How He responded to my response

It was a history book that made me snap. Not with bouts of rage and fury but a moment of accumulated sadness and frustration. The question we ask so often it risks become how we think, rose up and blurted out of me: “Why?” On this occasion, God lovingly answered me. He doesn’t have to but this time He did. Here’s what happened.

It has been a hard term. Autumn is always the busiest but things beyond our control have been happening, with malignant effects on people we love, and that makes everything more difficult. When it’s one of these times, everything else bad is magnified. And the news is rarely of minor miseries anyway. Add into this mix Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews, a brilliant and frequently desperate account of the Jewish people up until their expulsion from Spain in 1492. The catalogue of crimes committed against them by people claiming to be Christians was overwhelming me, and the individual detail of yet another led me to call out with unclear emotions to God.

With my words still in the air I heard Him whisper to me, “My Son”. Two thoughts swiftly followed. Firstly, Jesus is coming back to settle all accounts. He is the Judge of all the world (Matthew 25:31-32, Revelation 20:12-15) and His return will see justice done for all. This event will be so complete and so perfect that it will more than atone for all that has been (Dostoevsky’s famous lines from The Brothers Karamazov were no doubt being recalled to me.) The second thing I thought about Jesus was Him dying on the cross. It was as if God was gently but firmly saying to me, “Do you want to talk about suffering and justice…?” He knows, He has experienced far more than I ever have or will. And the justice I deserved, He put on His perfect Son instead.

I picked up the book and finished reading it. Before I went to sleep, I continued a habit I’ve been establishing of reading a psalm as the last thing I do at night. I had got up to Psalm 92, which told me the following…
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night…
How great are your works, O LORD!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but you, O LORD, are on high forever…
The LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
What could have been more perfectly chosen to challenge, comfort, and remind me? I gratefully considered myself to have been told.

There was one more lesson to receive. My inclination is towards joy (Philippians 4:4 etc.), as I think is fitting for those confident of an eternity of joy with God. But does that put a veto on sorrow? The next day my Twitter timeline contained a link to a video by John Piper entitled “Simultaneous Joy and Sorrow.” You can watch the whole thing below (just 15 minutes) as he explains how 1 Peter 1:6 describes the normal Christian experience in this life to be of both these emotions:
“In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
So God had spoken to me in three ways: the whisper of His Spirit, the plain text of His Word, and the counsel of a good teacher. Did I learn anything new in this? Not exactly, but I heard the truth anew, afresh, and that was what I needed. Does this explain the evils we see and experience? Not entirely, but it gives us enough to trust Him, that His light is here in the darkness and will one day overcome it.

This week: firework fountain, asylum, salvation, lust, football transfers, a blue whale

The fireworks waterfall cascading down the rocks of the Castle at the end of Festival fireworks is perhaps my favourite Edinburgh moment in August.

Asylum / migration is very complicated (politics, etc.) and very simple (people are dying). The Independent's front page publication of a dead three-year-old boy, washed up on a beach, seems to have changed the nature of the debate the UK is currently having with itself and its neighbours. Gillan Scott calls on us to remember our Christian heritage, this petition calls on Parliament to "Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK."

Jesus is doing amazing things among Muslims all over the world, as Lucinda Borkett-Jones reports.

If you want to live a holy life in a sex-obsessed culture, Kevin DeYoung has fifteen points from Scripture that will help you. (I think he ought to have put his 11th point first, by the way.)

Rory Smith explains why football transfers are used by everyone in football to cover up the reality of what works in football.

Seeing a live whale out in the wild, as we did in the Azores, is one of the most incredible things you can do; Steve Backshall's response to a blue whale is appropriate:


This week: using jargon, tying shoelaces, keeping continuity, understanding gender, praying

I haven't been taking many photos recently, so here's a classic from Hill and Adamson: Newhaven Fishwives (1845). Thanks to Bryan Appleyard for the steady supply of great photos.

Should preachers use jargon when preaching? Liam Thatcher helpfully answers yes and no.

