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Saturday, 26 April 2014

A Day of the Devil...

Job, a righteous character in the Old Testament, made it his commitment to walk with God everyday of his life, most likely from his youth. He was a rich man who had a great many flocks and herds. He also had several sons and daughters, who all grew up well and then flew their nest to settle in homes of their own. Not much unlike the way we do things at present. Every day Job devoted himself to the Lord, most likely to a degree which would put most of us modern believers to shame. Then one day, someone called to bring the dire news that the Sabeans had routed Job's land and taken away every beast he owned, and killing all but one of his servants, who managed to escape. From richness to poverty in an instant, not even knowing where is next decent meal will come from. His immediate future looks to be vegetarian. Barely was the message delivered when another messenger arrived to announce the death of all his offspring by a storm while they were feasting in the home of his eldest son.
All in one day, the loss of everything he had - his livestock, his sons and daughters - had turned this rich father of many to a childless man in dire poverty. Yet his response was, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." Then, when he thought he had hit bottom, worse was to come - he fell ill, very close to the point of death.

I wondered if Job ever became angry with God. One possible clue was through the attitude of his wife. Why don't you just curse God and die? she most likely shouted in her frustration, while his reply was tantamount to, Oh, shut up, woman! (Job 2:9-10).
Personally, I would have been surprised if Job kept his British stoicism and quietly replied that he was born naked, and will also die naked, without any emotion showing through. In fact, such an attitude would made this chap so superhuman, that there is no way I could match such an ideal, at least not for this emotionally-charged Italian. Like as this morning (Friday) when I pulled the living room curtains open to greet in the new day - only to find the back gate wide open and my bicycle stolen. My heart dropped to my feet in desperation. Suddenly, my only mode of transport, so vital for day-to-day living, was taken for dishonest profit at the expense of the rightful owner.

But it was more than a loss of a vital utility. There was sentimental value attached to the bike. I had it for many years, for such a long duration that I can't even recall how I got it in the first place. But I think only the frame, the old cottered crankshaft, and the split saddle were the original parts still fully functioning. The rest, including both wheels, the chain, rear gear cassette, and a multitude of tyres were acquired over the years of the bike's life. The rear wheel in particular was brand new, along with the tyre, after half a dozen spokes broke one soon after another in the old wheel which this one replaced. And such re-fits costs money.

Then to add to this sorrowful scenario, my dear wife, although out of hospital since December, is fully dependant on medication in order to live a near-normal life, at least indoors. Fresh supplies of medicine are gotten very frequently, as various laws in the medical profession forbids the stocking up of certain drugs by the patient. So when there is lack of communication between doctors and secretarial staff, along with disagreement among doctors themselves, a plethora of problems arise with the prescription renewal. Today, Friday of all days, the required prescription request was denied on a bureaucratic technicality. This meant a weekend and at least a Monday without medicine. If my wife's symptoms were to erupt during that period, it would have meant an emergency rush to hospital in an ambulance with its sirens screaming. Throughout the day I felt as low as I could get, with the world as it seemed, fallen at my feet, and dominated by fear of the future combined with anger at such bureaucracy, with one receptionist disagreeing with another on what is defined as "two working days." One says its not less than 24 hours (i.e. with one night in between), another says it's 48 hours (i.e with two nights in between). So this throws the spanner into the meticulous working out of calculating when to renew, taking in weekends and statutory holidays to boot! And the reality is: a doctor takes only a moment to print out a prescription. All of this gives the impression that my wife is seen by them as "an annoying patient, a wretched nuisance."

Then comes the news bulletin of the arrival of Prince William and his wife Catherine and son George from a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The sight of such a rich, happy, smiling family with not a worry in the world when my own world has imploded, does get me down even further. Adored by the nation, unable to do anything amiss, if either of the three happen to complain of a sore throat, the medical team would be by their side in minutes. If the ambulance would be unfortunate enough to be caught up in a traffic snarl, there would be a national outcry. Every effort would have been made by the palace staff that medicine is always available. No bureaucratic wrangles for them. No feelings of being thrown to the wayside by the medical team if the health of either of them were to fail.

As people, I have nothing against any of the Royals. It's my opinion that such an institution holds the country together in a way no republican system could so easily. What I find so astonishing is the attitude of adoration, the protocol and the pageantry no other nation bestows on their head of state as we do in England. One newspaper article did put a smile on my face this evening. It was about the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who wrapped his arm around the prince before boarding the flight back to London. The press raised its hands in horror, declaring that it was against protocol for a commoner to touch, let alone embrace a Royal, unless the Royal extends his or her hand for a handshake.  However, this was not the first time in Australian politics. Back in 1992, then Prime Minister Paul Keating had his arm around the Queen, therefore earning the title Lizard of Oz.  One of the benefits of online reading is the comment forum which follows the article. I was taken by one contributor, who wrote:
Oh do get a life - skin and bone is skin and bone - stop this stupid worshipping of other planetary beings and have some self-respect.
And what a surprise! That comment was written by a Canadian living across the Atlantic.

