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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Overconfidence - A Potential Danger?

Earlier in the week, the AA (Automobile Association) released a eleven-minute video of a young couple, he as an aspiring musician and with big promises for his future, and her occupation unspecified, although she had a wealthy background. On one occasion he came across a pregnancy test strip in her handbag and took a look at it while her back was turned. The expression on his face told us immediately that the strip showed a positive result. The prospected of fatherhood had certainly lifted his mood to even higher levels. The smartly dressed couple presented themselves at certain high places, including a wedding. Then, on another occasion, the pair were out on a drive through a narrow country road.

He was exuberant and confident of his superb driving skills. So whilst driving, he took out his mobile phone and started texting. After all, his skills behind the wheel were so finely tuned, he knew that nothing bad could happen to them. He started his sentence with something like:
I'm so happy to have such a wonderful partn...

He failed to see that his vehicle has swerved on to the adjoining lane. A car was fast approaching in the opposite direction. The other driver had no time to stop or swerve. As our driver continued texting, there was an almighty head-on collision. The music-loving driver survived, as did the oncoming driver. His partner however, remained unconscious in her front passenger seat. After climbing out of the wreckage and ensuring that both the other driver and himself were reasonably okay, he turned his attention to his girlfriend, still sitting unconscious in her seat. As the other driver dialled for the ambulance, he managed to free her from the wreck, and carefully laid her on the ground. He kept on calling her name and pleading to wake up as her life slowly ebbed away. When the ambulance arrived and the paramedic confirmed that she was gone, he cried aloud and calling out her name whilst cradling her head in his hands, with his broken mobile phone lying on the ground next to him, still displaying his unfinished text. His life forever changed, including his promise of parenthood suddenly snatched away. All because of a grossly inflated confidence of his driving skill, along with persistent optimism that "It will never happen to me."

Above and below: Stills from the Video.

Although the cast in the film were all brilliant in their acting, I still felt deeply moved over the whole incident, especially if she was my wife who was laying unconscious on the road, then slowly passing away as I watched. This video has hit me hard when considering that in real life, Alex was actually unconscious for a couple of hours one Sunday evening, and like in the video, she too was attended by paramedics as well as a GP who all arrived in an ambulance, as fully documented in my previous blog When The Unexpected Happens...and like with the film, I too was filled with dread of the possibility of her passing away.

The video appeared in the Daily Mail Online page. The forum which trails the article was full of comments about answering a call as being the instinctive reaction when the mobile rings whilst at the wheel. At first I thought that his decision to text at that moment was totally without any prompt, except a feeling of exuberance of his future career in music and parenthood, along with his confidence while he was in charge of a vehicle. But a closer watching of the film on the second view shows that he was distracted by an alert from the phone. But then, when as a passenger, she should have dealt with the alert, instead, she allowed him to take the call, with full confidence in his skills. She was one of the 6% of all passengers who does nothing when the driver answers a call on his mobile. That is a total of 2,000,000 passengers of the UK population. But according to an AA poll result, of the 23,141 drivers polled, 59% would ask the driver to stop, and a further 30% would offer to take the call on their behalf. Of drivers who insist in answering the phone, eight out of ten of passengers had said that they would snatch the phone away, while a further one in twelve would refuse to get into the driver's car ever again.

In the days when I earned a living cleaning windows, seeing drivers on their mobiles while they were on the move was very common. Actually I could say that I have even seen up to two vehicles, one behind the other, drive past whilst the driver was on his mobile - that is fully hand-held. Young career women in particular were just as bad as the men, and I have watched them drive rather large vehicles such as the Volkswagen Caravelle, the Toyota Pro-ace Verso, or the Peugeot Traveller, sometimes even with children inside, using a mobile while they were at the wheel.

Peugeot Traveller

I guess there are times when it's good to have some optimism and confidence. Like how the surgeon must have felt when last year he carried out open-heart surgery on me to replace a faulty aorta valve with a new one. If I had doubted his abilities, I would have ran to the exit of the hospital - and still kept on running! But considering so many inventions, such as the TV, the telephone, the radio, recorded music, not to mention horseless chariots themselves, and a vast host of other commodities which has made our lives far more comfortable - all must have been invented with a certain level of optimism. But all these projects, I think, were achieved with a level of cautious optimism, that is with the awareness that the project in mind could well have failed.

