Grace is usually defined as ‘God’s unmerited favour’. So how can something ‘unmerited’ be ‘deserved’? Here’s the brilliant Ken Nichol’s take on this:
More wisdom from the brilliant Jeff Turner:
The unconditional grace of God, while the most glorious truth in the cosmos, can, at first, lead one into a place of feeling purposeless, and even into a brief season of nihilism.
Why? Well, when you’ve spent your entire existence believing that your actions earn and equal out to God’s approval and blessing, a sudden realization that nary a single work of yours has ever changed God’s opinion of you in the least can feel like a bit of a slap in the face.
This is why the religious will always fight a message of grace and mercy, tooth and nail. It invalidates their efforts and works, and forces them into finding better reasons for being good than earning brownie points with their overbearing, rule-obsessed dad in the clouds.
To the self-righteous and religious, grace will always feel like death at first. But to the broken, exhausted and contrite, it is life itself.
My friend Toby pointed me in the direction of this article, from the website UK Defence Journal:
“The Royal Air Force will reportedly be on high alert in the coming weeks in order to track cargo flights from the Arctic region.
“The move has been prompted by an incident around a year ago in which Typhoon aircraft escorted a Lapland registered aircraft (flying from the Arctic region) over the UK’s major cities, the pilot of the craft was said to be under the influence of alcohol and very “festive”, this is especially dangerous due to the sheer volume of cargo the aircraft was carrying. This is expected to happen again.
“An MoD spokesman had this to say:
‘ “Interception is part of what the QRA* force do. We have to identify and confirm who or what is flying through our airspace or approaching our airspace and since the craft appears at the same time each year, we have a fairly good idea who will be flying but we don’t take any chances.” ‘
“The Ministry of Defence used satellites with infra-red sensors to track the aircraft last time this happened, it is understood that the heat from an animals red nose was clearly visible and it was at this point RAF aircraft began escorting the bright red aircraft over every British city, town and village.
“More on this as it develops.”
In case you haven’t got it yet, it’s a joke. I won’t spoil it for you; go and read it again if you didn’t ‘get’ it.
Of course, it’s about Santa Claus. Father Christmas. Yep.
I do think it’s sad that at this time of year, so many religious people moan and protest about Santa and about the emphasis on him, rather than on the ‘Reason for the Season’: Jesus Christ. They trot out ‘Put the Christ back into Christmas’; ‘did you know that ‘Santa’ is an anagram of ‘Satan’ ‘, and other such tired phrases. What happened to the joy of celebrating that God gave us the ‘Gift’ of His Son, to show us how much He loves us? And then there’s the classic religious conundrum: How does a Christian family approach the unavoidable problem of the Santa story? Do we ‘lie’ to our kids and tell them he exists? Will they feel betrayed when they find out the ‘truth’? What about their friends who believe in Santa; do they tell them the ‘truth’ as well? Well, let me tell you our story first.
Y’see, I can really identify with that RAF story I led with, spoof though it is 🙂 Because I must confess that when my eldest son, David, was a toddler, at the beginning of 1991, we jokingly told him that Santa had been shot down over Iraq… 😉 As the story went, he had been clobbered by a heat-seeking surface-to-air missile homing on Rudolf’s nose…
But it wasn’t as bad as it sounds! David already knew it was a joke. You see, our view as a young family in those days with regard to the Santa stuff – and don’t forget I was really ‘religious’ back then – was that we never told our David and his brother Richard (born in 1987 and 1989 respectively) that Santa exists, but we however did tell them that other kids believed in him, so it was our secret that he was not real – and that they were not to tell their friends. In this way, the boys had a secret that they knew they had to keep, so we involved them in the Santa myth in a passive sort of way. The point that it was a secret meant that they kept it to themselves with great joy – the ‘we know something you don’t know’ principle! And so they already knew that Santa had not perished by enemy action; that was how they knew it was a joke – or at least David did. Rich was only 19 months old at that point…
For my daughter Ellie, though, born nine years after Richard, we had matured somewhat, and we decided to ‘let’ her believe in Santa right up to the point where she asked us if Santa was really ‘you two’. She was about ten years old when she rumbled us. And we ‘fessed up, of course. She wasnt fazed by it at all; she had really outgrown it by the time she worked it out. And she never suffered any psychological damage; the Santa myth was useful for her childhood.
How? Well, you see we ‘adults’ look at this question with the black-and-white ‘logic’ of, at least for some of us, ex-Evangelicals. We see it as being either lies or truth. But kids’ minds don’t work that way. Kids routinely enact fantasies that they know full well are untrue, but the fantasy thing is simply a game to them. It’s probably even more than that too; at that age they are developing the ability to think and develop ideas of their own, and fantasies are all part of the way that they test reality. For that reason, amongst others, I would say that a belief in Santa is actually healthy…even if as they grow up, they realise all the incongruencies and inconsistencies – how does Santa manage to deliver toys to over a billion kids in eight hours without waking up all the kids (even the good ones!) with a sonic boom – all this does is to help them differentiate between fantasy and reality; fact and fiction. Comic books and superheroes do the same thing. They know it’s not true, but it doesn’t matter; it’s fun – and that’s the main thing.