And so be it. Only a week or so previously, news came in of our own P.M. on his Easter break at the Canary Islands. Ignoring warnings, he went for a swim in the jellyfish-infested sea, and sure enough, returned to the beach in pain. No doubt, the marine creature had failed to see that this guy was a celebrity and a political leader. To test for reaction, I shared this article on Facebook. I did not receive a single "like" or comment. No doubt, my English friends were enraged that such a humble jellyfish could have such audacity to sting such an important person as David Cameron, even though he thought he knew better than the beach lifeguards who tried to warn him.

So where does this connect with Job? This Biblical character was a rich man who humbly walked before God. My own disappointment and frustration of the day had tempted me to accuse God of having only a selective, or graded love for mankind. That means God loves one person more than another. Even Scripture backs this up: Romans 9:15, which is a quote from Exodus 33:19, reads:
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.

When feeling angry, I tend to think without saying anything aloud, Why, God, why are some blessed more than others? Just because I was a total loss at school, I have been a loser ever since, to this day! So-and-so at church is so blessed! Respectable job, a devoted family. Of course, he does have a degree...

This brings me to the idea that God has a preference for the middle classes, the sort who fill our English churches. Even at Ascot, there is one couple who looks on me with disdain, simply because I don't act "English." It is an unnecessary turning of the emotional screw as I watch my dear wife suffer a severe backache, her difficulty in walking, housebound, and shedding rivers of tears - while some greedy sod is making money on stolen property on my expense! But here is the crunch. Wealthy middle class church-goers don't generally steal. I could leave my spanking new mount unsecured in their presence or leave money lying around, and both will still be there when I return. But dare to leave my bike unsecured in the street when there is a group of unemployed "hoodies" milling outside a pub just down the road? For the matter, would I even be brave (or foolish) enough to wheel the bicycle past them without feeling threatened? What if a fight breaks out among them over drug dealing or gang rivalry, and one gets killed? What then of the soul of the deceased? It comes very close to reason that good schooling and a university degree are both essential for salvation. For this, just take a look inside any church here in the UK.

Yes, I'm having a rant here, but I guess it's good to be downright honest with myself rather than write sanctimonious articles while covering up how I really feel. There is time for everything - for both writing blogs which teach or edify, and for letting off steam, as in this case.

Job lived much of his life in blessed security, and even Satan accused God for this. Of course, university degrees did not exist back then, but he used the wisdom God gave him to breed cattle and livestock the correct way along with trading which would make him rich. I guess he could be classed as the equivalent of a city banker of today, except with the godly sorrow which led to his salvation, rather than the ferocious arrogance today's bankers have which would only lead to death.

After loss of his wealth, his offspring and his health, Job too felt the unfairness of life, and yes, he vented his steam, even if he knew that he was righteous, asked why God allowed these things to happen to him. Here is just a sample of his rant:

I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out against the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me.
Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile at the schemes of the wicked? (Job 10:1-3.)

Job, like me, was angry at his circumstances as I was with mine. He went through, so to speak, a day of the Devil, as I have went through this day. He felt anger, frustration, that God was being unfair and unjust, and in a sense, playing a cruel game with him. Yet in one of my recent blogs, God or Satan? I quoted another author's idea that God had never approved of Satan's testing of Job or of any other form of destruction. Jesus himself backs this up. In John 10:10, Jesus is quoted in saying:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I believe that Satan has a day with all believers sometime in their lives, I would say quite a number of times in a believer's lifetime. The outcome is always the same: loss of property; loss of health; death of a loved one; misery, anger, fear, and depression; catastrophes of both minor or major scale. For examples of major disasters: the San Francisco earthquakes, tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, the eruption of Mt Vesuvius which wiped out the cities of Pompeii and Ercolano, mass hunger in Africa and so on. Jesus came to atone for our sins and to defeat the works of the evil one, and to impart life. That was the reason he came, according to his own word in John's Gospel. And we can see many demonstrations of this in all four Gospels, but one of the clearest was his discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus knew of her past - her failed relationship with five previous husbands, and acknowledging that her co-habitation with her present partner was not her husband. But Jesus did not bring up her past to condemn, but to prove to her that he was the Christ, the Messiah who was to come. Instead of punishing her, he offered her living water, if when drank she would never thirst spiritually again. In other words, he offered her not death for her transgressions, but eternal life - (John 4.)

If Jesus' mission was to atone for all our sins by nailing them on the cross, and to impart eternal life to all who believe, does this apply to us today? Then what of all the bad things that happen to us, such as in my case, my only mode of transport nicked, the illness of my beloved, her suffering as a result, the bureaucratic quibbling at the doctor's surgery, and the emotional toil, anger, frustration, and fear? Well, if God's wish for me is to impart life and have it to the full, then all these negative things must have come from the Adversary, whose intent is to steal, kill and destroy, with the purpose of making our walk with God is difficult as it can get. The worst thing about all this is that too often he is successful, having done his homework thoroughly.

What was the outcome of the prescription renewal? Well, at 18.10 hours the doctor 'phoned us at home, asking whether we still need the renewal. I replied, saying we did, and if available, I'll be at the surgery to collect it straight away. Twenty minutes was all I had left to pick up the prescription, then make my way to the pharmacy to collect the medicine itself. I made it in seconds flat, although still suffering over the loss of the bicycle, I was able to thank the Lord for his goodness in allowing the doctor to intervene in the nick of time.