Cautious optimism should have been shown on both sides of the June Referendum. The Brexiteers said with full confidence that Leaving the European Union would make Britain great again with a booming economy and a remarkable reduction of immigrants, and up to now this confident optimism is daily splashed across the front pages of our newspapers. The proverbial "I told you so" uttered with pride and smug satisfaction. And that's the way it looks at present with the news just in, that the car makers Jaguar has plans to open a new plant here in the UK, with the creation of 10,000 jobs. Yea, victory for Brexit! Lest it be forgotten, we are still at the moment within the Union, and according to the Media, Article 50 won't get under way until March 2017, and even then it could take two years or more for the "divorce" to be completed. And this is where I feel that cautious optimism would be far more sensible, allowing room for any potential downturn of events after leaving the Union.

On the other side, "Britain Stronger in Europe" Remain supporters, especially within Parliament, were equally optimistic with confidence. This was well demonstrated by our former Prime Minister, David Cameron, feeling smug with optimism during the early half of that night when the votes were counted, with the Vote Remain looking to be in the lead. It was only later, when the numbers for Vote Leave, particularly from the Northern working-class area of Scunthorpe, brought a shocking defeat to the over-confident Government which ushered in the Prime Minister's resignation - a crashing down, not without parallel to the auto-crash which featured in the video.

It does look to me that cautious optimism is okay for achieving many things, whether its governing a country, inventing a product, running a business, performing a surgical operation, climbing a mountain, running in a race, and especially within the Arts. After all, for example, there are many entries for a photography competition, there will always be only one winner, and the same is true in the sporting world. Cautious optimism seem to be the best line of thinking to hold on to - except using a mobile phone whilst driving, or for that matter, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

There is only one area where a more confident optimism is allowed for, and that is with a revelation from heaven. Biblical prophecy is a good example of this. If Isaiah wrote that, way in the future from his point in time, God's servant will be, "Oppressed and afflicted, yet did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (53:7) - then Isaiah, who wrote this prophecy, can be confident that this will certainly happen in its proper time. Likewise, when Jeremiah and Ezekiel both wrote that the nation of Israel will be gathered to its own land and experience a universal conversion to Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and then Jesus himself will return to Jerusalem to reign as King on his father David's throne - still future from our point in time - then we can be confidentially optimistic that this series of events will take place. The only thing we don't know is when - only God himself knows (Jeremiah, chapter 33; Ezekiel, chapters 36-37).

Then the Lord Jesus Christ had every reason to be confidentially optimistic. From eternity past, he knew that one day he would be born of a virgin woman for the specific purpose to die a criminal's death, and three days later rise bodily from the dead - the very first person in the whole of human history to do so! So at exactly the right time he made the journey to the Cross, completely refusing to be swayed from his mission - despite that at least on one occasion, Peter tried to dissuade him (Matthew 16:21-24). Jesus was confident and optimistic that after his Resurrection, he will be richly rewarded by the giving to him of countless saved souls by the Father (John 6:37; 17:1-6), as the Bride of Christ, before returning to his Kingdom here on Earth crowned with glory and splendour.

After his Ascension, the Apostles, along with all believers, were confidently optimistic that salvation is in no other than through the risen Jesus of  Nazareth. And because of the very omniscient nature and character of the Eternal God who never changes, we can be confidentially optimistic about our Once Saved Always Saved imputation of Christ's righteousness into our accounts. We as a church can have optimistic confidence that through the promises of God, we will be the Bride of Christ, as we are his body already. That's why I always like to say, that after his Resurrection, Jesus had two bodies: he took one to heaven, leaving the other behind - for now.

We can have full optimistic confidence in the promises of God, even if at this point in time there is little to see of it. But God is gracious, very gracious. If faith - the hope in things still unseen (Hebrews 11:1) is weak or failing under doubt or confusion, then a trip to the Holy Land, for me anyway, was a tremendous faith booster, especially walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, watching the Jews gather at the Western Wall at the start of every Sabbath, and visiting other ancient and Biblical sites across Israel and Palestine.

So I would say: Be totally confident and fully optimistic about God's promises; let's be cautiously optimistic in daily business affairs, allowing room for error or failure, and don't be optimistic at all about something as incredibly stupid as using a mobile phone whilst driving.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

When the Unexpected Happens

A typical Sunday evening. When I was a schoolboy, it was the ushering in of that time of day, marking the end of Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops, faithfully broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 2, to give way to Cliff Adams' Sing Something Simple, with its gentle theme choir oozing from the mono radio speaker. This, in turn, signalled Mum's taking out the ironing board from the cupboard to press my school uniform in preparation for another week. It was that time of the weekend when my heart dropped at the prospect of facing our P.E. master three times a week, who seems to have gotten a thrill in whacking forgetful pupils across their buttocks with a size-eleven sole of a plimsoll, and to cause the four walls of the spacious gym to resonate at his booming voice. It also reminded me of muffled instructions from the rest of the staff which sometimes I didn't fully comprehend, along with verbal teasing from other pupils in the classroom. And oh yes, not to forget: The daily morning assembly where I was under compulsion to sing hymns under threat of punishment and to pretend to pray to a Christian god I denied ever existing, let alone knowing personally. That awful Sunday evening feeling which, except during school holidays, had always arrived as regular as clockwork.

