Worlds Apart: where [on] Earth is Heaven?

In March 2021 the author will (DV) be/will have been ‘celebrating’ his birthday number ‘80’. Of course, things have changed quite a bit since 1941—we have changed quite a bit. Call it the ‘ravages of time’ or ‘wear and tear’ or just ‘life. That’s it: We are born—grow into maturity if we’re lucky and ‘naturally’ die. The lyrics of the sixties song ‘Things ain’t what they used To be’ summarises things nicely. A swift search in the Oxford Dictionary reveals the following: “Entropy – A measure of the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical works; in some contexts — a measure of disorder or randomness of a system.” Physicist and Theologian Robert John Russell [i] offers further detail when he describes entropy as, “…a measure of available energy. Energy conservation includes the transformation of mechanical energy into heat. For example, as we rub our hands together on a cold day, friction transforms mechanical energy into heat…In nature, such reversibility is an ideal and limiting case of actual processes which often involve abrupt, even catastrophic changes that drive the system far from equilibrium. Like surf breaking on the beach, the cracking of the iceberg, the diffusion of an aroma, the melting of snow, or the fermenting of sugar, they cannot be undone by somehow merely reversing the environmental factors. There will always be some other effect in the total system.” (P228). Should there be no means of sustaining the necessary equilibrium of material entities (biological or otherwise) then such entities, naturally or otherwise, shall fail to function effectively, dissipate and die.

With relation to sin and entropy, Clergyman and Chemistry PhD, Adrian Hough[ii] asks whether this universe is all there is and how our understanding of God impinges on these observations—in particular, we have to ask what doctrines of salvation and re-creation might have to say, not only about overcoming sin, but also about the conquest of entropy. ‘The entropy of the universe can only decrease if there is the input of order from beyond the universe.’ (P70). The question of ‘why’ there is not sufficient input—in order to bring a significant change to this, seemingly, the disordered universe is another question—a question that, in another place, we have attempted to answer. For Hough it is because of a flaw in the physical laws that govern physical outcomes, Haught describes it as ‘The Flaw in the Universe’—the problem of entropy. Contrary to Hough’s interesting view, we would prefer to affirm the omnipotence/omniscience—and, indeed, the sovereignty of God.

The Second Law taken in isolation leads us to predict a future which is one of disorder and ultimate decay—if this is the whole story then we know the way in which the world will end. On the other hand, the unfinished story of Sin and salvation suggests that we are dependent upon the grace of God and His response to a creation in which things can go wrong—the future here involves trust, and the end is both unknown and ultimately more hopeful.
‘The Flaw in The Universe’ PP143-144.

Jürgen Moltmann[iii] said that “What can be known by us is only ever partial; we need to restore a belief in heaven—’the side of creation that is open to God. It is the Kingdom of God’s ‘energeiai’.’”

Etc…
Exerts from ‘Worlds Apart: Where on Earth is Heaven’
Publication TBA/2021

What kind of World?

When thinking about the feasibility of life in/on a ‘New Heaven & Earth’ it is necessary to consider, a little, the purpose of what we may call, the original model. It isn’t so much a question of the time taken to get where ‘we’ are today. According to the latest scientific data, thoughthe answer to the question is ‘approximately’ 15 billion years from the original spark, and some 6.5 billion years since all the biochemistry, bacteria etc. began shaping the world’s biological diversity. Obviously, from a theological perspective, we would not be suggesting that everything that has ever existed (‘from Bacteria to Bach’) has been the product of ‘chance & Necessity’, i.e. a little bit of luck every ‘so often’ over these billions of years, but rather that there is, indeed, a mind with a view to design or—if you prefer—in some mysterious way—to craft (no excuses for the use of anthropomorphic language) past and present lifeforms.

Is it possible that the creation of the biosphere—what we shall term as ‘a state of affairs’—from its beginnings up until the arrival of humankind—could have, however speedily in terms of actual space-time, turned into what Alfred Lord Tennyson described as, ‘Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw’ (‘In Memoriam’, Canto 56). That Nature is ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ is not in question—the questions lie elsewhere.

Should the God of the Bible desire to create a world, it would, contain: beauty, diversity—as well as a complexity of creatures—for, we believe, it is in the nature of the God of the Bible to bring about such an outcome—and  that is exactly how the first chapter of Genesis describes the (if we may) ‘process’ observed  in the Biblical text. We shall define God’s creative actions as ‘Divine Fiats’, decrees, acts of God:

“’Let the water teem with living creatures, let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens’. God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it (according to their kinds) and every winged bird (according to its kind). And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, ’Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.’”

(Genesis 1:20-25)

NB.It is important to realise that the Genesis text is referring to a state of affairs that, according to the author, was ‘good’ rather than a state of perfection—i.e. a state of affairs that may have been ruined by circumstances beyond God’s control—that God has allowed[1].

Eons before the shadow of man’s presence on earth there existed a creation that would have, in spite of it being ‘Very Good’ have, in retrospect, been described as being ‘red in tooth and claw’. Whether considered to be: the result of an intentionally created system—’patterned’ by the mind of God, or of a ‘naturally selected’ process of evolution—without mindfulness or intentionality—sans ‘blue-print’, sans anything of ultimate meaning or purpose—or the result of interference from extra-terrestrial dissenters—Creation, as the author of Genesis (1:31) announces, was and is very good.

In his comments on Genesis 1:31 Umberto Cassuto states that:

…we have here, at the conclusion of the story of creation, a more elaborate and imposing statement that points to the general harmony prevailing in the world of the Almighty. On the previous days the words that it was good were applied to a specific detail; now God saw everything that He had made, the creation in its totality, and He perceived that not only were the details, taken separately, good, very good, but that each one harmonized with the rest; hence the whole was not just good, but very good. (Cassuto, 1998)

It would seem, prima facie, most incongruous if the state of affairs Cassuto describes could be that of the ‘genesis’ of the evolutionary process but that would be to miss the point—for the Genesis narrative (1:31) states that, on the sixth day, “God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The question is: Would it have really been a time for rejoicing for an Omnipotent & Omniscient creator with any semblance of morality in his character?

