Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Suffering and the Wildness of God

[A version of the following piece was published in The Living Church after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. It's still my best attempt at making some sense of such things.]

We live in a world where we are regularly confronted with the reality of natural phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, famine, disease, etc. Each of these events raises with fresh urgency the perennial question of belief in God in the shadow of destruction and suffering. The magnitude natural disasters and their seeming randomness is awe-inspiring and dumbfounding. What can one say to make sense of such a catastrophes? Where is God in all of this and what kind of God would allow such things?

Christians should be wary of nice and tidy answers to such questions. But, it is also unsatisfactory to allow ourselves to slip into a speechless agnosticism. What, with due caution and humility, can we say?

Among other things, it is good to remember that removing God from the equation does not resolve the mystery of suffering. The flipside of the question, “How can there be a good God when there is so much suffering in the world?” are the questions, “If there is no God and no meaning, why do I care about the suffering in the world?” and “Why should I?” Indeed, if there is no God, reality is indifferent to all suffering. And there is no real reason for us not to be indifferent. Our inclination otherwise is only conditioned sentimentalism. If there is no God, we can only conclude that we have evolved into an existential cul-de-sac in which we have now come to see the emptiness of the belief in meaning and human worth that helped us evolve this far but are still stuck with the deep vestigial instinct for meaning and worth.

But, that is a dry and weary land where no water is. And humans cannot live there. However much the logic of our minds, absent God, might say that there is no meaning, our hearts cry out in contradiction, “No!” Our hearts insist that there is meaning. It’s not a matter of indifference. We do not believe that the offense and sorrow we feel in the wake of the devastation of a natural catastrophe is not just an offense against our personal preferences. It is an offense against the very fabric of reality.

Still, the questions remain. Where is God in all of this? What kind of God allows such things? These are questions that beg answers. And so, we create answers. Whether to protect God or to bring tragedy under control, we invent ways to explain the suffering that befalls us and others.

One way that some have sought to resolve the questions is to suggest that God cannot intervene in historical and physical reality. But, that hardly seems to do justice to the Christian revelation even if it appears to get God off the hook.

Another common answer is that it is God’s way of getting back at us for our sins. Tragedy and suffering are divine payback.

The idea of reincarnation is a related way of addressing the reality of suffering. You get what you deserve, if not in this life, in the next. And whatever you get in this life, good or bad, is the result of what you earned in lives before. Everything that happens to you is karmic payback. The karmic ledger, sooner or later, will be balanced. Reincarnation is a clear and logical answer to why there is suffering.

But, to all such attempts to explain suffering, Jesus says, “No.” In Luke 13:1-9, some people come to Jesus, and ask, “What about the people who were murdered by Pilate and whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices? Were they killed because of their sins?” Jesus responded, “No.” “What about the people who were killed in the accident in Siloam when the tower fell on them? Did they die because of their sins?” Again, Jesus answers, “No.” Jesus does not offer a nice and neat answer to why there is such suffering. His response in the gospel is uncomfortably blunt. In essence he says “The suffering of others, the tragic deaths of others, might well give us pause to remind ourselves that our time also is short and we have no guarantees of how long we will be around. Therefore, today is the day to repent. Today is the day to turn and seek God. Today is the day to love God and neighbor.”

It is not a very sentimental approach. But, Jesus is not sentimental when speaking of God or the human condition. And for that I am thankful. Sentimental images of a Nice-Guy-in-the-Sky don’t cut it when we are confronted with real tragedies like earthquakes or tsunamis or hurricanes, or, for that matter, real personal tragedies like injury and disease. Nor do romantic notions of human nature or the nature of creation. Reality demands something wilder.

The world is a wild place. In creating the world in which we live, God makes space for us and for all creation to be free. That means God also makes space for us to make a mess of it, to make a mess of one another, and to make a mess of ourselves. And it means there is space for things like cancer cells and earthquakes. It also means that the God who creates such a world must be as wild as the wildness it contains. Why does God have to make so much space for freedom? Why does God tolerate so much suffering and injustice? Why has God created such a world? If God is at the heart of it all – the Creator and Sustainer – God is not off the hook.

