Monthly Archives: April 2019

It Would Have Been So Easy…

Here’s a great piece by Richard Murray:


It would have been so easy.

So very easy.

If Jesus wanted to make it crystal clear for all Christian generations to come that His Father directly pulverizes men, women, and children in His holy wrath, ALL He had to do ……. was to prove it by demonstrating it during His incarnation.

After all, James 1:18, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 1:3, in tandem, say that Jesus came to explain the Father by personifying the full and complete representation of the Father’s nature, and that Jesus was the very image of the invisible God.

So, to confirm that His Heavenly Father WAS capable of:

—killing
—oppressing
—afflicting
—smiting
—plaguing
—disastering

…all Jesus had to do was:

—stone (or endorse the stoning of) one person caught in adultery
—afflict one evil sinner with a plague
—strike one hypocritical Pharisee dead
—oppress one double minded person with an evil spirit in order to punish them
—smite one person with a crippling accident causing them paraplegia so that they would thereafter learn humility and how to give God all the glory for their misfortune
—send one lightning storm, tornado, mudslide, or tsunami to wipe out particularly hard hearted villages or cites.

Had Jesus done ANY of these things, even just one time, then anybody who dared claim otherwise would be forever proven wrong.

But He didn’t.

Jesus’ life was described in this way:

— by the Apostle Peter, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Acts 10:38.

—by the Apostle John, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5.

—by the Apostle James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:13-17.

Since Jesus NEVER once did (or endorsed) any of these destructive things listed above, we can only conclude that He refused to misrepresent the divine nature as anything other as curative, protective, rehabilitative, and restorative.

We should likewise steadfastly refuse to malign God’s pristine nature. It’s the key to everything— “the renewing of our mind, to the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2.

Richard Murray, used with his kind permission.

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A Thoroughly Biblical Argument Against Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Here’s a great article by Christian musician, blogger and thinker Emma Higgs, where she demonstrates that there is strong Biblical support for the proposal that Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) – the idea that Jesus was punished ‘for our sins’ when actually it should have been us that were punished  – is in fact incorrect.

This is a well-thought-out piece which goes into considerable detail and addressess many points. It’s well worth a read, even if only to show that there are other tenable viewpoints out there other than PSA (which I personally do not consider all that tenable anyway!)


A common criticism of people like me who openly oppose Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory is that we are picking and choosing the bits of the Bible we like, whilst ignoring some of the trickier bits.

I intend now to try and make it super clear that this is not what we are doing.

Invisible Goggles

The thing is, we all read things into the Bible that may or may not be there, based on our own understanding, cultural background and personal opinions.

It’s really, really difficult to read the Bible objectively (impossible, actually) – we all emphasise some bits over others, reject some bits as irrelevant and project our own frameworks of understanding onto the text to help us make sense of it. This is not a bad thing – it just helps to be aware that we’re doing it.

Most Christians who believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement claim that the Bible clearly supports it, and that there is no other way of interpreting certain texts. What they don’t realise is that they are reading the Bible through invisible lenses. Let’s call them PSA goggles.

PSA goggles have been the height of fashion in the protestant, particularly evangelical church for a good many centuries now. Long enough that they’ve become so much a part of our identity, we don’t even realise we are wearing them. They provide a logical explanation of the core meaning of Christianity based on a handful of verses, through which we then view the rest of the Bible.

PSA goggles also seem to have the unfortunate effect of obscuring the wearer’s view, so that many parts of the Bible which don’t fit with PSA theory are overlooked or ignored.

Before we jump right into dealing with the specific passages that appear to support PSA, we need to look at six broader Biblical themes that will help to put them into context.

1. Sin and Salvation

In the Bible, sin is about more than just our own personal wrongdoings. It is the whole devastating human condition which separates us from our Source and will eventually lead to our destruction. The salvation that God offers is not just forgiveness from our transgressions, although that is a major part of it. It’s also not just about an afterlife. Where salvation is mentioned in the Old Testament it refers to liberation from bondage (Exodus 14:30, 15:2, Psalm 106:21), return from exile (Isaiah 45:17) and rescue from danger (Psalms 27:1, 51:12, 65:5, 69:2). The Gospels are full of Jesus offering salvation from illness, death, blindness, fear, violence…if it is all about God forgiving our personal wrongdoings so that we can avoid hell, then life and teachings of Jesus don’t make a lot of sense.

