Archive for Hope

Burn Baby Burn…

Posted in Theology, World with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2011 by stephengardner
Sunday 5th June saw some 45,000 Australian’s join GetUp in rallying for a carbon tax. What should the church do with this level of interest in the environment? Get funky I reckon…
Its a bit of a characterisation, I know, but it never ceases to amaze me how many Christians assume that the world will one day be burnt up-destroyed-done away with. What worries me is that many, well meaning Christians use this as a justification to say things like climate change don’t really matter, after all, ‘why polish the brass on a sinking ship?’ Lets just get out there and save souls.
So, here’s why I don’t think the world will end…
Creation
The biblical view of creation is that it is good, very good. It is not opposed to God and his eternal purposes, he loves material things and he sustains material things. Humanity being made in the image of God is given the role of reflecting God’s rule and glory to the world. This includes consuming but also maintaining and sustaining. God, in his freedom entrusts humanity with responsibility and authority to do this. This doesn’t make God any less sovereign – all throughout the Scriptures he works through humanity, chiefly he does this by taking on the fullness of our humanity in Jesus – the true man. God’s sovereignty is not a reason to do nothing about the environment, if that were so we should stop doing evangelism. 

New Creation
We hope for the renewal of this earth, not to escape it and flee to some immaterial ‘heavenly existence.’ The hope of new creation is of an earthy place much like the place we now live- in fact the same place we now live, albeit radically redefined. The picture we have in Revelation 21-22 is of the ‘new Jerusalem’ coming down from heaven to this earth. The new creation is the fulfillment of the creation we currently live in.
Jesus 
Any theological reflection on the environment must be centred on the person and work of Jesus because he is the culmination of God’s self-revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a reaffirmation of the goodness of the created order and a renewal of it. He is ‘the first fruits’ of the great final Resurrection when everything will be made new. The resurrection of Jesus therefore, is the key to the debate over whether the world will be destroyed or not – his body is transformed, renewed, glorified, but never destroyed. Oliver O’Donovan speaks of the resurrection of Christ as ‘the vindication of the created order.’ It is his body that is the bridge between creation and new creation. 
2 Peter 3
But doesn’t 2 Peter 3 say the opposite, that the world will be destroyed? Good question, but no! 
1) The passage is apocalyptic in style and should be read that way. Peter employs familiar apocalyptic formulas; referring to judgement as a day of fire and destruction, and making parallels with OT e.g’s of judgement.  The final judgement will be like  the judgement in Noah’s day (2 Peter 3.5-7). What happened to Noah’s world? It was profoundly judged but never destroyed.

2) The word for ‘destroy’ (katakaio) in v.10 is unreliable and most probably a latter addition to the text. The earlier, and far more reliable manuscripts use the word ‘to discover/find’ (heurethesetai). This fits the apocalyptic tone of 2 Peter 3, and also a great deal of apocalyptic language in Scripture that uses fire language to refer to God’s judgement. Here, as in 1 Cor 3, I think, the fire of judgement is a revealing or a discovering of the true nature of the earth. 

3) If we take the later manuscripts and go with the destruction language and interpret it literally, then there are further problems. 2 Peter 3.7 uses the same word again to refer to the ‘destruction of ungodly men’ – that sounds a lot like annihilationism  to me. Something most advocates of the ‘destruction of the earth’ view wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! 
(for a much more sustained and thoughtful reflection on these vv check out Byron Smith’s series from 2006).
So what?
If Scripture speaks more about a renewal of the earth rather than a destruction of it then we have a real responsibility to care for it. We too often diochotomise evangelism and acting on a concern for the world, be that social justice or environmental action. This is dangerous territory, not taking into account the holistic nature of Jesus’ physical resurrection. If Christians don’t fulfill the role of humanity to reflect God’s rule over the earth, as it is reaffirmed in his risen body, who will? 
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Augustine on Mary, Martha, work and joy

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , on May 24, 2011 by stephengardner

Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, will hand over the kingdom to God and the Father (1 Cor 15:24)–and that phrase excludes neither the Holy Spirit nor himself–insofar as he will bring believers to the direct contemplation of God, in which all good actions have their end, and there is everlasting rest and joy that shall not be taken away from us. He points this out himself when he says, I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take away from you (Jn 16:22). A sort of picture of what this joy will be like was sketched by Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, intent upon his words; at rest from all activity and intent upon the truth, in such measure as this life allows of, but thereby nonetheless foreshadowing that joy which is going to last forever. There was Martha her sister, busy doing what had to be done–activity which though good and useful is going to end one day and give place to rest. She, meanwhile, was already taking her rest in the word of the Lord. So when Martha complained that her sister was not helping her, the lord replied Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk 10:38). He did not call what Martha was doing a bad part, but this which shall not be taken away he called the best part. For the part which is played in ministering to need will be taken away when need comes to an end, and in fact the reward of good works that are going to come to an end is a rest that will endure. In that contemplation, then, God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28), because nothing further will be desired of him; to be illumined and rejoiced by him will be enough. (Saint Augustine, De Trinitate, I.20)

I love Augustine’s perspective on this story. A life of inactivity and rest is not what Jesus advocates, rather, a life spent longing for and anticipating the fullness of our joy and desire in the Lord, when he will be all in all. As long as we wait for that day there will be needs to meet and work to be done and keeping busy with those things is a good thing, but let it never be that we forget the fullness of joy we anticipate when Jesus returns to be with us.

