such a Being? – and many people don’t want their lives directed by someone greater than them. Outlook is often not formulated by facts (which so often need interpreting) but by personal prejudices and fears. How does Genesis fit into all this? We’ll look at that in the next study. Meanwhile, keep a clear head, do not be intimidated by great men, great brains, great theories, and great numbers. They may be right, and they may not, but put them all in perspective before the greatness (size and majesty) of Almighty God and we just find a marvelous world brought about by a marvelous Creator who deserves our worship, and in that, nothing has changed.

 

52. Drowning in Unreality

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 52. Drowning in Unreality

Ex 20:22,23    Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me

Unreal gods: A problem that constantly seemed to face Israel was that of idol worship, which was forbidden by the Lord – yet all the surrounding nations worshipped idols. So why did God forbid it and why is it relevant here? The answer to both questions is that worshiping idols is worshipping something that is unreal. The truth is that ‘gods’ don’t exist, the gods of Athens or Rome that we learn about in history are figments of human imagination, made in the image of fallen human beings. The gods of the nations surrounding Israel were expressions of superstition, unreal, make-believe. Don’t worship what is unreal is the message from heaven.

Facing Unreality: So what does our heading today mean, this ‘drowning in unreality’? It means there is a way of thinking today that is quite unreal and its very presence undermines the way Christians think and opens them up, if not to giving way to temptation, certainly to tolerating a lifestyle and failing to speak into the folly of the ways of the world. So what is the unreality that I am speaking about? It is that portrayed in films, TV ‘soaps’ and videos. There is also the unreality of ‘computer games’. I have mentioned temptation and toleration as two outworkings of this unreality (and I will go on to explain more in a moment) but within that there are two things to be observed. First, the behaviour is unreal and second, the very culture that we are looking at challenges biblical norms.

Considering ‘Soaps’ & ‘Sitcoms’: I hope you are familiar with the terms. Soaps are defined on the internet as follows, “A soap opera is an ongoing drama serial on television or radio, featuring the lives of many characters and their emotional relationships.”  A Sitcom is simply a ‘situation comedy’ based on a fixed group of characters.  The reason they are so pernicious is that they appear every week on TV. The ‘sitcom’ genre usually has a very much lighter feel to them and although infidelity is dealt with, it is in much more light-hearted way. Perhaps that makes it more acceptable.

Two Case Studies: Historically there have been two leading influential series, clearly aimed at the younger generation. The first was ‘Friends’ which ran from September 1994 to May 2004 (10 series) and the group being followed were described as, “not above sticking their noses into one another’s businesses and swapping romantic partners, which always leads to the kind of hilarity average people will never experience – especially during breakups.” That softening comment does nothing to undermine the culture that is conveyed which I will define in a moment. The second is the Big Bang Theory’, running from September 2007 and currently to series 11 in 2018.

The Culture: There are certain characteristics that are common to both of these long-running series: a) they are very funny, b) sex has a high profile and is portrayed as normal among young people, c) sex is distinct from committed relationship and indeed both series show the horror that is experienced when one member of a couple uses the words, ‘I love you’, being seen as words of commitment for which neither of them are clearly ready, d) both series had an almost cult following, especially among the younger generations. Neither series deals with inconveniences such as STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, abortions etc. Sex is problem free.

The deceptions: I would suggest (at the risk of being called a kill-joy by the younger generation) the following follies of this culture:

i) Sex is reduced to a simple pleasure with no unpalatable outworkings (see my last comment above; these ‘inconveniences’ do in fact have a substantial negative impact on modern society).

ii) As sex is separated from love and a committed lasting relationship, such a relationship has clearly become a difficult thing to acquire and the fruit of this is clearly observed in the trials and tribulations of the younger generations, many of whom now despair of the possibility of any lasting, loving, long-term relationship, especially with the ease of divorce in modern western societies being as it is.