But also that knowledge and ability to distinguish fantasy and reality mean that we can still indulge, as adults, in fantasy, even just for a little escapism. I know full well that what Spiderman can do is impossible – but that doesn’t stop me enjoying a Spiderman film *precisely because* I know it’s all made up.
And then, to bring it full circle, I also think that an ease with fantasy actually helps us cope with the ‘fantastic’ – in the sense of it looks like fantasy – truth of our real Superhero, Jesus. He is the One of Whom all these other guys with ‘magical powers’ – Santa, Superman, the Hulk – are but a reflection. An ease with such earthly fantasy therefore makes it easier to grasp the real supernatural world, much of which we can indeed only access by imagination, and not entirely through empirical experience. I have previously written on this idea here, using the Star Wars universe as my model.
Of course, the decision of how to approach the Santa story is entirely up to parents. And, partly because of the reasons I have put forward here, amongst others (especially that it’s none of anyone else’s business), there are as many different outcomes to this as there are families. Each family needs to decide these things on an individual basis, based on their own views, beliefs, philosophies, personalities, relationships and needs, and without recourse to others’ opinions. Especially where those opinions involve guilt-tripping and condemnation. While, for some reason, this is the sort of subject on which feelings can run pretty high, yet people also need to respect each other’s stances on these often sensitive decisions.
For a most interesting piece on this subject, I’d also like to recommend a post by my friend Tim, author of the blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage‘, which served as a primary inspiration for this present piece, along with the discussion afterwards, in which I took part. You will no doubt recognise most of my ideas in this piece in that discussion.
Click the graphic below to go to the article, where Tim talks about five different ways that people approach the Santa story:
And while on that subject, here’s a tip for any fellow bloggers reading this: I have had some of the best inspirations, for my blog articles, from discussions resulting from others’ blog posts. This is mainly because it gets you to think about things that you might not normally think about, you form new opinions, and you see things from different angles, including the viewpoints of others. This is a great way to build wisdom and maturity! Try it!
Finally, back to old Rudolf:
I think that’s brilliant. Of course, there was an explanation for it. It’s just a bunch of guys setting up a Christmas display in a shopping mall in Hull, Yorkshire, UK. Here’s what it looked like when it was finished:
So you see he didn’t really kill them. It was all just a fantasy 😉
*QRA stands for ‘Quick Reaction Alert’; an originally Cold War term referring to interceptor fighters ready to scramble (launch) against an incoming threat – like a Soviet bomber or reconnaisance aircraft. There are pictures of QRA fighters intercepting Russian ‘Bear’ reconnaisance bombers on this page.
My regular readers will know that I don’t believe that God torments people who don’t believe in Jesus, forever, in a terrible place called Hell. Here’s a brilliant post about the incongruity of the idea of Hell by one of my favourite Christian bloggers, John Pavlovitz.
Click the graphic below to go there (to the article, of course, not to Hell! 😉 ):
In previous articles, I have described how I believe that God’s Justice is one of redemption, restoration and reconciliation rather than vengefulness, wrath and retribution.
Nathan fleshes out this concept rather nicely in this piece, I think. Over to you, Nathan:
WHAT IS THE JUSTICE OF GOD?
First, what it is not, is the legal Western term most think of when they think of ‘justice’. Divine Justice is not justice in a judicial sense. God is not an angry Judge looking to convict someone for a crime.
Divine Justice does mean to make things right through healing and restoration. God is better likened to a doctor that heals a disease and His justice is always restorative, never punitive.
How does the Bible define justice, then?
“Learn to do good. SEEK JUSTICE BY HELPING the OPPRESSED, DEFENDING the cause of ORPHANS, and FIGHTING FOR the RIGHTS of widows”
“ADMINISTER JUSTICE every morning BY RESCUING THE VICTIM of robbery from the hand of his oppressor”
“ADMINISTER REAL JUSTICE, AND BE COMPASSIONATE and KIND to each other”
“the Lord is waiting to SHOW you MERCY, and is rising up to SHOW you COMPASSION, because the LORD is a just God”
“HE WILL NOT CRUSH THE WEAKEST reed OR PUT OUT A flickering CANDLE. By doing this he will cause justice to be victorious.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to PREACH GOOD NEWS TO the POOR. He has sent Me to PROCLAIM DELIVERANCE TO the CAPTIVES and RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO the BLIND, to RELEASE THE the OPPRESSED,”
Justice isn’t what God uses to punish, and certainly doesn’t act contrary to his love, but is used to restore that which needed restoration. To heal that which was sick. Divine justice is about rescue. It’s about compassion. It’s about defending the defenseless (forgive them, Father). It is about giving sight to the blind. It restores. Always. If it doesn’t restore it isn’t God’s justice.
