When Cracks Appear

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 12 May 2018.

SinkholeThis week in New Zealand, a huge sinkhole opened up in a field outside Rotorua. Heavy rain fell on Sunday, and by Monday morning, a chasm two hundred metres long and twenty metres deep had appeared.

This week in New Zealand, the Anglican church held a synod and discussed a proposal to bless same-sex marriages, desperately seeking some magic formula to please all parties. They didn’t find it, but decided to go ahead anyway. Key evangelical church leaders have already given their regretful resignations from the denomination.

As fallen men and women, there will always be points of friction in any church body. But how do we decide when the cracks are too wide or too deep? How do we decide when it’s best to walk away?

We have been blessed with strong relationships in a harmonious church - but a sinkhole can appear overnight, and it is better to have thought the questions through in advance.

1 John provides the answer: we love God and love each other - that demonstrates that we are born of God. Love, however, can mean many things to different people, so it’s important to recognise that the letter also defines love: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome...” (1 John 5:3). If people are walking away from God’s word, we must part ways with sorrow; if not, then we must love them and work through any difficulties. Hard work, but not burdensome!

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 06 May 2018.

JusticeThe other day I listened to a man who lost his sister during the attack on the World Trade Centre as he expressed his fury that the museum now built on the site includes the obligatory gift shop. It was easy to understand his sentiment. It felt like his sister’s death, his family’s grief, was being exploited for commercial gain.

It raises the obvious question. Why do museums and art galleries always operate a gift shop? Of course, we know it’s for revenue purposes - but that only pushes the question back upon us, the customer. Why do we keep spending money in gift shops at the end of our tour? There’s no necessary connection between viewing an exhibit and buying a vaguely related trinket, so what possesses us to possess a piece of what we saw?

I suspect it expresses, among other things, a deep-seated belief that the physical makes things real. Memories fade, but if I have a copy of the book that was compiled for that art exhibition, I can refresh them. If I keep a postcard of that particular item, I can remember how it made me feel.

And that is why it is so marvellous that Jesus came in the flesh. He put on a physical form so people would know that he really came, and he felt nails in his flesh so we would know he really died our death. He rose in a glorified body so we could be sure that he reigns for eternity.

There’s no justice? Then how can we explain away the scars that he still bears today? The proof of God’s justice is written in the flesh of his own Son, and who could argue with that? Under the sun, our justice fails, but under the Son, God’s justice reigns.

The Curse of Eternal Life

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 27 April 2018.

Fiction has been with us since the Garden of Eden, and while at first it was displayed only in sinful ways, it has since become of some value to humanity. The arts have provoked all kinds of useful insights and discussions.

A movie I recently watched featured a protagonist who, for the sake of the plot, was unable to age. The story was a tragedy, of forced isolation as the ageless heroine was unable to form deep relationships lest her secret be exposed. She resorted to a shadow family by caring for a string of dogs of the same breed, each new pup acquired to replace the old dog after its death.

Flower - DeadIt struck me how terrible eternal life would be, were we to live it alone. This isn’t a real possibility, of course - Jesus is more competent than that! Yet the idea highlights the beauty of the fact that we don’t hope for eternal isolation, but eternal fellowship as members of God’s family.

The other verse that came to mind was Genesis 3:22, where God says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Here God saves Adam from living forever as a sinner, but another horror occurred to me. What if Adam had been the only one to eat from the tree of life, as the verse says? Then he would have known the despair of seeing each and every descendant stumble into sin and death - Adam’s legacy - for generation upon generation.

Thank God he makes us new, so that the life we live is that of people who have been eternally restored to fellowship with him.

I'm Sorry Dave...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 21 April 2018.

HALNext week marks the 50th anniversary of the seminal sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s one of those films, where the medium isn’t merely a convenient vehicle to tell a story, but is in fact integral to the whole project. The music, the imagery, the ideas and the silence all interweave to create a deeply affecting whole. The details of the story fade, and it’s how you felt as a viewer that makes the lasting memory.

The film’s great irony is that, on a secret mission to search for alien intelligence, the characters find they’ve brought it with them in the form of a supercomputer that goes rogue. The chilling calm of HAL’s voice as he condemns crewmates to death is the definitive instigator of our fear of computer-based technology, I think.

It’s terrifying to imagine a being of superior intelligence and independent power who lies outside of our control  - and who can save us or destroy us. It puts the lie to the independence we presume we have, and reminds us how fragile is our grip on life in this world.

If only people could develop a similar fear of the one I was really speaking of in the last paragraph: not HAL, but the LORD. And then they might hear his voice, with its chilling warnings of judgment, but also its compassionate offers of escape. For this God did not simply place mute obsidian pillars and leave it to us to find him; instead he came in our flesh, one of us. Not so much HAL, but Hallelujah.

Not the Free Speech You Were Thinking Of

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 12 April 2018.

FolauIsrael Folau recently got himself into hot water when he was asked a question about his Christian faith, raising the old ‘free speech’ debate. But that’s not the debate I want to rehash with you.

Whenever we hear the phrase, we think about in terms of an individual’s right to express their thoughts aloud. Yet speech, with the exception of bored children, is intended as communication with others. It implies a desire to be heard and understood.

Unfortunately, in this age of 140-character tweets and never-ending media punditry, we have trained ourselves to read and listen incredibly poorly. We witness it all the time: TV interviews where the questions and answers barely connect, newspaper rants that utterly misunderstand the issue. There are even those who set off such miscommunication for sport.

Most people take it for granted that we have a right to speak, within appropriate boundaries. That implies a right to communicate, and so a right to be heard. If as a society we want to grant the right to speech, then we also submit ourselves to the obligation to listen. Not without limits, of course: the speaker should then do their best to speak clearly and coherently. Here Folau could have done better, perhaps.

“There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). Can we free speech from its current Babel-confusion, and work hard to hear and be heard? If so, it will be the gift of God!

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