14 January 2006

God's Justice

'Justice is located where ever God's people are set free'

I don't know to whom to attribute this quotation, but it was given to us yesterday at the end of our three-day Racism Awareness class (the tutor also didn't know who orginally said it).

I suspect that some people, Christians included, will disagree with this statement. They might read 'setting a person free' as being the same things as 'letting a person do whatever feels good'. I don't know about you, but I hear this latter statement quite a bit whenever I say something that suggests that God is ultimately merciful, gracious, forgiving and creative.

I think that there is a reason that a lot of people won't like the idea that justice means setting someone free: In the state of original sin, humankind wants its pound of flesh back when someone does something wrong. 'You made me hurt, so I'm going to show you what it feels like. Justice will not be done until you hurt as much as I do'. If I'm being really honest what I actually mean is 'Justice won't be done until I make you hurt a lot more than you hurt me.' Is it any wonder that violence escalates in our world?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is subversive because it turns the world's 'common-sense' upside down. The world's 'common-sense' seems to think that justice is done when the wrong-doer is punished and the victim is left to heal on his or her own. I believe that God's justice happens when the truth is told, God's people get alongside the victim in a healing ministry and the wrong-doer makes restitution and is forgiven. Restitution does not mean the wrong-doer is made to hurt for the sake of hurting, it means the wrong-doer makes a meaningful gesture to restore what was taken from his or her victim.

There is a parallel here with my previous post. In that post, I said that God calls God's children to stand up for what is right even if doing so is costly and difficult, but that God does not want us to suffer simply for suffering's sake. In God's Justice, the wrong-doer may very well suffer in the process of looking honestly at the harm that he or she has done. The wrong-doer may suffer in trying to make honest restitution; but perhaps not. It is not the suffering of the wrong-doer that is God's goal, it is the healing and the freedom of the victim that is God's goal.

'Justice is done where ever God's people are set free.' God calls disciples of Christ to look for ways to set others free. May we be given strength, nourishment and inspiration in this calling.

06 January 2006

Christians and Suffering

Take up your cross

Four times in the New Testament (twice in Matthew and twice in Luke), Jesus is quoted as saying that his disciples must take up their cross in order to follow him.

This shouldn't be news to any Christian who has attempted to live by any Kingdom value that is unpopular in the secular world.
* Whether it be the Christian teenager who witnesses that binge-drinking isn't cool (or whatever the current term is!)
* Be it the Christian Londoner who stands against racism in the wake of the 7 July bombings
* Be it the Christian Texan who stands up for good stewardship of the environment.

But there is a way that this saying often gets mis-used by Christians and someone was advocating it again on a Christian discussion group the other day. It is a mis-use of this saying to suggest that every time a Christian has to make a choice that he or she ought always to make the choice that is difficult or self-sacrifical regardless of any other consideration.

There should be other more important considerations: the Kingdom values of truth, justice, honesty, and respect for human life.

To use an extreme but straight-forward example, God does not require Christians to 'sacrifice' themselves to domestic abuse. To use a mundane example, God does not require us to always avoid pleasure or to seek out pain.

So what is the point of 'take up your cross' if God does not require this sort of self-sacrifice?

The point is to stand up for the Kingdom values of truth, justice honesty and respect for human life even in the face of suffering. Faced with a choice to take up the cross for Kingdom values, I believe God calls us to choose the cross. Faced with the choice to take up the cross to resist evil, I believe that God calls us to choose the cross.

What God does not call us to do is to suffer pointlessly. And God certainly does not call us to suffer in order to appease another's unreasonable demands made in a state of what Paul would call captivity to the flesh (i.e. sin).

If we truly seek to live by Kingdom values, then it is inevitable that we will have to take up our cross at many points in our discipleship. This is simply a fact.

God also wants us to enjoy his creation: the natural world and the people around us. We are not required to seek out ways to make ourselves miserable at every turn. We will not have the strength to stand up for Truth if we have not allowed God to bless us and to refresh us.

May God bless you and refresh you and empower you to stand for Kingdom values.

04 January 2006

Debt, debt and more debt

I hate the advertisements on television for debt consolidation companies. I don't know what sorts of interest rates they charge, but my main concern is the whole advertising strategy. I think there are a good number of people who don't know what they are getting themselves into and, often, the advertising urges people to engage in financially irresponsible acts.

Rant 1: "Put all your debts together and lower your monthly payments". What the loan company is going to do is to tie you into a loan that lasts a long time - maybe 10 or 20 years. Of course your monthly payments are going to be low over that long a time. But you'll end up paying them a lot more money in total than you would have done otherwise. So, if you can afford it, it's really MUCH better to pay off your debts sooner rather than later. (I'll be happy to demonstrate the maths if anyone is interested.)

Rant 2: "Think of what you could do with the extra money every month"
It's not "extra money" people! Whatever you do, DO NOT run up more debt on your credit cards!! You cannot afford to run up another £500 on your credit card because you think you "can afford" an extra £20/month minimum payment. All you are doing is getting yourself into more debt.

Rant 3: "We were able to pay off our credit card debt and with the extra money we were able to buy a car and take a holiday."
The debt wasn't "paid off" - it was just transferred to another debtor. Very possibly putting your house at risk (was having a mortgage part of what qualified you to get the loan?), and almost certainly at an interest rate that is higher than someone with good credit.

Also, it's not "extra money" - if you borrowed more money than you needed to "pay off" your other debts, you just actually borrowed more money.

Disclaimer: This post does not constitute financial, investment or tax advice. It does not attempt to give you advice that relates to your specific circumstances. You are advised to discuss your specific requirements with an independent financial adviser prior to entering into any binding contracts or taking any other financial action.

03 January 2006

Glory be to God on High

We're still in the liturgical season of Christmas and I'm just starting to blog, so I offer you my favourite Christmas hymn by Charles Wesley. Many Methodists don't seem to be familiar with this hymn, but I think it's worth 'resurrecting'. Normally sung to Amsterdam

Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend:
God comes down, he bows the sky,
And shows himself our friend:
God the invisible appears:
God, the blest, the great I AM,
Sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is his name.

Him the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King;
Tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring.
Emptied of his majesty,
Of his dazzling glories shorn,
Beings source begins to be,
And God himself is born!

See the eternal Son of God
A mortal son of man
Dwelling in an earthly clod
Whom heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies;
Humbled to the dust he is,
And in a manger lies.

We, earth's children, now rejoice,
The Prince of Peace proclaim;
With heaven's host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel's name:
Knees and hearts to him we bow;
Of our flesh and of our bone,
Jesus is our brother now,
And God is all our own.

The third verse is my favourite. I often wish I were more demonstrative than I am, because when I sing 'Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!' I'd really like to shout it out. (When I read the words, I get the feeling that Charles Wesley would have liked to shout out the words too.)

It's a familar doctrine, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, but when one stops to think what it means that the uncreated Creator took on human form, one begins to get a small glimpse of God's love and God's mystery.