Saturday, September 30, 2006

Barth on the unknowable God

Jesus: the ultimate iconoclast

“It is in full unity with Himself that He is also – and especially and above all – in Christ, that he becomes a creature, man, flesh, that He enters into our being in contradiction, that He takes upon Himself its consequences. If we think that this is impossible it is because our concept of God is too narrow, too arbitrary, too human – far too human. Who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed Himself and His nature, the essence of the divine. And if He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as the God who does this, it is not for us to be wiser than He and to say that it is in contradiction with the divine essence. We have to be ready to be taught by Him that we have been too small and peverted in our thinking about Him within the framework of a false idea about God. It is not for us to speak of a contradiction and rift in the being of God, but to learn to correct our notions of the being of God, to constitute them in the light of the fact that He does this. We may believe that God can and must only be absolute in contrast to all that is relative, exalted in contrast to all that is lowly, active in contrast to all suffering, inviolable in contrast to all temptation, transcendent in contrast to all immanence, and therefore divine in contrast to everything human, in short that He can and must be the “Wholly Other.” But such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan, by the fact that God does in fact be and do this in Jesus Christ. We cannot make them the standard by which to measure what God can or cannot do, or the basis of the judgement that in doing this He brings Himself into self-contradiction. By doing this God proves to us that He can do it, that to do it is within His nature. And He Himself to be more great and rich and sovereign than we had ever imagined. And our ideas of His nature must be guided by this, and not vice versa.”

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 186.

I have often come across the idea that God must be (by definition) absolute, or beyond our knowledge, or utterly different. We have a rich tradition of philosophical reflection upon the idea of God. However, many of these ideas are human projections of our wishes and fears, negations of what we are: finite, visible, mortal. While a theist may be happy with calling God infinite, invisible and immortal, a Christian should feel uncomfortable. Barth goes further: a Christian should consider such ideas pagan because they have not taken what God has actually revealed of himself in Christ seriously and centrally. We don't bring our preconceived notions of divinity to Jesus to see if they fit. It is from Jesus that we get our 'image' of God. Jesus is the great iconoclast.

Of course, there is a corresponding error in the opposite direction: that knowledge of God in Christ is simple, obvious, straightforward and exhaustive. This second arrogance, the presumption that we know everything of God, that God is not a problem interrupting and overturning our knowledge, is the ugly twin of the arrogance of projecting an a priori Christ-less image onto God and assuming that he is therefore safely defined as unknowable. Either way, God becomes innocuously contained, either inside or outside the sphere of our language and knowledge.
"Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

- C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 75.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world VIII

New heavens and new earth
First mentioned in Isaiah 65 and 66, the phrase "new heaven(s) and new earth" also crops up in 2 Peter 3 (see coming post) and Revelation 21 (see previous post), and seems to suggest that the old heavens and earth are made obsolete and replaced with a new model. This approach, while affirming the importance (at least notionally) of a new earth as well as heaven (i.e. a new universe, since "heaven and earth" is a biblical idiom for "everything"), fails to read these promises christologically. It is only in Jesus that we know anything at all about the future (see here for this important metholodological principle, based on the idea of Jesus' resurrection as the first fruits of what is come).

God the recycler
The one piece of this new heavens and earth that has been (briefly) revealed demonstrates something remarkable about the new model: the old car hasn't been thrown on a scrapheap, it's been recycled. Jesus' resurrection body is the one access we have to the future, and the tomb was empty. That is, God didn't simply throw out Jesus' old body (the beta version?) and give him an upgrade. It was the same body.

But it was not simply the same. Jesus' body was not returned back to how it was. It was radically new; if we listen to the stories of the Easter appearances in the Gospels, he wasn't always recognised. We can call it renewed, but such a tune up and revamp that it makes as much sense to just say 'new'. The resurrected Jesus was totally stunning when revealed in his glory (perhaps there is also a foretaste of this in his transfiguration?). He is still Jesus (witnessed by the scars), but death no longer has dominion over him.

So too with us, and with creation. New bodies, new world: not through the annihilation or replacement of the old, but through resurrection, through liberation from bondage to decay. Paul uses the image of a seed germinating (taken originally from Jesus), capturing both the continuity and discontinuity of the event: the seed becomes the plant - it is the same seed yet no longer merely a seed.

