37. God who is Righteous (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  37. God who is Righteous (2)

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Doing all things well? The complaints that come from the grumbling, critical and so often ignorant-of-the-Bible atheists, is that God is harsh and unkind and spiteful. I really don’t know what Bible they are reading – if only they would read – for the Bible I have before me shows a very different God. Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective! The God I see does all things well, not perhaps as we would do things, but He does them far better than anything we could do if we were masters of the universe. Yes, I understand that at first sight some of His actions appear ‘different’ – I am not going to use any stronger negative word because that would only show our folly in misunderstanding. In this study I want to look at a couple of incidents from the Old Testament, and then in the next study, incidents from the New Testament.

Following the Fall: I used to think that what followed the Fall was tough going for Adam and Eve, until I gave it some more thought.  First of all, let’s just recap what happened. God gave them a wonderful world in which to live, a world of enjoyment but to build character into them, He gave them one prohibition to follow.  They ignored it and did what He said not to do, so He held them to account for this and they made excuses. I wonder if the outcome would have been different, if they had responded, “We’re sorry, we’re stupid, we did wrong, please forgive us,” but they didn’t and so we find the Lord sending them out of the Garden, forbidding them to return. That seemed hard.

Whatever else it meant, it meant loss of that previous wonderful experience of peace, tranquility, security and love, but basically God was giving them exactly what they had asked for – freedom to do what they wanted without any restrictions from God – just like most people want. But left to their own devices, humanity is not nice, we exercise our free will in ways that are self-harming and certainly harming to others (as a history with only very few years free from war, tells). So Cain kills Abel (Gen 4) and within a relatively short time, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)

But Hope: What a mess! And we sometimes refer to ‘civilization’????? How stupid sin is. If we had a complaint of God it might be, “Why ever did you give us free will?” and I think the answer would be, “Without it there would no love, no creativity, no relationships, no inspiration, and so much more missing.” So yes, God cut us free to be ourselves with all the awfulness that entails, but the alternative would be a world of zombies. Yet He doesn’t leave it there. When I first realized it, it came as a surprise but the mere fact that He gave them freedom to live outside His sphere of influence – the Garden – didn’t mean He completely cut Himself off from them. In chapter 4 we find Him talking with Cain, trying to guide him away from murder.

In chapter 5 we find Enoch ‘walking with God’, having an ongoing relationship with God. In chapter 6 we see Him talking to Noah. In chapter 12 we see the start of the long saga of Abram’s relationship with God, and all that follows on. Oh no, as we saw very early on, this is a God of involvement and eventually a God of salvation through His Son, Jesus. Free-will failure, yes. Banishment. Yes. No contact. No! The plan is that God would work within the folly of mankind, not outside it as we’ll see.

Pharaoh, a hopeless case: We’ll keep this one short: why did God engineer the whole debacle involving hard-hearted Pharaoh (Ex 1-12) because that’s what it seems like? He knew it would happen,  He knew that in a broken world a famine would mean Jacob and his family would end up in Egypt, He knew they would stay there instead of returning to Canaan, He knew they would flourish and grow and be a threat to Egypt and become their slaves, He knew that Egypt, with the folly of sinful mankind would decline into an occult-driven, superstitious mess of inhumanity (even sacrificing their own children) and He knew that hard-hearted occult-driven Pharaoh would never give way to Moses’ demands, so why…… hold on!

I used the word ‘engineer’ early on but perhaps that is not an appropriate word to use because what I have just listed in this series of events is i) a result of the Fall, a famine, and ii) then a series of misdoings by human beings whereby their messy interactions ended up with the events of the Exodus. God simply took the sinful affairs of mankind and used that as the backdrop of the stage where He would reveal His power and grace and mankind’s staggering folly. Wow!

Saul: The third instance that I have in mind, of the way God works well, is that of Saul. To try and keep it as short as possible, Israel are fed up with having judges rule over them and so ask Samuel to give them a king like other nations have. (1 Sam 8:4,5). Now God is incredibly gracious when Samuel comes to Him with this request and says, don’t worry, it’s not you they are rejecting, but me. Now make sure you tell them what happens when you have a king, the things he will demand (see 1 Sam 8:10-18) so that they will know exactly what they are getting into.