After all, wasn't it Job who, during his hour of darkness, declared:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself shall see him with my own eyes, I and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27.)

Yes, spot on, Job.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

A Spanner in the Works!

Once a year, here in the UK, I believe the longest statutory weekend of the year comes round. It is Good Friday, with Easter Saturday to follow, then Easter Sunday, followed by a Bank Holiday Monday. It the time of year that we remember the Atonement made by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross, and the Resurrection three days later. The time of year children look forward to Easter eggs after the Sunday roast - so at least my brother and I did when we were both children. Although I wondered back then what a chocolate egg had to do with a man dying on a cross, nevertheless, I recall the anticipation of chocolate only after we cleaned our dinner plates.

To me, the Easter break meant the start of the Summer, and during my adult bachelor days, it was always a trip to the coast, normally for the whole weekend. And during adolescence, Easter always meant a break from the day-to-day grind at school, feeling constrained in a buttoned up shirt and tie of the uniform, sitting bored at the desk being rehashed over what I have already learnt at primary school. In all cases, Jesus always meant something to me, even if I believed at school, wrongly, that Jesus was aloof in his own goodness and was only interested in those who were as good as he was.

Back in the 1960s there was this unspoken feeling among us boys that there is something akin to being a cissy in believing in God. For example, if there were any at school who were in the church choir, then they kept this area of their lives a guarded secret, in fear of teasing and even rejection. The general feeling among us was that we kept separate from the girls - which, compared to the present rise in teenage pregnancies, abortions, and easy access to contraceptives - was not a bad thing altogether. A boy in Secondary Modern school of the mid sixties, if he wasn't academic, he would show his virtue in being good at team sports. It could be said that the average schoolboy was assessed by his physical prowess and the English Bulldog spirit out in the sports field. Belief in God did not fit into it.

And this was a sad fact, a terrible misrepresentation of God's character, which came across as punitive towards naughty children, but pleased with those who were good. He was also seen as extremely fickle on who would go to Heaven after death, which was based not on free grace, but on the boy's performance in life. It was natural, therefore that atheism was common among us schoolboys, and I felt myself sucked in, one reason was an attempt to make myself more popular, and to be seen as "tough". I guess at the time, that the character of God was fully reflective in the strict discipline in both our birth fathers and the schoolteachers. And the worst thing about all this, was if I wanted to be good and be pleasing to God in one way or another, then I would perceive him as being somewhat suspicious; that I wanted something for myself, but remained uninterested in his affairs.

But deep in my heart, I think, I always wanted to know Jesus Christ as a friend, and not as a disciplinarian. But I was always afraid to approach him, in anticipation of being told to "not to tell tales", "man up", or other dismissal methods, in reflection of the schoolmasters, with whom we shook with fear of some of them. So it was not surprising that even after I believed towards the end of 1972, it took me a very long time to unlearn what I built up throughout childhood.

Even to this day, I can be wary of the Lord's attitude towards me if there is sin in my life. Even after building a sound theological edifice on Justification by Faith, the eternal acquittal bestowed on the wicked through faith without works, it can be difficult to realise that such a person as myself can be seen by God the Father as the same as Jesus himself. Yet it's true. I have found that believing in eternal acquittal in my heart has made a big impact in my life, and the way I see the world, and the way I see and relate to other people. Of course, as with anyone young in the faith, I would have wanted the foundation to be solid, cut and dried. So when I was with a fellow believer in the South London district of Brixton in 1974, I was surprised to hear him tell me that he had problems with a Friday Crucifixion.

Although I poo-pooed the idea, I could see sense in what he was saying straight away, even if I didn't want to believe it. His idea ran counter to all the churches of all denominations which insist on a Friday crucifixion. Yet, although I didn't want to believe it, it did make sense to me, nevertheless. But after that incident in Brixton, I had put away the idea, conforming the general trend that Jesus died on a Friday. And a Friday crucifixion is taught with clarity at my present church, with all the elders believing in it. And rather than argue, which wouldn't have got us anywhere, when the leaders called to celebrate on Good Friday, I was there. My own ideas on when Jesus died, I had to keep to myself, to keep the peace.

But it was on one social evening in the early to mid 1990s, while I was in a pub with some Christian friends (all young unmarried men, including myself) that I offered some unwanted books by one of them, written by the late Dave Hunt, for free. I decided to accept them. One was titled, A Cup of Trembling, and it was about God, his relationship with Israel and the Jews, and the history and theology of Islam, its Palestinian followers, and their claim to the land God had originally given to Abraham, and what, how, and why this famed Patriarch was living in Mecca with his son Ishmael, nearly a thousand miles from the border of the Promised Land and his final burial tomb at Hebron. I found the author to be a highly trained and informed scholar, and later discovered that he was the founder and director of the Berean Bible Society in the United States, taken from Acts 17:10-12, where Paul commended the citizens of Berea for checking his Gospel with the Scriptures to verify what he taught was Biblical. Another book I was given with the first was How Close Are We? and this was about our attitude towards the Second Coming of Christ. It was from this book that I finally became convinced that Jesus might have died on a Thursday rather than a Friday, with one of the most insisting verses - Matthew 12:40, which reads:
For as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Checking on the prophet Jonah, he was thrown overboard a ship for being the cause of a violent storm, after fleeing from the Lord when he told him to preach in the city of Ninevah, which was a potential threat to Israel. After being thrown into the huge waves, a large fish swallowed him alive, and we are told that the prophet remained within the fish's stomach for three days and three nights. It was a miracle that he remained alive during that period without the digesting acids dissolving his flesh. But as the fish regurgitated the man alive on to the beach, so did the risen Jesus walked out of his tomb alive as well. Little wonder that the Lord compared his own duration of his burial with that of Jonah.