Making reference to the laws of physics, in particular the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Physicist Alan Hayward (1985) comments that The Laws of Physics—particularly The Second Law—does not denote a universe where things have gone wrong but that, “It characterises a universe where energy transfers can occur, and consequently where things can happen—in other words, a ‘very good’ universe.”  A world where the Second law did not operate would be, in Hayward’s opinion, stagnant. Christopher Southgate (2008) refers to the beautiful rhythms of the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible that culminate in the assertion that what God had made was ‘very good’. Southgate however points out that humans have always known that the creation contained ‘violence and pain’ and accepts that there is a real problem in affirming with Genesis 1:31 that this creation is “very good” . He nevertheless holds that creation is good: “—in its propensity to give rise to great values of beauty, diversity, complexity, and ingenuity of evolutionary strategy.” Southgate makes clear nevertheless that these kinds of values do not of themselves act as justification for creation by means of evolution. We agree with Southgate i.e. that creation’s propensity to give rise to ‘great values’ is a ‘good’. The view in this book though is that God’s ‘very good’ refers not to the beginnings of the creation [process], but to the whole of God’s planned intentions for the creation—the ‘alpha and omega’. In other words, God sees—in his mind’s eye—or otherwise, the whole picture and it is this that is ‘very good’. For God, surely, sees the beginning from the end and rejoices in the fact that ‘Creation’ is, de facto, very good. And this de facto good is not because ‘the ends justify the means’ but rather that ‘the means’ (the process) is the only possible way for God to bring about an end that not only justifies the creator but that brings, at the eschaton, the best of possible outcome for all creatures.

Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’(Genesis 1:26)

1246W


[1] NB the Hebrew word used here is ‘tovand in Genesis 1:31 ‘tov me’od—meaning good and very good rather than perfect—the implication being that ‘it was as God had intended rather than a ‘perfect state of affairs’ that had been ruined by the disobedience of the pair in The Garden

Heaven is a wonderful place, isn’t it?

Reading the words of St John’s Gospel at the head of the funeral cortege is a most surreal of experiences:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,…”

(John 11:25,26)

This particular occasion was the funeral of someone with whom we were well acquainted—someone that we’d met on a reasonably regular basis; such an occasion as this person’s funeral is particularly poignant. This isn’t the place to speculate as to the post-mortem destiny of any particular person—or to philosophize as to the actual/temporal post-mortem state of affairs prior to the biblical notion of ‘The Judgement’—save to say that, according to the Bible, there is the promise of ‘personal existence’, i.e. the survival of the person after death. It is the author’s opinion that, even though ‘the matter’ (no pun intended) isn’t settled regarding the actual nature of man, i.e. whether there is a dualistic factor that is presently undetectable, there is a strong argument for there being a ‘dimension’ to humanity than meets the critical eye of the materialist thinker. The philosopher J.P.Moreland[i] opines that “…if the dualist arguments are successful the principle/seat of life and consciousness is a transcendent self or immaterial ego of some sort.” (‘The Soul: How We Know it’s Real and Why it Matters’ P49, 2014) It’s often said of someone who has died that they are ‘with the angels’ or even that they have ‘joined the stars in heaven’. Of course, if this is the opinion of someone we know and love who is referring to a deceased relative or friend, we are not likely to question the sentiment behind the aspiration. However, as far as we are able to comprehend the ‘reality’, it is the case that, in order to function as individuals, it is necessary to ‘inhabit’ the ‘space’ i.e. the physiology that makes up the material—the DNA that, it is perceived, makes us who we are. Ergo in order to continue to exist postmortem, we shall, most likely, need something akin to our physical bodies. The idea of there being any such thing as post-mortem survival is, of course anathema to both Materialists and Monists. Indeed, it is the obvious conclusion of persons ascribing to a world-view that allows for no such possibility at death. For the Monist ‘soul-life’ is a social construct that evaporates into the oneness of a universe that is seen as having a ‘soul-life’ of its own—a non-personal figment of a lively imagination—that, somehow, denies the potentiality of the soul-life of the individual person whist allowing for the alleged creative capacity of  an indescribable ‘ultimate reality’. The Monist notion of this alleged ultimate reality, however, need not be confused with the God of Judeo/Christian Scriptures who is an entirely different proposition.


[i] Moreland, J.P.,’The Soul: How We Know it’s Real and Why it Matters’, 2014

It’s often said of someone who has died that they are ‘with the angels’ or even that they have ‘joined the stars in heaven’. Of course, if this is the opinion of someone we know and love who is referring to a deceased relative or friend, we are not likely to question the sentiment behind the aspiration. However, as far as we are able to comprehend the ‘reality’, it is the case that, in order to function as individuals, it is necessary to ‘inhabit’ the ‘space’ i.e. the physiology that makes up the material—the DNA that, it is perceived, makes us who we are. Ergo in order to continue to exist postmortem, we shall, most likely, need something akin to our physical bodies. The idea of there being any such thing as post-mortem survival is, of course anathema to both Materialists and Monists. Indeed, it is the obvious conclusion of persons ascribing to a world-view that allows for no such possibility at death. For the Monist ‘soul-life’ is a social construct that evaporates into the oneness of a universe that is seen as having a ‘soul-life’ of its own—a non-personal figment of a lively imagination—that, somehow, denies the potentiality of the soul-life of the individual person whist allowing for the alleged creative capacity of  an indescribable ‘ultimate reality’. The Monist notion of this alleged ultimate reality, however, need not be confused with the God of Judeo/Christian Scriptures who is an entirely different proposition.

If heaven is such a ‘wonderful place’ then one might expect that it has an altogether different set of physical laws than experienced on earth andin the known universe. Scripture gives a strong impression that, in heaven, there is a different environment. In the book of Revelation we read the following words of comfortable promise: I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelation 21:1-5

The book of revelation is exactly that—a REVELATION. It is addressed to the seven churches in late first century Asia Minor (present day Turkey)—churches in: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There isn’t the space to delve further into the life of these seven centres of Christian life and worship save to say that they were vibrant centres of community life—moreover churches that were having rather mixed fortunes. Dennis  E. Johnson describes Revelation as a letter for a church (churches) under attack, “Its purpose, to reveal ‘things which must soon take place’ is not to satisfy idle eschatological curiosity or feed  futuristic conjecture but to fortify Jesus’ followers in steadfast hope and holy living.”

