Monday, December 17, 2007

By their fruit...

I’m reading two books at the moment.

They’re rather a contrast.

One is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, the avowed atheist Oxford professor. It’s a very smart, pacy, well-written book, full of wit and drive; incisive, witty, cutting, and very, very clever. And it knows it. Dawkins delights in every point he scores against poor ‘theists’ (those who insist on stupidly clinging to belief in their ‘highly improbable’ deity). It’s a book written by a strong mind, persuading his reader that he must be right – and mocking the reader who may disagree.

The other is Becoming Human by Jean Vanier, the Roman Catholic founder of L’Arche, communities in which people deliberately live together – some being severely ‘intellectually disabled’ (in Vanier’s endearing phrase) – and love and learn from each other. It is simple, humble, straight-forward – and profound. Vanier shows how what we perceive as ‘weakness’ (particularly, in this case, disability) can teach ‘the strong’ what, on the deepest level, it means to be truly human; that is, to love.

I can’t help but think of something Jesus said (Dawkins, by the way, would allow me to believe that Jesus existed, but not allow me to be so certain that He said anything. But, hey).

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18)

The fruit of Dawkins’ philosophy? Cleverness; scorn. And, ultimately, the fruit of Darwinist atheism can only be to disregard the weak. They are simply not ‘naturally selected’. What counts is strength.

The fruit of Vanier’s philosophy? Love; humility. Ultimately the fruit of his faith embraces the weak, and not merely to ‘help’ them, but to learn from them, to learn what humanity truly is. What counts is humanity.

Judge for yourself: if we disregard God as a ‘delusion’ does it help us to ‘become human’?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I'm sick and tired, thank God!

Photo by William Vermeulen of stock.xchngDon't worry, I haven't taken leave of my senses. It's just that something a little out of the ordinary happened last night at our household Agape meal.

I’d been talking about “rejoicing always” (Philip.4:4) –both in battles and in blessings.

Afterwards, we were praying about various trials some of us are going through – sickness, weariness, that sort of thing – when suddenly one of our elders began to thank God for them.

“Thank you that my wife has been ill with this bug for weeks and that even though we prayed for her tonight there’s no sign of improvement. Thank you for the migraine that my sister has. Thank you for the fact my head’s been all over the place today.” And so on.

The household was neatly divided into two.

There were those who caught on and started enthusiastically to thank God for other difficulties. “Thank you that that promising young disciple is in a real mess at the moment, getting tangled up with drugs.” “Thank you that my work partner is often in such a bad mood.” “Thank you for my anxieties”...

The other half were obviously rather bewildered. Surely this wasn’t right? Surely we should be asking God to intervene in such circumstances, to change them. Not thanking God for things which weren’t – well – right!

After a little while I stopped things, and commented with a chuckle how odd we find it to do what the New Testament actually tells us to do:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2)
“Rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3a)

We can easily read such verses and give them lip-service; but when you think about it – considering trials “pure joy” is not generally our mindset at all! The reason that James and Paul give is identical:
“...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3)
“...because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3b)

We should rejoice in trials and hardships – yes, even thank God for them – because they develop our character, cause us to grow and mature (as James puts it, to “mature and complete, not lacking anything”).

The more you think about it, the more it seems that such an approach is all over the New Testament. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”, “All things work together for good for those who love God”, “Through many trials we enter the kingdom”, “In everything give thanks”...

Not that there isn’t also plenty about asking God to change things, to intervene, to heal, to deliver, to turn things around. But we should thank God and rejoice all the way through, however He “answers”.

This morning, I got an email from a sister in the household. I think it sums things up quite well:

“I really enjoyed last night thanking God for trials. I think I had not done it very much lately but it is such a powerful thing to do because it confuses the devil no end and it encourages us. It helps us to rely on God more again. God said all things work together for good for those who love him but we find it quite hard to believe that, don't we? Anyway, bless you for bringing that word. Don't give up on teaching us to rejoice. We will get better at it and it will become more normal for us.”