For a more deeper discussion on this subject, please click on the blog, Good Friday? I'm Confused, which should be among the top ten most popular blogs at the column on the right. It was posted April 2012. But just to say here, by reading Hunt's book, I recall the conversation which my young friend and I had together at Brixton. And I think I remember him quoting this very verse, and coming to the conclusion that holding on to tradition may not be at times a wise decision. For much of my life, I always believed in a Friday crucifixion, because that was what I was taught, first by the Catholic Church, then by the Anglican Church, and later by the two Baptist churches - Bracknell and now, Ascot. In one way I settled with this, but for much of my life, yes, even before I became a Christian, I had asked myself; Did Jesus Christ really die on a Friday? Even with just three days in the tomb, the idea gave the impression that God himself was somewhat mean, as there was only three hours left of Friday, all day Saturday, and practically no daytime of Sunday, as he was already risen by daybreak. And of course, I automatically assumed that he was just two nights in the tomb, Friday and Saturday nights, or as the Jews would have said - the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings. But whatever, there were just two, not three nights spent in the tomb.

Therefore, reading Matthew 12:40 really threw the spanner into the works. Three nights? With a statement like this, the traditional Friday Crucifixion simply did not make sense. Then to add to this, other than Jonah's biography, there is no duplicate verse in the entire Bible. Neither Mark, Luke, or John had recorded what Jesus himself has said on that occasion, and John even hinted that when Jesus appeared to Pilate, it was before the Passover was eaten (John 18:28) - while Matthew, for example, narrates Jesus instructing his disciples to prepare a place where they can eat the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19.) Then again, Paul refers Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7)  - which indicates that John had got it right, since if Jesus was the Passover Lamb, then he must have died within the same hour as all the Passover lambs were slain across Israel, which was after his verdict and sentencing from Pilate, not before. Then again poor Matthew seemed to have gotten confused with the prophets. It was Zechariah, and not Jeremiah, who foretold about the thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 27:9-10 with Zechariah 11:12-13.) Then not to let Mark off the hook, he narrates that Jesus was already on the cross by nine in the morning (Mark 15:25 - the third hour)- while John has Jesus still standing before Pilate by midday (John 19:13-14 -the sixth hour.) With so many spanners thrown into what would have been a harmonious fourfold story, little wonder the atheists rub their hands with glee!

But I have read elsewhere that it was highly unlikely that Jesus was already at the cross by nine in the morning, if the trial before Pilate had also involved a trip across the city to be tried by Herod, then sent back to Pilate, which was recorded only by Luke. Unless nobody ever slept throughout the night during Roman times, the idea of him already on the cross that early in the morning looked very unlikely. Unless what Mark was trying to say was that the process which led to his crucifixion began about nine, which if true, would have coincided more with John's account.

So all these irregularities within the four Gospels, including a statement which would have made a Friday crucifixion impossible, are all somehow covered and made smooth by tradition, mainly from the Roman Catholic Church. This has made me wonder why the Catholic Church had never allowed the laity, or the non-clergy public, to read the Bible until after the Reformation. And in many Catholic countries to this day, the Bible is not available to the public as it is here in the UK, in America and other English-speaking countries. So to sum up, I have accepted a Thursday crucifixion, even if based on a short, one-off statement made by Jesus himself. But if Matthew had made a mistake in this quotation as well, then the Gospels would be so unreliable, that my own faith, with no proper rock to rest upon, would crumble. Then I wonder why all the secular academics are having such a field day.

But as I accept the idea of a Thursday crucifixion (even the present names of the seven days of the week were unknown by Jews at that time) if this was to make the Gospel narrative feasible. According to this theory, Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, which meant that Thursday late afternoon was counted as the first day, as there was no zero in ancient Jewish numeracy. Then Friday was the second day, with Saturday the third day. The three nights, as the Jews would have calculated, would have been the early hours of Friday morning, then Saturday morning, and finally Sunday morning, with Jesus coming back to life and the stone rolled back before daybreak on that Sunday, therefore ruling out the possibility of a fourth day in the tomb.

Tradition. There seems to be something incredibly powerful with tradition. Not only had it dominated the Roman Catholic Church for the last 1,600 years, but the whole of human history since the dawn of mankind, with Hinduism, Animism, and even Buddhism being good examples of long-term tradition. It can be so strong and binding that even modern day Evangelical believers would not question the current tradition, even if the Bible questions some aspects of it. Let's face it - the tradition of a Friday crucifixion was started by the Catholic Church in its early years of its inception. And the Good Friday tradition has endured the centuries, and passed unscathed through the Reformation, and believed on by the vast majority of churches to this day.