The exact kind of radio unit we had in the 1960's. 

Fast forward half a century. Alex and I are on our computers, with myself enjoying retirement and without that anticipation of that Monday morning feeling encroaching into my soul. Just another Sunday evening spent quietly at home. That was when my beloved started to complain of a growing pain throughout her thigh and lower leg, and after taking several painkillers, her slipping into unconsciousness. Unable to wake her up, I tried not to panic, but instead phoned the non-emergency, out-of-hours number to speak to the G.P. After getting through and carefully describing her symptoms, an ambulance was dispatched to our home. It arrived shortly after, with a crew of three paramedics and a doctor, who all remained at our home with their failed attempts to revive Alex back into consciousness.

During their attempts, whilst waiting about twenty minutes give or take, I sat in the armchair, close to tears. One of the paramedics, seeing my distress, tried to soothe me. Terrible fears gripped my soul. The fear of her death and an ensuing life of widowhood. Not that I cannot cope in living on my own. I lived that way for nearly a quarter of a century after flying the nest in 1976. So it wasn't that.

It was the threat of going through the rest of my life without her company. Without her love, without her devotion to me, without that deep, thankful appreciation for me, and without her reassurance. And without returning this equally strong love and commitment. Living in crushing loneliness and utter silence, except when broken by the sounds of recorded music or broadcasting live voices issuing from inanimate plastic, wood and glass cabinets. But from such sources I could never enjoy intimacy, a hug, an affectionate gesture, a word of appreciation, the feeling of love, or just company.

The love we have for each other has always been unmatched by anyone else. Not even from my parents as rightfully, Mum and Dad were devoted to each other, as we are at present, and they have put their children - my brother and myself - in second place in the family. So the love we have for each other remains unrivalled. So how distressed did I feel as I watched my wife remaining unconscious whilst the paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive her? More thoughts entered my mind while I was sitting in the armchair. Why is she unconscious?

The thought which tormented me most was the possibility of an overdose of painkillers in her attempt to ease her aching leg. She took some Tramadol and Ibuprofen pills together, both medicines prescribed by her doctor. The Media is good in passing on stories of cases of drug overdosing, causing the patient to fall unconscious before silently passing away. Could Alex be another statistic? A song came to mind, a popular number of the 1970's: Cat Steven's Lady D'Arbanville. It was a reminder of this song which brought me close to tears. A short extract is quoted here:

Lady D'Arbanville, why do you sleep so still? I'll wake you tomorrow...
Lady D'Arbanville, your lips are like winter...
Lady D' Arbanville, why do you breathe so low?...
I loved you my lady, though in your grave you lie, I'll always be with you...

The description in the song sounds shockingly like my wife's condition, and I hope it was just a song. Before then, I knew nothing about how Steven's relationship with the real Patti D'Arbanville ended, which was the inspiration behind the song. Because of my ignorance of its background, the song kept on giving me feelings of torment. Now, after checking on the Internet in preparation for this blog, I'm happy to say that not only is she alive at present, but also has four children.

As I sat there, I tried to reason what life as a widower would be like. Within the last few years I have had a number of near-identical dreams of moving back into my old bachelor pad to resume life as a single person. The worst thing about these dreams was that they kept recurring, with some so startlingly vivid, I have never forgotten them to this day. Was I spoken to by some entity in those dreams? The idea of fulfilment intensified such fears. And as she was being attended to, I tried to visualise what life as a widower would be like. Anything resembling my former life as a singleton? In some things, yes. Chances would be that our landlord, Bracknell Forest Homes, may decide that our three-bedroom abode is too big for a single tenant, and offer me an apartment as an alternative. 

Then would I find comfort in Travel? Could a life of long-haul travel be revived? As I have always said to my wife: If ever she was to die before me, I'll find comfort by passing through the airport. Closely connected with travel is hosteling. It was at these hostels where I always found company, especially at the Member's Kitchen, where I often talked with someone at the next cooking stove. Travel and hosteling were in those days a panacea to the waves of loneliness I often felt as one free and single. But I also know full well that Travel would never be the same again. The times I look back at our honeymoon in Rhodes, where we strolled along the deserted beach under a night sky, occasionally seeing shooting stars streaking across the heavens, and listening to the gentle lapping of the sea. The times when we hiked together, cycled together, sailed together, boarded the train together, as well as flying together. The times we dined as a couple, even al fresco under a warm, starry night sky. And the times without number when we looked into each other's eyes with the beach, palm trees, or even an archaeological site in the background.