Which is, of course, the point of the gospel. On the cross, God himself is on the hook. In Jesus Christ, God enters into the mess that we have made of the world. And God enters into the wildness of the world God has created. On the cross, God in Christ takes on the sin and suffering of the world. The world’s passion becomes Christ’s passion. God transforms that passion into the promise of resurrection. There is the promise that we too will be transformed – the suffering of the world will not be lost, but gathered up and transformed in resurrection. By his wounds, we will be healed. And so will be the rest of creation which eagerly awaits being set free from its bondage to futility and decay (cf. Romans 8:18-24).

We live in a world of great suffering and great injustice. It can be a hard place to live. It can be a hard place to believe in God – especially the generic God of human imagination. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of our own imagining. The God we know is the God of the cross. William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII, wrote,
The revelation of God’s dealing with human sin shows God enduring every depth of anguish for the sake of His Children. . . All that we can suffer of physical or mental anguish is within the divine experience. . . He does not leave this world to suffer while He remains at ease apart; all suffering of the world is His.
Christus Veritas

French poet, Paul Claudel, wrote, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus does not explain suffering. He fills it with his presence and the promise of its transformation in the final resurrection of which his is the foretaste.

It does not resolve all the questions or remove all the pain, or eliminate all the anger resulting from something like the devastation of a natural catastrophe or man-made tragedies. But a God wild enough to create and sustain such a world as ours and wild enough to pour his love out on the hard wood of the cross is wild enough to absorb our questions, pain, and anger. And such a God is wild enough to take it all into himself where it will be transformed by his love, joy, and peace in ways we can barely imagine.

Monday, April 20, 2015

We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Jesus said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

Peter said, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."

Every Sunday we pray the Prayer of Confession asking God to forgive us. Then again, in the middle of the Eucharist, we say the Lord’s Prayer and again we confess our sins and ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, every Sunday when we say the Creed, we claim to believe in the forgiveness of sins.

The forgiveness of sins is no less audacious or incredible than any of the other things we affirm in the Creed. It is no more obvious that sins are forgivable than that God exists in the first place, or that Jesus is the presence of God in our midst. But we affirm in the creeds and in our liturgy that forgiveness grounded in the grace of God is woven into the very fabric of reality. It is among the things in which Christians must believe.

It is not obvious that sin is forgiven or even forgivable. Not all philosophies or faiths put much store in forgiveness as such. Except for Judaism, it was not part of the philosophical or religious systems of the ancient world.

It is still not obvious that forgiveness is at the heart of things. Vengeance and retribution is a much more common theme in most of our entertainment. And our political discourse.

Fundamentally, we prefer the idea of karma and payback. It seems more natural.

In a dialogue between some Buddhist monks and some Christian monks an episode was discussed about a group of French monks had gone to Algeria to serve the people there.  In the 1990’s Algeria was caught up in a bitter civil war where foreigners had been warned that if they were caught by certain factions they would be killed. These monks stayed anyway and were captured. Their beheaded bodies were found some days later, along the side of a road.

One of the Buddhist monks suggested that this was irresponsible on the part of these Christian monks. Staying when they knew the realities only presented those who killed them with the likelihood of accruing yet more bad karma that would then affect their next life and perhaps the next life until they managed to turn the karmic cycle in the other direction.

The Christian monks responded that in the Christian understanding forgiveness (grounded in the grace of God), not karma, is the governing principle of the universe. Even those who killed the monks were not beyond God’s forgiveness.

In an interview, Bono of the rock band, U2 had this to say about grace:

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you sow, so you will reap” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit [I edited that last line in the actual sermon]. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Karl Barth, writing about God’s love for us in spite of our sinfulness, says, “God always casts the bridge across the chasm. God’s love always casts a bridge across the chasm. God’s love is always a light shining out of the darkness.” Jesus is that bridge. Jesus is that light. Jesus comes embodying the love and welcome of God – welcoming sinners; inviting them and challenging them; and, receiving them into the new creation that God is breaking forth on the world in his presence. Jesus embodies the forgiveness of God, coming with arms outstretched to embrace all who will turn, all who will come. All that is needed is that turning and that receiving – repentance.