But I suppose none of us can live without one form of tradition or another. After all, who would deprive their children of the excitement of receiving presents for Christmas, or in this case, the treat of a chocolate egg one Sunday of the year.

Or more important, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine to commemorate the breaking of the body and the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for an atonement for our sins. After all, isn't this what's Easter all about?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Come Unto Me...

This has been quite a week. Last weekend Alex and I went to see the movie Noah, and since then I have given a lot of thought throughout the working week. But it was the Biblical Noah which stuck on my mind, not the Darren Aronofsky's version which has populated cinemas across the UK. But the Scriptural account which drew much of my attention was the drunkenness which followed sometime after the Flood. We as Christian believers tend to frown at such behaviour, tut-tutting with either a threat of losing salvation and facing the prospect of Hell after death, or proving that one was not really saved after all, and that despite the devotion shown to God and the church over the years. In other words, whether you believe in Probational Salvation or Once Saved Always Saved, it is impossible to imagine a believer in such a state without involving the issue of sin.

But by taking a closer look on the lifespan of Noah, (i.e. the Biblical version) it is not difficult to read that for the first six hundred years of his life he had supportive family members. For a start, he had his good old grandpa, Methuselah, who died just a week before the fountains of the deep burst open. Just five years before that, his dad Lamech died. But he had his wife and his three sons, and their wives. Then his mother and grandmother - were they still alive when the Flood was ushered in? Probably not, for it looks likely that by God's grace, they were laid to rest some time earlier. But the parents of the sons' three wives were most likely still alive, along with their brothers and sisters. Then not forgetting Noah himself had brothers and sisters from his parents, and aunts and uncles from his grandfather Methuselah. For all this, just read the fifth chapter of Genesis, where we assured that Noah was by no means all alone before the Flood as one might first suspect.
However, Noah was by no means the first to know of the coming Deluge. Rather, God had already revealed this to his great-grandfather Enoch, who in turn named his eldest son "Methuselah," meaning When I die the waters will arrive. So Enoch knew of the future catastrophe, obviously Methuselah did too, and of course, so did Lamech, Noah's father. Yet all of them had "other sons and daughters." Enoch was a father of many, his son also, so was Lamech, by seeing how old his father was becoming, yet had other sons and daughters who would all drown in the deluge. Odd, I would have thought. So with all those relatives - the numbers unknown but they seemed many - only eight finally made it into the Ark and were saved.
This led me to conclude one of two ideas, or both may apply to a certain extent. One was that all family members loved Noah as one of their own, but believed him to be rather delirious, or a bit of a nutter, and very eccentric with the revelation of the forthcoming catastrophe. They looked with wonder and stunned unbelief as the Ark was under construction. The other idea was that they had followed the way of Cain's descendants, and therefore turned hateful and violent, even among themselves. Which ever way, I can't be sure, but the fact of Noah's drunkenness seemed to have indicated the former attitude. They loved him, and proper support was given to him by his parents and grandparents.
And according to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah was a "preacher of righteousness." The Greek word used for "preacher" in this verse was keruka, a herald, which seems to indicate that during the building of the Ark, Noah was warning the antediluvian world that the Flood was on its way, and this was enforced by the ageing of Methuselah, and if anyone wants to be saved, he must enter the Ark with him and his family in order to be spared. This was a matter of believing. The Ark might have been ready for use sometime before the Flood, maybe by weeks or even months. The vessel was open to anyone. Any family, either from the line of Seth or of Cain, could have gone in. But this required faith, the believing in the coming judgement was necessary, and such faith acted upon. Noah's answer for the cry, "What must I do to be saved?" would have been, "Believe in the revelation of the coming Flood and enter the Ark, then you shall be saved, you and your house." (Acts 16:30-31.)
Noah would have welcomed anyone who had faith. This is the proper meaning of repentance. A change of mind from unbelief to believing. The same is true at present. God has already reconciled the world to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A change of mind from unbelief to believing is all that's required for salvation. Once having believed, he is safe in Christ and no threat of eternal death awaits him, just as anyone inside the Ark cannot be touched by the waters of the Flood. That is the wonderful thing about the Gospel. Just as the structure of the Ark was strong enough to protect all those inside, so Christ, who is even stronger, is able to protect us and keep us safe as well, for God is a strong tower where all the righteous run into, and they are safe. The enemy forces cannot touch them.
Yet it is an unfortunate reality that the common belief among Christians is that our lives must be blameless and without sin, regardless of the circumstance, or either he is in danger of losing his salvation, or mere proof that he was never saved in the first place. Both are nonsense! If you are a believer in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you are eternally safe in him, just as all those in the Ark were safe from the deluge outside. Later, long after the waters had receded, the narration states that after planting a vineyard, Noah drank of the wine (fermented grape juice) and became drunk. It is worth looking at his set of circumstances that brought this on him.