Talking of jargon, what do we mean by "woman" and "man"? Careful answers that trust and comprehend what God has said are needed, and Andrew Wilson has provided them excellently here and here respectively (ladies first).

In a similar vein but coming from a different perspective, Natasha Devon argues on the vital place of the father in a family.

Most people I know who try to pray find it difficult for one reason or another. If that's you, I'd strongly recommended Paul E. Miller's grace-filled book, The Praying Life. For a rather shorter inspiration, find out how getting a free charity diary helped Jennie Pollock's praying improve.

You wouldn't guess it during the football transfer window but continuity is one of the most important characteristics of a team. Gary Neville, who learned from one of the best, explains why.

What's the best way to tie your shoes? Glad you asked...

This week: a football mascot, preaching rules, trigger warnings, the Bible's story

This is what our church building looked like in 1878. It's a bit shorter now.

The new Partick Thistle mascot is called Kingsley. He became a global sensation and Chitra Ramasawamy has told his story.

Brian Houston lists his 30 rules for preaching at Hillsong.

What do you do when life is hard? Jennie Pollock assesses the respective wisdom of Inside Out, The Life You Never Expected, and Second Chance on this.

Amnesty International's decision to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution gets Nick Cohen's ire for two reasons.

The dire consequences for intelligent thought and mental health of prohibiting anything that anyone doesn't like are described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

Here's the story of the Bible told in three minutes with some cartoon drawings...

Changing lives and changing a building

Last week I went to Newday again, and once again it was wonderful. I've said this many, many, many, many times before, and this video by the resident creative team shows the kind of thing that I'm always going on about:

Because of Newday I missed The Harmonium Project in Edinburgh. I've no regrets but this does look amazing:

This week: meditating on falcons, footballers, and faith; considering if are we sleeping incorrectly, using anti-perspirant incorrectly

I didn't take any photos, sorry.

The peregrine falcon and our desire to fly are considered by Mike Cosper. It's a lyrical piece which reminded me of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Eagle (which should probably be called The Falcon).

Talking of poetry, John Piper has imagined what life on the new heavens and new earth will be like. The final thought is especially wonderful.

The fight for faith at fifty is described by Jon Bloom.

There's a network that keeps the world running and it's not the internet. On board a container ship, Tim Maughan explains.

Have we all been using anti-perspirant wrong? Chris Plante suggests we might be.

Have we all been sleeping wrong? Stephanie Hegarty adds to the head-messing of this week's links.

Alan Smith (neither of the Alan Smiths who played football professionally) reflects on Eric Cantona and his winning goal in the 1996 FA Cup final.

Edinburgh is great city to cycle around if you know where the paths are, and Mike Lewis is the man to tell you where they are.

It's not very summer-y in Edinburgh, however, but Craig Charles' list of ten "summer sizzlers" will get you in the mood whatever the weather.

This week: forgiving a bomber, feeding a million, reviewing a festival, scaling a solar system

I had a great day at St Andrews for the delayed final round of The Open. This was the only eagle I saw.

Kim Phuc was the young girl famously photographed during the Vietnam War running from a napalm bombing. The remarkable story of her journey to forgiveness is told by Paula Newton and Thom Patterson.

Harriet Alexander reports on how an idea in Scotland is now feeding a million children around the world.

Assuming all the necessary caveats about Christianity and politics, and Christian celebrities, I'm still rather stunned by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron preaching the gospel.

What can we do about the scourge of seagulls? worries Helen Rumbelow (£).

If you're a Christian and not sure when you should open your mouth and when you shouldn't, here's some good advice: Ray Ortlund considers when to cover and when to confront, and Jon Bloom outlines how to comment on the internet.

If you didn't make it to Latitude Festival this year, fear not, because Tom Careless did and can give you the low-down on 29 acts. 29!

If you haven't travelled through the solar system and want to get a sense of how big it is, Josh Worth has created a "tedious accurate" map which works on the scale of the moon = one pixel.