Nevertheless the people say give us a king – so God gives them exactly what they want – a big guy, head and shoulders taller than most, who looks good and looks like he can beat up the enemy. You can read it in the following chapters. God even allows the choice – Saul – to have a serious spiritual experience (see 10:9,11) Saul has everything going for him, yet he shows that being a king of a nation under God requires more than just looking big and tough and, cutting a long story short, God has to tell Samuel that it’s up with Saul and He has someone else on His heart to replace him, (1 Sam 13:14) a man after his own heart – David. But consider all this, God gave them exactly what they wanted but that wasn’t enough and the record proves that.

And So? So what have we seen?  God who holds His erring Adam and Eve accountable but allows them to live their lives exactly as they wanted – and yet He still keeps in close contact. Then there was the foolish Pharaoh, coming at the end of a series of unwise choices by Israel (not to return home and to stay in Egypt, and not flee when the pressures started to build) who simply provided a further opportunity for the folly of sin in mankind to be demonstrated for all to see, alongside the power and grace of God.

Finally, in the case of Saul, we see God giving Israel exactly what they want – despite all the warnings they rejected – and allowing that situation to be worked out in the long-term bringing maturity to the shepherd-boy-cum-king, David. For anyone with an honest and open heart, these are examples of a God who cares but that caring is in such a manner that in each case truth is revealed to the world about itself. The message we are left with? We need a Savior, someone to dig us out of the messes we keep getting ourselves into!  We’ll see some more of this in the next study.

35. God who is Creator

Getting to Know God Meditations:  35. God who is Creator

Gen 14:19   “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.

Isa 40:28  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

Holding Back: I realize in this series I have been holding back on this particular topic because to deal with it properly means we have to not only look within Scripture but also stray outside to the worlds of science and philosophy and I felt we should do other groundwork first that we have done in the former part of the series. But it is not only that, for I am aware that in the atheistic materialistic world of science, the ‘big names’ scorn the thought of God and Him having ‘created’ this world, and so anything we say here stands in opposition to these people – or does it?

The Biblical Testimony: Well, let’s start off with the testimony of the Bible. It is strange that the first person in the Bible to declare this truth is an unknown Priest-King called Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) which is then picked up by Abraham (v.22) and is clearly believed by a number of other people in both Old and New Testaments. Of course the first two chapters of Genesis lay down the first challenges to us, being two records of God’s activity, Genesis 1 laying down the order of things coming into being (which evolutionists would not disagree with) and Genesis 2 giving a different slant on how man – and woman – came into being. Now it is fairly clear that these two accounts are not meant to be scientific accounts because they don’t have that sort of detail, they are more generalizations with focus, if I may put it like that.

The Conflict of Creation: There are at least two conflicts we need to consider. The first is about ‘the beginning’.  On a point of awareness, please note that actually Gen 1:1 does NOT start right back at the beginning; it starts with a formless earth, which science suggests is a long way down the line from ‘the beginning’. Current scientific thinking (and it could be different in twenty years’ time) has come around to thinking that indeed there was a beginning before which nothing existed. It didn’t used to, it used to believe that everything had always existed. Let me explain. The idea of the ‘Big Bang’ as a starting point first came in 1931 from a Belgian priest and astronomer, Georges Lemaitre – the universe expanded to its present state from an infinitely small, hot and dense particle. In the 1960s, scientists discovered ‘cosmic microwave background radiation’ – the leftover energy signals of the Big Bang. In 2003 a mathematician and two physicists were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary, i.e. a beginning.

Now philosophically this is jumping out of one frying pan into another. If the concept of a world that had always existed wasn’t bad enough, the thought of the world not existing and coming from absolutely nothing is even more mind-bending, because the one thing our intellects tell us is that it is impossible for ’something’ to come from absolutely nothing. Take away ‘energy’ and take away even an infinitely small particle so you have ‘nothing’ and there is no rational explanation that ‘something’ could come into being to then cause a ‘big bang’!  Unless there is what philosophers call the Uncaused First Cause – God!  This (He), they say, must transcend space and time, since it created space and time. Therefore it must be immaterial and non-physical. Finally it must be unimaginably powerful, since it created all matter and energy. Now are we  beginning to see something of the wonder of the God we have been talking about throughout this series?  The Bible doesn’t tell us how God created the world beyond the fact that He did, and because He is so powerful, when He says a word, it happens! Oh my goodness, Genesis 1 is completely in line with modern scientific philosophy!