iii) Sex is portrayed as easy, and always enjoyable and instantly on demand, and having no negative impact on the relationship, whereas surveys indicate a) many women confess that very often sexual experience is not pleasurable but they have to do it because that is what is done, and it wins affection from the male (both untruths), and b) the realities of tiredness, monthly periods (often suppressed by the pill), feeling unwell etc. etc. mean that one or other partner, in reality,  aren’t feeling like it.

iv) Sex is designed (by God and many psychologists would agree) to be just one strand of a growing relationship, friendship, growing trust and sense of security being others. Putting sex before the others (or even using it as a one-night stand) means that the likelihood of a long-term relationship developing is reduced, as is the possibility of creating a family.

v) Despite all the talk of ‘prevention’, a surprising number of (therefore) unwanted pregnancies take place, creating either the single parent syndrome (with its negatives), or a forced ‘marriage’, or a cohabiting partnership which, by its very nature, has an unstable foundation and often results in the man leaving and we are back to the single-parent syndrome again. There is also the matter of abortions often taken as the norm in this culture.

And in Church? We are often very good at accepting single mothers into the church community but in so-doing we are loath to make negative corrective comments and so our own young people see this as normal for society. It should not be; there are too many negative sides to this for both the mother and certainly the fatherless children. What I observe is an almost casual attitude to these things growing in the church. If we allow this to continue we will be helping the world in undermining the value and benefits of a committed life-long relationship, and of the family unit being a foundation for a safe and secure environment in which children can be raised. Society is very slow to link the growing number of child behavioral problems with family breakdown. If we were honest about these things, our communities would be transformed. We need to talk these things in depth within our church communities, recognizing the unreality ethos we are battling against and carefully revealing the good of God’s design.

Standards generally:   So far, we have talked about the ethos to be countered, and the very folly of the lifestyle, in respect of sex and modern relationships, but I think we should be honestly aware of the impact of various other things coming out of Hollywood. In the US, (not the UK) I have observed many times an inconsistency in believers’ attitudes to certain films. Because C.S.Lewis appears to have such a following in the US, Narnia films and then the Lord of the Rings films and subsequently the Hobbit films are perfectly acceptable. Harry Potter films, by comparison, are abhorred, because ‘witchcraft is bad’. Yes, real witchcraft is, and the manufacturing industry that capitalizes on it, also is, I believe, but no more the industry that exalts in Halloween which certainly has a dark or even ‘black’ background.  But actually, all of these films exalt good over bad and ‘good’ triumphs. (If you want to be really discerning, you will note the difference between the first two HP books and the last ones). And do you watch ‘vampire’ films or TV???? We need to think about this.

But then I found an acceptance in the evangelical community of ‘The Passion’ the worst example of the most extreme, shock-violence possible. Don’t say it happened; so did many other atrocities that you and I (I hope) would abhor if they were on screen. My other horror, on both sides of the water, is of the acceptance of the first of the Hunger Games films  shown to young teenagers. It’s about teenagers murdering other teenagers for public spectacle! I think Paul’s “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” (Phil 4:8) would be an overstatement taken out of context if we try to apply it to modern watching, but there is a truth there to be pondered.

An Approach? These days I would never recommend any watching (My own may be wider than some of you, but I would never recommend it). As a young Christian I was wary, having been brought up in my twenties in a strict evangelical mould, of even watching Crocodile Dundee, and I know there are some Christians who never watch any films. Well that is an extreme, but I would prefer it to the ‘watch anything’ extreme. Paul’s advice about not putting stumbling blocks before others (Rom 14:13, 1 Cor 8:9) is worth considering. The balance is, how can I remain aware of the standards being pushed by the world?  A question to be asked is, “If I watch this particular film/TV series, does it fill my mind, give me nightmares, or diminish my steadfast resolve to hold to God’s laws?” i.e. does it undermine my standards?  Accepting the ethos, whether it is to do with sex or the taking of life, is the danger that I believe is undermining the standards of many Christians. Even more, because there is this ‘clash of cultures’, the ‘modern outlook’ of tolerance, I am certain, undermines both the clarity and certainty of the biblical culture, if I may put it like that, in the minds of many. If in doubt, don’t watch.