We know that when he came with his arms outstretched to receive the world in the name of his Father, the world nailed those arms to the cross. It is in the passion and the cross that God in Christ enters most profoundly into our situation, entering into the tragic and suffering realities that we have inflicted and that are inflicted upon us.

God in Christ enters into the sin and suffering of the world forgiving, justifying, and transforming. It is only for us to receive it. We could not expect it. We cannot earn it. We can only receive it.

Dorotheos of Gaza was a monk in the sixth century who, among other things, oversaw the infirmary at his monastery.

Dorotheos had an assistant whose name was Dosithy. Dosithy was an earnest monk who desired to please Dorotheos and God. But Dossithy sometimes became impatient with his patients and would get angry and abuse them verbally.

One time in particular he had done that and after he had gotten over his anger and was convicted of his sin, he began to weep and despair. Some of the other monks went to Dorotheos and told Dorotheos.

Dorotheos called Dosithy to him and he asked him what was wrong.

Dosithy said, “Father, I have sinned. I have abused my brother.”

Dorotheos said, “So, Dosithy, you took it upon yourself to judge your brother? You got angry at your brother and abused him? Did you forget that he is Christ? And, when you cause him to suffer you cause Christ to suffer?”

Dosithy, continuing to cry, said, “Yes.”

Dorotheos said, “There, there Dosithy. You are forgiven. Get up. Let us begin again from now and let us be more attentive and God will help us.”

Dosithy wiped his eyes and went back.

Some time later, Dosithy in tears comes again to Dorotheos and, again, Dorotheos says, “Up now, Dosithy. Get up. Start again. You are forgiven.”

And again and again Dosithy fell and Dorotheos said, “Get up. You are forgiven.”

I belive that God engages us like Dorotheos engaged Dosithy. He does not find excuses for Dosithy. He does not minimize the seriousness of the offense. But, once Dosithy admits the wrongness what he has done – repents and confesses – Dorotheos declares Dosithy forgiven.

Bernard of Clairvaux said once, “The difference between the damned and the saved is that everyone, except the damned, gets up and stumbles on.”

It is not obvious that forgiveness is at the heart of things. But, thank God, that is what we affirm. We believe in the forgiveness of sins. There is nothing about you or about your past that is beyond that forgiveness.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

Get up. Let us begin again from now and let us be more attentive and God will help us.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why do you believe in God?

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter

Why do you believe in God?

Why do you believe in God?

Maybe you’ve had some mystical,

burning-bush experience like Moses.

Maybe you’ve had a dramatic conversion experience

and you can point to the difference God has made in your life.

Maybe you are struck by the beauty and grandeur of creation.

Or maybe, you were just raised that way and it makes sense to you.

Do you ever doubt your belief?

Or maybe you are one of those who find belief in God difficult,

plagued by questions and doubts.

Do you ever doubt your doubts?

In this morning’s gospel we hear about Thomas

who has been tagged with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas”.

Thomas is a lot more complex than this nickname would suggest

and some have tried to rehabilitate him and drop the nickname.

But, since our Lord himself says to Thomas,

“Do not doubt, but believe,”

I think the nickname is going to stick.

And I am glad.

I am glad there is one among the original disciples

who has a reputation for doubting.

I am glad because I am someone for whom belief in God

does not come easily.

I often feel like I have more questions than answers.

Belief is sometimes difficult for me,

but unbelief has proven impossible.

I’ll tell you why I believe in God.

I believe in God because of the suffering and injustice in the world.

I know that the suffering and injustice in the world

is supposed to be the great stumbling block to faith in God.

But, I’m just peculiar enough to find that to be the reason to believe.

Let me explain.

When I tried to be an atheist

I ran up against the reality that

to be an atheist forced a contradiction –

a contradiction between my mind and my heart.

Either I went with my mind

and followed logic to its utmost conclusion or I followed my heart.

But the two could not be followed together.

When I tried to be an atheist

and followed the logic of my mind

I was forced to admit that the beginning of all that is,

and the beginning of all that I am,

is an accident.

The end of all that is and all that I am is also

more or less an accident.

Everything in between is a meaningless series of events

suspended between two accidents.

Nothing, ultimately, has any meaning.

Nothing, ultimately, has any purpose.