The Conflict of Humanity: In “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter, Andrew Marr, 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.”  Renowned theologian Alister McGrath writes, “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.

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.  The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follows a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, simply showing a specific people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose. Hebrew writers, we are told, were not like modern historians and only included what names became obvious to simply show the direction of a family tree. From such Biblical genealogies, it is not possible, therefore, to work out time periods.

Mesopotamia, the obvious site of ‘Eden’, from the geographical descriptions given, is still frequently referred to as ‘the cradle of civilization’. Coincidence? The question of whether Adam and Eve were the first two human beings as we know them today or whether they were some way down the human chain, will not be resolved this side of heaven. However, read the accounts more carefully and different interpretations can be given that allow time periods or different ways this all worked out, ways that are quite reasonable and yet different from our traditional approaches. Consider chapter 2, in verse 7 we have ‘a man’ indicating a beginning but in verse 8 we find “in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed,” but ‘the man’ could mean simply ‘the mankind’, or even one branch or one individual from wider mankind.

Purpose: We must not lose sight of the overall purpose of Genesis, as we suggested above, to first of all show God’s involvement in bringing the world into being and then taking a particular strand of humanity to the fore to become a specific group (family, then nation) who related to Him. Ancient Hebrew writing does not seek to dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s but to lay down a general picture of the plans and purpose of God that was there overseeing it all. Evolution? No problem if it is God-directed evolution instead of the full-of-holes-random evolution. Your only problem is whether your starting place (and it does tend to be this with most people) is God or ‘nothing’. Nothing makes no sense and refuses any sense of meaning and purpose in life except what we conjure it up to be,  while the existence of the God we have been describing makes sense of it all and, strangely, everything conversely points back to the existence of God.

Eve? One last ‘anomaly’ to satisfy the critics, that of Eve. Coming out of Adam’s side? Refocus: we said neither chapters 1 nor 2 of Genesis seek to be scientific accounts and therefore (and remember what we said in Study No.5 about what is called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which can be expressed as ‘God’s communications with humans are always limited to their current capacity to comprehend’) it is not going against the grain to suggest that in the same way that prophets used picture language and Jesus used parables, the description of male and female origins is a mystery that only makes sense when you say, ‘God made us different’; how is irrelevant. It is interesting to note in passing that one of the areas of evolution that people steer clear of, is that of how gender came to be. Think about the male and female physical makeup that is seen across the spectrum of us and animals and try to reason how it could possibly have come about in evolutionary stages and you realize you are on a nonsense search. No one has come up with a credible solution. So let’s not be too hard on parable / personification  or whatever other linguistic device God used to convey, “I made them different.”

And So? One final thought. I find it fascinating watching people argue in this area. There are those who argue because they don’t want God to be the answer to all the questions and there are those who argue because they do want Him to be so. We have to ask, what is it in us that makes us want to disprove His existence and involvement in all these things? The only answer is the Bible’s answer, Sin – that propensity towards self-centred godlessness. We argue to a place of meaninglessness because “I want to rule my life”, not because we really want the truth. As someone once said, ‘the truth is out there’, but actually it is in here in the Bible. Some of it needs interpreting and that’s where we’ve often got in a twist, but most of it is simple and straight forward and the message is the same: God is, He is here for us, He loves and which is why He made us. Yes He IS the Creator of all things. Hallelujah!

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!

2. Separation at the Fall?

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 2. Separation at the Fall?

Gen 3:22-24   And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

 The First Judgment: In this two-study first Part of this series, I am seeking to lay out the gist of where it is going and nowhere is it better seen than in the Fall and God’s judgment on Adam and Eve. It is something that I believe most Christians rarely think about and I suspect I would not have done until I started writing a book about “The Judgments of a Loving God”, and of course, this is the first judgment in the Bible.  But what are the elements of this story.