Personal Guidelines: My own personal guidelines for watching today (while seeking to be an informed commentator) are:

  • Avoid explicit sex on screen which causes images to be retained and thus causes further difficulties of personal management.
  • Avoid constant use of the ‘f’ word or similar for the same reason.
  • Where relationships involve infidelity, remember the folly and the reality, and where there is violence (either don’t watch it or) remember this is manufactured in a studio and unreal. But don’t let it anesthetize you to the horror.
  • If in doubt, don’t watch; there is plenty else to do in life!

Finally, does this aspect of life, diminish the reality of ‘ongoing redemption’ we have been considering? If yes, it’s time for a change.

51. Drowning in Materialism (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 51. Drowning in Materialism (2)

Gen 1:1   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

Recap: Yesterday we observed two definitions of materialism and we thought about the first one, encompassed in the abbreviated form: “Material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.”   The second definition is more a philosophical one: “the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.”  To remind ourselves why we are even thinking about these things, we have to go back to a comment that I made, that I believe modern man is drowning in a variety of things in modern life, and for the Christian these things have the potential of undermining our belief systems and no more so than in this subject of ongoing redemption.

Pondering the basics of life and living:  I am sitting at a keyboard. I feel the keys and the mouse. I am observing the words appearing on a screen. If I lived five hundred years ago I could consider this is magic. Today I understand a little about electrical currents and what goes into computer software and hardware. In a while I will go into the kitchen, turn on a tap and water will flow; I will fill and turn on a kettle and not be surprised when it starts making a noise and gets hot. Everything about my modern life is about reacting to and responding to material objects and yet, much of it is unseen. I understand that ‘electricity’ is in fact just a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles, electrons and protons. There is no marvel about that today although there would have been two hundred years ago. We have to thank Einstein’s E=MC2 for linking mass and energy, and energy is the stuff we cannot see but can experience. We even take this idea of ‘energy’ for granted – “power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat or to work machines”. It is all part of the ‘material world’ and as such these are the nuts and bolts of modern science.

Modern Science: Science is founded on the ‘scientific method’, an empirical method of knowledge acquisition. Now ‘empirical evidence’, “also known as sensory experience, is the information received by means of the senses, particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behaviour through experimentation.” (Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing!) So we have a material world and we investigate that material world – to find out how it works and what we can do with it – through the senses that we ‘material beings’ have.

Limitations and Questions: And that is as far as science can go and so we don’t need to be defensive when scientists in laboratories say, ‘we cannot see signs of a spiritual world’. At that point we need to gently smile and ask, “Have you got good and meaningful reasons everything works as it does, why we actually exist – and please don’t just give me a ‘mechanical’ answer because everything in me and in millions of other people, if not most people, feel there is more to existence that mere physical existence?” You see, a rock has no ‘meaning’, it just exists. We can possibly explain the scientific process how it came to be a rock and ultimately it all goes back to ‘particles’ (no longer mere atoms and molecules of my school days) but there we hit the biggest mystery of all when we come to the so-called’ “Big Bang”.

Francis Schaeffer, a Christian philosopher in the middle of the twentieth century, said and did some memorable things. One of the most helpful here was his concept of ‘nothing-nothing’, the thought of there being absolutely nothing, no vacuum, no energy, nothing!  When we speak of nothing scientists usually dig themselves an escape tunnel by speaking about energy, but the existence of ‘energy’ explains nothing. Imagine the total absence of anything, and remember one of the things science used to say is that you cannot get something from absolutely nothing. Even IF you could explain the big-bang, you cannot explain what was before it that explained why it happened. If some scientific philosopher (and science and philosophy have joined hands in recent decades) postulates a theory (because it is all theory) that somehow energy could come from nowhere, they would be flying in the face of logical science.  If he postulates how energy came into being, it would have to be from ‘something’. Our minds cannot cope with nothing-nothing and something coming.