I wonder whether this approach mightn't throw some light on Jesus' words about heaven and earth passing away.* The present order of things - ruled by death and in bondage to decay - will indeed pass away, but only through its being made new by the one who makes all things new.
*Alternatively, the saying could be a hyperbolic expression of how trustworthy his words are: less a promise/warning ("they will pass away") than a hypothetical ("even if they did, my message still holds").
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Five points for the city in the picture. I also discussed the novelty and continuity of the (re)new(ed) creation here

An Inconvenient Truth III

Having been released a few weeks ago, many people I know have seen this film (trailer), and more than a few are being stirred up or reconsidering their position. A large group from church went and saw it a fortnight ago. MartyK and CraigS offer their reactions. For my initial thoughts after seeing a sneak preview a few months ago, see here. And here's the best review I've found so far. If you still haven't seen it, do so.

In a somewhat related post, Patrik (from God in a Shrinking Universe - remember the world cup of theologians?) reflects on Tillich's views regarding collective guilt. I am my brother's keeper. And my sister's.

Oh the humanity...

MPJ (of The Blogging Parson - highly recommended, recent posts have focused on his PhD topic of 'martyrdom') has been attempting to draft a popular level book about being human on a new blog called YOU. He's written some good posts recently on bodies and dreams. Check it out and offer some comments. Here's an explanation of his project.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world VII

Heaven is a place on earth
The story so far...
I've argued that going to 'heaven', despite common Christian usage, isn't our final destination and hope. Instead, it most commonly refers to the skies, then is used (perhaps metaphorically) as the dwelling place of God. This latter use is then extended to serve as a circumlocution for God. Therefore, we can speak of 'heaven' (i.e. God) as the agent, not destination, of Christian hope. Being citizens of heaven thus means not so much wishing to go there, but the security of expecting a saviour from there.

Heaven on earth
For many people, the final images of the Bible are amongst the most moving.

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away." - Rev 21.3-4
All that is wrong with the world will be over. The absence of God will be healed, and with it all its symptoms: death and her children mourning and crying and pain. If anything sounds so wonderful as to be called 'heavenly', it is this. Yet notice the image used to picture this: "And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev 21.2) The direction is not us going up to heaven, but heaven coming down to earth. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, of God with his people and creation. The waiting is over; here comes the bride! The earth is pictured as the location for this triumphant and joyfully tear-jerking picture.

Now the images of Revelation are not meant to be taken woodenly and we must beware pressing details too closely. However, notice Revelation 5.10: "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth." There is neither space - nor I suspect reader patience - to work through Revelation in detail, yet to briefly answer one further common reading of heaven-as-destination, the images of the heavenly court worshipping the one on the throne in Rev 4 & 5 are (a) not the final picture, that is reserved until Rev 21 &22 and (b) most straightforwardly read as angelic beings, not humans, esp since at this point in the picture, there are still creatures "in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea" (Rev 5.13).

The God who made a good world does not intend to give up on it, to snatch us away to be somewhere else and leave it like a sinking ship. For that would be to admit defeat, to merely salvage some small good out of a wreckage.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for naming the country in the picture.

Yoder on effectiveness

"The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection."

- John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 238.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lewis on vulnerability

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven* where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

- C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960), 138-39

I thought this quote was apt to follow the ones from Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard recently posted. All three invoke the necessity of engagement and the impossibility of cool detachment as our basic stance towards life.
*Of course, Lewis's reference to 'Heaven' needs to be taken with the same grain of salt that this passage advises us to take regarding Augustine's advice about not loving anything except God too much lest our hearts be broken. For a fuller discussion, see this post with some of my thoughts on heaven..

Heaven: not the end of the world VI

Citizens of heaven
This series has been investigating the common assumption that at the heart of Christian hope is a future spent in heaven with God, whether this is immediately upon death or is the longer term destination of the faithful. For many people, belief in a heavenly destination is found in Philippians 3.20-21:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
A common way of reading the phrase 'citizens of heaven' is that Christians are in exile from our homeland, waiting to go home. I will deal with the theme of exile and being aliens in a future post, but for the moment let's take a closer look at these verses.

What is the logic of Paul's little narrative found in these two verses? The idea of being a citizen of Rome would have been very familiar to his readers in Philippi, which was a town settled in order to house veterans from the Roman army, heroes of the empire, who have served for twenty-five years and were then rewarded with land and houses. However, rather than returning to Rome (or going there for the first time - many legionaries were from conquered lands, and military service was a way of long-term social climbing), the empire would simultaneously reward its servants and avoid congestion in the already over-crowded captial by sending its citizens to specially designated colonial outposts, such as Philippi. These were cities with a special status, since their citizens were citizens of Rome and so enjoyed all the benefits that brought. Not only was there not room for more population growth in Rome, but this policy had the positive effect of expanding the empire through having loyal citizens scattered throughout its length and breadth.

