2013 has not been a good year for us. With a prolonged cold Winter stretching through nearly the whole of Spring, a camping holiday within the UK which was not all that great, my nearest and dearest falling ill and had to be taken to hospital in Reading, about twelve miles from where I live as the crow flies; and as I visit her every evening without fail, I watch with despair her condition deteriorate, with a total loss of ability to sit up straight, let alone trying to stand up and walk. Then within the last week, she was transferred to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, one of the country's top medical centres which has a neurology specialist department.
But as I watch the medical team scratch their heads over exactly what is the cause of her problem, my daily visits has to be reduced to weekends only, and with a bit of luck, Friday afternoons as well, if I can get the week's window cleaning round finished in good time. Because Oxford is about thirty miles away from home, and this involve longer train journeys, including platform waits for delayed trains at Reading, the slow bus journey from Oxford Station to the hospital (route 13, of all numbers) covering five miles, and stopping every fifty metres to pick up and drop off fellow passengers; and while the entire trip extended from one hour one way from door (of my home) to door to Royal Berks Hospital in Reading; it takes approximately two and a half hours from door to door to J.R. in Oxford, and that is mainly due to the slow bus leg of the journey. These are times when I wished I had the confidence to learn how to get behind the steering wheel when I was in my late teens or early twenties. I guess I am one of the minority who never felt at home sitting at the driver's seat of a car, let alone affording to cover all the costs involved with owning and driving a vehicle.*
One of the problems with city bus rides is that the vehicle can get caught in a traffic snarl up, as was one occasion on Friday evening, returning to the station. I had no choice but to sit there, feeling frustrated as something to add to my effort to cheer up my bed-bound sweetheart who at times feels very helpless, alone and frightened. On top of all this, the past week we were meant to celebrate our wedding anniversary in warm sunshine over the Greek Mediterranean island of Crete. Instead, this year's anniversary was total rubbish, as I walked into Alex's special care ward at J.R. and found that she has passed out unconscious, and I had to alert the staff, to whom credit due, responded instantly and successfully brought her round.
This year in particular has certainly have been the year of hospitals. Because not long before my wife went down, I made regular visits to Reading Royal Berks hospital to visit my sick father, who had suffered a series of strokes. Then there was one early Saturday morning during the Summer when Alex and I were just about to leave the house to board a train to London, to join a long-standing mate from college, to enjoy a boat cruise together along the River Thames to Greenwich, one of the areas in London made famous by the East-West Meridian passing though, as well as being a naval base and home of the tall ship, the Cutty Sark, which Alex had always found inspiring. Instead, the phone rang, from my elderly mother that Dad had been rushed to hospital in Reading having just suffered a stroke. She passed this on as information only, but I was feeling: how could we enjoy such a day trip to London while knowing that my mother sits at her husband's bedside in distress? So after phoning my old college friend to tell him the news and cancelling the trip, we made our way to Reading instead.
Such as the direction my day-to-day living has taken this year. Lately I have been discussing with one or two friends whether being the year 2013 has anything to do with these things experienced. Of course, 2013 is one whole integer, as the number 13 is also an integer in itself. But by both posting on Facebook and talking face to face, I seem to have found agreement among others that 2013 is indeed unlucky.
And yet, "unlucky for some" the negative influence of the number 13 stemmed from the Christian faith, when there were once twelve righteous souls, including Jesus Christ himself, and one wicked person, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty pieces of silver, and then regretted what he had done and went on to hang himself. In the New Testament of the Bible, whenever a list of Jesus' disciples was made, Judas Iscariot was always mentioned last, hence allocated the 13th place.
Yet last night, I stood on the terminal platform in Reading for the delayed arrival of the train due to take me home, I felt a surge of anger. There are times I wish I could cry out to God, Why? I wanted to kick the wall of the station premises, to shout, scream, holler. But I would look foolish among the crowd of waiting passengers, all standing on the platform with such a stoic indifference which, according to some, makes Britain unique in its averse to grumbling!
As I sat in the train, I felt my anger directed at the churches, particularly the charismatic movement where one can "claim victory over the situation and over superstitious thoughts."
Claim victory? Personally, I have never seen this in the entire Bible. We can't "claim" anything. For we by nature are depraved sinners, born without strength and with no hope. We are all like a fading leaf, all our righteousness are as filthy rags, we are like grass scorched by the sun, chaff which is blown away by the wind. As I read Isaiah chapter 6, in verse 5 we read of the prophet crying out in despair, after seeing a vision of God in the Temple:
"Woe is me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
The prayer uttered by Daniel the prophet in chapter 9 of his book, fifteen verses are committed to him acknowledging first the greatness and holiness of God, and his love for Israel and his promise to Abraham that under Moses he will deliver his people out of Egypt and settled in their own land, with the Law of Moses to guide them. But instead, Daniel admits, including himself along with the national guilt, that Israel had refused to obey the Law, and all acted wickedly. He then admits that God is fully righteous and just, and had full right to punish Israel by forcing them to be expelled from their own land to Babylon. He then pleads for God's mercy and grace, for forgiveness of their sin, and for the restoration of Israel as a nation and for Jerusalem in particular. Daniel does not "claim" anything. Rather he admits his own helplessness and that of his people, and pleads instead for mercy and forgiveness.
In the new Testament, neither Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude ever "claimed" anything for themselves, neither do they exhort anyone else to do so. Instead, they remind the churches of their forgiveness of their sins, of the imputed righteousness of Christ, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to encourage them to walk in holiness before God, for the benefit of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit within them, always to thank the Lord for his goodness and mercy, along with the riches of his grace. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he goes deep into theology, explaining about our sinful, helpless state, our inability to keep the Law of Moses, the good news of judicial acquittal, and the new life in the Holy Spirit as an act of grace. But never did he exhort us to "claim" anything.
There are times when superstitious thoughts do enter my mind, and actually believe that there is some kind of negative energy at work connected with these ideas, such as whether the number 13 is unlucky or not. I have connected the number 13 of the year 2013 with the negative things which occurred this year. But I don't "claim any victory" over any of these. Rather, I acknowledge that God himself foreknew all these things long before we were ever born, and to know that all things - both good and bad - works for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose, so Paul wrote in Romans 8:28.
Like any frail, helpless human born of dust and ashes, there are, and will be, times of feeling superstitious, and that negative forces are at work. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to wear the armour of God to protect themselves spiritually, and to hold the shield of faith to bear the fiery darts of the evil one, and using the sword of the Bible to counter such accusations, worries and fears. But as for victory, that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. He was the one who atoned for our transgressions, he was the one who rose from the dead, he alone is the first fruit of the Resurrection. When he returns to usher in his glorious Kingdom centred on Jerusalem, then - and only then - will victory come our way.
* For those not familiar with the geography of Southern England; Reading Station is a principal through station on the Great Western Railway from London Paddington to the West Country, including a branch line to Oxford. However, Reading Station also has a set of terminal platforms, into one of them is served by the London Waterloo to Reading commuter line, which passes through our home station of Bracknell. Therefore, to get to Oxford, or to any other West Country destinations, a change of trains at Reading is necessary.
Apology for the lack of pics. This blog was typed out during the small hours of this morning (Sunday) due to the extra busy schedule.