The book of revelation is exactly that—a REVELATION. It is addressed to the seven churches in late first century Asia Minor (present day Turkey)—churches in: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There isn’t the space to delve further into the life of these seven centres of Christian life and worship save to say that they were vibrant centres of community life—moreover churches that were having rather mixed fortunes. Dennis  E. Johnson describes Revelation as a letter for a church (churches) under attack, “Its purpose, to reveal ‘things which must soon take place’ is not to satisfy idle eschatological curiosity or feed  futuristic conjecture but to fortify Jesus’ followers in steadfast hope and holy living.”[i]


For the purpose of clarification there is, within the Christian tradition an increasingly disparity—or rather a polarization between the view that sees a newly refurbished earth on which the incumbents, somehow, live a ‘New heaven & New Earth existence’, and the view that has a less than earthly hope, i.e. the view that realizes the belief that the Sovereign God—creator and sustainer of all that exists— both known unrealised.  The argument here is that any ‘permanent abolishment of death must take seriously the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that should death be swallowed up by victory, there would be a totally different state of affairs in operation, i.e. ‘different physical laws’:

 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man in heaven. I tell you this brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does the perishable inherit the imperishable…and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed .For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on an immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ‘O death where is your sting?’   (1 Corinthians 15:49,52,53,54,55). The writer of the letter to ‘The Hebrews’ refers to ‘a better country’, i.e. a ‘heavenly country’ (11:14) and ‘a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (12:28}. The implications are obvious: heaven, wherever its location, cannot be a renewed version of the old—it has to be an altogether different state of affairs. in heaven—on the ‘new/refurbished earth’—than exists anywhere on Earth. Clearly there shall be an altogether ‘different’ order. And yet there are many, well meaning, well informed, theologians who insist on informing us that everything created has always meant to be material—and all that there will ever be—at least to do with the created biosphere—shall only ever be material. Materialism, as Edgar Andrews outlines[i] is based on the idea that every effect, including every human experience, must have a physical cause. Richard Middleton [ii]poses the question of why it is that the idea of an ‘other worldly destiny in heaven’ has displaced what Middleton refers to as ‘the biblical teaching of the renewal of the earth’. Middleton we believe is ‘half-way’ correct—yet he, along with a growing number of others, seems to want to ‘throw the baby out along with the bath water overflowing with, it is alleged, 19th century fundamentalist theological denial.


The objective of this book is to offer some light regarding the state of affairs necessary to offer an ‘other-worldly’ hope. ‘Heaven’ is, we suggest, ‘worlds apart’ from the material world on offer by those with a fixation on a return to a ‘biospheric utopia’, which was never the ideal home of men or even of angels.

[1]Moreland, J.P.,’The Soul: How We Know it’s Real and Why it Matters’, 2014
[2] Johnson Dennis. E, ‘Triumph of The Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation’, 2002
[3] Alcorn, Randy,’Heaven’, 2004
[4] Andrews Edgar, ‘What is Man? Adam, Alien or Ape?’, 2018

[5] Middleton Richard, ’A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology’, 2014

‘GOD!’

Have you noticed that, should GOD’ ever be given a thought, this ‘thought’—when annunciated is usually in the form of an expletive—something like ‘O God’ or ‘For God’s sake’ (could be replaced by a four-letter-word that has the same intent). On other occasions— when there’s less angst/tension etc.—a conversation might take a more philosophical direction—especially regarding ‘post-mortem’ existence #survival—particularly the idea that of us all becoming some kind of celestial beings (there is plenty of #space for this possibility though I’ve no idea how any such incorporeal existence might resemble the ‘old physical us’).

I once worked with one of those, most intelligent, atheists (I was an atheist—though not that intelligent).Though he ‘dismissed’ the notion of a deity that created and sustains all life within the universe—particularly within the earth’s biosphere—he had a belief in ‘post-mortem existence. [there isn’t the space here to delve a little deeper into his particular ‘Monistic World View; we’ll save this for another ‘occasion’ 🤔].

Psalm 90: 11,12 refers to both the power and the anger of GOD ( I know, God isn’t allowed to be either angry or judgemental nowadays). “If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due.” One of the things that occupied some of my, pre-Christian, thinking (apart from my desire to see the triumph of socialism) was that of some kind of universal justice, I.e. that if there were no post-mortem judgement, there could be no JUSTICE. Obviously, for there to be any kind of post-mortem justice there has to be some kind of ‘soul-survival’. Verse twelve of Psalm 90 says: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Derek

This isn’t Eden: When Life Closes Down

In his acclaimed book entitled ‘Out Of Eden’ Professor Paul W. Kahn makes some interesting observations regarding the nature of ‘evil’. Kahn notes that, If evil brought us to where we are in space-time-history, then humanity is in desperate need of finding an antidote. Moreover, he argues that it is only the Western religious tradition that informs us of our most important mission—finding that antidote. The task to which Kahn refers is that ‘…both as individuals and communities, we must address the evil in our nature seriously’. (NB. Kahn is not referring to the notion of evil being the result of failures in ‘society’—but rather to what the Bible refers to as ‘fallenness’.) Kahn opines that if ‘we’ want to retrieve that which is now lost, we shall have to ‘Recover Eden’.

If you have had the privilege of visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, you will have brought back with you an impression of the ‘amazing nature of things’ that (presently) thrive around the globe. The Eden Project mirrors the earth’s biosphere that has an appearance of the idyllic but is an environment in which there is an ‘interactional’ struggle for survival. It is impressive, and it is beautiful—it is ‘a wonder to behold’. But, it is not EDEN. And though there is a comparison with the ‘eden’ observed in places such as the ‘Eden Project in the West of England, it not the Eden as depicted in the first book of the Bible.Eden, we may say, was a real place though not ‘real’ in the sense that its coordinates on the space-time-continuum may be plotted. If Eden is a real place, and if Satan (an arch-angel) attempted to battle God within the natural world from some point in the space-time-continuum, then there has to be some kind of ‘reality’ that divides Eden from the rest of the world. NB. This is not an argument from the perspective of the biosphere external to Eden (the world outside of Eden) being inherently ‘evil’—but rather that it—the world external to Eden, was an environment in which, parasitism and predation existed as a part of the created norm. Moreover, it was an environment in which plagues were a potential threat to life in the biosphere. The effects of moral deviancy that was, we might suggest, existent outside of Eden—as with viral infection—crossed into Eden in order to disrupt it and, to corrupt further its latest arrivals.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed…A river flowed out of Eden to water the Garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon…The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Then the Lord God said,’Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—‘ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Covid19

The Corona Virus pandemic has brought with it much to admire about human nature—many things to appreciate: selfless acts of kindness—examples of ‘going beyond the call of duty’—despite the risk of being infected with the virus. On the other hand, there have been rather shocking accounts of selfish behaviour that allows for a clearer ‘peek into the human condition’—the nature of humanity. There is much talk about acts of selfless love as well as talk about the veneer of superficiality masking the human condition. And then there is the talk of the alleged Goodness and Providence of God.

There are obviously insufficient words to describe the effects of a viral pandemic, and even if there were any blame to apportion for its spread throughout the world there would be little point, or indeed benefit, in ‘pointing the finger’—at least ‘presently’. However, it is the case that should the flow of life in the ‘first world’ be inhibited or cut short of its expected benefits: long-lives, enjoyable retirement—then the cry of ‘Where was God? What kind of demon might God/god be? Apart from those physically responsible for the spread of the virus, it is the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures (a deity with the best of possible attributes: Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence and Omnibenevolence) that is most likely to be ‘in the dock’—already found guilty for this latest disaster. 

