A Rose By Any Other Name?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 25 October 2013.

Want an instant controversy in a predominantly Muslim country? It’s easy - just ask innocently how the word ‘God’ should be translated in the Bible in their indigenous language. Regardless of what that language is, the word that they will use for a supreme deity will be ‘Allah’... and Muslims will get stroppy at seeing the name of their god pressed into service by Bible translators.

That’s the background to a court case in Malaysia that was heard last week. A Roman Catholic newspaper had been using ‘Allah’, but in 2008 the government threatened to shut the paper down unless they desisted. The High Court decreed that it was alright to use the word ‘Allah’ in 2009, but the government appealed that decision and the Court of Appeal just ruled that ‘Allah’ was out.

RoseNo doubt it will go back to the courts - but does it matter? A rose by any other name is still a rose and smells just as sweet. Ah... but a rose is not a person, and doesn’t have an identity. The reason that God gave his name to Moses was so that he and his fellow Hebrews might know him.

Does it matter? Not speaking Malay, I don’t know - but I do know that it might. When we speak of God, we aren’t speaking of an abstract concept, or a category, or a distant acquaintance. We are speaking of the maker of the cosmos, the maker of our world, the maker of ... me. It is an extraordinary privilege to know him, and to be known by him. And I certainly don’t want somebody else telling me he should be who they think he is!

Collapse

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 20 October 2013.

CollapseCollapse is a sculpture installation in New Zealand that’s been sitting exposed to the elements for a couple of years. If you look closely, it’s apparent that its name is apt - this house of cards is in fact impossible. There are a number of elements that are unsupported and would fall in real life.

They don’t fall because the sculpture is made from aluminium, and each sheet of metal is firmly fixed to its neighbours. But that’s not what you see at first glance. Instead, you see fragility, and that’s the point. It’s meant to be a reminder of how finely balanced life is. We live on the edge of disaster.

We’ve seen that once more in the last week. The sudden arrival of bushfire season has taken us by surprise, and many have seen their world turned upside down. Life is fragile.

In the last week, both a friend and another friend’s brother have suffered strokes. There was no warning. These things steal upon us, unannounced. And yet their effects can be devastating and long-lasting. Life is fragile.

Equally, we could point to the political stalemate that held the US economy to ransom, and with it the world. Had common sense not finally made an appearance, the whole world could now be spiralling into a deep depression. Life is fragile.

As we pray for these different situations, with all they threaten, it is good to remember that our Father knows every hair on our heads, and it is his love and power that assure our good.

Gekko's Gaffe

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 12 October 2013.

Gekko‘Greed is good,’ Gordon Gekko famously said in the film Wall Street. While Michael Douglas might have been doing an excellent impression of a 1980s stockbroker, he was also sounding like a buffoon.

Unfortunately, his buffoonery is universal. Ask anyone at all whether they would like to have a million dollars, no strings attached, and they’ll say yes. With a look of hope in their eyes, even. While we might not want to be greedy, if we’re offered the chance to have something good, we’ll take it. We’d just prefer not to define that as greed.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who enjoyed a bumper harvest. His crops yielded so much that he couldn’t store all his grain in his barns - so he built himself bigger barns, and patted himself on the back. ‘I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ He died that night, and never got to enjoy his hoard.

Collecting stuff is absurd, Jesus is saying, if it comes at the expense of knowing and loving God - for you’ll lose all the wealth you’ve accumulated. It’s also absurd, though, because it’s not really worth having so much. The rich man has to tear down his barns, pay to erect larger ones, and then store a low-value commodity for years. It’s a huge investment that makes no sense, financially, at all.

We gather so much stuff, and often realise later that we don’t really want it.What makes us, time after time, stash away bits and pieces that will only ever clutter our cupboards? Greed is goofy, really - but then, all sin is stupid.

As Jesus said: be rich towards God.

Hearts of Flesh

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 04 October 2013.

During the Second World War, German forces besieged the city of Leningrad for more than two years, commencing in September 1941. The siege was not finally broken until January 1944, and many died in the interim.

In August 1942, Tanya Savicheva was discovered living alone in a tiny apartment in the city. She was only twelve years old, and desperately unwell. Although she was evacuated, she died in 1944, having never fully recovered.

At the Nuremberg Trials after the war, her diary was read out. In stark, brutal factuality, it listed her experience of the siege:
1.     Zhenya died on December 18, 1941, at twelve noon.Tanya
2.     Grandma died on January 25, 1942, at three in the afternoon.
3.     Leka died on March 17, 1942, at five o’clock in the morning.
4.     Uncle Vasya died on April 13, 1942, at two o’clock at night.
5.     Uncle Lesha on May 10, 1942, at four o’clock in the afternoon.
6.     Mama died on May 13, 1942, at 7:30 in the morning.
7.     The Savichevs are dead.
8.     Everyone is dead.
9.     Only Tanya is left.

We weep at such tragedy, though Tanya is a stranger to us. We weep, because we are made to weep, made to care for each other. We weep because our God also weeps for the suffering of our world. Because he cares, we care. If he had not made us like him, this world would be hell. Thanks be to God, that he makes us daily ever more like him.   

As Burning Embers

Written by Anthony Douglas on Wednesday, 25 September 2013.

EmbersEvery now and then, as a treat, we light a bonfire for the kids and toast some marshmallows. There’s lots of laughing, a good deal of marshmallow-gobbling, and a whole lot of washing to get the smoke out of our clothes. Before I go inside for the evening, though, I put the fire out.

A quick douse of the hose does for the flames; a whoof of steam rises; and then I check to see if the fire is out. It never is. There are some embers, every time, smouldering away at the bottom of the firepit. More water, more steam, and yet still they persist. They look unimpressive - barely aglow with heat - and yet they will continue to burn in their quiet way for hours.

In his book Weakness is the Way, Packer highlights the way John Bunyan used a glowing coal as a metaphor for the hope of the faithful believer. While outwardly, what we hope for seems a feeble, distant possibility, in reality it is strong and certain as a promise of the living God. Trials may come against us, and it may seem enough to extinguish our confidence in God, but the hope of the gospel is resilient and burns all the way to the dawn of our new day.

As we mourn the death of scores of brothers and sisters in Pakistan, we rejoice. Their deaths are not the end for them, but a glorious beginning. And out of the fire of their testimony, faith may well be born in others. As Beza testified, ‘it is the lot of the church of God ... to endure blows and not to strike them. But also may it please you to remember that it is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’

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