(I wrote this article on this very topic a few months back.)

2. God’s Wrath

I think there has been some confusion here. I’m not saying that God is never angry and just lets everything slide. I think he is very angry at ‘sin’ – at that which separates his children from him and threatens to destroy them. I think the full extent of his fury will be unleashed upon the powers of darkness that oppress people and bring destruction to God’s good creation.

Penal substitution claims that God actively punishes his children for disobeying him; that in contrast to his holiness, every single human being is so filthy that we deserve not just to die, but to be tortured for all eternity. That although God loves us, he must balance out the cosmic weighing scales by unleashing his wrath and punishment on anyone who has not accepted Jesus as their Personal Saviour.

So a young boy is born into a war zone, experiences a life full of fear and pain, and drowns at three years old when the boat carrying him to safety sinks. Death for him doesn’t bring relief, but eternal conscious torment in a lake of fire. Or even “an eternity separate from God” (a phrase people like to use to make hell sound more palatable).

And we are supposed to love this God.

Seriously, WTF?

This twisted interpretation continues to repulse and offend me.

God is angry at sin because it threatens to destroy his beloved children. He unleashes his wrath at that which causes us harm, because he loves us more than we can know. (John 3:16)

Like a mother fiercely protecting her young, willing to sacrifice her own life to save her children. (Matthew 23:37).

Of course our own destructive habits are a major part of sin, but on the cross we were set free from the power of sin, so we are no longer slaves to it (Romans 6:6-7). We have been separated from sin, so it no longer has to control us and be part of our identity. But we still have to choose to turn away from our lives of sin.

Do you see what a difference this slight shift in understanding makes?

(Read more of my musings on hell here).

3. Transformation

The meaning of the cross is not a transaction – a legal deal where Jesus gets us off the hook by standing in front of us and taking our punishment. This widespread understanding implies that ultimately, what we do in this life doesn’t matter as long as we’ve completed the transaction and secured our insurance policy against hell.

The meaning of the cross is transformation. When we choose to follow Jesus, we metaphorically die with him and rise to a new life. We are changed from the inside out. Sin is still a part of our lives but we are no longer defined by it, but by grace and love (Romans 6). We become agents of God’s Kingdom, which starts now and one day will come in full (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Choosing to ‘believe in Jesus’ doesn’t mean simply intellectually asserting that certain historical events took place and have eternal implications.

‘Believing in Jesus’ means choosing to follow in the Way he showed us, choosing to love him, putting our trust in him as we would a close friend.

4. Justice

We usually think of justice today as meaning criminals getting the punishment they deserve. Punitive or retributive justice. So we read the Bible with this in mind, and deduce that the ‘justice of God’ is about God punishing wrongdoers.

A better understanding is distributive justice. God wants everyone to be treated fairly, to have enough food and equal rights to a full life. Throughout the Bible God favours those who are oppressed and challenges those who abuse power. This is a major theme – from God liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt right through to Jesus befriending prostitutes and challenging those religious leaders who sought to control people…

God always backs the underdog.

God is passionate about the poor, the weak, the outcasts from society, and he desires justice, equality, freedom and fair treatment for everyone.

5. Crucifixion

The fact that Jesus died on a Roman cross was hugely significant. Rome was the ultimate symbol of worldly power – they maintained their control by any means necessary, crushing anyone who stood in their way. Crucifixion was the slowest, most painful form of torture and execution, reserved for people who challenged authority. To the New Testament writers, this would have been central.

Penal substitution tends to completely ignore the political significance of how Jesus died. If God killed Jesus, then the Romans were simply pawns in God’s greater plan of violently punishing sin and venting his wrath.

No, men killed Jesus. “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). The powers of this world and the dark spiritual forces behind them did their absolute worst to him, and thought they had won.

The resurrection was God declaring once and for all that the dark and oppressive powers of this world, represented by Rome but echoing to the ends of the earth, will not have the last word.

7. Sacrifice

Sacrifice is everywhere in the Old Testament. People sacrificed animals (usually) as a means of communicating with the gods/God, to ask for something or to show gratitude. The sacrificed animal was ‘made sacred’, and it would then be eaten (often by a Priest – see Leviticus 2) to symbolise communion with God. The animal would not have been seen as a substitute, taking the punishment that humans deserved.

