Category Archives: Theology

Jesus’s “Both/And” about Scripture (Mark 12:36)

Jesus regards Scripture as both the words of humans and the word of God. We see this clearly in Mark 12:36, when Jesus quotes Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” Listen to the both/and that Jesus uses to introduce that quotation from his Bible: “David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared this…” This is David’s declaration, but even in the Psalms, among the most personal of the writings of Scripture, Jesus says that the human author was speaking by the Holy Spirit, the final author. Both/And: God’s word, human words.

Jesus Indignant (Mark 10:13-27)

I am fascinated by the moods and emotions of Jesus. There’s an interesting juxtaposition in Mark 10:13-27. The second of the two stories is when I would expect Jesus to get angry. He’s confronting the Rich Young Ruler and has recited the commandments (or some of them) and the RYR says with what can only be self-confidence, “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). Any Protestant evangelist worth his salt would lose his cool at this point. Not Jesus. He looked at him and loved him (Mark 10:21).

It is the earlier story where Jesus gets angry. It is when the disciples have rebuked those who were bringing little children for Jesus to bless them. That is what makes Jesus indignant (Mark 10:13-14)!

(He recovers quickly, though, and took the children into his arms (Mark 10:16).)

We are Herod (Mark 6:20)

Mark 6:20 — “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled ; yet he liked to listen to him.”

This is Herod Antipas, who is soon going to kill John the Baptist and serve his head on a platter.

How like him we are!

His wife, Herodias, HATED John the Baptist. But because Herod knew he wasn’t as bad as she was, he thought he himself was a good guy. We’re like that — married to our culture… and because we are not as hateful or greedy or comsumerist or whatever as other people, we think we’re good.

Herod knew John to be holy and righteous, yet he imprisoned him… with the advantage that he could then listen to his pet prophet all he wanted. We do that.

But overall, Herod was puzzled. He knew that he liked listening to John the Baptist preach God’s message, knew he was preaching the right way. But somehow… Herod never quite actualized it. Doesn’t that sound like you and me listening to Jesus?

And all the time, you know, Herod’s hand was never far from the ax or the platter…

My Own Philippians 4:4-8

Protest the things that are unfair, and again I say, protest! Ensure your clever sarcasm is appreciated by all. Roll all the bad stuff around over and over in your mind, as if that was just as good as handing over requests to God. And a righteous unease with this world, which transcends all rationality, will characterise your heart and mind. Finally, if anything has been changed without consultation, if anyone has dropped the ball, whatever is uncertain and dubious and falls short of the high standards of idealism, ensure that those things do not go unnoticed.

God, forgive me and heal me.

What Paul (Paul! — who had been unjustly beaten & imprisoned when he visited Philippi!!) actually wrote:

Phil. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.

Genesis in Nostradamus

I got to thinking the other day. There are lots and lots of creation narratives across cultures — elephants standing on turtles, the first man and woman throwing bones over the shoulder to create the plants and animals, and so on and so forth. If you lined them all up one alongside each other in a shelf, I think there are only two that that you’d say were viable — our own and the Hebrew one. And when you look at them side by side, they’re not really that different.

You have to do a little cultural translation, mind. You have to be aware that water/sea does not mean H2O to the Hebrew mind, but rather the sea is chaos. When a westerner thinks of the infinity of the universe, we cannot help thinking of space… we even call it space! A Hebrew mind thinking of an infinity of nothing would think of the vast sea … would think of water. And they do, in their creation story. If you squint a little, you’ll see that the author of the Hebrew creation was communicating the same creation we’re used to. It starts suddenly, and with light/energy … brought about by something or someone totally out of our experience. Then matter (firm land) has to be separated from the chaos (water) before the rest of the stuff can happen.

Much of what follows is in the order you would want it to be in — truth that modern people have accessed through scientific enquiry was somehow accessible in a different way to this ancient author. Plants before life in the sea before birds and mammals. Even evolution is anticipated: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind.”

Even those bits that are difficult are worth discussing in science terms as well as theological. So, for example, in Genesis, if the dry land / Earth does represent matter rather than planet Earth, then the plant life is viewed to come into existence before our solar system. That would have been thought bizarre at one point. But by the late 20th century, the theory that life is extra-terrestrial, and that comets and so on might, in fact, be transporting the earliest forms of life were being explored (see for instance, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s panspermia hypothesis).