Living with the scientific environment: So yes, we have this material world and we have this approach to measuring it that we call science. No problem. The problem comes when we say (as atheists do) that this is all there is. The interesting fact is that many top world-class scientists are Christians and don’t see a conflict, for ultimately they believe there is more than ‘just’ a materialistic world. But when your son or daughter sits in a schoolroom, or a room in college or university, their teacher is operating on one level and the odds are that they will insist that that is the only level, materialism is all there is, but in doing that they reveal their ignorance of the amazing diversity of evidence to the existence of a spiritual dimension to life.

Now without doubt, we in the West live in a high state of awareness of science and of technology (science applied), an environment if you like unlike anything any previous generation has experienced. Because of that, perhaps, many people struggle to cope with the voices that are raised to explain it, the most obvious being, “There is nothing apart from the material world, we can explain it all and there is no need for a God.” No, all you are doing is explaining how God has made things to work. The worrying element is not this, but how we apply this knowledge and what we will do with it. (Non-Christian) Minds far greater than mine are, for example, giving warnings that the advances of artificial intelligence and robotics may well create a Matrix (see the film trilogy) scenario that will spell out the death of humanity.

History and Belief: But let’s get back to basics again. Historians (and most of the rest of us sane people) believe there was last century a war we refer to as World War Two. Many people alive today still remember it. No question. Choose any accepted historical event of say two hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago, and historians build up a picture of what happened then by the evidence that has been found and the sequence of events that flowed from it to bring us up to the present. Historians argue and change their minds about various aspects of history but essentially it is all about playing with whatever evidence is available. Today, for example, there are very few scholars (history specialists) who deny the existence of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. Our beliefs about our past and who we are today are predicated on the evidence we have about historical events and that is as true about the Christian faith as it is about anything else. It’s all about evidence, past and present.

A Fundamental Starting Point: Now strangely our presuppositions (another thing Francis Schaeffer majored on) are key. You either begin from a starting point that you believe there can be a God, or you start by saying there can’t. We might also add, you may say there is a God, but He doesn’t involve Himself in this world, or He does. This was foundational to the confusion caused by so-called scholars at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century who approached the Bible from more of a materialistic standpoint and so denied that prophecy could exist, denied that God could speak to people, denied that miracles could happen, and therefore challenged and wrote off much of what they found in the Bible. It took many decades for greater scholarship in the church to realise that this was a faith battle not a scholarly battle. If you believe the Bible as a complete package, it makes total sense and that sense can be applied into everyday life. Take away a God who communicates, a God who can act powerfully into this world, and the content of the Bible doesn’t merely not make sense, it is an absolutely bizarre series of stories that can neither have meaning nor credibility. Start, with our header verse today, with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and we have a completely different ball-game!

A Logical Outworking: If that statement is true, then the logical outworking of that is that this God must be all-powerful (able to do anything) and all-wise (knows everything and knows how everything works – knows every bit of knowledge before the scientist finds out about it) and is good (the world itself is fundamentally a good place if you don’t settle next to low coastal plains or volcanic areas – but that is ignoring the facts of the Fall and a perfect world beforehand). The uniformity of the Bible is a compelling piece of evidence; it is not full of contradictions and with at least 42 different writers of 66 books the uniformity of its claims about God are amazing, but you will only see that if you have eyes willing to look with an open mind – and you understand the place of ‘science’ in this world – AND don’t listen to those who are tunnel visioned and refuse to study more widely than their career specialism area.