NB. It is assumed that the God of Judeo/Christian belief is, unlike other notions of a personal deity, an indisputable example of goodness. Moreover, God, having both personality and substance, which is not the case with ideas of the deity which assume that the Universe (itself) has some kind of ‘‘deific’ quality—not above it or outside of it but rather the Universe itself—an amorphous figment of a lively imagination

Bacteria

The question of whether or not it would have been possible for a world such as ours to exist without bacteria is complex; however, it is the case that without bacteria, there would be no biosphere in which biological life as understood could obtain. In a chapter entitled ‘Evolutionary explanation,’ Professor Ian Hutchinson[i] refers to the dangers of a hospital environment. Hutchinson comments that one reason hospitals are such dangerous places is that, “…the environmental pressures on the bacteria there (in hospitals) are such that they rapidly evolve resistance to the various anti-bacterial agents that hospitals use.”  Within the biospheric ‘framework’ there is a quite remarkable amount of life-forms, some might be considered unnecessary intruders, or the kinds of creation that God would ‘surely not have conjured-up’. The reasoning being that there seems to be a contradiction-in-terms should one maintain a particular understanding of what a ‘good’ creation should be. Bacterial life-forms are, as Hutchinson infers, endemic—not only in hospitals but in the whole of the biosphere. They are essential to the whole of the history of the biosphere.

            The above ‘detail’ would, Prima Facie, seem to make matters worse—should we suppose that the existence of bacteria precludes either the likelihood of God’s ability to create a flexible environment for life’s flourishing or that the notion of the creator God, in any sense of the word, being considered ‘Good’. Elsewhere we offer an argument for this world (including the biosphere) being the ‘Best Possible World’ for the plans and purposes of its creator and sustainer. However, this is not the raison d’etre for this paper—instead, it is to argue that this world, in which we have our present existence, is not Eden, so it should not be mistaken for Eden. In other words, this world is not heaven, i.e. that which the writer of the book of Revelation refers to:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ’Behold, I am making all things new.’

Revelation 21:1-5

No ‘other’ GOD

The God portrayed and ‘defended’ here is the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures. A God whose eternity, Peter Sanlon[i] describes as a qualitatively different kind of existence to one of his creatures: ”Being outside of time does not mean that God cannot know what happens inside of time, nor that he cannot interact with a temporal order. Quite the opposite! It does, of course, shape the way he does these things.” As has been referred to previously, God is not to be confused with any other ideas/notions/theologies or philosophies of God—either pre-modern, modern or post-modern. In developing his argument regarding ‘The Mind of God’, David Bentley Hart[ii] refers to “…provocatively counterintuitive ways of expressing the difference between God and every contingent reality—that God, as the source of all being, is, properly speaking, not himself a being—or, if one prefer, not a being among other beings…that God is no particular thing, or even ‘no thing’…or even, as ‘ein lauter Nichts’—a ‘pure nothingness.”  The above is meant to give us pause for thought and reflection on the ‘nature’ and person of GOD—“…in order to remind us as forcibly as possible that God is not to be found within the realm of things, for he is the being of all realms.”

Should God be limited in his ability to produce or concoct the best possible plans for fulfilling his creative objectives, God would not be omnipotent.  Jeff Astley[i]  asks whether or not God could have ordered nature differently and then answers his question by saying, ‘perhaps not’. Astley goes on to say, however that materiality inevitably involves imperfection—a tendency to disorder, decay, fragility, and mortality. Astley’s point is significant as it is the case that the accusation against the ‘designer God’ is often that of incompetence—the design is simply under par or faulty. Ergo, God is either impotent or fails to meet the necessary criteria or the presuppositions of the complainant.

Keith Ward’s comments are insightfully apposite when he refers to ‘natural’ evil as ‘an inevitable consequence of this kind of world’[ii]. We hasten to add here though—that it is not that this world is governed solely by ‘natural forces’ but that this world is probably the only possible world in which carbon-based-life could obtain and the telos (goals) of the Triune God be established. Moreover, there are other [unseen] forces that bring about deleterious effects on the biosphere (even the physical laws) through means that are, presently, beyond the comprehension of any material analysis—even Angels. NB. That’s another story.

 Moving on from reasons of why it is that an omnipotent, benevolent creator would have ‘designed’—a process that allows for the possibility of deadly viruses such as the Corona (Covid19) Virus, it is the case that the biosphere—‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ is an environment in which predation, parasitism and plague are a de facto state of affairs. In other words, it is not Eden. We are, no doubt, aware of our mortality, but we, mostly, do not wish to accept the idea. Moreover, we (in the ‘first world’ at least) do not expect any interruption in our journey through ‘the good life’. But, this world is not Eden.

For those content with the ‘One World’ (Monistic) view of existence, there is no point looking for answers or apportioning blame elsewhere as there is no ‘personal reality’ anywhere within the actual Universe with which to apportion such blame. This, as we’ve alluded to previously, is not the case when we are dealing with the ‘Creator and sustainer of the Universe,’ i.e. the creator who is the ultimate notion of ‘personhood’—and who is both immanent and transcendent to the Universe, i.e. to creation.

Constraints on #god

Should God be limited in his ability to produce or concoct the best possible plans for fulfilling his creative objectives, God would not be omnipotent.  Jeff Astley[i]  asks whether or not God could have ordered nature differently and then answers his question by saying, ‘perhaps not’. Astley goes on to say, however that materiality inevitably involves imperfection—a tendency to disorder, decay, fragility, and mortality. Astley’s point is significant as it is the case that the accusation against the ‘designer God’ is often that of incompetence—the design is simply under par or faulty. Ergo, God is either impotent or fails to meet the necessary criteria or the presuppositions of the complainant.

Keith Ward’s comments are insightfully apposite when he refers to ‘natural’ evil as ‘an inevitable consequence of this kind of world’[ii]. We hasten to add here though—that it is not that this world is governed solely by ‘natural forces’ but that this world is probably the only possible world in which carbon-based-life could obtain and the telos (goals) of the Triune God be established. Moreover, there are other [unseen] forces that bring about deleterious effects on the biosphere (even the physical laws) through means that are, presently, beyond the comprehension of any material analysis—even Angels. NB. That’s another story.