God’s Framework: The Fall doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens within the framework of God’s design for Adam and Eve which clearly and simply said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:16,17) There were His parameters for their lives: a) an amazing provision – lots of fruit trees, b) one restriction – one tree not to touch, and c) a consequence if they did – death to their relationship with God (for that is what it was).  The consequences are significant in that they all flow out of the absence of God’s presence.

Questions & Answers: Well, you might ask, why should that have to be?  Why would child-bearing become harder, why would working the ground be harder, why should they have to be put out of the garden? The answer has to be in the actions of Eve and then Adam. Basically they both said, we will disregard God’s framework so yes, a) we will enjoy that wide provision, but b) we will not be limited and so be able to eat that forbidden tree, because c) we see that knowledge is good and we cannot see how it can be destructive, so we’ll do what we want.

Consequences: They were, when you think about it, effectively saying, God we don’t want you in our lives laying down rules. We’ll do what we want. Now it may not have been spelled out as blatantly as that, but that was the reality of the Fall.  If you think about human lives – and theirs in particular – you can’t live on the basis of, “I’ll choose which bits of God’s design I’ll conform to, rejecting some, going along with some,” because ultimately that is still self-centred godlessness, my definition of Sin.  You either accept fully that God knows best and seek to live in accordance with His design (which is what Christians do), or you question His wisdom and are the ultimate arbiter of the life you live, and without God’s presence that is often hard and things go wrong.

The Effect: The story of Genesis 2 and 3 that we have been considering shows God making Adam and Eve accountable for their actions and so when we read our verses above where He excludes them from the Garden, i.e. from His presence and thus His resources, it is simply Him saying, “Well, you want to run your own lives; that is sad but I love you so I will help you do that, there is the whole world out there for you, but this bit where I am will no longer be accessible. If that’s what you want, go for it!”

More Questions: So far, all very familiar, but suppose you were an onlooker back then, what might you have been thinking? Without any knowledge of the future you might think that this God is the God that some think of who, having set the world up and sees it going wrong, abandons it and goes and lives down the other end of the universe, if we may put it like that. Isn’t that what appears to have happened?  Hasn’t God acted as a Judge and condemned them to live on their own, with limited resources? Isn’t life condemned to just get worse and worse, as William Golding so aptly showed in his book, ‘Lord of the Flies’ or George Orwell portrayed in his book, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’?  You might have thought that if you didn’t know the future and have a Bible as we do.  There are two things that shout to us that that wasn’t the whole picture.

Relationships: The first is the fact of what we go on to see in the following nine chapters of Genesis in outline but is then seen in detail, God having relationships with individuals. He doesn’t “disappear off to the other end of the universe”, He is still there and although His presence is not there in the same intimate way, we see He is there communicating with Cain, with Enoch, with Noah, and with Abram. When it gets as far as Abram, later to become Abraham, there is a deepening ongoing relationship revealed, and that is echoed in all the main players who follow – Isaac (in a small measure), Jacob (in a greater measure), Joseph (in similar measure) and then Moses, who reveals perhaps the deepest level of relationship with God in the Old testament period. But what is God doing in all these relationships? He is showing His desire to interact with those who will respond to Him and learn from Him and go with Him in His plans and purposes for the world. That is brought into sharp relief in the coming into being of the nation of Israel.

Long-term Plan: Now I have written this many times in past studies so forgive me if I repeat this again, but when we have the revelation that is brought through the apostles of the New Testament period, we find a number of references to the fact of the coming of the Son of God to redeem us, that all point back to this having been decided before the creation of the world and thus before the Fall and all its consequences: Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. All these seven references clearly speak of this plan having been devised by the Godhead long before the Fall actually took place, i.e. they knew that it would take place and saw that the plan of salvation, that we have in the New Testament, was the only way to deal with the sins of the sinner, satisfy justice, and make it possible for each of us to come back into a loving and real relationship with God.