The outcome of being citizens of Rome was not ultimately to return there at the end of one's days. Instead, on the one hand, citizens were to be part of the grand project of civilisating (so it was thought) the world under the benefits of Roman rule ("What did the Romans ever do for us?..."). On the other hand, if the city were under threat, their special status guaranteed a swift response from Rome in protection of its citizens. Philippians therefore could have proudly boasted that they were citizens of Rome and it was from there they expected a saviour, Caesar the Lord, if trouble ever appeared.

Paul's message takes this Philippian pride in Roman citizenship and subverts it with a new citizenship, a new source of hope. Again, this is not the hope of returning (or going) to heaven in the end, but the confidence that comes from knowing that a mighty Lord will arrive to bring vindication and final security to his subjects. We are citizens of heaven, an outpost of heaven's own colonial project - not the expansion of an aggressive empire of exploitation, but the liberation of an earth for too long held by enemy occupying forces of sin and death. Just as Philippi was meant to bring a little of Rome to Greece, the church is to bring a little of the life of God, a heavenly life, into our local area. We are citizens of heaven, and it is from there that we await a Saviour.

Indeed, to follow this passage to its end, the final goal is not going to heaven, but the consummation of heaven's rule on earth ("Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."), where the last enemy, death, is overthrown in resurrection life.

Resurrection, not going to heaven, is the Christian hope. The return of Christ is not to take us off somewhere else, but to make his home here, and where he is at home, so are we. It is to this we will turn next.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for the town in this pic.
PS Ancient historians, please correct any details re Roman citizenship.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kierkegaard on wearing masks

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when every one has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked? Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight in order to avoid this? Or are you not terrified by it? I have seen men in real life who so long deceived others that at last their true nature could not reveal itself;... In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself. But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all.”

- Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II.146

Last night I saw Match Point by Woody Allen, an exploration of deception, justice and ultimately, luck. Can life be mocked? With luck, yes, until midnight. But as Kierkegaard points out, there is a cost to be paid even in the remaining hours.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pics and points

Photo phun
Ever since Matheson spurred me on to more picture games after this first one, I've been offering points to readers who can guess the locations (or some other feature) of various photos I've taken and posted.

One guess per post per person per day please.

And here's the present leader board:

668: Anthony
608: Matthew Moffitt
215: Jonathan
210: Peter J
176: Michael Canaris
147: Martin Kemp
119: H. Goldsmith
117: Andrew
68: Rachel
64: Linden, Matt Lemieux
58: Drew
55: -bw
53: JRS
52: Hecta
50: Meredith
45: Mister Tim
43: Matheson
42: Mandy, Michael Wells
40: Annette
35: Michael Jensen
33: jm
32: Nico (Zeekstar), One of Freedom
31: Lachlan B
30: Christopher
29: Poncho
26: Donna, One Salient Oversight
25: Dan, Stevie T
23: Aric Clark
22: Mark
21: Ali
20: AndrewE, Hugh, Steve
19: psychodougie
18: GeoffC
16: Dave Saxey, Emergent Pilgrim
15: Chris, David Ould, Jenny, Stuart, uptothehouse, Vaughn Smith
14: Joshua
13: Andrew Paterson, John P
12: Duncan Andrews
11: Doug Forbes, James, Sair
10: Carlie, Chris Tilling, David Entwistle, Duncan Lin, Jason Hesiak, Thuloid
8: Adrian
7: Tim R
6: Chris Terrynelson
5: Emma, Nicole, Tiger
4: Erin King
3: Cecily, Honoria
2: Joanna, Lara, Persephone
1: Sue, Joel Hunter
You too could share the glory of joining these illustrious individuals: get guessing! With about 365 points still on offer, there's plenty of opportunity to score big. For the sake of those who feel they've missed out or been too slow, I've gathered links to all the points still unclaimed.

