Sunday, March 8, 2020

e=mc2


e=mc2? well actually John 3:3

This last Sunday (8th March 2020), the famous passage of Nicodemus visit to Jesus was our lectionary reading.

What struck me on this reading of the passage is the initial exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a teacher. Those he associated with were not impressed by Jesus. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the time were, if anything, antagonistic towards Jesus, discounting any possibility that Jesus could have been the Christ, or in any way favoured by God.

Yet some, like Nicodemus, must have had mixed feelings.

I simply assume that these mixed feelings caused Nicodemus some spiritual restlessness, and this at some point drove him to enquire more, and enquire directly from Jesus.
He did this at night, presumably to draw as little attention as possible to his meeting. Again, presumably, because he would suffer some criticism from his peers for entertaining any uncertainty regarding this unqualified religious person named Jesus.

His first statement to Jesus unmasks Nicodemus’ uncertainty.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

It doesn’t sound uncertain, but in the context of the rest of the passage, it is.

I find the approach of Nicodemus very interesting.

First he addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”, meaning teacher, and, from my point of view, he is submitting to Jesus' authority with this address.

The next point he makes, to me, seems more of a question than a statement. The implied question is; “Jesus, have you been sent by the most high God?, and if so, could you show me some more legitimate qualifications?”

He might also have asked; “You perform miracles just as though you have been sent by God, but you are an ordinary, unqualified, uneducated carpenter, so how could you really be someone sent by God?”

My rewording of the statement helps to show where I see Nicodemus, and many of us also, approaching Jesus with mixed feelings.

Jesus' answer is unexpected, and deals with Nicodemus’s heart.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

This is one of those bold, original and world changing statements, to me a bit like Einstein’s e=mc2. With respect, I do not consider Einstein on the same level as Jesus.

If we take Jesus statement at face value, I want to make some spiritual deductions, if that is allowed.

Firstly, Jesus equates “teacher who has come from God” with ”seeing the kingdom of God”.

In other words, for anyone, let alone Nicodemus, to be able to “see” that Jesus is in fact a teacher sent by God, they are actually “seeing” the Kingdom of God.

I would like to repeat, to be able to “see” that Jesus is in fact a teacher sent by God, is the same as “seeing” the Kingdom of God.

The next point is the one that inspired me to write this little post.

For Nicodemus to know that Jesus is truly a teacher sent by God, then Nicodemus is in fact, already “born again”, or “born from above.”, or at least in the process.

If this is true, then Nicodemus was actually compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek Jesus out. He didn’t then have to bow down and “make Jesus Lord” so to speak, the Spirit was already blowing in his heart, directing him to this life-changing meeting. Not that bowing down and acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus is wrong or fruitless. In fact, soon, very soon, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess exactly that.

I guess, what I am saying, from a different angle is that being "born again", does not come down to a simple formula. e=mc2 is a simple formula, but putting it into practice takes incredible atomic energy.

The atomic energy of "you must be born again" is found in that seismic, all-encompassing, self and sin destroying event known as the cross.

May the Lord bless our earnest seeking of the truth..

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Question is not “Is There a God?”

Is there a hell?

Death awaits all of us. Our lives are a gift, and each of us have a number of days that only the Lord knows. Today, in the west, we have befriended death, and welcomed it as an outlet, a fitting end to our suffering, with only neutral or positive moral consequences. Euthanasia, now renamed “assisted dying”, is considered both humane and desired above the end of life suffering that is less predictable, and to some degree, out of our control.

But what of eternal judgement, and, if it is as the Bible describes it, the possibility of eternal damnation?

If there is a possibility of this, and society became appropriately aware of this, would we reconsider our cultural befriending of death?

We are very respectful of disease, particularly epidemics with life threatening consequences. These events change the way we govern our airports, hospitals, schools and other places of public gathering. Hard decisions are made by leaders, policies with strict adherence legislation are quickly drawn up and pronounced through media outlets and other channels.

But these events are usually backed up by clear evidence of danger such as morbidity figures. The particular disease is investigated thoroughly and ways to protect individuals are developed.

Hell, on the other hand, is considered only on religious grounds.

Depictions traditionally involved demons and fire, but then became the domain of childrens cartoons with fable like fictitious safety. Good for a story but not reality.

However, hell remains a part of the 3 single deity religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is my opinion that modern versions of the first 2 would often discount the possibility of hell, and consider to some degree or other, that if there is judgement, mankind is not in danger of it.

I am unable to speak on Islamic teaching.

As a Christian, my reading of the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, and the book of Revelations, clearly portrays the understanding of eternity, judgemnt after death, and the possibility of eternal damnation. Luke Chpter16 has a parable on an individual now in an irreversible condition of continual suffering and torment.

Popular humour depicts Hell as a place of potential wicked fun, where the lack of judgement means relationships with others free to do as they choose, albeit confined to a type of eternal prison, but one in which certain comforts remain.

Were I to seriously consider, with my informal theology as a Christian, what hell might actually be like, I imagine some of the following.

There would be no relationships, certainly no supportive relationships that might ease someone who is suffering.
There would be regret, continual regret over immoral decisions, the type of regret that would not have any consolation.
There would be guilt, both the understanding and the feeling of guilt, continually.
There would be no escape, nowhere to go, nothing to take, that would remove or ease or temporarily turn off the negative feelings. There would be no ability to, for example, kill yourself to escape, as you are already dead.
There would be pain, emotional if not physical, and this would be unrelenting.
There would not be music to soothe the soul. The memory of such music would only increase the sense of regret.
There would not be hope for a better future, a time of relief.
There would not be kindness.
There may be demons and devils and Satan, and if they were present to communicate, there would be no relief from the torment they would bring, as they themselves are in torment and would take out their pain on whatever or whoever was present for them to do so, without an angel of God to stand in the way.

And worst of all, there might be the ability to actually see what could have been, if only faith and repentance had occurred during life.

If the parable in Luke 16 has any resemblance of reality, then the person in hell can look across an uncrossable gulf, and see from a distance, the comfort of those in God’s presence. Surely this would be a bitter, bitter pill to an already intolerable  afterlife.

If there is a hell, surely a loving Saviour would do anything within his power to save us from hell?

As Christians, we believe that the cost of salvation is no less than the death of a perfect man; Jesus.

His act of self-giving, pays the full price for the sinner, bound for hell, to be freed from his deserved judgement.
We are taken from eternal damnation into eternal forgiveness and blessing.

While we still have life and breath, how can we overlook such a great salvation?