And So?  This is mind-blowing stuff. It shows us a God who is both a Judge and a Redeemer. As Judge He makes us face the truth about ourselves and recognise our plight, our need out of our helpless and hopeless situation. As Redeemer He comes to us with a way out of the courtroom, out of the execution yard, and back into the courts of heaven to receive all the wonder of being part of God’s family. Right back there, just after the Fall in that confrontation in the Garden, it looked like a godless and hopeless and painful future but seeds for the salvation of mankind had already been sown in God’s words to the deceiver: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel,” (Gen 3:15), an enigmatic  message that would come down the centuries for those with ears to hear and understand. Redemption is the plan! It’s all been planned!! Hallelujah!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that although you always hold us accountable for our failures, you are still there with us and working for our good, working to bless us, so that we enter more and more into the wonder of the salvation you have prepared for us, which so often seems so unclear to us. But thank you for what I have seen so far and thank you that you have so much more for me yet to come.

2. The Big Context

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 2. The Big Context

Reading 1: Genesis 3:8-19

Gen 3:15    I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel

The Context: According to the website of King’s College Cambridge where this service has been held for the last ninety-nine years (2018 will be its centenary), “The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God…seen through the windows and words of the Bible”. Note in particular the words ‘development’ and ‘loving purposes of God’. This first reading, seen without that understanding could be considered an obscure Biblical quote, apparently randomly chosen from Scripture, but it is not. The thrust of these verses, so often merely heard as words with little meaning for today, is in fact a most dynamic understanding of the plight of the human race set in the bigger context of the entire history of the world. Nowhere else in history, is written down this understanding which makes sense of why the world is like it is.

The Reading: The reading is about Adam and Eve AFTER the Fall, after the perfection of the garden, it’s environment, this couple and their relationship with God has been shattered. They have disobeyed God by a specific act of disobedience. The text shows the couple in the Garden (clearly located in Mesopotamia) encountering God from whom they hide (v.8). The Lord calls to them and they have to confess their fear (9,10).  From this they confess their guilt but blame one another and the serpent (v.11-13).  In what follows God tells a) the serpent (v.14,15), then the woman (v.16) then the man (v.17-19) the consequences of their disobedience. That is it.

Lessons? Now the whole point of this short series is that we ask ourselves, what do each of these readings teach us.

1. The Bigger Context: It is said that post-moderns do not like and do not trust ‘big pictures’ of history but that may be true of some of the world’s so-called ‘big pictures’ but to reject this one is to reject the one account that makes sense of the whole world. We live in a fallen world; that is the Scriptural picture. For those who reject the Bible we live in a world of contradictions, where human beings clearly have the possibility of greatness of achievement but at the same time spend so much of their time fighting. At least one historian has suggested that human history is the history of wars. The first lesson is that we live in a ‘fallen world’.

2. Consequences: But why should it be? The Biblical solution is set out here in these verses: God made a perfect world and whenever we exert our wills contrary to His, contrary to His design for humanity, it all goes wrong. Even before the Lord starts spelling out the consequences that are going to follow because of their broken relationship with Him that has just come about, consequences because they will be cut off from His blessing, the blessing of His very life-giving presence, and be left to their own endeavours, there were already obvious negatives that had not been there before: guilt, shame and fear which had entered human experience following that disobedience seen in the early part of Genesis chapter 3.

These characteristics are now inherent in the human race and although conscience is part of us that kicks in when we know we do wrong, we can yet override it and harden ourselves against it. Yet, deep down, there is this feeling about God, and so we rationalise Him or reject Him in our self-centred godless state that the Bible calls ‘Sin’ (with a capital ‘S’) that is expressed as ‘sins’ (small ‘s’).

Sin is what has become the natural propensity to be self-centred and godless, while ‘sins’ are the individual acts of thought, word or deed that flow from that. The consequences are always tough (in health & childbirth v.16) and in everyday work (v.17-19) and are ultimately destructive (Gen 2:17)

We see this in the most simple and obvious ways. For example, God has given us appetite and food to eat – an incredible range of foods – and while we eat naturally we are healthy; when we start to eat for comfort or for greed, we eat in excess and obesity follows and a whole range of other harmful effects on the human body follow. The second lesson is that we have to live with consequences of disobedience to God.