For twenty points, pick the book (up), building,* best new sign, book,* book,* most recent relevant comment,* church,* IP address, building,* best image, object,* actual title,* river,* person.*

For fifteen points, pick the location,* location,* location of the camera,* Sydney location,* Sydney location, building,* building,* location,* best church sign, Sydney building,* suburb,* artist,* location,* body of water,* location of camera,* building,* location,* English town,* natural formation,* location,* three locations,* city,* city, Sydney suburb,* cathedral,* building,* last comment,* other mountain picture,* object off camera,* most creative title, region,* museum,* link to democracy,* novel,* standing stones,* whaling station,* cathedral,* location of painting.*

For twelve points, pick the volume, Scottish location,* Sydney location,* building,* reason,* author,* author,* ceremony,* Sydney building,* city,* building,* direction of camera,* Sydney location,* Sydney suburb,* building,* outside of this building, Sydney bridge,* Sydney suburb,* Sydney suburb,* reason,* city,* location,* location,* English location,* artwork,* reason, reason,* reason,* city, cathedral,* English town,* location,* most creative guess for off-camera object, similar photo,* country,* country,* country,* location of the camera,* leader,* leader,* city,* city,* history of sculpture,* country.*

For ten points, pick the city,* Sydney location,* bay,* region,* 3D image,* blogger,* building,* city,* mystery object,* full image,* Sydney church building,* book, location,* building,* city,* similar photo,* building, location,* cathedral,* title, country,* water location I,* water location II,* Sydney suburb,* country,* players,* game,* artist,* location,* building,* statue,* city,* most creative theory, structure,* ancient book,* biblical passage,* theme,* Sydney suburb,* town,* famous stone,* country,* country,* museum,* location,* structure,* person,* artist & title,* person,* city,*, artist,* location of the camera,* author* (see comments), artist,* city,* country,* city,* city,* city,* city,* location,* artist,* title,* location,* city,* country,* town,* city,* country,* country,* city,* country,* town,* location of the camera,* city,* Sydney church,* country,* location of the camera,* Sydney landmarks,* location of the camera,* artist,* Sydney location* or city.*

For eight points, pick the country,* chapter reference,* country,* reference,* country,* first picture,* building,* author,* conversation,* building,* English city,* city,* building,* building,* city,* Sydney church,* name and reason,* church,* title,* natural rock formation,* Sydney beach, country,* country,* country,* European city,* flag,* body of water,* winner,* town,* link,* English abbey,* rank,* winner,* psalm,* country,* building,* Sydney suburb,* other graveyards,* other shot of same object,* image doctoring,* special day,* artist,* city,* country,* country,* artist,* Barneys service.

And five points if you can pick the democratic institution,* comment, department,* country,* other cave pictures, city,* similar photo, city,* city,* artist,* location,* victim,* building,* state,* other images of beautiful mountains, building,* building,* statue, translation,* passage,* reason for red square,* differences,* activity,* species,* country,* location of the camera,* similar photo,* location of the camera,* previous shot from same spot,* city,* artist,* sculpture,* originally intended location,* city,* location of the camera,* similar photo* or the location of the camera.*
*Claimed since I first posted this.
Apologies if I've missed your points, please remind me.
And of course, ten points for both the name of the artwork above and for the gallery in which the photo was taken. Bonus points for creative guesses.

Bonhoeffer on faith

"It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Bethge, July 1944

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world V

Heavenly salvation: origin, not destination (1 Peter 1.3-5)
I mentioned at the end of the last post that Christian hope is indeed heavenly, because it is from heaven that we await salvation. This helps understand the language of 1 Peter 1.3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
I suspect that many readers, upon hearing that their inheritance is "kept in heaven", imagine that the content of that inheritence is itself "heaven", a post-mortem paradise of some kind. However, this misses the main point of this passage. The living hope is precisely that: alive. Life is not simply the mode, but the content of the hope: the new birth is to be the start of new life. And this new birth is into resurrection life. The same kind of resurrection (indeed, strictly speak, the same resurrection) as Jesus. It is his resurrection that is both the ground and illustration of our lively, vivacious, vital, living breathing hope.