No, travel would never be the same. Alone, such has lost its appeal. But supposing that I have never met Alex or married her. Sure enough, by now I would have a much larger photo album library, depicting snapshots of parts of the world I haven't so far got round to visiting, such as India, South Africa and New Zealand. But again, what would have been the purpose? Once dead and gone, what would have become of these albums? Most likely all going up in a big bonfire, as it would have been unlikely any member of our extended family ever wanting to keep them. Then not to forget that famous king of Israel writing about "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, a chasing of the wind".

But most of all, I looked upon the threat of widowhood as a life without love. Real love. To be looked at as "Gorgeous" and constantly reminded so. Loved and accepted as I am, without the need for any change, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. With her gone - this - above all other things, will be sorely missed. It is the sort of love none of my family members can give. Sympathy, yes, if I find myself forever alone, but nothing of the love I have enjoyed as one of a couple.

The doctor decided that Alex is to go into hospital, and she was laid on a stretcher and taken to the ambulance waiting outside, with myself sitting next to the driver. The blue lights were blazing and the sirens wailed at every junction and red traffic light. At the Resuscitation Ward, there she lay, still unconscious, while I leaned over the safety rail fitted alongside her bed. But by then I had lost faith in prayer. That's one of the reasons why I seldom attend prayer meetings at our church. In the way it often appears, prayers - which in themselves can be hard work - are constantly offered towards heaven which at times seem to hit a bronze shield of a sky, and return unanswered. But that evening, as I watched Alex slowly gain consciousness, I leaned on the railing and had a desperate chat with God. 

First I began thanking him for his gift of life, and that it was he, God, who brought us together in the first place and gave us to each other, as I belong to her as much as she belongs to me. Then I began to acknowledge the Sovereignty of God, his omniscience, his omnipresence and omnipotence. I thanked him that long before either of us were ever born, he already knew us. And furthermore, as I spoke softly, I declared my thankfulness that the exact number of days we are to live has been decided in Heaven, and sealed from eternity past. Also from eternity past, every work, plans, thoughts and feelings were already recorded long before we were even born. And that includes our decision for each of us to turn to Christ for salvation. Hence God's predestination to life was out of his foreknowledge of the choice we would make. 

Then I remembered the statement which appears in Psalm 139:16, which reads:

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

As I watch Alex regain her consciousness, I felt fortified in Christ. And a reminder that Once Saved Always Saved being so reassuring. By then it was half-twelve in the morning. One of the doctors affirmed that she will spend the night as an in-patient, and further tests will be carried out on the next day. I booked a taxi to take me home, which was about one in the morning.

At home, alone in the dead of silence, I thanked the lord for his goodness, and even reminded aloud to any evil entity within the house that this risen Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Why have I said this? Because I'm fully aware that every evil entity in this world is terrified of God, and also in the past, when we were in bed together, our Hi-Fi unit downstairs in the lounge has, on occasions, turned itself on by itself. Several times, and always between 1.00 and 2.00 am. Any CD left inside started to play. On one occasion, it tuned into a radio station which we never listen to, and the crackly sound floated upstairs. Fortunately, nothing out of the usual happened that night Alex was away.

Suffice to say, all the tests carried out proved to be negative, and she was discharged from hospital by the following evening. Her recovery was quick, and it didn't take long before life as a couple returned to normal. However, I still have one regret. That is, the doctor's inability to find something positive, and therefore presenting a case to zero into the problem for proper treatment. Instead, her life outdoors confined to a wheelchair continues, as no proper diagnosis and cure has so far been found. This has tested our faith from time to time, causing me to ask: "If Alex had been alive when Jesus was around, no doubt He would have healed her totally there and then, simply by a word from His mouth. Why doesn't it happen now?" This is what makes prayer difficult. A lack of miraculous results. At least it's still edifying to know that indeed, regardless of how much or little faith we have, if God is with us, who can be against us?

Saturday, 12 November 2016

After Queen Elizabeth II Dies...

Queen Elizabeth II has been the longest and most successful reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth in all of British History, beating her closest rival, Queen Victoria, by a considerable number of years. Now that she is gone, a strong rivalry had arisen among her offspring. Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son, suddenly arose from his obscure position and killed his older brother Prince Charles, along with his wife Camilla. Then, in a fit of rage, he had both of Prince Charles' sons executed, William, along with his wife Catherine, and their two offspring George and Charlotte, along with William's brother Harry. Then as Prince Andrew went up to Westminster Abbey to claim the Throne, his younger brother Edward arrived at the imposing London Abbey and ordered a servant to assassinate his older brother to avenge for the murders of his own siblings. Then the youngest of the three male Princes would have the power to claim the Throne to became King Edward IX.