All we are left with is our personal preferences

and prejudices as to what is good

and what is not.

I know that most atheists try to get around it,

but they are kidding themselves.

Albert Camus was more honest. In his book, The Rebel, he wrote that

if we believe in nothing,

then it does not matter ultimately

if we stoke the fires of the crematorium, as did the Nazis,

or if we serve the lepers in Africa, as did Albert Schweitzer.

It all comes to the same thing.

He goes on, “Evil and virtue are mere chance and caprice.”

Camus expended a lot of energy trying to face into this

and find a way to live humanly in spite of it.

But, he did so without sentimentalism

and resolutely rejecting what he considered false hope.

In the end, there is evidence that

he began to question his atheism.

The flipside of the question

“How can there be a good God

when there is so much suffering in the world?”

is the equally disturbing question,

“If there is no God – and no meaning –

why do I care about the suffering in the world?”

Why should I?

If there is no God at the heart of it all,

one can only conclude that

we have evolved ourselves into an existential cul-de-sac.

At some point in our evolution longings for meaning and purpose,

for believing there is good and evil,

were useful in our survival as a species.

But now we know that those longings

are but a trick of evolution

and baseless.

Our inclination otherwise is

only conditioned sentimentalism.

But, that is a dry and weary land where no water is

and humans cannot live there.

However much my mind might say that there is no meaning,

my heart cried out in contradiction, “No!”

My heart insisted that there is meaning.

It’s not a matter of indifference.

I began to doubt my doubts.

I suspected that my response to news about people abused,

tortured and killed

is not just a matter of my own personal preference.

Rather, the response of my heart is in tune

with the response at the heart of the universe.

That offense, the offense we take in the face suffering and injustice,

does not prove that there is a God,

but points us towards God.

More specifically,

it points us toward the God we meet in Jesus Christ

in this morning’s gospel

The disciples had responded to the call of Jesus.

They had heard his teaching and witnessed his deeds.

They had come to believe and hope

that he was the one who would redeem Israel

and through Israel redeem humanity

setting everything right.

He was the Messiah.

But, then he was arrested, tortured and crucified.

Now he was dead. Dead.

And with him their hope had died.

They were huddled in hiding with the door locked.

The air was thick with despair.

And it was thick with fear.

If they had tortured and killed Jesus,

wouldn’t they likely do the same to his closest associates?

The air was also thick with guilt.

One way or another each of the disciples had denied

or abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

Jesus whom they had loved.

Then, beyond all imagining,

into this stifling atmosphere Jesus himself appears.

We can expect they were more than a little spooked.

Remember, they had denied and abandoned Jesus.

If this is his ghost come back to haunt them,

they might well expect him to be angry

and intent on retribution.

But, rather than condemning them, Jesus says,

“Peace be with you.”

This word of Jesus to the disciples

after all that has transpired

is an undeniable word of grace and forgiveness.

With his peace he offers reconciliation and addresses their guilt.

He gives them his Spirit

that they might be people of forgiveness and reconciliation.

That’s a God I can start to believe in.

But, there’s more.

Jesus shows them his hands and his side.

He later invites Thomas to touch the wounds.

How remarkable that Jesus returns from the grave

with the wounds remaining.

Don’t you think – if you were going to make this up –

that you’d have Jesus come back whole and without a mark?

But, he doesn’t. He comes back with the wounds.

I believe that it is more than just a means of demonstrating

that the one appearing before them

is truly Jesus who was crucified.

The wounds identify Jesus,

but they also reveal something about Jesus

and, thus, about God.

We believe that, in some sense

beyond our complete understanding,

Jesus is God enfleshed.

In taking on human flesh,

God in Christ has entered into the mess of human reality,

the reality of sin, suffering and death.

The wounds indicate that

having entered that reality he entered it to the uttermost –

abandoned, tortured, and brutally executed.

This is not “god” as an abstract idea.

The God we know in and through Jesus

has placed himself in solidarity with the reality of human history

with all its terror and tragedy.

This God is not aloof.

This God has taken on sin, suffering, and death in the incarnation

and taken them all the way to the cross.

This God bears the wounds.

This God bears the wounds of all of history.