Thus, this hope is "kept in heaven" in a similar way to the new car your parents might give you for your birthday is kept in the garage for you. Not so that you can go into the garage to enjoy existence there, but so that the real hope - fully mobile vehicular life - is secure until the day that it is ready to be revealed. Or, to borrow an illustration, like the beer is kept in the fridge for you. The hope isn't to chill out long term, but to have the hope adequately stored and prepared. So too here, the purpose of its being in heaven, is that it is with God, indeed, our hope is God himself (that's why it's in heaven), and so there is no fear of its being flat or warm: it can never perish, spoil or fade. The paintjob won't get scratched by the neighbour and it won't get lifted by the local joyriders. Our future is secured by God's power; indeed, we ourselves are divinely shielded until the time is ripe. Not that bad things can't happen to us: on the contrary, they can and will. What is shielded is our future resurrection, it is securely held by the one whose power raised Jesus from the dead. No one can snatch us out of his hand.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for the city in this pic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world IV

Heaven help us!
As we continue to note different ways the term 'heaven' is used biblically, one important development is its use as a respectful circumlocution for 'God'. Seen classically in the prodigal son's rehearsed apology: "Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

More importantly, it forms part of the crucial phrase in Matthew, 'Kingdom of Heaven'. Mark and Luke use 'Kingdom of God' instead, and so it is clear that what is being referred to is not the domain over which God rules (though he is lord of heaven, as well as the earth), but that it is heaven (i.e. God) who rules. Thus 'kingdom of Heaven' could be paraphrased, 'the reign of God'.

This means that the Christian hope is indeed heavenly. Not in terms of where Christians ultimately hope to end up (see future posts), but in terms of the active agent in bringing about that hoped-for future. Our hope is for Heaven (God) to act to renew the earth.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for getting the country - same as the last one.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world III

God is in his heaven...
Starting here, here (and here), this little series still has some distance to go.

I began with the idea that the basic meaning of heaven is what you see when you get knocked out. Or rather, what you first see when you wake up lying flat on your back.

A second common biblical use of 'heaven' is to refer to the dwelling place of God. He is called 'the God of heaven', though also the God of heaven and earth, apparently referring not to his location, but to the extent of his dominion (i.e. over everything). Yet sometimes the more specific God in heaven (or in the heavens) is used, and this seems to be associated fairly directly in some cases with vertical elevation, though Solomon does acknowledge that the heavens can't contain him, and the psalmist speaks of him being exalted above the heavens. What effect might it have on our thinking if we translate 'heaven(s)' (shamayim) with 'sky' (or 'skies')?

This elevated location is taken to imply (or is itself a symbol of) God's ultimate superiority, with consequences for human actions.

When we turn to the New Testament, heaven is associated with God's rule (symbolised by his throne), is also the location of angels (this point was not directly made in the OT, although the voice of the angel of YHWH came from heaven). Heaven is the origin of God's audible voice. Most famously, however, heaven as the location of the Father is woven into the opening line of the Lord's prayer.

Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the earth said upon his return, ""I looked and looked but I didn't see God" (or maybe Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev put these words in his mouth). I wonder whether the writers of the Bible might have laughed at him. Not, however, for thinking that he might be travelling to the dwelling place of God. Simply for thinking that God might be visible when he got there.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for getting even the country for this pic. Photo by CAC.
UPDATE: important discussion in comments.

The limits of wealth?

Meredith has written a thoughful post about wealth and poverty.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Mini MEme

Having only just realised that I've been tagged, here is my contribution to Rachel's mini MEme. For all these questions, there could be many answers; I've picked the first ones to jump to mind today.

A Piece of Art that you Love
Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (and this one). I could have kept wandering and wandering in this enormous public sculpture. Very moving: enormous, dramatic and yet understated at the same time.

A Line in a Song or Line of Poetry that Reaches Your Core
I will show you fear in a handful of dust - from T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land. I remember coming across Eliot in year 11 and he was probably the decisive factor in 'converting' me to love English. Until that point, I'd always avoided humanities. Now, I barely remember all the maths I used to do...

An Experience in Nature that was Really Special and/or Spiritual
The heavens on a glorious Sydney day.

The Movie that Changed the Way you saw the World.
Atarnarjuat: The Fast Runner - I will never look at snow the same way again. Seriously, this was a fantastic movie, unlike anything you've seen and was the first full-length film made by, about and in the language of the Inuit people of the Arctic circle. See also here.

A Piece of Music That Makes You Cry
Wake up dead man - U2. The eschatology of U2 deserves its own series. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) Drew has already beaten me to it! Enjoy the series as it progresses.

I tag Beeston, Frank, MartyK, David, Cynthia, Rob, Patrik and Christopher. I've tried to tag different people to last time. I've also done more tagging of people I've only met over blogs. Hope you don't feel I'm rushing the friendship...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Think about it...