Prince Andrew, left, and Prince Charles.

Such a terrible scandal is fiction of course! But if such a conspiracy, which had its beginnings within Prince Andrew's ego was to see its actual fulfilment, how would the rest of the world react? And the shocks shaking the Church of England to the core, starting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, second to the Queen herself, and trembling violently through the entire ecclesiastical structure, along with every church of all denominations in the UK, Europe, and North and South America alike, along with all the churches in Australasia, together with every citizen in the western world, and even in the Middle and Far East would recoil with horror. Let's face it, Britain would never be the same again. More than likely the scandal would create a great victory for the Republicans who, like Oliver Cromwell before them, would have the King ousted, if not executed, but this time around, the UK and its Commonwealth would join countries such as France, Italy, Germany, the USA, and Russia in having a President as a permanent Head of State. From then on, such a scandal would feature in school history books for generations to come.

Not that something in that direction has never happened in British history. For example, of King Henry VIII's six wives, he had two executed and divorced two more, with another dying shortly after her childbirth of Edward VI. Only the sixth wife, Catherine Parr, outlived her husband to enjoy her latter days of widowhood. Yet this was the guy who fell foul of the Pope in Rome over the latter's refusal to grant permission to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for failing to produce an heir to the Throne. So he thought: "I'll be the Head of the Church across England instead! To hell with the Pope!"

But such history is mild compared to the days of the Roman Empire. Because those were the days when bloodshed among the Heads of State were quite common. In fact, far more akin to the fictional tale of Prince Andrew's treachery described above. But back then it was all for real. One good example of a series of treachery has been recorded concerning the Julian-Claudius Dynasty. Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) was himself murdered by his 4th wife Aggrippina, most likely by serving him a dish of poisonous mushrooms. This was done to make way for her own son Nero, a great-nephew of Claudius, who in turn killed his own dominant mother. Preceding Claudius was Emperor Caligula, whose reign of less than four years between 37 and 41 AD ended when he was slain by a Praetorian guard. Rather than rule over the Empire with dignity, Caligula was known for his womanising, particularly in sleeping with his own sisters, along with paedophilia with both boys and girls. 

Then the life of Emperor Tiberius is well documented. Reigning between 14-37 AD, this fellow was on the Throne during the time Jesus grew up, died, buried and Resurrected. Rather than fulfil his role as Head of State, he spent much of his reign at the island of Capri as a paedophile, particularly with young boys, swimming in the sea and having sexual relations with them. Then there was Emperor Nero, with his unsubstantiated rumour that he played on the fiddle whilst Rome was burning. Reigning between 54 and 68 AD, when he committed suicide, he was regarded as one of the most cruel rulers in the Empire, willingly killing everyone who disagreed with him. So much blood was there in his hands that by the year 68 AD, the Senate eventually had to disown him, and refused to accept his authority, a decision which led to his suicide. It was during his reign that Saul of Tarsus was called by the Lord to minister as the Apostle Paul.  

Killings among Roman Emperors

Because of the Pax Romana instituted by Caesar Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), quelling the tribal wars which occurred frequently in the past, the people were so grateful that they wanted a form of worship. Unable to bow down to an abstract quality, it wasn't too long that the Emperor was deified, and eventually it became the custom for every Roman citizen to swear allegiance to Rome with the Emperor as Lord. And Lord as being more than mere employer or even Head of State, but Lord of all, as a god or divinity.

And that was why a true Christian believer was persecuted. First by the Jews for insisting that Jesus of Nazareth being their true Messiah has fulfilled the Law of Moses and thus making the Temple obsolete. But outside Judea, the Romans began to persecute Christian believers for saying that Jesus is the true Lord, the Eternal God, and not Caesar. Here was the conflict: Either one or the other was Lord - Caesar or this Jesus of Nazareth. If one declared Caesar as Lord, that was fine, the individual was allowed to carry on living normally. But if the person declared Jesus Christ as Lord, then he was seen as a traitor and faced the death penalty. Little wonder that Paul wrote on one occasion that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). The stakes were high. Confessing Jesus as Lord instead of Caesar in those days resulted in death.