Where sacrifice is mentioned in reference to Jesus’ death, through our PSA goggles we have traditionally seen this as implying substitution – Jesus took the punishment we deserved.

But sacrifice doesn’t mean substitution. Think about it.

If someone sacrifices their life to save someone – a father dies in saving his child or a soldier takes a bullet to save a friend, their deaths are not in any way settling a debt owed by that person.

Equally someone can sacrifice their life for a cause – there is no implication that they were a substitute.

So, time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Here are the main Bible passages that are used to support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and why I am convinced that is not what they mean.

Genesis 22: God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son

Abraham doesn’t bat an eyelid when God tells him to provide Isaac as a burnt offering. In the ancient world, that’s what the pagan gods did. People believed they had to do this to keep the gods happy and ensure the survival of their tribe.

So the point here is that this God doesn’t do that. They are entering a new understanding of their relationship with the divine, and learning that He doesn’t demand child sacrifice.

Thank goodness for that.

Exodus 12: The Passover, referenced in John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5 – ‘the Lamb of God’

It’s pretty clear that the New Testament writers saw a parallel between the story of the Passover, and Jesus’ death.

Passover is a Jewish celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The story goes that God told them to sacrifice a lamb and mark their door frames with its blood, so that when God came to strike down all the firstborn sons in Egypt, He would pass over the houses marked with blood and their sons would be spared.

The Passover lamb wasn’t in any way a substitute for sin. The blood wasn’t payment, it was a sign of faith, an indication of loyalty and identity. They were instructed to eat the lamb after it was slain – if it symbolically represented their sin, eating it would not make sense.

So when John the Baptist declares “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he is referencing the sacrificial lamb which brought the Israelites liberation from Egypt.

No sign of substitution.

Leviticus 4-7: Sin offerings

This is a detailed and pretty gory set of instructions regarding making animal sacrifices to atone for sin. These sacrifices were intended to be a peace offering, to restore the people’s broken relationship with God. There is no sense of the animal dying in place of the person, or of sin being placed upon the animal. It is a gift to make up for wrongdoing.

Leviticus 16:10: Scapegoat

But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.”

So the one time sins are symbolically placed onto an animal, that animal is not killed.

Interesting.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIV)

This is the most commonly quoted Old Testament passage used to defend Penal Substitution. I’ll write my little commentary in italics

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
(the suffering that is the result of sin)
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
(WE considered him – I suspect when Jesus hung on the cross it looked a lot like he was being punished by God. Doesn’t mean he literally was…)
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
(Yes! He took the full force of sin upon himself and broke its power – sin punished him, not God!)

Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”

I don’t even know how this has become a “proof text” for penal substitution.

God allowed Jesus to be killed? Yes. He sacrificed his Son to save us.
Jesus felt abandoned by his Father? Whilst suffering the most painful form of execution known to man? I reckon so. 

So God killed Jesus? NO! WHAT?? Why would you even say such a thing??

Mark 10:45 (NIV)

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Yes, a ransom paid to the powers of darkness and death…they demanded blood, not God!

Romans 3:23-26, 8:32 (The Voice translation)

“You see, all have sinned, and all their futile attempts to reach God in His glory fail. Yet they are now saved and set right by His free gift of grace through the redemption available only in Jesus the Anointed. When God set Him up to be the sacrifice—the seat of mercy where sins are atoned through faith—His blood became the demonstration of God’s own restorative justice. All of this confirms His faithfulness to the promise, for over the course of human history God patiently held back as He dealt with the sins being committed. This expression of God’s restorative justice displays in the present that He is just and righteous and that He makes right those who trust and commit themselves to Jesus.”

“If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him?”

Speaks for itself! Not even a flicker of God pouring out wrath on Jesus.

Gave him up as a sacrifice? Definitely.

Punished him in our place? What?? No!

2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13 (NIV)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””

So Jesus took the full force of sin upon himself, was cursed by sin… doesn’t mean God was punishing him.

1 Peter 3:18, 2:24 (NIV)

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed”.

Yes indeed. Still no mention of God punishing Jesus.

1 John 4:10 (NIV)

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Yep. Atonement, at-one-ment, making things right between us.

Sacrifice – still doesn’t mean substitution.

I’ve probably missed some out but hopefully by now you get the picture.


What a wonderful piece.

And here’s the link to the original article.