 Moving on from reasons of why it is that an omnipotent, benevolent creator would have ‘designed’—a process that allows for the possibility of deadly viruses such as the Corona (Covid19) Virus, it is the case that the biosphere—‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ is an environment in which predation, parasitism and plague are a de facto state of affairs. In other words, it is not Eden. We are, no doubt, aware of our mortality, but we, mostly, do not wish to accept the idea. Moreover, we (in the ‘first world’ at least) do not expect any interruption in our journey through ‘the good life’. But, this world is not Eden. For those content with the ‘One World’ (Monistic) view of existence, there is no point looking for answers or apportioning blame elsewhere as there is no ‘personal reality’ anywhere within the actual Universe with which to apportion such blame. This, as we’ve alluded to previously, is not the case when we are dealing with the ‘Creator and sustainer of the Universe,’ i.e. the creator who is the ultimate notion of ‘personhood’—and who is both immanent and transcendent to the Universe, i.e. to creation.

Break Through Into Eden

            Paul W. Kahn opined that “Evil begins with knowledge of the finite character of self.” We take Kahn to mean that it was humanity’s realisation of the loss of access to The Tree of Life’ (because of the desire for knowledge) that brought about the exclusion from the ‘Edenic Idyll’.  NB. If this is what Kahn means, then we would add that the evil Kahn refers to is moral—and that the world outside ‘The Garden’ would be ‘mortally infected’ by the presence of Adamah’s line in the world outside of the Garden. That is not to say that the world outside of the Garden had been evil in any ‘moral’ sense of the word prior to Adamah’s expulsion from the Garden—it was ‘naturally as God intended’. But it was to become altogether different—it was, however, not Eden.

Eight days later His disciples were again inside the house, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, though the doors had been barred, and stood among them and said, ‘Peace to you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not be unbelieving, but [stop doubting and] believe.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, do you now believe? Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, and favoured by God] are they who did not see [Me] and yet believed [in Me].’ (John 20:26-29)

Here we have the most telling of the Gospel accounts of Jesus—post resurrection appearances.

The room is locked—and barred. Jesus was not, according to John, in the room, then Jesus was in the room. Who, on earth, would have made up the story of Jesus (somehow) walking through the closed, substantial, wooden door—if it were not true?  The account above is not a ‘normal occurrence’—it is though a ‘post-resurrection’ occurrence. There was something—so different’—about the risen Christ. Jesus invites us to follow him—as he has provided the way back into Eden. He had already told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them—and that he would come back for them—and not just them. Many hearts have gone cold—other ‘priorities’ dictated a lukewarm response to Jesus’ call to follow. Yet, he continues to call (even to the professing believer) us to follow him.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22)

Pandemics have always occurred in this world—some more devastating than others. Globalisation has allowed for the increased likelihood of their spread.

However, providing a way back to Eden is that for which Christ came.

Derek White (04/20)


[i] Evolution and Evil: The Difference Darwinism Makes in Theology and Spirituality

[ii] Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe

[ii] Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe

[i] Simply God: Recovering The Classical Trinity

[ii] David Bentley Hart, ‘The Experience of God:Being,Consciousness,Blis

[i] ‘Monopolizing Knowledge: a scientist refutes religion-denying, reason-destroying scientism’


For me to LIVE is CHRIST!

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!”

The above words, written in around 60-62 AD, are some of the words the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. Paul was a (deeply) religious man—a man who well understood  the depravity (fallenness) of the human condition. Paul’s life was transformed when he was confronted with the person of Christ. But it was not just his experience that convinced him of the ‘person of Christ (‘..first who he is, then what he did..’).Paul was a very learned man, who enquired as to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed he went up to Jerusalem on at least two occasions (firstly within three years of the resurrection and again after fourteen years) in order to get further detail of the life and work of Christ. Paul was a pretty convinced man—he was a man who had previously persecuted Jesus’ early followers.

          What can he mean by ‘to die is gain’?. He was most definitely not suggesting that there was simply something better on ‘the other side of death’ so that we can all be comforted by a false hope of a ‘life of bliss postmortem’—no not at all. Paul was not concerned with opposition (he was beheaded—obviously sometime after writing to the Philippian Christians.  Paul’s life was about telling others that Jesus was, indeed ‘the way the truth and the life’; he was convinced that ‘not one person’ came to God except through Christ—that’s how he was convinced that ‘to die was gain’—it was far better than ‘the now of life’—however bad or ‘good’. So, when Paul  says that ‘to die is gain’ he is not making a sweeping generalisation—he is talking about the destiny of true followers of Christ. Listen to what he says:

“As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice!”

What can he mean? Well, he most certainly isn’t referring to the formation of any kind of charitable organisation etc.—not that he had no concern for the deprived or disadvantaged. His main concern was,however, to make the Gospel of Christ known to a dying world. Paul was obviously attracted to the ‘heavenly’ option (he’d some experience of what that would be like—‘I know a man…’)

          Paul was a man who ‘rejoiced—always’ [in] Christ’. He knew in whom he had believed in—and who was able to bring about the best of possible results. His life was both a life of commitment to the cause of his redeemer and a life of celebration:

“And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit (J )! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here.”

          I have a strong recollection of my time in the spinal injury ward in Southampton General in late 1975 (recently persuaded of the Gospel of Christ—seriously unwell) when a precious friend (the person who had led me to Christ) came to visit; he chose to read some words from the letter to the church in Philippi:

 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!” Philippians 4:4-5 (Message)

Dear professor of the Christian faith—believer/follower of Christ: We have much to rejoice about—even amidst the most difficult of situations. May our ‘rejoicing in The Lord’ overflow into our professing of Christ to others: Who he is and what he has done and continues to do. “For me to live is CHRIST—to die is gain.”

Derek White (April 3rd 2020) Soli Deo Gloria

Love in Action’: A brief look at the Parables in Matthew 25

Feed my sheep

Love in Action’:
A brief look at the Parables in Matthew 25

In Matthew Twenty Five, we have what is commonly referred to as the ‘Judgement Parables: The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Verses 1-13); The Parable of the Talents (Verses 14-30) and The Final Judgement (Verses 31-46). These parables are more often than not interpreted as God’s judgement on the Church i.e. professing Christians who do not take, what is considered, ‘the mandate’ of ‘going into all the world and resolving the problems of poverty,’ i.e., poverty brought about by: ‘failed economies’ (including corrupt governments), unjust regimes or the result of warfare (of varying shades)[1]. The implications of this seem to be that works are the primary criteria for salvation—and that failure to bring about such a state of affairs shall result in judgement. An earthly utopia—‘one world’ is the agenda for many and, even for those professing to fully comprehend the Gospel: “That God so loved the world that he gave his son so that, whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (The fallen state of humanity and the need for faith in Christ).

These stories are, of course, ‘parables’ and not imperative narratives. However, we need to understand the implications for these stories—for ‘the professing followers of Christ’. For the answers I shall, partly, be looking at Martin Goldsmith’s 2001 commentary entitled ‘Matthew & Mission: The Gospel Through Jewish Eyes’—as well as my own reading of the meaning as related to the rest of Scripture—its logical development and purpose.