But what I can see as something of an oddity is Paul's instructions to the church in Rome that everyone must submit to the authorities, as there is no authority that has not been established by God. And to add to this, the paying of taxes is a legal requirement (Romans 13:1-7). Paul then explains that the reason human governments are in place is to keep evil in check, with their servants punishing everyone who does evil, but offering praise to those who do the right things. For, he explains, the peacekeepers at the time did not carry their swords for nothing, neither does all the Police Departments in America at present carry guns in vain, nor do our forces here in the UK carry batons without a purpose. Therefore, although I do find it difficult to realise, the vote for us to leave the European Union has apparently been given the okay by God himself, even if I voted in preference to remain. Likewise, reports came out that many are shocked at the surprise victory of Donald Trump at last week's U.S. Presidential election. Reports of anti-Trump protests taking place at various cities - New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and other cities, with a feeling of deep apprehension on what the future of the country under Donald Trump's administration will be like.  

Even with my own reservations over the future of the USA, I grew up with the notion that all those in authority, particularly in a Christian country, must be icons of Biblical morality. And so, over recent centuries they were, to a greater or lesser degree, with something as mild as a single case of adultery within Government making news headlines. But I wonder, with no fear of persecutions and with comparatively comfortable living we enjoy as Christians, does this make Christian living more difficult? Or put it another way, does our comfortable living weaken or even nullify the power of witness and evangelism? I imagine a believer standing at the Roman Senate, being asked who is Lord, with the death threat hanging over his head, or someone tied to a stake and literally being burned alive - just for declaring that through faith in Christ alone, without works, acquittal from God is available. Then I imagine a modern Christian professional, dressed in suit and tie, and totally indistinguishable from the moral atheist living next door, leaving his detached suburban home to climb into his flash car for a short drive to the office. Then he moans that prayer is hard work!

Prayer is hard work! And that is not from me, it was a statement made by one of our church Elders a few years ago. I think the churches of ancient times had much to pray for. They knew that no matter how evil and wicked their Emperor was, he was placed in authority by God. And they prayed for both the unsaved to believe, and for the believers to remain close to their Lord and to lead holy lives, not at all from a threat of losing their salvation, but as a shining example for their fellow men, drawing more to the faith. It was part of what they believed in, that the Roman Empire was not their home. They were seeking a far better country, a city whose founder and maker is God himself (Hebrews 11:10-16).

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33). This, I think, should be the life pattern for all believers in Jesus Christ. Seeking for God's Kingdom and his righteousness. Not seeking earthly nationalism. For it looks to me that commitment to nationalism, whether it be for Brexit over here, or for Donald Trump as the next American President, will spawn hatred and division. Over here, the Far Right has already made its mark, bringing division, misery and fear, especially to those born overseas. In turn, Trump, during his election campaign, has vowed not to allow Muslims into the USA and also to build a wall on the USA/Mexico border. Hatred, fear and division - for something which is earthly and transient. We as true believers in Christ should set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated, and not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2). Like that, love, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit should reign in our hearts, regardless of how evil future Governments may turn out to be. Even if another Caesar would one day arise.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Christians - With Lower Intelligence?

It was early Sunday morning of last week, just a few hours after publishing my last blog, that an article making news headlines from the bedside radio shook me fully awake from my dawn snooze. Its BBC newscaster passing on the thrilling revelation that scientific research done in Finland has revealed that religious people have in general a lower intelligence quotient than non-religious people.

My first instinctive response to such a revelation was: Don't be so stupid! This was followed by: From where did these scientists get such evidence from to support their conclusions? After further thinking, and recollection of all the Bible teachings I have received, both from books and orally from the pulpit, had afterwards led me to conclude: Maybe theses Finnish scientists have a point after all! 

Then I had this visual imagination of Richard Dawkins, author of his popular book, The God Delusion, grinning from ear to ear in smug satisfaction, while in the USA, if the same revelation from Finland was broadcast across the Atlantic, neuroscientist Sam Harris would revel in his victory after declaring in his little book, Letter to a Christian Nation, that the whole of the United States, as he wrote:

Among developed nations, America stands alone in these convictions. Indeed, I am painfully aware that my country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognise that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one's friends.

Neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Despite what my brothers and sisters in my own church would think by reading this, I have also come to the conclusion that the opinions of both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are not far from the truth. Let's face it: where scientists over the decades, even centuries, had researched all evidence and recorded such results in volumes seldom available to the public, if a discrepancy occurred, these researchers would quietly go back to the drawing board and start over again, or to redirect their conclusions if such new evidence were to fit in their previous results. Laboratories exist to put a theory to the test, to see whether practical experimentation upheld or denied a given theory. But when it comes to religion, different groups holding different beliefs continue to fight against each other, with each side refusing to give in to the other.