For the first six hundred years of his life, Noah had support from his family, perhaps including his wider family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and maybe the brothers and sisters of his three daughters-in-law, along with their parents and wider family. It was certainly a crowd, and despite the evil and raw wickedness and violence among the descendants of Cain, it was likely that Noah was loved. But instead of believing his message, they probably thought that Noah was crazy, and no flood will occur. After all, no rain had ever fallen in the last 1,600 years or so since Creation. So why should it rain now? So although he was in the midst of Methuselah's wider family, shortly before the Deluge, none of them believed the revelation except Noah, his grandfather, his wife and his three sons and their wives. With the death of Methuselah, there were just eight believers among Seth's family line altogether, and no believer at all from Cain's descendants, which by then, most likely would have numbered into the billions in world population.
What crushing loneliness Noah must have suffered, perhaps while still in the floating Ark. Like with many Christians today, it would not have been unnatural for depression to have set in. Such emotion was likely present even when Noah offered a sacrifice on a makeshift altar after disembarkation. Noah's first grandson, Canaan, was born from Ham's seed maybe even during, or shortly after, the flood. It was during this time when sons and daughters were soon to be born to all of his three sons, but none of this soothed his depression. It must have been a few years later, when Canaan was growing up, when Noah fell into a drunken stupor, and probably, while the rest of the family were out and about, young Canaan sexually molested him, while his father called his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, to his attention, and the two sons of Noah acted appropriately in honouring their drunken father.
Noah woke up, and found out about his grandson's misdeed. He cursed Canaan, taking away the birthright and the Messianic lineage from Canaan and giving both of these to his uncle Shem, to be passed down through Arphaxad, one of Shem's sons and Canaan's younger cousin. So we see a righteous man lying in his tent, drunk out of his mind, perhaps mistaking Canaan's assault for his wife's endearments. Yet no one, as far as I know of, had ever condemned this man to Hell for such a misdeed, on the contrary, he is included in the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11:7.

In the last forty years as a believer myself, I have not come across any other Christian in a state of drunkenness. As for myself, I have hardly ever allowed myself to become intoxicated, although I am not a teetotaller, I like a tipple on certain occasions. Christians, especially advocates of Probational Salvation, tend to quote 1 Corinthians 6:10 - ...nor drunkards...shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And whether verbally or by writing, such a quote is usually wrapped in a judgemental attitude. This to me, does not present a pleasant atmosphere, nor emphasise the love of God, especially to someone who is depressed. And here is the irony, by the looks of it. If an intoxicated unbeliever was to stagger into a group of Christians, chances are that he would be lovingly approached and counselled to receive Jesus as Saviour. But if an established believer with one too many is seen staggering around, he would most likely be reprimanded and quite possibly be questioned whether he is saved. It would have been interesting if a typical group of church-goers were transported back in time to witness Noah in such a state. How would they have re-acted?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12:
Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me - but I will not be mastered by anything.

In other words he did not allow "horrible religious restrictions" get in the way in his walk with God.  If he wanted a alcoholic drink, he did not allow himself to be judged by the Law, nor allowed anyone to condemn him or to pass judgement. But if he did not see anything beneficial in alcohol consumption, then he refrained rather than risk dishonouring Jesus Christ, whom he so fervently loved. Paul's mission was to expound the love of God to a helpless, sinful world, yet at the same time warn of the coming judgement. Since mercy had triumphed over judgement, his emphasis was to exhort people to repent, to change their minds and embrace the risen Jesus.

But to portray God in a punitive manner is a big turn off from conversion, and from the faith altogether. While this blog was written, I had a chance to watch a short movie about two black teenagers in South London who wanted to band together to produce their own Rap music. Ah, Rap! Not very church-like with its traditional hymns and spiritual songs, and already some Christians would be tut-tutting over such an idea. So did the mother of one of the lads, who was a devout believer. At the dining table she delivered Christ's disapproval of his project in front of his siblings. The look on the adolescence's face was so thunderous, that it would not be any different had a husband received news of his nagging mother-in-law's sudden and unexpected arrival.

The vast majority of the unbelieving world perceives God in exactly the same way. Punitive, picky, constantly watching our performance, very much like how Santa is portrayed to children - that he only gives presents to good children for Christmas, while ignoring naughty children. It would be enough for the child to angrily respond that Santa can keep his presents! Isn't that familiar? Let's face it, if God was portrayed in the true character of love instead of the punitive personality he is often portrayed, then there wouldn't be so many influential atheists such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others who had swayed the public general thinking by their theories. I personally think that Christians who advocate Probational Salvation (known better as Arminians) have done enormous damage to the minds of many. And I dare say that the doctrine of Lordship Salvation had always been equally damaging. But even among those who believe in Once Saved Always Saved, or Eternal Security, are not let off the hook either. If they see a depressed saint on the bottle for instance, they would poo-poo with the idea that perhaps he wasn't saved after all. What psychological damage such thinking could bring.

Jesus always preached a message on love. Just a short while before his crucifixion, he stood on the Temple porches and cried out to the blustering crowd during the Feast of Tabernacles:

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Who ever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. John 7:37.

Earlier he also said,
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30.