10Virgins pic

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

25:1.‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.11 ‘Later, the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

 Jesus is referring to a future scenario in which there are both wise and foolish virgins. The foolish ones are pictured as those who had no idea of the importance of commitment to the task. The term ‘bridegroom’ clearly refers to Christ (chapter 9:15)—to Jesus’ return. Moreover, the term ‘Lord’ (v11) clearly refers to the person of Christ. By the time the unprepared virgins got their act together, it was rather late—too late; they were not available to meet the Bridegroom on his return; they seem to have been otherwise occupied—with much more important things—things that were crucial to their lifestyle—perhaps.

Without doubt the first Christians (followers of The Way) were expecting Jesus to return within their lifetimes—but they would have, most likely, been wondering whether they had been told a lie—‘Where was he?’ Now, in 2020, there are some who wait patiently for Christ’s inevitable Parousia and some who, though ‘professing faith,’ i.e. ‘believing the gospel’, are not expectant of much. Oh, they have their ‘theology’—and if you pressed them, they would insist that they are true followers—but it makes little difference to their every-day lives. They, like the foolish virgins, are not at all prepared.

From time to time in Christian history theories of a second chance have crept into some Christian beliefs. Ideas like the harrowing of hell or purgatorial purging have no biblical validity. The finality of the fearful words ‘The door was shut’ and ‘I don’t know you leaves no room for uncertainty…The joy of the wedding banquet consists supremely of being in an intimate relationship ‘with him’. The Christian looks forward with assured hope to the banquet at the table of Abraham where union with Christ will be complete and perfect. Goldsmith, PP.173,174

Talents parable

The parable of the Talents

14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The first thing to notice about the talents in this parable is that they did not only represent ‘scales of difference’, i.e. differences in individual abilities, is that these talents represented considerable value, “A talent represented a vast sum of money well beyond what any sensible master could possibly entrust to mere slaves indeed the figures are so vast that Jesus’ disciples must have smiled at the story.”

This parable is not about feeding the world or even redressing the effects of climate change though it is about Christ’s followers and their use of their God-given talents to ‘go and make disciples’.

In traditional Jewish thought, the final age is represented as the harvest time—a time in which ‘the sower’—God himself reaps and gathers in the harvest at the end of the age. God is not asking the impossible of the professing followers of Christ; it isn’t a question of, as if by magic, one has to produce something out of nothing—but that the professors of the Christian faith use the talents they possess rather than the talents they do not possess. Moreover, it is not referring to some vast foodbank project but to the ‘going and making of disciples’. NB. In this parable, Jesus is underlying the principle that—for everyone  who has will be given more (V.29)—and will have it in abundance. This is not to be confused with the prosperity gospel (which is no gospel at all) but with a commitment to the cause of Christ.

It is interesting to note that in this parable, the third slave’s [one] talent is given to the slave with ten talents.  If this sounds an unfair or ‘an unjust consequence’ of failure to take the words of Christ seriously, one should consider that Scripture, in general, is replete with warnings of the ‘post-mortem’ state of affairs. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus come to mind:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the [S]pirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6).

Jesus’ words here are strongly negative i.e. that if one is not born again/regenerate (Titus 3:5). The apostle Paul refers to a ‘new righteousness’—“…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ—for all who believe. For there is no distinction (however we might feel about our own or another’s level of ‘righteousness’): “For all have sinned and [do] fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is [in] Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25). There isn’t space here—save to say that the idea of some kind of ‘universal salvation for all’ is not to be found in Scripture.

For God so loved the world that, that he gave his only [S]on, that, whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his [S]on into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jesus Christ). Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he/she has not believed in the name of the Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light. (John 3:16-19)

I recall being in a church when the passage from which the preacher based his sermon was Matthew 25: 14-30. What is etched in my mind is the preacher’s distinction between ‘believing faith’ and ‘achieving faith’. Faith in Christ is an essential factor of Christian profession— it is, indeed ‘the gift of God’, but Christian ‘profession’ isn’t a question of carrying on as if nothing has happened—as if there should be no changes to our lifestyle of indeed our priorities—as if it, ‘being saved’, were some kind of insurance policy for a ‘safe’ eternity. And then there is the question of ‘achieving faith’. This is achieving faith is not to be confused with ‘targets’ or ‘objectives’ but with responding to the grace given to us as ‘undeserving sinners’. This parable is, indeed, about responding to God’s calling. We cannot remain silent.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ’How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ (Romans 10:12-15)

sheep&Goats

The sheep and the goats

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

Martin Goldsmith opines that, what has previously been implied (The Parable of the Ten Virgins & the Parable of the Talents) is, in this parable, explicit i.e. ‘A Strikingly Clear Message’.

As the Son of Man Jesus is clearly seen to be the King (verses 34,40) on his throne—The Lord (verses 37,44) and the one who holds the final judgement in his hands. His intimate relationship and union with God the Father is evident In his use of the very personal expression of ‘my Father’; and his pre-eminence and supremacy (Colossians 1:18-20) are evident in the frequently repeated emphasis in the verses on ‘I’ and ‘Me’ (verses 35,36,45). In this parable Jesus shows the radical distinction between the righteous (verse 37) and the cursed (Verse 41 cf. Deuteronomy 30:19).Goldsmith

It is the case that, in the final analysis, all human beings are either in a relationship with God through Christ i.e. as ‘followers of Christ’, or are separate from God, i.e. ‘unsaved’. There are ‘many’ who, in spite of having knowledge of the Gospel, wallow in lethargy, aka ‘unbelief’; many alleged followers of Christ actually ‘sit’ in judgement on God over the perceived injustices throughout the world. And there is a growing number of ‘professing Christians’ who cannot perceive of the idea of a God who cannot but forgive unconditionally (universally)—whether or not there is knowledge of Christ— ‘new birth’. Somehow, it seems, God’s judgement cannot infringe upon the idea that everyone who has ever lived (apart from the really evil people: Stalin,Hitler,Pol Pot, the Moors Murderers and a few others, have the ‘human right’ of a place in Heaven. In other words, God has no option but to deny justice in the light of ‘human rights’ even to those who live as if there were no God—at least not the God of the Bible. Ergo, there must be other priorities for the church—rather than taking the Gospel to every tribe and tongue. Do people really believe that GOD will not bring about a state of affairs in which justice prevails—that there shall be no ‘Day of judgement’?