And that applies within the Christian faith itself, that particular religion both Dawkins and Harris were really aiming at, along with the late Christopher Hitchens with his book, God Is Not Great. These authors were aiming their arrows at Christianity, even if Islam and other religions had a mention in these books as well. Among this in-fighting within Christendom, Scripture quotes from the Bible are thrown at each other, very much like what children do at a snowball fight in the school playground, except that these quotes are hurled with anger, where in the playground, the motivation behind each snowball flight would be fun, maybe with an edge of teasing. But seldom, if any, of hatred.

Little wonder that with such a testimony, scientists up north in Finland has concluded that we who have a faith also have lower IQ's. Obviously, the rift between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism has never been about whether God exist as a Trinity, the Creation and Fall of mankind, the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ as Messiah, his death by Crucifixion, his Burial, and his Resurrection three days later, and his Ascension. There has never been a dispute between the two parties, whether the Church existing was started by Jesus himself, along with the Resurrection of the Dead. Nor has there been any dispute whether the Bible is the Word of God. In all these key doctrines, both Rome and the Reformers fully agree with them all. The rift between these two has to do with how a sinful person is redeemed. Is it by faith and works, as Rome insists? Or is it by faith in Christ alone, as Reformer Martin Luther taught, and as his followers teach to this day?

Perhaps all that should have been it. But instead, no. Even among Reformers there is a split whether a sinner who has faith in Jesus Christ can lose his salvation and be lost again, or whether the saved believer is an adopted son of God with the righteousness of Christ imputed into him, and therefore eternally secure. Then to add to all that, the question of whether the Biblical Young-Earth creationism should be upheld over the Darwinian concept of a very old Earth with its Evolution of Species.

In my forty plus years as a believer, I have seen it all. I have read both books written by Dawkins and Harris. And by reading these books, it was no mystery to me where they were coming from and where they were going. They were ridiculing us for believing in a vengeful God, in a Young-Earth Creation, and infighting among denominations. But with Creationism in particular, we are accused of being "willingly ignorant" of scientific facts, and therefore have restricted our intelligent learning, held in check by sincere belief in what they call laughable fantasy errors.

Our belief in Creationism is the real target for their fiery darts. These people of high intelligence and learning just don't understand how any person with a sound mind can believe in a six-day creation, when all around us, so according to them, there is evidence everywhere around us that the Earth is billions of years old. They even point to the Grand Canyon as evidence of a gradual up-building of sedimentary strata as proof of uniformitarian geology taking millions of years to achieve, before the plateau was cut through by the Colorado River in comparatively recent geological times. I have stood inside the Grand Canyon myself. And from the vantage of Plateau Point, halfway down to the River from the Rim, I couldn't help but stare at the ledges of Tonto Plateau, the southern ledge of which I was standing on. The northern series of ledges gave me every impression of being raised beaches, because that is exactly what they looked like.

Raised beaches. Does that indicate that there was a time when the Colorado River was much greater in the past than at present? Did the waters of the River lap at the beaches on both sides of the rift, where now are left suspended halfway up inside the Canyon? Maybe the aftermath of the draining away the waters of Noah's Deluge into the Pacific ocean? Dawkins and his ilk may laugh at such a suggestion, or worse, turn away, completely ignoring me as too unworthy of any discussion, a waste of his time. But does this demonstrate my ability to think and analyse the scene according to the record in the Bible? Conversely, does this make me less intelligent than the atheistic Uniformitarian Geologist who holds opinions more in line with unbelieving society? Maybe in my analysis of the Tonto Plateau, I was wrong, and to this day I may be still holding on to error. But otherwise, I would never turn away from or shun the historicity of the Bible.

North and South Tonto Plateau, Grand Canyon

And that was the problem I faced in our church, especially during the 1980's. As our town developed high-tech industry, and became a hub for computer companies to trade, it has also became a magnet for a large influx of graduates. And they began to fill our churches, no longer the exclusive club for established families and senior citizens. Instead, singles groups began to grow and flourish, particularly after the end of the Sunday evening service, when each of us met in someone's private home. Also weekend trips for singles were organised as well, with myself going on one of them around 1980.

These unmarried graduates all believed in Theistic Evolution, that is, Darwinism under the direction of God rather than out of pure chance as advocated by Charles Darwin and his followers. But none of them would embrace a literal six-day Creation as a historical fact. To them, as I saw it, taking the Biblical record in a historical sense was a slur to their IQ's and their impression to the unbelieving world around them. If this is anything to go by, there seems to be some kind of contest between acceptance of secular knowledge and faith in Holy Scripture, creating a compromise between the two views which fails to impress the secularist and the atheist. Also, such a compromise between Creation and Evolution robs the Gospel of all its power. And this form of compromise does not look as if it's confined just to the high-tech computer programmer either.