Excellent stuff, eh?
Many people live in fear of ‘Judgement Day’. I don’t. In fact, I look forward to it with eager anticipation! Because that is the day when everything that was ever wrong will be put right. That’s the day when all injustice will be rectified, and death itself, and all its wrongness, will be destroyed forever. Yes!
I can’t believe it’s thirteen months since we lost my precious wife, Fiona. Time seems to have flown by.
And as part of my grieving process, I have been meeting with a bereavement volunteer; she’s a very wise lady who works as part of my local Hospice’s Bereavement Service.
One of the many interesting things that I have learned from my helper is that the way that the grieving process is viewed, by people who study this sort of thing, has changed over the last few decades.
In the past, it was usually considered ‘normal’ that, eventually, bereaved people ‘just get over it’, and esentially just pull their socks up and get on with life. Maybe that’s part of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality; more likely it was simply a lack of understanding of the processes involved. And in any case, research should – by its very nature – change the way we view, and do, things, especially in the broader field of medicine. You find things out, so you modify your systems accordingly. That’s how progress works.
And so, the current thinking is that when we lose someone who was close to us, someone we had a deep relationship with; when that happens, we don’t actually lose that relationship – it’s just that it changes.
I must say that I can identify with that.
In so many ways, the relationship goes on.
Now, ok, I realise that this might sound like wishful thinking, like ‘she’s not really dead’, all that sort of thing. But no, it’s not that; of course, part of the grieving process is accepting that she really has gone. And, even bearing in mind my firm belief in Heaven, I have fully accepted that, for this life at least, she’s not here*.
But the relationship does indeed go on. You see, everything that Fiona built into my life just by being herself and being my wife, with her gentle wisdom and loving nature, everything is still there. Of course I miss not having her here to discuss things with, especially decisions and that sort of thing. I miss her knowledge, wisdom, her ways, her presence, her voice, her smell, her touch, and at this point it’s getting too personal 😉 . But in so many ways, what she was to me still exists even though she is not physically present. I find this difficult to put into words, so I hope it’s coming across.
One way in which this happens is that I – mainly unconsciously – respond and do things the way that Fiona would have done. Some Christians use the concept of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (WWJD) as a guiding principle for life, and I like that. It’s a good idea, and if it works for you, go for it 🙂 Some people even have the logo ‘WWJD’ as a tattoo, hopefully the right way up so they can read it as a reminder… 😉
Well, in a similar vein, I suppose it’s as if I have the letters ‘WWFD’ tattooed on my personality, or that I wear a ‘WWFD’ wristband like this one here 🙂 What would Fiona do? Well, I could obviously never be a ‘replacement’ for her in the lives of people whom she blessed on a daily basis just by knowing them. But still I have found that I have taken over just some of the roles she had, and I have done this in exactly the same serving spirit that she would have had. And that’s because she made me into the person I am, just by being herself and transferring her attitudes to me, albeit unconsciously. And I’m sure it worked both ways; I know that she had attitudes and principles that were a result of her knowing me. We all ‘rub off’ on each other our whole lives, but this is especially true for people who are close.
There’s more. This is very personal, but about two or three times a week, I dream about Fiona in my sleep. Not just in the sense that I described earlier in this series, but now it’s different. In the dreams, I know she’s dead, but it’s like she’s just sitting there beside me, without necessarily saying anything, but just being there. She’s very solid, very real, and the really solid thing about her is her presence. Again, this is difficult to describe, but the take-home feeling and impression I get is that she is always there, and always will be, even though she’s not really here any more. Or is she? To be honest, the mechanics of this are quite mind-wrenching, even for a mind like mine, so I just let it be without trying to go too deeply into how it all works. But the solidity of her presence in those dreams, I am certain, is either my subconscious mind showing me that all Fiona’s influence is still solid in my life, or maybe it’s even something far deeper than that, but which I will leave to my readers to interpret in their own ways. And this whole thing provides me with yet another assurance that the person she was, and is, is still present with me in my life. In a very real way, that old adage of ‘as long as we remember them, they are not really dead’ is apparently true for Fiona in my life.