3. The Nature of this State: If we think on from these verses and what we have said so far, and examine the human condition and human experience, we find two things: we are helpless and hopeless. We would like to be different – hence shelves of self-help books and New Year resolutions so quickly given up – but we find (if we are honest) that, in reality, we cannot change as we would like to; we are helpless. So we tolerate our state, seeing no hope of change, and so we cover it up with projects or activities, things that will take our minds off our hopes that are being dashed. The third lesson, in the face of all this, is that we need help.

4. God’s Long-Term Plan: The verses of this reading appear, at first sight, to present a helpless and hopeless situation where we are having to live with the consequences of our choices, However there is, in the midst of them, one very strange verse, spoken to the serpent or Satan: “I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (v.15) Stress, but more than stress, between the woman and Satan, who she already blames. But she will have offspring, children in the human race and one particular one – ‘he’ – will be in conflict with the ‘offspring’ of Satan with the end result that in that conflict Satan is going to ‘strike his heel’ but ‘he’ will crush Satan’s head.

Now that leaves us scratching our heads as to what these two ‘injuries’ can mean. It is only in the fullness of time, as we watch the unfolding events of the life of Jesus Christ, and his death, resurrection and ascension, and see the effects of all of that, that we see things happening that fit these descriptions. Now alternative paraphrase renderings suggest that both ‘strike’ each other, but the end products of the big picture show something else. Satan ‘wounds’ Jesus but Jesus totally destroys the power of Satan over others.

That IS the big picture. The ‘wounding’ of Jesus? The Cross which looked like it was a terminal wounding but proved to be temporary as he was raised from the dead. The ‘crushing’ of Satan? The fact that the work of the Cross means that his power over believers is removed. We have been taken out of his dominion and put into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13). Then in the long-term he will be cast into eternal destruction (Rev 20:10). That is the guaranteed end because God has decreed it. So the fourth lesson is that God has a plan (hazy to us at the beginning) that was formulated by the Godhead before the foundation of the world and we are part of it today, and that is very reassuring when we see the things going on around us in today’s world.

And So: And so here we have indicators of the big picture, of a wonderful world, that is now fallen, a world where we must live with the consequences of our actions, but a world in which there is hope because God has planned for it, and the signs are there, back in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and all around us today, that He is working it all out and working towards an end resolution that gloriously involves us. Hallelujah! So, if you attend a service of readings and carols and you hear this reading, ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the wonder of these ‘lessons’ that are being conveyed in this first ‘Lesson’ of the nine.

1. Creation

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 1. Creation

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

Having recently taken a break to slowly meander through the first two psalms, it may appear going from the sublime to the ridiculous to now go to examine the ‘big picture’ of the Bible but as I was watching a preacher and congregation interacting recently it made me realise afresh something that I have seen before, that so often Christians have never been taught the ‘big picture’ of the whole Bible and do not see the logical flow of revelation from Genesis to Revelation. So here goes! Each ‘meditation’ is more of a potted study covering a big issue or big step in the Bible that is important if we are to understand the whole. So we will start at the beginning and work through to the end taking giant steps, and all the way through I will seek to show how the one study fits the whole.

The starting point obviously has to be Creation – the bringing into being of everything that is. It is the greatest challenge to the human mind, that there is an Almighty God and He and He alone is the cause of all that is, however big it is (millions of galaxies) or however small it is (I have lost track of the latest ‘small’ matter scientists discover!). The Bible declares this is the handiwork of God. I have written previously of the conundrum of the ‘Big Bang’ the insolvable mystery of creating something from absolutely nothing (see Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 4. A Big Bang) so we will not go there again in this study.

Here, I think, we should just focus on the Biblical testimony and you will either believe it or not. Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis appear to give a double view of the Creation by God. Genesis 1 shows seven ‘days’ of creation. Again whether these mean seven literal periods of twenty four hours that God took to bring it all into being, or He took seven days to reveal it to Moses or ‘days’ refers to long periods, I confess does not bother me. Whether it was guided or godless evolution does concern me because the Bible says God did it and if He guided evolution (which has much fewer problems than survival of the fittest evolution) that doesn’t bother me. God, being God, could have brought everything into being in a split second or He could have spent millions of years doing it; He is capable of either. The issue is whether He did it or it was pure accident. Without Him we are pure accidents and things such as morality, meaning, purpose, beauty etc. all evaporate.  That is the logic of an impersonal beginning.