In spite of the obvious interpretation of this final parable, there are many that teach that God’s judgement (on all people including professing followers of Christ) is based on human deeds of charity—towards the increasing number of ‘the poor’ in a world of opulence and greed.Whilst it is evident that ‘Christians’ are to love ‘neighbours’ as they would themselves—reaching out in ‘any which way’—the parable, I suggest, refers to ‘the little ones’ who follow Christ—and are in union with him. N.T.Wright offers the following:

Instead of the nations being judged on how they had treated Israel, as some Jewish writings envisage, Jesus, consistently with his whole redefinition of God’s people around himself, declares that he will himself judge the world on how it has treated his renewed Israel. Judging the nations is, of course, regularly thought of as part of the Messiah’s task (e.g. Psalm 2:8-12); and the king or Messiah is often pictured as a shepherd (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23-24). That, perhaps, is why the image of sheep and goats is inserted into this scene of judgment.

The implications of the ‘renewed people of God’ being the ‘little ones’ mentioned in the parable is, for some, a view (displacement theology) that suggests God’s abandonment of Israel. That is not my view. However this isn’t the place in which to give it further consideration—save to say that for God to renege on his promises would be to deny himself. It may well be the case that the warnings that Matthew’s gospel mentions regarding these ‘little ones’ are warning against future judgements for all offenses against God’s people—throughout the ages—until the day of judgement. Meanwhile it should be the case that the world may observe the witness of the church, i.e. the way it treats its ‘members’, so that like Tertullian (155-220 AD), our world may say, “See how these Christians love one another.”

Priorities:
  • It may seem prudent to please myself or to please another;
  • It may seem right to askew the sight of a broken word needing fixing;
  • It may seem ‘good’ to mask the truth in the guise of helping;
  • It cannot be right to keep out the light in a world that’s bleeding.

 Derek J. White 2020

3195Words

[1] Of course, there is the ‘Suffering Church’—that is, increasingly, in need of help as persecution increases; this, I believe, is another matter—but isn’t the subject of this paper.

Book preview – God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse: What Hawking said, and why it matters

Science and Belief

globes multiple -73397_1920 Gerd Altmann pixabay copy © Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Paddling his canoe into the North Sea in 2002, John Darwin was undeniably alive. Six years later, as he sat in the back of a prison van, the same applied. It is his status in between these two events that is the more unusual (and less obvious) one. During that interven­ing period, as his struggling family would tearfully recount, he was really not in a good way at all – he was dead.

Although the wreckage of his canoe washed up the day after his death, Darwin’s body was never recovered. His adult sons were heartbroken at the loss of their father, but took a modicum of com­fort from knowing that their mother, Anne, had not quite lost everything. She received thousands of pounds of life insurance pay-outs, and the policy paid off her mortgage too. Even the darkest of clouds, it would seem, could…

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Becoming & Being (Part 2)

Following my profession of faith and, what I can only describe as a ‘turn-around’ in behaviour (the Bible calls it repentance) at the end of 1975, there were, indeed, some glaringly apparent changes; it was as if my personality had had a re-vamp. OK, I’d never been ‘that bad’, but I certainly had had my moments of—whatever label one wishes to ascribe to the innately human propensity to do the opposite of ‘GOOD.The Bible refers to it as ‘falling short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). On one occasion in my late teens I was on my own at a local dance place—called ‘The Royal Pier’; during my time there I happened to bump into my brother Graham who was with his fiancé. She asked him who I was, and was taken aback when he admitted that I was his (by two years) older brother; he’d inadvertently told her that he didn’t have such a sibling. He, no doubt, had his reasons.

I had always loved Christmas, nothing remotely religious—though there was the unmissable sense of ‘something other’; I loved Christmas mostly because of the family get-togethers—especially Christmas Day. It was just prior to Christmas 1975 that I, along with some of my work friends, were down at a local pub in Hamble; the ‘Christmas Spirit’ flowed, the atmosphere festive. There ensued an argument that soon erupted  into a full-blown altercation; this situation was arrested (so to speak) by my impromptu (physical) intervention—followed by an appeal to the ‘Christmas Spirit’—the other one. The fight ended.

The change in my behaviour had become noticeable—both home and at work. So what was going on? Could it have been ‘all in my head?’ The answer is that something had happened that allowed for a change in my behaviour that was ‘a change for the good’. NB. It’s important to note that, the Christian Life, is not about keeping rules—though it is about the ‘rules’ we cannot possibly keep, i.e. in our own strength.I had ‘become a Christian’ and I had a strong desire to ‘give a reason for this new and eternal hope, the hope that my wife Jackie had and that I had come into myself.

Best Selling Book(s)

If you ‘Google’ for a list of ‘The Best Selling Book’, you’ll most likely see an additional clause e.g. ‘besides the Bible’.  The Bible is, apparently, the best selling book ever; well there are sixty-six books in the Bible so you get very good value for money, besides which, it is God’s Word. Have you ever looked inside? I don’t recall ever reading the Bible (actually contemplating its content) prior to my coming to faith in Christ—I do remember though that the Sunday School used to, sneakily, give us kids Bible Verses on small squares of coloured paper or cards NB.I shall return to my concern to give others a reason for this new found hope in another part of the story ( See1 Peter 3:15). The Bible, obviously, plays a major part in ‘the story’. But, of course, it’s not just the words—as they may be considered ‘ink on paper’ (even papyrus) but rather the significance of these words in space and time.

turn for the worst (1)

A Turn for the Worst?

Within a year of the beginning of my ‘faith-journey’ I had become rather unwell. Following a protracted period away from my place of work—with no sign of recovery and no sense of #urgency from my GP—until, that is, my wife instigated one of those rare occasions (at least nowadays) ‘a house call from one’s GP. After the visit from the GP. I was immediately admitted to the neurological ward of Southampton General Hospital—this being during the week of a major industrial NHS dispute—with The Government. Margaret Thatcher was in opposition. The outcome of this dispute was that hospitals were only accepting serious cases aka: emergencies.I presumably was such an emergency.

Whilst in the hospital my friend from the squash court paid me a visit. Alan had heard from my wife that I was, to put it mildly, rather poorly.He, tentatively,read from Scripture (aka The Bible): “Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need,always asking him with a thankful heart.And God’s peace,which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ” (Philippians 4:6,7 ‘Good NewsVersion). At the time I wasn’t able to acertain the relevance to my rather precarious situation.Indeed, I recall saying something like, “It’s OK for you Alan…” ‘Good News’, for me at that point in time would have meant ‘time travelling’—a ‘get me out of here, I don’t need this.’ Well, I hadn’t  previously considered the possible implications of this verse. Was there more to the Bible than ‘meets the eye’ of the average cynic, I wondered?

