Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Degrees of Grace

A few weeks I was asked a question it went something like this...
'Isn't the idea of any one person going to hell infinitely worse than the idea that Jesus could have gone to the cross and died for us?'
Now my answer to this question revolves around one central difference.
Hell is the place where people get what they deserve.
The cross is the place where Jesus takes something which is diametrically opposed to what he deserves.

This led to some development of some rambling thoughts I have been struggling to keep in check and articulate for a while. You see the Bible repeatedly talks about judgment in ways which show that one of the central characteristics of God's judgment is that people get what they deserve. Often the picture is of things being reversed (for example the plunderer is plundered, the one who abuses creation finds that creation turns on it etc - see Habakkuk 2). Now if this is the case I want to suggest that perhaps we need to re-evaluate our view of hell. People have talked about hell as the absence of God, as natural consequences of the lives we lead, of penalty from God for our rebellion and so the debate rages. This got me asking the question of what, if like the gospel itself, it is all about grace.

What if in essence life comes down to what grace you receive?
1 - Partial Grace - The life we all lead now. We experience some of God's grace but not all of it. We do not suffer the consequences (be they natural or supernatural) for all the moments of our lives but nor are we spared from them all. We enjoy God dealing with us graciously to a degree.
2 - Complete Grace - This is what historically people have called heaven. This is where we enjoy God's grace in it's fullness. We enjoy his blessing, his forgiveness, his pardon and his acceptance absolutely. Here we live as recipients of grace and practitioners of grace in an existence where grace is the norm.
3 - No Grace - This is what historically people have called hell. This is where God ceases to pour his grace on us in any way and we stop relating to each other with any grace at all. As a result what do we end up with? Well we end up in an existence where all we get is precisely what we deserve. Having rejected God and seen grace as unnecessary, impossible or offensive then we no longer enjoy even the partial grace God blesses us with during this life.

This may be heresy for all I know but I think this seems to reflect the way the Bible talks about this world, heaven, judgment and the gospel. Perhaps this can help us re-evaluate our view of God's judgment and start to realise just why understanding and accepting grace is so crucial, not just for now but for forever.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Striving after mediocrity

The gospel, by which I mean the good news of a God who makes a way for us to come into his family, is incredible. Not only is it incredible but it achieves incredible things. The gospel is the news of a God who came to earth and died to rescue us. The question is what did he die to rescue us from? Now if you are a Christian I guess a few answers will have sprung to your mind.
Well they are all true, however, I wonder if sometimes we focus so much on these things that we forget what we has rescued us from now in this life. Every now and then I get a glimpse of my heart and when this happens I cannot help but be grateful at how often in my life God has saved me not from some future fate but from my self.

The natural inclination of my heart is to want to be good. Now I think everyone has this to a degree but I have it in spades.
In work I want to be a success. I find myself comparing myself to other people. I find myself looking for promotions and for how to make it bigger and better.
In sport I want to win. I want to be good at it. I want people to look at me play and say 'Wow he's pretty good at that isn't he'.
In conversation I want to be seen as witty and intelligent.
In home life I want to be seen as a role model as the kind of guy people want to be.

You see whatever it is I want to be good. But the fact is I'm not great. I work in an average sort of job, I play sports to an average sort of level, I'm not mute but I'm also not Stephen Fry. When I get a glimpse of my heart I see what Jesus has rescued me from. he's rescued me from a constant striving for mediocrity. He's rescued me from a life where I devote myself to promotion after promotion after promotion only to realise that in the end I still end up just somewhere in the middle. He's rescued me from a life where I pursue physical fitness and sporting prowess only to at the end of it realise that I'm no better than passable at it all. He's rescued me from a life of reading and socialising and moralising and faking only at then end of it all to realise that I'm nothing better than a decent guy to chat to for 10 minutes and a decent enough kind of bloke.

Without Jesus my life would be a constant straining to achieve mediocrity - I am so thankful that he rescued me from this and pulled me into a life which says stop striving for mediocrity and instead strive for insane brilliance. You see rather than striving for my own mediocrity the gospel shows me how to strive after God and his brilliance. When I get the gospel I am freed from this constant striving after mediocrity to pursue the God who made everything around me and in whom is life itself. When I forget the gospel I get a glimpse of life without that and find myself scrabbling around trying to make myself a little more average. I thank God for this little, tangible glimpse of salvation.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Science, Suffering and Sex

Recently I was asked to do a number of talks about common issues people have with Christianity. Again it seems like people see these three issues as huge stumbling blocks to Christianity. I want to suggest that these three issues are more often than not mere smoke and mirrors or red herrings. It never ceases to amaze me how often these three come up in conversations about Christianity so here I am going to spend a few lines just seeking to explain why I see these as fundamentally non-issues.

Science - OK so here's my issue with science - the Bible rarely if ever deals with science. Genesis 1 and 2 look nothing like the Origin of the Species. In fact the Bible encourages people to explore the world, to seek to understand it and through that to understand something more of the God who created the laws and environments which make that possible. I'm not here arguing that science will drive you to God but rather that science is not ultimately the reason you're not a Christian.

Suffering - So we move onto suffering. I have spoken to a number of people recently who have said 'I would believe all this Christian stuff except that if there was a God like this there would not be all this suffering in the world.'. Yet again it seems to me impossible that this could be the demonstration of Christianity's impossibility. You see for a start suffering has been around for a while. It's not like in the 21st century people suddenly started suffering and as a result of this suffering concluded that Christianity could not be true. People have always suffered. People in the Bible suffered and yet Christianity has never previously found this to be an insurmountable problem. Suffering may be difficult but that'd because it's suffering. The Bible talks about suffering a lot. The Bible is willing to face up to suffering and give some explanations for it. If suffering creates a problem with Christianity for you it's not because it's the question the Bible can't answer but it's because you don't like the answers it gives. If suffering was such a powerful barrier to believing in Christianity then the Bible would have to look very different, Christianity would not have survived millennia of suffering and the Christian life would not be one so often linked to great suffering.

Sex - And finally we move onto sex. How can you believe something which has such outdated views about sex. 2 consenting adults - why on earth would God care about that? So people go on and so many people are unwilling to even consider Christianity because they feel it would impact on their sexual experiences/expression. Yet again this cannot be your problem with Christianity. Just think for a minute about the calls Jesus makes on your life?
He calls on you to stop ruling your own life and let him do it.
He calls on you to love God with everything in you
He calls on you to love other people like you love yourself
He calls on you to not cling onto your money but see it all as a gift from him and as such rightfully his
He calls on you to love people who hate you
He calls on you to sacrifice your money, your comfort, your popularity, your time and all sorts in loving and joyful worship of God and service of others
He calls on you ultimately to take up your cross (be willing to die) and follow him.

Jesus calls on you to completely hand your life over to him and you think his big demand is about your sexual expression. People get hung up about Jesus' demands over their sex life as if this is a huge problem for Christianity when this is peanuts compared to the demands he makes over what remains (however promiscuous you are) the vast majority of your life. By all means get hung up over Jesus' demands. They are huge but to get hung up on sex is to get hung up on a detail and miss the truly radical stuff.

So science, suffering and sex - they are not your problem with Christianity. They often seem to be but in my mind it seems unlikely that they actually can be. However, all of Christianity's claims and calls only make sense when you get to see a God who became a man, who loved you enough to die for you and who then wins your heart. It's only then that you understand the sheer wonder of Genesis 1 and 2, of what the Bible says about suffering and of the radically demanding, but ultimately freeing, calls of Jesus.