This God bears the wounds you and I have suffered

as well as those we have inflicted.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII, wrote,

"The wounds of Christ are his credentials

to the suffering race of men [sic] . . .

Only a God in whose perfect Being pain has its place

can win and hold our worship."

This is a God I can begin to believe in.

But, Jesus doesn’t simply bear the wounds.

In resurrection, he returns with the wounds transformed.

This is not a case of “Let’s pretend that didn’t happen.”

His torture and death were all too real,

as is the torture and death that have marked

so much of the human story.

A belief in immortality alone does not address this tragic story.

But, the Christian hope is not that we might simply escape

from the unhappy reality of sin and suffering.

It is not that it will all just be forgotten.

Our hope is that sin and suffering will be transformed

into the resurrection glory we see is the Risen Jesus.

The wounds are testimony that transformation.

Such a God, a God of transformation

is a God I can hope in.

In this morning’s gospel,

Jesus enters into the stifling atmosphere of the room

where the disciples are locked in fear, guilt, and despair.

He breathes the fresh air into the room

and into their hearts dispelling their fear with his peace,

their guilt with his forgiveness,

and their despair with the new hope of transformation

and new creation by way of resurrection.

He brings them new life.

And he sends them into a sinful, suffering world

to be resurrection people, new creation people –

people who bear witness to peace, forgiveness, and hope.

He breathes that same fresh air of his peace, forgiveness, and hope

into our fear, guilt, and despair.

He fills our suffering with his presence

and the promise of transformation.

He calls us to be resurrection people.

The God we know in Jesus –

a God who bears the wounds –

might not resolve all our questions or doubts.

But, if this is who we’re talking about,

I can join Thomas and say,

“My Lord and my God!”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Eight Days a Week or, Why Sunday?

The Octave of Easter refers both to the first eight days of Easter and to the eighth day in particular. So, the Sunday after Easter Sunday is the Octave of Easter. 'Eight' is a significant number in Christian symbolism and is related to why Sunday is the main day of worship for Christians.

Why Sunday?

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.
– Luke 24:1-3

In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that Paul preached "on the first day of the week when we had gathered to break bread." - Acts 20:7

On the Lord’s day, gather together and break bread and give thanks.
– Didache 14:1 (c. 100 A.D.)

Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, for this is the first day on which . . . Jesus Christ our Savior . . . rose from the dead.
– Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter LXVII (2nd century)

Because it is the day of Jesus’ resurrection and victory over sin and death, Sunday became known as “the Lord’s day” and eventually became the chief day of Christian celebration and worship. Every Sunday is therefore a commemoration of Easter.

But worshiping on Sunday is not just about looking back with gratitude for an event in the past. Because it is the day of resurrection, Sunday became understood as not just the first day of the week, but also as the first day of the New Creation. As such, Sunday came to be referred to as the “eight day”. In an early Christian text that was not included in the Bible, we read,

. . . when giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eight day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.
– Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8 (c. 100 A.D.)

Thus, worship on Sunday is a present invitation to enter into the new creation in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).

But, worshiping on Sunday is also a reminder that the church is called to live in expectation of the new creation promised by God and inaugurated by Jesus.

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. . . . They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
– Isaiah 65:17-19, 22-25 (cf. Revelation 21:1-5)

As “eighth day people”, Christians are called to bear witness to, and shape our lives now in anticipation of, the fulfillment of that new creation.

Previous: Jesus of the Scars

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jesus of the Scars

The gospel lesson for the Sunday after Easter (tomorrow) is John 20:19-31 which tells of Jesus' appearance to Thomas after the resurrection. For the seventh day of the Octave of Easter, here is a bit of a preview from William Temple's Readings in St. John’s Gospel:

The wounds of Christ are his credentials to the suffering race of men. Shortly after the Great War [WW I], when its memories and its pains were fresh in mind, a volume was published under the title Jesus of the Scars, and Other Poems by Edward Shilito. The poem from which the title was taken stands first in the book and is headed by the text, ‘He showed them His hands and His side’:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are two calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Only a God in whose perfect Being pain has its place can win and hold our worship.