Interestingly, there is a classic example of a ‘nasty Christian‘ in the comments section for the original article as presented on Emma’s blog – look out for one ‘Chuck’ and bring a sick bag with you. His hectoring, dogmatic, humourless, rigid and unbending tone and arrogant attitude is exactly what I mean when I write of Christians putting others off God. He’s one of the NPCs: grey, dusty and dry. No idea who he is, but he’s not the sort of bloke I’d go out for a pint with. I did that once with one bloke, on a ‘get to know you’ basis, and he took his Bible with him, hidden in a little satchel, and proceeded to ambush me and bop me over the head with it. And wouldn’t listen when I took exception to it. Such are these people, and God is currently teaching me how to love the NPCs.

But, as you can tell, I’m not quite there yet 😉

And I fully understand that people at certain Stages in their spiritual growth find it very hard to see any alternative points of view to their own, and in my opinion only God can actually move them out of their place and into fresh revelation. And unless and until that happens, they will fight tooth and nail to defend their position.

Still, I hope you found the article interesting. At the very least, for those with an open mind, it shows that the idea of a non-PSA Gospel is certainly a Biblical one. Those who would choose to deny that are doing just that: choosing to hold on to their own interpretation – which is fine; that’s their prerogative – but we can see that PSA is not the only realistic and indeed Biblical point of view out there. And to be honest, religion is the slowest system in the entire world when it comes to changing its views!

Peace and Grace to you.

 

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Battle in the Air

This entry is part 21 of 21 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

Back in 1969, when I was seven years old, the classic war film ‘Battle of Britain‘ was in the cinemas, and in this instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ I am going to showcase a superb piece of music from that film, which is an excellent example of musical storytelling.

But first, some background.

During the decades immediately following World War II, many films were made about the War. These movies told stories about the whole spectrum of the War, and depicted history – or near-history – from all theaters of the War. Films like ‘Bridge on the River Kwai‘ (1957), based on a true story of Japanese use of slave labour to build the Burma Railway. 633 Squadron (1964), from the book by Frederick E. Smith, its story loosely based on real-life exploits of crews of the incredible DeHavilland Mosquito fighter-bomber, and by which George Lucas was inspired to create his Death Star Trench attack from the final act of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope. And, of course, The Dam Busters (1955), telling the true story of the legendary 617 Squadron* and their attack on the Ruhr dams on the night of 16/17 May, 1943, using the ‘Upkeep’ mine, also known as the ‘bouncing bomb’.

This is the raid that I often simulate in my personal light aircraft flying adventures, albeit in daylight and a lot higher up than the 100ft height that 617 Sqn flew the attack at. Because they flew at 100ft in the dark. Amazing flying. And the ‘bouncing bomb’ alone weighed like five times the total weight of my Tomahawk aeroplane 😉 And of course there’s the unforgettable and iconic film The Great Escape (1963), depicting, reasonably accurately, the true story of the escape of 70 prisoners of war from the German prison camp Stalag Luft III at Zagan in Poland. Even today, the main theme tune from that film – composed by Elmer Bernstein – is sung by football crowds all across the UK during matches, and has been essentially immortalised. Such is the power of film music.

Anyway, as a young boy I was absolutely fascinated by Battle of Britain, and indeed all the war films of the time. Since my Dad is ex-RAF, and I have a deep interest in military history, and a passion for aviation in general, this is no doubt largely why I have had a lifelong interest in military aviation in all its forms. We always looked forward to Christmas because there would always be some decent war films on the telly.

But the thing about Battle of Britain that I wanted to write about is the way that the climactic battle is done almost entirely to music. In fact, the music tells the story, and it could in fact be thought of as ‘musical storytelling’. The genius of this music – a piece called ‘Battle in the Air‘ by Sir William Walton – is that it captures perfectly the desperate and fraught feel of aerial combat. The breathtaking fear, the extreme danger, the racing, speeding, swirling and chaotic nature of aerial combat; the rapidly manoeuvring fighters and the rattle of their machine guns and cannon. The menace of the German armed forces and the threat of the invasion they were planning. The triumphs, the terror and the tragedy.  It’s all there.

What I’m going to do is to let you hear the piece of music first, and then give you a clip from the film itself where the music is actually used. Get a feel for the music and the story it is telling, and then see if it matches up with what you see in the film clip.