Genesis 2 focuses on the man and woman God creates and the New Testament has a number of references to Adam and Eve as two people who lived in time-space history. At some point in the whole Creation exercise two people are brought into being who are described as being made in the likeness of God. I take this mean they have some of God’s characteristics that differentiate them from all other living creatures; they communicate with complex language, and have complex thought patterns, they plan, they scheme, they organise, they write, they compose, they invent, they discover, they worship – all of these things lift them higher than the animal kingdom. But Genesis 2 also reveals a relationship between them and God; this perhaps is the greatest thing that differentiates them from every other creature – they are beings who communicate with and interact with God. In Genesis 5 the word ‘created’ appears 3 more times and in Genesis 6 one more time. Moses uses it again in Deut 4:32.

Those other carriers of the inspired word of God, the prophets, also attested to this truth, for example, The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isa 40:26). Seven other times Isaiah declares this truth – God is the Creator of all things.  The Son of God himself declared the same truth: “those will be days of distress unequalled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equalled again.” (Mk 13:19)  The apostle Paul likewise declared it, speaking of “God, who created all things.” (Eph 3:9)  In John’s vision we find the same truth being heralded in heaven: “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev 4:11)

Back in the Old Testament, Melchizedek … blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:18,19) What an intriguing revelation brought to Abram who had encountered the Lord but presumably had not yet realised His greatness. This truth also appears among the Psalms. In Psa 136 the psalmist exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord, “who by his understanding made the heavens…..who spread out the earth upon the waters, ….who made the great lights….. the sun to govern the day….the moon and stars to govern the night.” (Psa 136:5-9)  What is interesting is that it flows on recounting other historical happenings, and therefore the inspired writer sees it at a clear and distinct historical event, not some made up fairy story.

But how about the bigger picture? Is this all there is to note? No, there is an intriguing passage in Rom 8:19-22 where the apostle Paul uses such words as, “The creation waits in eager expectation … 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.” Whatever the broader picture has to do with salvation, Paul is indicating that the world, as it is at the moment, is in an incomplete state; there is more to come. Thus as we get to the end of the Bible we read, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” (Rev 21:1) The truth is that this present world is not all there is or is to be.  There is an air of mystery about it because it is not completely clear, but there appears a new heaven AND a new earth that will be different from the present ones where the Lord will be in the midst and there will be no more sin or sorrow.

In the faith series we came across the following: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us (Heb 11:39,40) Whatever we experience in this present world, is only a glimmer of what is to come. Praise and thank the Lord by all means for the wonder of this world, it’s beauty and its variety, but be ready to be blown away with a new world to come in eternity that will be just so much more wonderful. Hallelujah! And then a final thought to evoke even more praise: have you ever realised that God uses time-space history for at least two environments (heaven and earth) where He can interact with the human beings He has created. Creation is about a communication environment.

5. God brings Good

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.5

5. God brings Good

Luke 1:11-13 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.

It seems that one of the by-products of sin is fear of the Lord. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God and then acknowledged that they were afraid of Him (Gen 3:8,10). Today so many people fear God because they think He is going to slap them! Yes, it is natural when we are guilty to flee from a holy God, but tragically that only shows even more the awfulness of this thing the Bible calls ‘Sin’, because it also blinds us to the whole truth (2 Cor 4:4). The whole truth is that God promised blessing for His people (Deut 7:9-15) because He is love (1 Jn 4:8). The Bible shows Him constantly seeking to bless His people, those who will come to Him. In fact anyone can come to Him and receive His blessing, His goodness – but of course you must first see that that is something you really want, mustn’t you?

So, here we have righteous but childless Zechariah in the innermost part of the Temple, minding his own business while lighting the incense, when he is confronted by a messenger from heaven, an angel – and he’s frightened. For all of his righteousness, all of his goodness, he has not been able to come to a place of peace in the presence of God.  Indeed for Him, God is not a loving heavenly Father, but an awesome far-off, holy Being, one to be feared.  Well yes, the Bible does say that the ‘fear of the Lord’ is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), but note that it is the beginning. That simply means that recognizing our weakness and our failures and seeing God’s perfection is a starting place for any relationship with Him. From that we find that He’s there with open arms to whoever will come with an open and honest heart, acknowledging their need.