One particular day, Jesus found himself sitting opposite a Samaritan woman at a well. Feeling thirsty, and having no vessel of his own to draw, he asked the woman if she would draw for him as well. It was a simple request any person with a small amount of decency would have happily obliged. But instead, she looked at him with a startled expression and asked,
"Who are you, a Jew, to ask of water from me, a Samaritan, a woman at that, and the lowest of the low?"
In other words, You Jews have always been judgemental and punitive pigs towards us for centuries past. Are you expecting me to show you kindness now? (See John 4.)

The woman had a point. Despite her previous five husbands, none of whom she was able to keep an ongoing healthy relationship, she was looked down upon and condemned by the Jews, who believed that they alone held the oracles of God, and kept his laws. Really, it wasn't too different from the attitude of many Christians today. But Jesus loved her as she was and she could see it. His exposure of her past life was not to condemn, nor even to convict, but to demonstrate to her that he was the Christ. When she believed, she went out, deliberately leaving the water jug behind so he could have a drink, and encouraged others to come and hear him. Such was the wonderful display of love.

Jesus said, "Come to me." To this day, his plea to everyone is, "Come to me, and live."
If only those who stood at the Ark in unbelief heeded the message of Noah, who would have said the same thing:
Come to me and live, you with your wife and children. Who knows. Their distant descendants might well have been with us to this day. It only needed faith in God's love.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Noah, The Movie

Ever since I became a Christian believer in 1973, one of the most inspiring parts of the Bible that took hold of me in a big way was the early chapters of Genesis. Before reading these chapters, I was a staunch Darwinian, who took the Theory of Evolution as serious historical fact. Then one evening of that year, when I was alone in the house (I still lived with my parents back then) and while there was a thunderstorm outside, I wanted to see for myself how the Bible began, so I turned to Genesis chapter one, and began reading. By the time I got to chapter three, I began to tense, as one would when reading a novel, and I thought, "No, don't eat the fruit of that tree!" But Eve gave way to temptation, she gave the fruit to her husband to bite a piece off, and my own heart dropped!

So this begins the chronicling of the first world which ended with the Flood of Noah. After reading these chapters, I was no longer believing in Evolution, and became a Young-Earth Creationist. It was an all-out conversion, and I apologised to God for accepting Evolution as history, and began to embrace Creationism as historical fact, despite entering a way of life which would involve being ridiculed, even by my own father, for believing in what they thought was a moral-based fancy story.
Because I wanted to learn more about this revelation, I bought books on the subject, including the highly academic volume, The Genesis Flood, co-authored by John Whitcomb and the late Henry Morris, which gave me a good insight into the science of the Flood and of historical geology, both from the uniformitarianist and from the creationist points of view, along with the history of Uniformitarianism, which involved names such as Charles Lyell, William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Fred Hoyle, John Pye Smith, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the better known Charles Robert Darwin, and others.  
This insight also gave me a perception on how antediluvian mankind lived alongside dinosaurs, giants such as the Brontosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, along with flying creatures with massive wingspans, such as the pterosaurs. I have received taunts from secularists, even mockery on this blogging page for upholding such an idea of dinosaurs of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods actually co-existing with mankind, which were not meant to come into existence until the Late Quaternary period - some 25,000 years ago - which was supposed to be some 69,975,000 years after the death of the last dinosaur! Yet the Bible hints at such a co-existence, and I found no problem with this, even when I visited the London Geological Museum in South Kensington, where there was a display of fossils arranged in chronological order - with the Cambrian group looking much, much older than the bones or shells embedded in the comparatively recent Pleistocene period. The Cambrian variety certainly looked old and tattily preserved, although the very idea that all were fossilised at the same time at a very recent epoch does not seem far-fetched, according to how I saw them. And many noted scientists of a not-so-distant past would have fully agreed with me. For example, author Charles Gillispie of Cambridge University, wrote Genesis and Geology, fully supporting the Biblical narrative, and it was published by the Harvard University Press as recently as 1951.

The Genesis narrative of  the Noachian Deluge has always been at the forefront of my mind ever since I first read the Biblical account. As I go out to work each morning, I sometimes wonder how this very spot I'm standing on would have looked before the Flood. Would it have been a tropical jungle, with dinosaur giants roaming about? Or would it be covered by the shallow waters of a tropical sea? Or even deeper waters of a primeval ocean? Or for that matter, be snack-dab in the middle of a Cain-built city? What was the sky like? Was it forever blue throughout the day? Or the cloudless sky even possibly have been red at daytime, due to a higher moisture content in the upper atmosphere? If the daytime sky was red, was there a possibility that the colours of all creation were brighter, more intense? It was a world I find so fascinating, that I'm hoping to watch a heavenly video of it in the next life, if God will let me. Or at least have a chat with Enoch, Noah or one of his sons who were alive before the Deluge.
And it was this fascination of this "world that once was" which drew me to the cinema with my wife Alex to watch the movie Noah, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. We picked a Saturday morning showing, as my wife being in a wheelchair, we did not particularly want to be in a theatre packed with viewers. We got what we desired. There were only three or four other people in otherwise an empty auditorium, and I have wondered whether this movie will be a box-office disaster.
I have seen quite a number of Bible-based movies in my lifetime, including The Ten Commandments, Samsom and Delilah, King David, Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion of the Christ, and even Ben Hur, which was based at the time of the Crucifixion, were as true to the Bible as they could have been. Unfortunately, Noah fell short of the Biblical narrative in quite a few details. For example, the very plot in the film differed from the Biblical narrative in a way that while the Bible insists that the Flood was to preserve the Messianic Line from Adam to Jesus while destroying a corrupt race which posed a threat to the bloodline, in the film, Noah was given the task by God to preserve all animal life, but then allow all mankind to become extinct in order to prevent the repeat of the anthropological disaster which blighted the first world. In other words, the movie adaption of the Deluge was to re-create the lost paradise for the animal and plant kingdoms, never again to be destroyed by human wickedness and greed.