Next: Eight Days a Week

Friday, April 10, 2015

A World Full of New Potential and Possibility

For the sixth day of the Octave of Easter, here is something from Simply Christian by N. T. Wright:

If Easter makes any sense at all, it makes sense within something much more like the classic Jewish worldview: heaven and earth are neither the same thing, nor a long way removed from one another, but they overlap and interlock mysteriously in a number of ways; and the God who made both heaven and earth is at work from within the world as well as from without, sharing the pain of the world – indeed, taking its full weight upon his own shoulders. From this point of view, as the Eastern Orthodox churches have always emphasized, when Jesus rose again, God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility. Indeed, precisely because part of that new possibility is for human beings to be revived and renewed, the resurrection of Jesus does not leave us passive, helpless spectators. We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.

Next: Jesus of the Scars

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Resurrection: A Second Big Bang

For the fifth day of the Octave of Easter, here is something from Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams:

When we celebrate Easter, we are really standing in the middle of a second ‘Big Bang', a tumultuous surge of divine energy as fiery and intense as the very beginning of the universe. What a recent writer wonderfully calls ‘the fire in the equations’,* the energy in the mathematical and physical structures of things, is here sat Easter; and when in the ancient ceremonies of the night before Easter we light a bonfire and bless it and light candles from it, we may think of the first words of God in genesis, ‘Let there be light!’ – p. 95

The reality of the new creation is that every moment of our history has now been opened to a future of healing and promise; but from moment to moment the possibility and the reality remain of struggle, uncertainty. The future is just that–the future: not something we can know and control. It is in God’s hands, ultimately, and we have been given confidence that God is the end of the story and that our history cannot just fall away into final, irredeemable chaos. – p. 96

On the far side of all the testing, the pain and struggle of our history, there is Jesus. Finally, beyond all our history, he will be there to try and test all things by his absolute truth; in his presence everything and everyone will finally be shown for what they are and find their true place. – p. 97

*Kitty Ferguson, The Fire in the Equation:Science, Religion, and the Search for God (I think Ferguson got the phrase from Stephen Hawking)

And Williams writes this in On Christian Theology:

In short I want to claim that that the story of the empty tomb is not in fact incidental or secondary to the exposition of what the resurrection means theologically . . . But, it will be asked, does this mean that I think belief in the empty tomb as an historical fact to be essential to belief in the resurrection? Actually, yes. – p. 194

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Resurrection and New Creation

John Polkinghorne is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. For the fourth day of the Octave of Easter, here is something from his book, The God of Hope and the End of the World:

‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything g old has passed away; see everything has become new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a clear resonance with the expectation found, found in the exilic prophets, of the acts of God who is not bound to the past, but who has future surprises in store. From the perspective of the New Testament, however, the reference is not solely to the future. The new creation is ‘in Christ’ and it is his resurrection that is the seed from which the new has already begun to grow.

The scope of the new creation is cosmic and it is not limited to human destiny alone. p. 84
. . .

Just as we see Jesus’ resurrection as the origin and guarantee of human hope, so we can also see it as the origin and guarantee of a universal hope. The significance of the empty tomb is that the Lord’s risen and glorified body is the transmuted form of his dead body. Thus matter itself participates in the resurrection transformation, enjoying thereby the foretaste of its own redemption from decay. The resurrection of Jesus is the seminal event from which the whole of God’s new creation has already begun to grow. p. 113

Next: The Resurrection: A Second Big Bang

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bodily Resurrection: More than a Christian Curiosity

On this third day of the Octave of Easter, a bit more on Resurrection from Raymond Brown:

In our anticipation of God’s ultimate plan, one of two models is usually followed: the model of eventual destruction and new creation, or the model of transformation. Will the material world pass away all be made new, or will somehow the world be transformed and changed into the city of God? The model that the Christian chooses will have an effect on his attitude toward the world and toward the corporeal. What will be destroyed can have only a passing value; what is to be transformed retains its importance. Is the body a shell that one sheds, or is it an intrinsic part of the personality that will forever identify a person? If Jesus, body corrupted in the tomb so that his victory over death did not include bodily resurrection, then the model of destruction and new creation is indicated. If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, then the Christian model should be one of transformation. The problem of the bodily resurrection is not just an example of Christian curiosity; it is related to a major theme in theology: God’s ultimate purpose in creating.