If you want to criticize God, the Bible, the Christian faith, you can in reality only do it out of ignorance. If we let such voices pour at us without ourselves becoming learners in these things, then it is not surprising that some are showing signs of drowning, showing signs of abandoning their faith and losing a spiritual vitality in their lives. It is not because the faith is found wanting, it is because those individuals are found wanting, and there can be no excuses. When we speak of ongoing redemption as we have in this series, it must be surely, that part of His ongoing working in us is to teach us to see with a clearer perspective, so we have a broad canvas of understanding of science – and its limitations – and a broad spectrum of understanding of our beliefs as Christians that holds material and spiritual in true balance – as God has made it to be.

50. Drowning in Materialism (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 50. Drowning in Materialism (1)

Deut 6:10-12   When the Lord your God brings you into the land ….a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Refocus: We have a bird-spotting telescope; my wife is an avid bird-watcher. Much of the time it is focused on several bird feeders some way down our garden but every now and then she spots movement across the other side of the garden, perhaps a little further away, and the telescope is swivelled round but then has to be refocused. We have been focusing on this subject of ongoing redemption, first in the lives of individuals, then in the life of Israel, and then as it must apply to different, difficult practical questions of modern life relationships.   I concluded yesterday with the assertion that I believe many of us are drowning in a number of things that confront us today as never before. This is a day of unparalleled provision and prosperity and indeed peace (as far as wars go), a day of technological revolution like the world has never seen before. Part of that is the communications and cyber revolutions of which people of a hundred years ago would never have dreamt. In the midst of these changes the very way we think is being challenged and changed and so for the Christian with our minds focused regularly on the Bible, in ‘church’ and so on, it is a challenge to see how our ‘faith’ fits within this new world.

What is Materialism?  On the Internet we find, two basic definitions of materialism:

  • First, a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values” and then,
  • second, “the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.”

We’ll take those two in order but will only have space to cover the first one in this study.  It is necessary to examine something of the nature of modern life in the West, before we can go on to apply the spiritual medicine, so bear with me.

Material possessions and physical comfort before spiritual values: What a neat description of the outlook of the majority of inhabitants of the West. Let’s try and be honest about this. How much time do most of us Christians give to ‘spiritual matters’ each week? How many minutes do we spend in prayer, or reading or studying the Bible, or in ‘church activities’? The importance we give to these things is revealed in the time we give to them. This is not to say that we should be filling our lives with them, because there is a life to lead, work to be done and so on, but looking at how much we value these things is a good starting point.

Possession Orientated: The wonderful truth is (and it is a good thing) that we live in a time when we, in the West at least – and it is not true across the rest of the world (and we need to keep that in mind and think about those not so well off as us) – have more possessions than we’ve ever had before. IKEA is a worldwide company with over 400 stores or warehouses, who epitomizes the cultural change in possessions with their ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories. Essentially if you can think of it in your home, they’ve got it in the warehouse, somewhere. Indeed many people use their catalogue to get new ideas of what to do with their home. It is an ever-expanding world and house styles, and home interiors are always changing and, we are told, the modern person spends far more on their home, garden or back yard than ever before.

The Complexity of Modern Materialism: And this is just basic domestic usage; we haven’t gone anywhere near sound systems, video systems, electronic security, and not to mention the ever invading ‘Alexa’-type of sound control systems for the modern home. This also doesn’t cover cars, new, second-hand and classic, boats and even planes that modern affluent man so often has. If you don’t fit the ‘affluent’ bracket, you are probably just an envious onlooker, and because the range of manufactured ‘possessions’ gets ever greater as every day passes, so inevitably the gap grows greater between the ‘haves’ and the have-nots’, and often, it seems it is a generational thing; the older generation may have ‘gadgets’ while the younger generation has technology ‘lifestyles’.

The opportunities to make or earn more money is again, I believe, greater today than ever before as the world of software ever blossoms, whether it is in computer games or in artificial intelligence. In the UK at the present time, 80% of GDP (major economic measuring stick for a nation) is in ‘service provision’, not manufacturing. It is a sign of moving ‘beyond goods’ which for the UK, for example, mostly come from cheap imports. But knowledge and information is power and money, they say. So merely because you cannot touch it, don’t rule out of the material equation so much that goes on, on cell-phone screens, iPad or other hand-held devices, or that which goes into running the modern technology that is running so many modern Western lives.