Because the Genesis account is in the Bible, it’s given a rougher ride than it deserves. If it had been discovered in a cave, or if someone found it in the writings of Nostradamus or even in the writings of some 19th century mystic, oh, how the tabloid newspapers would hawk it as uncanny, supernatural, and an amazing likeness. Good guesses, Moses!

Satan’s Conversation with Eve (Gen. 3)

He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1)

Satan is so crafty. I’ve long believed it’s no mistake that he chooses to talk to Eve on her own, not because she’s Eve and the weaker of the two, but just the fact of talking to one of them, rather than the two of them. “It is not good for him to be alone,” God had said before the Fall — astonishingly, even before the ‘bad’ was introduced into creation, there was ‘not good.’

But isn’t also curious that Satan chooses to start the conversation by implying that he has an incorrect understanding of God’s conversation with the two? Later, he’ll imply that he is an authority on the matter of whether the thing will kill them or not — clearly he needs her to believe that he knows what he’s talking about. So why start by implying that he doesn’t know? Why start by having her feel like she’s telling him stuff that he doesn’t know? How does that help him?

He does not come in claiming to be an alternative God. The conversational style makes it sound as though this is one created thing chatting to another about their roles in the cosmos…. Over the course of the conversation he sounds as if he is not trying to set himself as an alternative Father figure, but rather as a kind of impartial older brother, advising rather than issuing contradictory orders.

Does he despise her? He must, to wilfully lead them away from God’s decrees like that. Unless he is convinced that ‘opening their eyes’ in that way was good for them or good for him or something. What is he hoping to gain? That clearly is not something Scripture thinks we need to know, maybe it is, at this stage, beyond our comprehension.

Very curious.

the word “evangelicalism”

Timothy Keller writing in The New Yorker magazine:

“in the early nineteen-seventies, the word “evangelical” still meant an alternative to the fortress mentality of fundamentalism [but]…its meaning has changed drastically…”

“When I used the word to describe myself in the nineteen-seventies, it meant I was not a fundamentalist. If I use the name today, however, it means to hearers that I am.”

“in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with “hypocrite.””

“Does the word, then, have an ongoing usefulness? For now, the answer may be no.”


Why Things Don’t Change

The sun is nearly 900,000 miles wide. It is a huge ball of gas with nuclear fission going on at the centre, producing a temperature of 15.5 million degrees Celsius at the core.

A human being can blot it out of the sky by holding up the palm of their hand.

No matter how great or how true a thing or an idea, no human being will see what they choose not to see.

Life More Abundantly?

“God wants you to be rich” is a statement that, to me, seems almost indistinguishable from an assertion like “God wants to stuff you with a table full of cappucino-flavoured ganache.” Before accepting Jesus’ offer of “life to the full” (John 10:10), you need to understand his concept of what a full life is. That is unlikely to be the same as the assumptions of 21st century western culture.

The Alien Logic of Both/And

My former colleaugue, Lish Eves taught that our western/Greek logic is based on “either/or” — we deduce things with the default that one thing will exclude the other thing. This has been a useful shortcut in, for instance, Newtonian physics, but turns out to be a real drawback in our attempts to understand quantum mechanics.

But, she said, many other non-western cultures, notably the ancient Hebrews, have a default logic that is “both/and” — this makes them appear to us illogical and incapable of reasoning when in fact it’s merely a different kind of reasoning and the only way of dealing with some truths. Einstein rejected quantum physics because he was “either/or.” But light IS both wave and particle; there are occasions where the photon/electron or whatever IS in superposition — both here and there. Jesus IS fully human and fully divine. etc. For ancient Jews, my comical example is “Your god does not exist, AND our God could beat him up with one hand tied behind his back, AND he doesn’t have hands anyway.” To us, this is funny; I’m not sure St Paul would understand why we think so.

In our lives, relationships are easier to see as both/and … most westerners can conceive of a love/hate relationship when it comes to themselves. But the extreme modernist frequently complains “How can you say God is a God of love when X Y and Z?” EITHER he is this and not that OR he is … etc.

You and I are culturally conditioned, I think, to lump things into either/or categories. Other cultures would find this arbitrary.

What I never got around to asking Lish is why it is that she thinks cultures need to be either one or the other….

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