I'm loving Crowder's Neon Steeple and Jamie xx's In Colour, here are tracks from each of these...

This week: wolves and God's good, the human touch, stupid sports fans, doubts

We went to Cake Fest, and ate some of Edinburgh.

Wolves can make places better, hard things can make life better. Really. Ben Stuart explains.

Vlad Savov looks at how Apple and other tech companies are trying to regain the human touch in their products.

The nonsense of "real sports fans" is gets lambasted by Jack Moore.

The excellence of church-run parent and toddler groups is noted by Jubilee Plus, with advice on how to do them well.

Every Christians struggles with doubt at some time or other, so it's worth reading Krish Kandiah's advice on how to help others when they do.

You don't have to make your own annotated Bible as the American theologian Jonathan Edwards did, but Matthew Everhard suggests how you can still learn from Edwards' example.

How victory can be won

At the church service at Emmanuel AME in Carleston this Sunday, Rev Norvel Goff  preached:
“Someone wanted to divide the races black and white and brown. A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us. They just don’t know us because we are people of faith.”
By coincidence, I am currently reading a collection of sermons by Martin Luther King, published as Strength To Love. Here's what he said about loving your enemies:
"To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey unjust laws, because non-co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"
That's what you see happening in the video above, as a murderer is told by the relatives of those he killed that they forgive him. The husband of a murdered wife tells her killer:
"I forgive you and my family forgives you but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change it, and change your ways no matter what happened to you and you'll be okay through that. And better off than how you are right now."
Another is honest enough to declare herself a "work in progress" in this. All of them will have years of such "work" but they have begun in the best way.
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
There has been a lot of discussion during this about whether this is easy forgiveness, and whether the victory King envisaged will every come to pass by the methods he proposed. As for America, I don't know but I'm hopeful. As for the individuals involved, I'm totally confident:
"This is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith." (1 John 5:4)

I don't want to live in a world like Jurassic World

We don’t know much about her but we know that she’s called Zara and she is engaged. A throwaway line in an earlier plot device told us that. Zara is about to be discarded from Jurassic World altogether but she has one more use to serve. For a prolonged period she is thrown about from one flying dinosaur to another before she falls into a massive pool from which we’ve earlier seen an enormous swimming dinosaur leap up to eat a dead shark. Now she is in the pool. The swimming beast does not appear, yet, because anticipation heightens the entertainment, so Zara is left to splash and scream until she is picked up again by another flying dinosaur and taken, desperate, into the air once more. Now the climax comes as out from the water the aquatic beast leaps, devouring both her and her winged assailant, for comic effect. The movie moves swiftly on.

I don’t see many blockbuster movies but all those that I do have put creative effort into imagining how people could be killed. Shouldn’t we find that odd?

Early in Jurassic World, the owner of the titular theme park describes how he has created it in order to humble people, for them to see how small they/we are in the story of this planet and for them to sense the fear that comes with not being at the top of every food chain. The amorality of survival of the fittest is at work here. Zara is treated with similar contempt by the film makers. I had to look up her name, whereas the pteradons and mosasaur are namechecked repeatedly; her death serves no moral purpose, it’s just meant to be funny.

As I walked from the cinema troubled by this, I thought about The Lord of The Rings. Peter Jackson’s original film trilogy had chart-toppingly high death counts (though he might counter this by saying that many of his casualties were non-humans). His source text didn’t flinch from death but didn’t luxuriate in it either. Here’s how the death of one unknown enemy combatant is treated in the book The Two Towers, as seen through the eyes of the character Tolkien takes us deeper into than any other, Samwise Gamgee:
“It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace”
I think that Tolkien has returned here to the trenches of the First World War where he fought. He had seen death and did not like it at all. His humanity was informed by his Christianity and, although he was a Catholic and no doubt disagreed with much that John Calvin wrote, he would surely have agreed with this from The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“[W]hatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh. Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image… Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions… Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
When we consider what western culture is forfeiting as it discards Christianity, this is surely near the top of the list. We become beasts.