Materialism by Travel: The definition above included the word ‘comfort’ but that underplays the reality of modern life dramatically.  If to comfort we can add pleasure, experience, leisure activities, travel, etc. etc. we maybe start to build a more accurate picture of modern life for many. One of the things I do these days is run a small group called ‘Nostalgia’, the purpose of which is twofold: first to build friendships and invite outsiders into the church complex and, second, to strengthen and build fading memory activity in the elderly. Friendship and worries about loss of memory are two of the key things that worry the older generation. We meet every two weeks for an hour and half, drink tea or coffee, talk and stir memory. The group has about a dozen or so members, ranging in age from 67 to 95. Now one of the things that has shocked me is how much this group of mostly single, aged, ordinary people have traveled. It is a sign of our affluence that this is possible.  Every single member of this group – who are not especially affluent – has travelled abroad considerably in the past, and many still do with destinations such as Australia and New Zealand, (and of course the States and Canada) as well as European cities, featuring regularly. This is the modern world and I will avoid getting into the world of cruises which is also big business in this generation. But these are expressions of modern materialism.

In Perspective: Now here is my point at this stage of our series. Using the analogy I shared yesterday, I suggested that we drown in water – or we learn to swim, surf, or sail. Applying this I would say I believe all the modern things I have mentioned above are part of God’s plan for His world. I believe He is the one who inspires inventors and researchers (although I am certain they are 99% ignorant of that fact) and although we do not develop or use many things wisely, I believe it is God’s intentions – in the light of the way He has designed us – to give us pleasure in this material world. The five senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smell – are clear indicators that God has designed us to experience pleasure. Sexual pleasure is another similar indicator. When we think of ourselves as being made ‘in the image of God’ (see Gen 1:27) we start to think about the abilities He gave us, to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, design, write, compose, and work, and the modern world that we have been considering is the fruit of all of that.

BUT!!!! Here we must come back to our starter verses which were a warning to Israel, that once they entered into the Promised Land they should not forget how they got there – God! This will take us into the second part of the definition and we will cover that tomorrow. For now there comes this incredibly strong warning which the apostle Paul echoed in his own warning in Romans 1:20-22 For 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, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” I stop it there because our ‘images’ (anything we tend to worship) are different from theirs. We are far more sophisticated and essentially worship our cell phones, our iPads and all the rest of it, and we know we do that if we push God out to the periphery of life as we focus our lives on these ‘toys’.

Redemption!  This that we have been considering all these weeks, is at the heart of the truth about life and none of the things mentioned in this study change that. Many today are like little children playing with their brand news toys at Christmas, getting so excited by these ‘new things’ that we forget who is behind them all and we fail to worship Him.  Hear it loud and clear, these things are good in themselves but if they distract you from God, if they come down and envelop your mind like a fog, they will be the cause of you losing touch with reality – and you will drown. If you like, all these things we’ve been considering are like the things inside your living place that are enjoyable and make life more pleasurable, but PLEASE NOTE they are not you and your unique existence, they are the things going on around you, but you, the person, are consciously or unwittingly interacting with God and He is working to bring changes to you.

Yes, the things, the ‘toys’, will change how you feel, but they are not to be the main determinants as to the sort of person you are. That is to come through your relationship with Him. Paul, in 1 Cor 3:9-17, spoke about building the church, and building people, and the end result can be either a cardboard imitation or the real thing, the reality of which is shown in the trials of life which will destroy the cardboard imitation life. If all we have is a cardboard replica of a real life, it will not last. Jesus said the same thing in his parable of the two house-builders (see Mt 7) and it is a warning we should take seriously as we consider these things.