This part of the film is narrated almost entirely by the music. Once the music starts, there is very little engine noise, gunfire or anything else, just the occasional bit of monologue from a couple of the actors, and that rarely. The visuals and the music tell the entire story, and it is sheer genius.

September 15th, 1940, the day depicted by the clip, was the height of the Battle of Britain. In the two months leading up to this day, and on the day itself, (which is nowadays celebrated as ‘Battle of Britain Day’), the course of the War in Europe was decided. The hitherto unstoppable Luftwaffe – the German air force – had been defeated for the first time. As a result of this, not long after this day, Hitler decided to ‘postpone indefinitely’ his planned invasion of Britain.

The evocative picture below shows condensation trails (contrails) generated by aircraft operating at expremely high altitudes, fighting over London during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Yes, that’s Elizabeth Tower, colloquially known as ‘Big Ben’, although that’s actually the name of the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”. – Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940

As an additional observation, I’d say that classical music, played by a full orchestra, is generally neither liked nor understood by the general populace. It’s seen as old and stuffy. But in the world of cinema, just about all of cinema music is essentially classical, and is almost always full orchestra stuff. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were some forays into synthesiser music – for example Vangelis’s soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire (1981), and the soundtracks to many science fiction films of the time, such as Dark Star  – but these nowadays come across as pretty cheesy, especially the science fiction soundtracks (Chariots of Fire wasn’t too bad in my opinion; for once the synth stuff actually worked). In short, there’s nothing like a full orchestra for a cinematic score.

And the work of the legendary composer John Williams is, in my opinion, some of the finest music ever written, not just in the field of film score music. His work on so many films – Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, E.T., – is unsurpassed, and so is his genius.

Yes, music tells the story, usually as part of the screenplay, and usually very well. But today I just wanted to showcases the sheer genius of Battle in the Air, and how it tells the story with very few words and no sound effects audible. I hope you have enjoyed it!


*I’d like to tell a funny and interesting, if somewhat politically-incorrect, story about that film. The RAF officer who led the Dams raid was WgCdr Guy Gibson, and he had a black Labrador dog called ‘Nigger’. It’s an historical fact; deal with it.

As part of the operational planning for the Dams raid, the code word for the destruction of the Möhne dam was the word ‘Nigger’, to be transmitted in Morse code by the wireless operators in the Lancaster bombers taking part in the raid once the dam had been breached. Controversially, because of the somewhat sensitive nature of the dog’s name, some modern TV versions of the film were censored/edited to either blank out Nigger’s name entirely, or replace it with a more ‘acceptable’ name. I hate political correctness, and although I would not go out of my way to offend people, that was the dog’s name, and I am one of those people who thinks that history should be left alone and unchanged, no matter how ‘unacceptable’ something may be deemed to be in these present times.

But what’s funny is this.

Let’s say the dog’s name was redacted to ‘Blackie’. When the Möhne dam is breached in the film, the wireless operators back at base hear the Morse transmission coming in and proclaim joyously, “Blackie! It’s Blackie, sir!” and there are handshakes all around because the job’s a good ‘un and the dam has been breached. Except it’s not ‘Blackie’. Those who can read Morse (and I can) can hear clearly that the Morse message is in fact the original ‘Nigger’, just as it should be. ( _.   ..   _ _.   _ _.   .   ._. )

These censors are incorrectly assuming that no-one these days knows Morse, a point that, should I be so inclined, I could also get as equally offended about as do those who don’t like the dog’s name. But I don’t get offended…I learned Morse as part of qualifying as a Radio Amateur in 1985 and, although Morse is no longer required as part of the Amateur licence, I still know it and can read and send it proficiently. I also find it very useful when flying at night, as the radio navigation aids I use are identified by a Morse callsign, albeit using a much slower Morse than I am used to reading.

But still, I think the story is funny. A story where politically-correct censors try to find an offence that doesn’t really exist, and thereby create other insults into the bargain. History is best left alone!

Tragically, Nigger was killed by a hit-and-run driver just outside the station gate at RAF Scampton, the Dambusters’ base, on the evening of the raid, not long before the Lancasters set off on their mission. WgCdr Gibson’s wish was that Nigger be buried at midnight that same evening, and this was done while Gibson’s and the other crews were actually carrying out the attacks on the Dams.

Here’s a picture of Nigger’s grave:

…and its position next to one of the hangars at RAF Scampton:

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