In refutation of the scientists in Finland, British members of the established clergy are usually of above average intelligence. Take for example the last three Archbishops of Canterbury. They are:

1. George Carey - April 1991-October 2002.
2. Rowan Williams - December 2002-Dec 2012.
3. Justin Welby - February 2013-Present.

George Carey attended Kings College, of the University of London, and achieved a Bachelor of Divinity before ordination. His successor, Rowan Williams, attended Christ College in Cambridge, followed by Wadham College in Oxford, and achieved a Doctor of Divinity before his ordination; while our current Archbishop, who attended the world famous Eton College, afterwards was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, and achieved a Master of Arts in Theology. It is also interesting to read that Archbishop Rowan Williams was against the teaching of Divine Creation in schools and instead, advocated the "truth" of Darwinism, and therefore this should be taught in schools without the alternative. As for the other two, we are not told of their stance in Creationism as a historical fact or whether they held to the idea of Theistic Evolution, as did the Christian graduates did back in the 1980's. But at least George Carey has testified of his conversion to Jesus Christ as a very enlightening, life-changing experience.

Archbishop Rowan Williams - Denies historicity of Creation.

Another theological "great" is, in my mind, David Pawson, now in his eighties, but according to what I have read about him, is still going strong. Pawson, unlike the three aforementioned Archbishops, is from a Methodist background, with one of his ancestors on his father's side personally knowing the founder of the denomination, John Wesley. For his Further Education, Pawson first attended Durham University, then went into further studies at Wesley House of Cambridge University to achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Theology. For the last couple of decades, Pawson wrote many books and made recordings, both read and listened to by many churches, not only in Britain, but around the western world, even as far as Australia. By browsing through one of his other books, Unlocking the Bible, he seemed unsure of the historicity of Noah's Flood being universal, having preference for John Pye Smith's Local Flood Theory, that is, the idea of the Deluge being confined to the Mesopotamian Basin. Yet indeed, Pawson, like the Archbishops, can be perceived as having higher-than-average intelligence, yet maintains his religious stance.

And I say "religious". Because Pawson, like Wesley before him, is a follower of Jacob Arminius, a 16th Century Dutch theologian who refuted Calvinism, and especially Eternal Security of the Believer. Unfortunately for Wesley and Pawson, there is a shady story about Arminius of having lied under oath in order to achieve his place in the church ministry. Throughout his life, Pawson has always been hard against Once Saved Always Saved, with his belief that such doctrine has caused most churches to compromise with the world instead of remaining devoted to God. This made him rather critical of other churches, and so in a belief that by publicly refuting Once Saved Always Saved, he could bring these churches to a closer devotion to God and personal holiness for each individual believer. In short, he uses the fear of Hell as a psychological tool to reform the churches, even expressing in his book, On the Road to Hell, that there are many Christian saints who has died in the past and are now in Hell.

The danger with such theology is that the atonement made at the cross by Jesus Christ is robbed of its power, the believer is left with the Roman Catholic concept of infused righteousness instead of imputed righteousness. The former means that the sinner himself must work to a level of righteousness before being accepted by God. The latter means that God sees us as already possessing the righteousness of Christ here and now in this life, even if we are not yet actually righteous on a daily basis. According to Pawson's teachings, not only is the Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ is emptied of its atoning power, but also the omniscience of God is denied. That is, God himself does not know what's going to happen next concerning each individual believer. Also denied is the omnipotence of God, his hand being too short to save completely without our help and daily co-operation. Added to this is the question whether or not every believer is an adopted child of God, begotten here and now into his family. For these reasons, I have always perceived Arminianism to be a heresy made potentially dangerous by its subtlety to being orthodox, that there are many churches and individuals who are sucked in without realisation of the danger, usually out of admiration for its scholars, advocates and teachers. I have also seen over the years that this kind of theology tend to make its advocates more critical of the churches and of each other, and more prone to be judgemental. I have experienced this kind of abuse, even to a point of hostility, by these Christians on several occasions throughout my life as a believer, along with seeing other believers who had suffered the same. And I'm not exaggerating.

So here am I, actually challenging the knowledge and intellect of someone who is perceived as far more intelligent and knowledgeable than I could ever be. Where does that place me? But a few things I am aware of: That maybe watching our discussion and acceptance of Divine Creation over Darwinism, the history of a major church split from Rome by the Reformers, and then a division within the Reformation over the eternity of our salvation - maybe these scientists in Finland were right after all.