O’Donovan on the resurrection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 5, 2010 by stephengardner

This is a beautiful quote from O’Donovan on the power of the resurrection to rescue what was lost, to give life to what was dead and to recreate what had been uncreated:

It might have been possible, we could say, before Christ rose from the dead, for someone to wonder whether creation was a lost cause. If the creature consistently acted to uncreate itself, and with itself to uncreate the rest of creation, did this not mean that God’s handiwork was flawed beyond hope of repair? It might have been possible before Christ rose from the dead to answer in good faith, Yes. Before God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that we call ‘gnostic’ , the hope for redemption from creation rather than for the redemption of creation, might have appeared to be the only possible hope. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’ (1 Cor 15.20). That fact rules out those other possiblities, for in the second Adam the first is rescued. The deviance of his will, its fateful leaning towards death, has not been allowed to uncreate what God created.

(O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 14)

ps. The pic is of the roof of  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Over the next little while I’m going to try and use pics from our recent trip…

The overthrow of death

Posted in Sermons with tags , , on February 10, 2010 by stephengardner

On Monday I was at the funeral of a dear old family friend. It was sad, funerals always are. And it was particularly sad watching the husband, in his 90’s struggling to say goodbye to his wife.

But there was also something incredibly different about this funeral. There was real and substantial hope. Hope of real bodily life again. So, I wanted to share some more mp3 love.

In 2006 N.T. Wright gave two lectures at Moore Theological College, today I want to share his talk on resurrection (ignore the title of the talk, it has been mislabeled ‘the doctrine of the church2’). It is excellent. In it, Wright argues that Christian’s have all too often misunderstood resurrection, using it to speak about life after death. Resurrection, he says, is not the re-description of death, it is the overthrow of death.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the lecture once you’ve listened to it…

Reflections on Holy Saturday IV

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2009 by stephengardner

Reflecting on the sheer darkness and hopelessness of Holy Saturday, I have argued, is necessary for working out a distinctly Christian worldview that has the strength to deal with the necessary problem of suffering. Every worldview must say something about this problem. What does Christianity offer? and particularly, what does Holy Saturday have to offer such a worldview?

christ_entombedThe Long Silence, offers us a helpful start in answering this question. The thing that gives Christianity credibility when faced with the open wound of suffering is the fact that God has suffered. At this point, Christianity offers a unique approach to the problem of suffering. Every other worldview falls short. Think of the following examples.

Buddhism — In a nutshell, attempts to offer a solution to suffering by suggesting that it is not real, it is an illusion. Suffering only exists as long as our desires do, so eliminate desire and you will eliminate suffering.

Hinduism — Its solution suggests that individual acts of suffering are the direct result of a person’s acts from a previous life. Every act of suffering in this life is evidence of Karma.

Islam — Doesn’t offer a solution, in the same way the other examples do, but insists that every instance of suffering and horror is the direct will of Allah. It is Allah’s chosen will that these things happen in this way.

But think for a moment; what do each of these worldviews have to say to parents who find themselves burying their two year old daughter after a horrible battle with Leukemia?

‘Its not really happening’, ‘she deserved it’, or, ‘God wanted this to happen.’

God knows her pain and the pain of her parents, he is with that little girl in death. God is in solidarity with us when we experience the pain this world offers. Of course, this isn’t the whole story of Christian worldview. But, to say it again, before we move on, it is worth pausing and asking what God was doing on Holy Saturday. Because there in the tomb, is something distinctly Christian.

Reflections on Holy Saturday II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 14, 2009 by stephengardner

dark.tomb

Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid (Mark 15.46-47 NRSV).

Holy Saturday is a day of total bleakness, there is no future, only pain and broken hopes. Israel, it would appear, is not going to be redeemed. The Christ has been nailed to a tree and now buried under the earth, Joseph, who had been expecting the Kingdom, gathered the body of his messiah and laid him in his tomb. Right here is a problem. The problem of suffering and broken promises.We can learn much about the problem of suffering by pausing and reflecting on that dark day, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Here resurrection is not permitted to verge upon the cross, instantaneously converting its death into life, still less to trespass death’s own borders and thus to identify the cross with glory. Instead, death is given time and space to be itself, in all its coldness and helplessness. (Lewis: 2001, 37)

Too often Christian theology makes light of suffering by immediately jumping to the future glory, or by looking for the ‘greater good’ that can be seen in the present. The problem of suffering remains a problem, and it must remain a problem. It is inevitable and indiscriminate, it disturbs our existence, invades our peace and destroys hopes. What is needed is a worldview that doesn’t pretend this isn’t the case. Rather, we need a worldview that acknowledges the inevitability of suffering and darkness.

God and suffering belong together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, common question… It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound. (Moltmann: 1981, 49)

By pausing and feeling the darkness of Holy Saturday much can be achieved in helping us to survive ‘with this open wound.’ How such a task will help form such a worldview is the goal of the next post.

Reflections on Holy Saturday I

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 7, 2009 by stephengardner

auschwitz

The confusion, pain and sorrow of Holy Saturday seems an appropriate metaphor for the age in which we live. All too often our lives are interrupted by horror, we have become too familiar with ethnic cleansing, terrorism and tsunamis. And, at a personal level, our relationships are scarred. We feel the rejection of those who should welcome us, and we, ourselves, reject those we should accept.Where is God in all of this? What difference has Jesus made?
These questions, I’m sure, would have been echoed by those close to Jesus as he lay in the tomb on that Saturday. We get a glimpse of their disappointment as two of them set out for Emmaus on Easter Sunday.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Like those first disciples, we often feel the disappointment of unanswered questions – ‘what has happened to the redemption Jesus promised?’ – ‘what difference has he made to my life now?’

Yet, we live with a certainty that was not present on Holy Saturday. What happened that Easter Sunday as the disicples walked with this mysterious stranger? The realisation of his glorious vindication, triumph and transforming power. Its this tension I hope to explore a little over the next week or so, reflecting on Holy Saturday as a metaphor for the present day. To borrow a phrase from Alan Lewis, we stand between yesterday and tomorrow.