The effects of this was quite startling. Only Noah's eldest son Shem had a wife, and she was a young girl rescued by Noah himself after being found abandoned and wounded in a ravine containing bodies of the slain. As this girl grew up into a beautiful woman, it was discovered that the wound she had received as a child took away her fertility. Later, while the Ark was under construction, she was blessed by Methuselah who himself was drowned in the Flood, and while on board the floating Ark, she gave birth to twin girls, whom grandfather Noah believed that God told him to slay them. The result was a non-Biblical drama of screaming hostility from all of Noah's family as he attempted to kill the two infants. Fortunately, while he stood over the two infants held by their mother, Noah looked up to heaven and reluctantly declared that he did not have the heart to fulfil his duty, and by sparing the infants' lives, felt as if he betrayed God by having failed in his task.

Other departures from the Bible included the idea that Noah and his family were the only descendants left of the line of Seth, the second son of Adam, while the whole world was from Adam's firstborn, Cain. Even the king of the earth, Tubal-Cain, successfully stowed away in the floating Ark, and after a fight with Noah, he was stabbed to death by Ham, who himself had no wife. The film included a scene of Ham's girlfriend left to die by Noah as he escorted his son to board the Ark. The movie portrayed Noah as heartless to the screams of Ham's abandoned girlfriend. It was these scenes which spoilt the Biblical narrative.

The Bible was clear that Noah's family was by no means the sole survivors of Seth before the Flood. In the Bible, Noah's father was Lamech, who himself had other sons and daughters. Lamech's father Methuselah also had other sons and daughters (Genesis 5:26-30). This gave Noah a full family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. This might have played on the emotions of the Biblical Noah, and why he got drunk after the flood waters had receded. The death of his family because of unbelief must have been very distressing for Noah, and most likely for his wife too. Although the narrative is silent on this, there is no reason why Noah's wife, along with the wives of his sons, didn't have any unbelieving brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles, or even in their case, parents, who banged on the hull of the vessel after the door was shut. It is this sort of situation affecting many believers at present, who have family members who don't know the Lord. With myself in this situation, I can understand how Noah and his immediate family must have felt.

Noah's upbringing in the Bible was quite different from the Noah of Darren Aronofsky. In the Bible, Lamech, Noah's father, died five years before the flood. Therefore, nearly all but the last five years of Noah's 600 years of his life were spent in close intimacy with his Dad. His grandfather, Methuselah, actually outlived his own son by five years, and according to Genesis 7:4, Methuselah died of old age - just one week before the floods came, which demonstrates the omniscience of God, as the name Methuselah means When I die the waters will arrive. In the film, Lamech died many years before the Flood, while Methuselah was drowned while hunting for berries. This goes to show what a tremendous impact the flood must have had on the Biblical Noah and his family, and the terrible loneliness he must have felt after disembarkation. Right up to the moment he boarded the vessel, he had his good old grandpa to lean on, and might well have received support from his in-laws. Now, as the head of the entire human race, his emotions called for alcohol.

It goes to show the wonderful mercy and the omniscience of God calling for Once Saved Always Saved, especially in the light of today's believers in Probational Salvation. They teach that salvation can be lost if a believer in Jesus Christ indulges in wanton drunkenness. But with Noah, we see no sign of him losing his salvation. Instead we read of his humanity, his infection with sin, yet the grace of God's love which was guaranteed his name in the Hebrews Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:7.)

And this is why I don't believe that Aronofsky's Noah should be the basis to establish the truth of God. What I have seen was that the Creator, as he was always referred to in the film, was perceived as a cruel, vindictive deity who wanted to eradicate a race of corrupt men without the protection of the Messianic bloodline through Seth, Noah, and his son Shem. Instead, the Creator inspired Noah to let Ham's potential girlfriend to be trodden to death by Tubal-Cain's men, and then what I thought to be the most emotional moment - the birth of twin girls from Shem's wife, and Noah's commission to slay them in order to prevent the earth from re-population.

I came away feeling that the Creator in the film reflected Aronofsky's faith. He was born of Jewish parentage and although I read elsewhere that he could be an atheist, nevertheless, his principle was salvation by works, and that entirely without the Messiah's intervention. And this is what I believe many who would watch this film will come away with. Or simply not believe in God at all. And for Christian believers who, like us, who went to see the film, we should not base any theological analysis on the film, nor from it, define doctrine.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah was an enjoyable film to watch, I certainly liked it, and maybe, when the DVD version comes out, I may well purchase it. But for me, and I recommend every true believer who goes out for the evening to watch it, it must be categorised exactly for what it is - entertainment.