[A summary of Paul Helm’s article, Coronavirus19 – What is it For? His words in italics]
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐏𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐜 𝐂𝐚𝐬𝐞
When questioned about the incidents where (1) Pilate killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices and (2) eighteen Jews died in an accident when the Tower of Siloam fell on them, Jesus retorted, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you, unless you repent. You will all likewise perish’. (Luke 13: 1-3) These words are offensive to unbelievers.
The references to sin and guilt and repentance will put them off. But a contemporary Jesus – follower, who values Jesus’s words, should he not value these words? But no one, or scarcely one, of his followers today, quotes them, but shuns them. Jesus is silenced. When there are references, to sin, evil and judgment to come, there is a deafening silence. A person who respects Jesus’ words sees the purpose of the Coronavirus plague and other such evils as prompts to reflection and penitence, for Jesus calls all people are called to penitence for their evils even if, outwardly respectable, they convince themselves that they have no such need.
The fact is that people who survive dire and desperate situations are not those just stay put while waiting for a rational answer. Neither do they just lament and wait for commiseration (romantic sigh of relief), whether from counsellors or from God. Well, unless they come the socially privileged class and therefore never have to fend for themselves all their lives. Not surprisingly, they are at a loss, not knowing what to do. Those who survive are those who refuse to give up. Instead, they overcome the temptation to resign to their fate and do what it takes to survive. Continue reading “From Lament, to Hope and Action”
We may summarize NTW’s piece accordingly – There is no explanation, whether rationalist or romantic. We should not rationalize away or spiritualize our suffering especially in times when “the only advice is to wait without hope.” It is better just to grieve or lament. This is because lament reminds us that God himself is the one who grieved and lamented when his people betrayed him. NTW concludes, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.”
Lament without an explanation for suffering without rhyme or reason? Doesn’t this sound like Greek catharsis in the face of cruel and capricious fate? Isn’t this a strange amalgamation of sentimentalism with Roman stoicism? In which case, why lament? Why not just accept our fate? In this regard, maybe the Muslims got it right – just throw up your hands and exclaim “takdir”, and get on with life. Continue reading “God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright”
NT Wright almost took away my simple Christmas joy in his article: The Revolutionary Politics of the First Christmas. He writes, The Christmas story in Luke’s gospel climaxes with Jesus in a feeding-trough because everywhere else was full. Matthew’s version ends with Joseph and Mary whisking the baby off to a foreign country because the authorities wanted to kill him. Putting these together, the heart of the story is precisely Jesus the homeless asylum seeker.
The original, historic Christmas stories are about power. They are about the kingdom of God breaking in, dangerously and unexpectedly, into the kingdoms of the world. [I read it that NTW here has in mind political systems in contrast to the kingdom preached by Jesus in his ministry]
Protestant devotional literature was once well-served by popular writers like E. Stanley Jones, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gordon MacDonald & J Oswald Sanders but today they are fading from the scene. The writers who are taking their place are eclectic in their approach to “spirituality.” Some are inspired by writers like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier who wrote from the tradition of Roman Catholic spiritual theology while others betray traces of New Age spirituality. Not surprisingly, the word “spirituality” has also proven to be an amorphous catch-all word. Nowadays, a lot of what goes as Christian spirituality is actually some form of syncretism mixed with disturbing and unorthodox theology (e.g. Richard Rohr). But to be fair we need to judge modern spirituality writers on a case by case basis. For example, the rediscovery of “spiritual disciplines” (c.f. Roger Forster & Dallas Willard) has been helpful to Protestants looking for “handles” as well as a map of spiritual progress in their devotional exercises & spiritual formation. Continue reading ““Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best”
Celebration in Contemporary Worship These days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies swaying along to the loud beat of the drum. The high point of celebration-worship comes when members are urged to ‘sing in the spirit’ as they follow cues from the musical team giving notes of ‘chords progression’. The crescendo is rounded off with a flourish of ‘clap offering’.
It would be churlish to doubt the appropriateness of celebration-worship today. Christians who have been battered throughout the week need to be emotionally and spiritually recharged, and what better way to recharge them than through celebration in church worship? Indeed, many visitors to church testify that they come because they are attracted by the celebrative spirit of our services. Who can resist the contagion of joy?
Why is it the case that our local churches have avoided addressing the issue of homosexuality from the pulpit even though homosexuality has become (1) the defining social issue for many young people today, (2) an opportunity for virtue signaling for academicians, and (3) the celebrated cause championed by media celebrities and social activists in the West?
Perhaps, many church leaders hesitate to speak as they do not have adequate knowledge of the psychological and social scientific aspects of homosexuality. Their hesitation is exacerbated when the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality is challenged by sophisticated Western liberal theologians who offer novel readings of the Bible which purportedly support the case for homosexuality. Finally, church leaders are afraid of being accused of lacking pastoral sensitivity, or worse, being judgmental should they uphold the orthodox biblical teaching of heterosexual marriage.
Nowadays, churches seem to focus most of their energy and resources to cater to the needs of the younger generation. The constant search is for new leaders who display youthful enthusiasm, energy and organizational skills. Meanwhile, the older Christians are expected to fade gracefully into the background. Presumably, they should feel contented now that they are free to graze peacefully at green pastures beside still waters.
The reality is that many of the older Christians feel lost and displaced, especially when they find it hard to adjust to church services where the steady and reverential flow of liturgical worship is displaced by overpowering loud and repetitive music, and where the reflective homily is supplanted by motivational talks – all in the quest for relevance to contemporary culture. Continue reading “I Like Autumn: The Golden Years with Calm and Contentment”
Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 1
Better to be a Live Dog than a Dead Lion
There are times when life disappoints us even to the point of despair. Ecclesiastes 9: 3 confirms our fears: “This is the miserable thing in all that is done under the sun: One fate comes upon all. Moreover, the human heart knows its full measure of misery and folly during life—and after it, they join the dead.”
It is good at such times to take heart the counsel given by Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.
9:4 But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion. 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;
they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears 9:6 What they loved, as well as what they hated and envied, perished long ago,
and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth.
D. Clair Davis’ one-sentence summary of 2000 years of Christianity is succinct, spot on, and sobering: “There is a tendency to lose Jesus.”
The counsel of an older man has kept my faith in good stead since I was young and gay:
“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Now that I am older and hopefully, a little wiser, my fervent prayer to God is that by his grace I may faithfully and passionately testify to his goodness and glory. If the flame is not continually fed, how can it keep burning till the end?
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:17-18)