The Bible ain’t always pretty

To say I find the Bible inspiring is not to say I find everything in it attractive. On the contrary, there’s a lot that I find repulsive. The Bible doesn’t shy away from bearing witness to the ugly side of humanity, and indeed, the ugly side of religion. And we are supposed to see that ugliness as tragic. It’s doubly tragic when fans of the Bible don’t. That’s an exercise in missing the point.

Personally, I find the book of Judges from the Old Testament one of the ugliest and tragic books ever written. It was meant to be read that way. The conclusion makes that abundantly clear. But there’s plenty of stories of people falling into depravity and callousness in the New Testament books as well, not least those featuring religious leaders. It’s a thread that runs through the Bible. One of the functions of these books is to hold up a mirror to ourselves, particularly those of us who consider ourselves religious or spiritual. If only we care to look without flinching.

But there’s more. The Bible also functions as a window. It offers us glimpses of redemption, of beauty breaking into even the ugliest situations. Therein is the message of hope. That there’s no situation ugly enough that beauty can’t break in. And its in the ugliest situations that beauty shines most brightly.

Am We Marxist Just Because We’re Anti-Racist?

You won’t find “racism” mentioned in the Bible. Such language arose far more recently. What you will find though is plenty of mention of “foreigners” and “gentiles” who dwell amongst you and how you should treat them.

For example, in the book of Exodus we are told: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” The are countless passages like this, that command the just treatment of “foreigners”.

So don’t ever tell me that Christian critiques of racism are evidence of Marxist infiltration of the church. No, they’re evidence of Christians paying attention to what the scriptures have to offer on the topic.

Unjust Laws: When Sin is Institutionalised

I’ve been told by many so-called conservatives on many occasions that the Bible has nothing to say on social justice and institutionalised sin – that it’s only concerned only with the actions of individuals and Christians with social justice concerns are just following the culture.

I would suggest such individualism is itself more reflective of a western cultural perspective than an ancient Hebrew perspective. Here’s what just one prophet, Isaiah, had to say on the functioning of institutions:

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Our society is governed by both people and the laws and policies they put in place. Such things are not ethically neutral, and when harm results from them it’s appropriate to repeal them and put better laws and policies in place. Isaiah is very clear on that.

Felt Needs vs Real Needs

The problem with adapting church to our felt needs is that our felt needs, our desires, can sometimes be precisely what stands in the way of our own transformation. We need to critically examine our felt needs in the light of scripture rather than presuming their sovereignty. Failure to do so often leaves us with syncretised church rather than contextualised church.

Prayer before studying the Bible

This is a prayer that may be used to open a session of Bible study. It was written by Julie Palmer.

As we open our Bibles

We also open our hearts.

May these words of truth fall upon the very fabric of our lives.

Father, we pray that these ancient scriptures would come alive within us,

To inspire, to heal, to cleanse, to teach

To restore and to guide our hearts and minds.

Lord, come weave your words of life in us.


Churches fighting government over vaccine mandate?

This morning the Sydney Morning Herald reported on opposition to proof of vacination mandates by a number of church leaders including the Catholic Archbiship of Sydney and Anglican Archbiship of Sydney.

I think this exposes some stark differences over how different people define “church”. If you define “church” in terms of community, as I and many others do, then it can happen anywhere, including outdoors and over zoom. So it never really stopped, and while the proposed mandate may create a few challenges they are far from insurmountable. If however, you define “church” in terms of a building, well, yes I can see how the proposed mandate sounds like “turning people away from church”. But I’d suggest the bigger concern should be the likely consequences to your community of failing to exercise basic risk management in the midst of a pandemic. Isn’t caring for the vulnerable part of our mission? I’d suggest some self-reflection before Christians jump on the bandwagon here.

Blessing for the lighting of a fire

This blessing comes from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection a Celtic poetry and prayers. It is called Blessing Of The Kindling. I am thinking an adapted version would be good for my fire pit nights.

I will kindle my fire this morning

In presence of the holy angels of heaven,

In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,

In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within

A flame of love to my neighbour,

To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,

To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

Medical Healing and the Christian

I think it’s a sign of our times that, while I have seen many Christians commenting on the pros and cons of vaccination, I don’t think I’ve seen too many articulate their theology of medical healing for fellow Christians. Once again, much of our practice seems to be happening in a theological vacuum.

It shouldn’t be hard to outline a theology of medical healing though. For starters there are many Bible passages that refer favorably to the use of medicinal products derived from plants and animals. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent ailments. In Proverbs 16:24 it is noted that honey brings health to the body. Oil too is used in healing and caring for the sick in a number of places. Many herbs also get mentioned in scripture. And in Matthew 9 Jesus himself acknowledges that sick people need doctors.

Moreover, there are many bible passages where lack of access to effective medicine is spoken of as a curse. See Jeremiah 8:22 and Jeremiah 46:11 for example.

And while there are several places in the Bible, where faith alone is accounted for the healing of the people, there is no place in the Bible that forbids the use of medicines, especially for someone who is ill. Consider that Luke himself is named as a physician but never condemned for it. Did he lack faith? I think not.

All of this is to say, there’s a lot of material which suggests that God’s provision of medicinal plants and animals is a blessing and lack of access to medicine is a curse. So why put God to the test when God has already provided for your healing? Is it faith to demand a sign instead?

An old hymn for Resurrection Sunday

A brighter dawn is breaking

Percy Dearmer (1867-1936)

A brighter dawn is breaking,
and earth with praise is waking;
for thou, O King most highest,
the power of death defiest;

And thou hast come victorious,
with risen body glorious,
who now for ever livest,
and life abundant givest.

O free the world from blindness,
and fill the world with kindness,
give sinners resurrection,
bring striving to perfection.

In sickness give us healing,
in doubt thy clear revealing,
that praise to thee be given
in earth as in thy heaven.

A most Motherly Father

Although YHWH is never directly addressed as Mother in the Bible, YHWH is certainly presented as a most MOTHERLY Father on quite a few occasions (e.g. Isa 42:14, Isa 49:14–15, and Isa 66:12–13). We should never be misled into thinking God has anything less than the full complement of feminine and masculine attributes. After all, the scriptures start with the affirmation that BOTH female AND male are made in the image of God.