You see, Fiona and I had been together for 34 years, and married for just short of 33 years, and for all of that time we were inseparable. We had such a close relationship, it was almost like we could read each other’s thoughts. And a relationship like that is not broken by death. Sure, our marriage service included the words ’till death do us part’. And I believe that’s true, at least on a temporary basis, dreams notwithstanding. But, you know, there is a deeper truth here. As well as the ‘ongoing relationship’, there is also something even greater that the future holds. As I have said before, death is no longer the big deal it once was. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have seen a foretaste of life after death. Jesus put it like this, ‘Because I live, you too will live’ (Jn 14:19), and ‘I am the resurrection and the life.
What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. (Romans 6:8-10 Message)
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25:7-8)
Do you see what this is saying? I am not using these as proof-texts; I don’t like using Scripture like that! What I am saying is that, because of the grieving process I have been undergoing, I have come to realise that the truth of the presence of Jesus in my life, the reality of His Spirit in my heart, the reality of His life-changing power at work within me, all point to the genuineness (is that even a word??) of the story of Jesus that we all know so well, but which is so often read like it’s still bound up in a dusty old book. No. This is real! And so, I give these texts as examples of things that I already know to be happening in my own life, and to show what the future has in store, not only for me, but for all humanity. Death indeed does not have the final say. Death is no longer separation from our loved ones for ever. Heaven awaits, and in that place we will indeed see again those whom we cherished so dearly in this life.
And on the other side of the veil waits my Fiona. Fe and I had ‘our song’, ‘Where you go, I will go‘. And when I die on this Earth, that’s what will have happened; I will have gone to be with her where she is. So I would hope that, when that time comes, people will be able bring themselves to grieve with joy, knowing that we are together again, forever, in the incredible place where we lived our entire lives longing to go to.
And the relationship goes on.
*I also believe in miracles, including that of raising the dead. I believe God can do that. But, as I have said before (I think, anyway; my mind is such a fizzing whirl of ideas that I have difficulty remembering things sometimes!), I do think that it was Fiona’s time, and there’s going to be no raising of Fiona before the Great Resurrection. Crazy talk? Well, this is my faith; I have no doubts as to God’s abilities in this regard, but He’s not going to do it. Plus there is no way in which I could ever selfishly ask for her to be whisked away from her heavenly reward. No way in the world.
Header picture shows Fiona at our beloved holiday retreat at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, in 2011
In this article by Rob Cottrell, he describes how it was the choice between maintaining his relationship with his Lesbian daughter, and following his existing faith beliefs to the letter that brought him into huge freedom in his faith. Truly, for each of us, God uses different means to bring us into that freedom.
This might sound like a bit of a no-brainer to most parents, but sadly, there are those who would rather follow ‘men’s’ interpretation of a book (Mt 15:9) than do something that is perceived by those ‘men’ as being ‘sinful‘. And of course pandering to the demands of those people always leads to more slavery to rules and regulations; they are never satisfied.
So, here’s Rob’s article, just click the graphic below to go to it. Enjoy!
Yeah, I know that my series on ‘Coming Out’ was supposed to have concluded with the previous piece in the series, ‘Conforming to the Pattern of This World‘. But I wanted to make this present article part of the series because of its relevance.
I’ve been asked by friends, ‘If you don’t believe in Hell, then why did Jesus have to die?’ And while that’s a good point, there is of course far more to Jesus’s death than His simply ‘purchasing our salvation’. There is so much more to the Cross (by that, I mean Jesus’s death on the Cross) than sin, than wrath, than most of the other attributes and meanings we ascribe to it. The deepest meaning, though, is of course the Love of God for us. St. Paul captures it well in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
But the question of Hell, now, that’s another thing entirely. I personally do not believe that God torments unrepentant people forever in a fiery furnace. I’ve written lots before on this subject. But even if Hell does indeed exist, as Evangelical doctrine would have us believe, to see the purpose of Christ’s death as only being that of ‘saving’ us from that Hell, now that, to me, narrows down the immense breadth and scope of Christ’s death to just the one item – saving us from Hell – to the exclusion of everything else.
And then there’s the somewhat scary idea that some Christians come up with: if there’s no threat of Hell, can’t we just do as we like? If sin is forgiven, isn’t that just a licence to go and sin as much as we like? Well, to be honest, the Cross would not affect that; if we wanted to sin because sin is forgiven, then the threat of Hell is clearly not working. No, to me, this indicates a serious misunderstanding of Jesus’s finished work on the Cross, the effect of the knowledge of God’s Grace in our lives, and the whole idea that if not for this idea of God holding the threat of Hell over us, we would simply sin, sin, sin. But that doesn’t make any sense to me.
Anyway, I read an excellent article on this subject recently by a friend of mine, Mark Darling of Queensland, Australia. Mark is a very smart man whose background is in psychology and applied neuroscience. He puts these arguments forward so much better than I could; why would I want to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when Mark has already written such an excellent piece? I will pass you over to Mark’s article now. Click the link below to go to the article:
This essay is a breath of fresh air – definitely go and read it!
Grace and Peace to you.