While undergoing all the (then) latest tests for ‘all things worrying’,I began reading the Bible (I’d either been given it by someone or Jackie had got it for me). When some effective pain relief kicked-in I would read from the Psalms; If I recall correctly, one particular verse from Psalm 46 stuck-out; it was verse ten: “Be still and know that I am God.” I had been rather concerned—as were others too. Oddly enough I became quite calm and unworried. Concerned though? Yes. After all I was only thirty-five and had been given an amazing wife, in Jackie, and three children: twins girls (Rebecca & Esther) of nine and another (Katie Victoria) of seven. My son Gerald was to follow some twelve years later in 1987.

The medics had been looking for a tumor on my spine—but after some more rather horid tests they #suggested that it was not that but more likely something called ‘Ankyolising Spondylitus’.They were’nt conclusive in their diagnosis.I’d been back home a while—still no real improvement—though lots of outpatient hospital appointments. I was rather frail, having lost around thirteen kilogrammes in weight. By this time (I had rather a lot of it without anything much filling it—time, that is.

James letter of

I came across the New Testament letter of James. James 5:13,14 poses the following question: “Is anyone among you (the community/assembly of Jesus’ followers) in trouble (suffering) let them pray.Is anyone happy (I was, strangely content but—‘happy’ not exatly.) let them sing songs of praise.Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (Jesus).”

A short while after my reading of this passage I discussed it with Jackie, who asked Alan, who was one of the elders, whether or not the elders would come around and implement, what seemed to me to be an imperative rather than a suggestion. True to  ‘The Word’ they came—though they were, I detected rather nervous. NB.One of the elders was Alan’s father. I was later to learn that he had, not long before, lost his wife and Alan’s mother to cancer; she was in her forties. The elders knew well the challenges of taking seriously the teachings of Scripture. If I had known about this, I most likely would not have requested that they pray the same prayer over a relative stranger. Forty-four years have past; Alan’s mother is ‘ever’ in the presence of Christ. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is (personal) gain.” Philippians 1:21. I have yet (obviously) to be in the presence of Christ or to receive a new body—one that is not affected by the present physical laws—laws that seem to operate in the known universe—laws that bring about that which is the lot of all flesh:corruption,decay and physical death.

As it turns out the Bible has, more than a lot, going for it. There isn’t the space in this #shortaccount of my ‘reasons for faith’ rather than to say that there are strong reasons for allowing it to direct your life. Indeed there is a library full of books written in defence of the reliability of the Bible and of the historicity of the person of Jesus Christ [i].I have ‘a few’ such books on my bookshelves—mostly written by professors of faith and Professors of Science,Philosophy,Sociology and—as you’d expect—Biblical Theology. The Christian Life though is a ‘life practice’ (vita usa). One just has to live it.

Derek J. White

 

 

Becoming & Being (Part1)

cropped-jackie-on-the-beach-suffolk-2015-3.jpgBecoming A Christ Follower

It wasn’t always ‘that way’; what I mean is that for thirty-five years there would have been no possible way that I could have described myself as a Christian—or indeed as a believer or follower of any: God or gods whatsoever. I was raised in an average, post-war, family struggling with the aftermath of the effects of the destructive nature of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. We were ‘areligious’ though, through the kind invitation of churchgoing neighbors, myself and my siblings, did occasionally attend Sunday School (you might need to Google this)—mostly to give some respite to my mother. Unfortunately my misbehavior meant that I was often excluded from the lessons.

In 1945 we were a growing family with a limited income, mostly, as a result of the cost of a re-building program, which was the result of a German rocket making a direct hit on our house in Southampton.  Thankfully, no one was at home at the time—although my father arrived (what had been) home not long after the ‘hit’.

White family Meadowmead ave C1949
LtoR: Kathleen, Derek [me] Dad (obviously) ,Heather,Graham
When I was fourteen my sister, Kathleen, died; she was nineteen. Kathleen had been ill since around the age of three. Of course, this didn’t help with faith in God, god or gods one little bit. It’s no surprise then  that, after my encounter with the person of Jesus, I have spent a number of years engaged in the academic study of Theodicy i.e. providing a reason for the existence of evil (natural of otherwise) and the existence of an allegedly benevolent (omnipotent) GOD.

In 1959. When (I suspect providentially), I happened to attend the same function as my now (2019) wife of over 56 years. She was, five months short of, sixteen and I was approaching the end of my teens.  Jackie was a Baptist, and I was, at that time, somewhat agnostically antagonistic. Two years plus  later we married, though I would not have been her parents first, second or even third choice, in September 1963. Fast-forward to 1972. We had, for some incomprehensible reason, moved house—to an area that, considering the location of my workplace, made no sense whatsoever. Here we were: a family of five, a nice (please excuse the somewhat overused adjective) house and a reasonably sustainable income—if that makes sense. Within a few days of our moving house, the (Southampton) City Missioner (yes I’d never heard of one either). His name was Oscar. I’d never met anyone called Oscar—neither had I ever met a missionary. Oscar, as you would have expected, engaged Jackie in conversation; by this time she had got used to being married to an extremely-left-wing unbeliever (it often goes with the territory—though not of necessity, of course).

D&J Wedding (signing the reg)
1963 Bitterne, Southampton

For a while now Jackie had been considering how she might ‘go back to church’—an option made very difficult by a husband who vehemently denied the benefits of attending such ‘institutions’—preferring other more attractive establishments—such as water skiing or drinking at the Hamble Social Club or the, more local, distillery. Needless to say, Jackie and our daughters started to regularly attend the church Oscar had recommended. It was just up the road a bit.

Fast forward to the Autumn/Winter of 1975:

By this time, my wife had become a committed member of the church that met in Lordswood (a suburb of Southampton) and had made lasting friendships. Being attracted to the notion of ‘commune’ (as in communism) I had no idea what community, in reality, ‘tasted like’—though I had ‘smelt’ the idea. As it turned out the life of the congregation/assembly/community at Lordswood  was a rather pleasant surprise –a taste of what a caring community might look and feel like. But it wasn’t just this ‘community-life’, it was ‘The Life’ that glued it all together.

After a game of squash (a game at which I considered myself rather proficient) with one of the members of the Lordswood Church Community (a family friend of my wife’s and a future minister),I was challenged with,  both the embarrassment of being on the wrong side of a virtual whitewash, and then being faced with the metaphysical question of ‘Where might ‘I’ be in a millennium?’  My answer, in short, was ‘The same as you—Nowhere! Because, as I made clear, ‘When you are dead, that is the end of the #matter.’  He answered with another question: ‘How do you know that?’  This was the ‘start of the beginning’ of my Christian life.There followed a seismic shift in my life. A ‘Damascus Road’ experience, even