Of course Zechariah hasn’t realized that because Jesus hasn’t come yet and hasn’t demonstrated God’s staggering love by dying for us.  No, Zechariah is still in the place of fear, because he hasn’t yet realized that God is good, and all God does in our direction is for our good, for our blessing. He’s still in the “God will condemn me” mode.  He hasn’t yet got to the realization that “God loves me, God is for me, God wants to bless me” place that the children of God come to as they receive the wonderful work of Jesus in their lives.

The very first thing the angel does is try to put Zechariah at rest – don’t be afraid. When he says that, he means it. You don’t have to be afraid! There is no cause for that. God has come to bring blessing. What was the greatest burden in Zechariah’s life? That he had no children. So what’s God going to do? Enable him to have a child! Isn’t that good?

Those of us who still struggle with a “God’s a hard man” mentality (see Lk 19:21) will grumble and say, “So why did he have to wait so long?”  Hullo?   He could have waited all his life!  But God came at a time that was right, because of lots of other circumstances now falling into place, and enabled him to have the child he had so longed for.  Isn’t that wonderful?   How you respond to this, reveals where you’re really at with God. Do you need, perhaps, to pray, ‘Lord set me free from this fear and help me see you as you really are, full of love for me’?

God doesn’t develop

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.3 of 10

Job 42:3 Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

We jump today, to what is considered possibly one of the oldest parts of the Bible, the book of Job. Job was a good guy, and he was also wealthy. Unfortunately tragedy hit his life and he lost most of what he had, including his health. Three friends turn up and the bulk of the book ensues – a discussion about Job’s state before God. It’s a difficult book to read. At the end of it, God steps in and challenges Job over what he has been declaring – that he is righteous and he has some things he wants to bring up with God. Fairly understandable and very like many of us. We just don’t understand God and we don’t ‘see’ what it is all about and so we grumble and say, “If only I could talk to Him face to face, I’d tell Him what I think!”

God’s answer for the proud is most unsatisfactory. He doesn’t defend or explain His actions. He simply points out His greatness – and our smallness. When we catch something of who the Lord really us, we shut up! Our careless and foolish talk is born out of ignorance. A little bit later Job said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (v.5,6). God had either given him a glimpse of Himself or had painted such a picture of Himself that Job suddenly realised the truth: he was a clown when it came to his previous thinking about God!

Many today fill books and the airwaves with their foolish rantings about the God they think doesn’t exist. They are actually a small minority but they make their voices heard. There is money in atheism! At the beginning of 2008 one intellectual, statistician and commentator stated, “Around the world, there are estimated to be more people with traditional religious views than ever before, and they constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.” Nevertheless the atheistic voices speak loudly and deserve some rational answers.

Our problem is that so often we start off, like Job, from a position of ignorance, so silly things are suggested. For instance that religion developed from primitive beliefs and God developed similarly. The Bible tells is otherwise. God didn’t develop; He always was as He is.

This needs to be said from the outset. Unlike man God didn’t develop. He always was as He is and always will be. It defies our imagination and understanding but that’s what the Bible says, and it makes sense for an ‘Ultimate Being’.

Now God may not develop but our understanding of Him does and that’s what we see in the Bible. I’m not very bothered whether or not you accept the story of Adam and Eve, but it does explain a lot of things and makes a lot of sense. Consider what we said yesterday: Think of all the things that we do – communicate with words, think, plan, reason, formulate, investigate, research, invent, create, write, produce music, paint, sculpt and so on – and worship. These two being were clearly different from all the other living creatures; the gulf is enormous, even if many modern people try to minimise it.

Genesis 2 & 3 show us these first two truly human beings relating to God. Now we don’t know how this happened but all we know is there was this communication-interaction which occurred daily. When they rejected the relationship they had with God and disregarded His wishes, this daily communication was broken. In the chapters that follow, in succeeding generations that could have been spread over a very long period, there is sporadic contact. It is not until we come to Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis that we see God taking the initiative to establish a long-term relationship with man. See tomorrow.