Most people have an above average number of legs.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Religious atheism: life after death

Life and afterlife: quote and reflections

The thought of death and life after death is ambivalent. It can deflect us from this life, with its pleasures and pains. It can make life here a transition, a step on the way to another life beyond - and by doing so it can make this life empty and void. It can draw love from this life and deflect it to a life hereafter, spreading resignation in 'this vale of tears'. The thought of death and a life after death can lead to fatalism and apathy, so that we only live life here half-heartedly, or just endure it and 'get through'. The thought of a life after death can cheat us of the happiness and the pain of this life, so that we squander its treasures, selling them off cheap to heaven. In that respect it is better to live every day as if death didn't exist, better to love life here and now as unreservedly as if death really were 'the finish'. The notion that this life is no more than a preparation for a life beyond, is the theory of a refusal to live, and a religious fraud. It is inconsistent with the living God, who is 'a lover of life'. In that sense it is religious atheism.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 49-50.

I've posted the end of this quote before. I thought I'd re-post a fuller version as I get into this series on heaven. While this life remains filled with frustrations and futility, if we think the solution is to slander or ignore it, we've missed the point. Sure, there will be radical discontinuity (see also a future post on 2 Peter 3), but it is this world that was declared good, very good. God has not given up on it, as is clear from Jesus' resurrection.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for pic (hint).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

O'Donovan: authority and freedom

Where authority is, freedom is; and where authority is lost, freedom is lost. This holds good for all kinds of authority. Without adults who demand mature behaviour, the child is not free to grow up; without teachers to set standards of excellence, the scholar is not free to excel; without prophets to uphold ideals of virtue, society is not free to realize its common good. To be under authority is to be freer than to be independent.

- Oliver O'Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 132.

I find this very experience in reading O'Donovan (most of the time). As I submit to his authority - which is not 'a reason for acting in the absence of reasons' but 'an authority is someone I depend upon to show me the reasons for acting' (131) - I find myself liberated from various confusions (and intiated into new ones!).

I do apologise for not writing more about O'Donovan as I earlier promised. I've been slowly working through this text with a small group at college and really enjoying it. I'll try to include more in future.
As usual, ten points for the location above. Another ten for identifying the statued figure.
UPDATE: Further important quote in comments. Also, thanks to jm for pointing out that today is the 2515th anniversary of the dedication of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Entirely a coincidence...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world II

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
Our heavenly story begins at the beginning, as all good stories do,* way back when God created the heavens and the earth. Wait a minute - the earth, yes; but 'the heavens'? Plural? And the heavens are created too? So where was God before he made heaven to live in?

It is relatively common for many Christians (at least in my experience) to conceive of 'heaven' as a place outside of time, where God dwells and to where we will escape once this temporally conditioned creation reaches its use by date. For some, it is simply a really nice place, where we go when we die, a realm of bliss and reunions, of negativity negated. Images of harps and clouds are routinely ridiculed from pulpit and stand-up mike, yet they remain the default for a culture without any conception of what else might replace them. This series will attempt a re-reading of a number of the key texts in order to feed our imagination on solid food.

Heaven's above!
Starting at Genesis 1, we come across the first and probably most common biblical use of the term 'heaven'. 'Heaven' or 'the heavens' refers to the expanse of sky visible by night and day above us. We'd also use 'the sky' (indeed some translations use 'sky' from verse 8 onwards). There is not necessarily any great precision in this usage, no careful distinctions between stratosphere and ionosphere; it's simply a phenomenological term for what you see when you look up. Heaven in this most basic sense is quite visible, quite changible, quite physical (at least in a gaseous kind of way). It is the realm of both birds and stars. Out of the six hundred odd times the term is used in the Bible, this is by far the most common.

When paired with 'earth' as it is in verse 1 (and 2.1, not to mention many other times), it is a common hebraic way of referring to 'everything' or 'the universe'.

And when God finished making everything, he saw that everything was good, indeed considered as a harmonious whole very good. The universe is not divided up into good bits and bad bits, into nasty matter and beautiful ideas, into heaven and hell. It is not even earth versus heaven, but earth and heaven. Everything that is, is good.
NB However, this is not necessarily to say that everything was mathematically perfect.

Much more could be said about creation, and about the creator. But for the moment, I think this is the place from which to start.*

And of course, Genesis is all-too aware of the painful fact that this goodness is not the end of the story. There's much more to come.*It is possible, indeed often desirable, to start good theological stories from Christ. This is still to start at the beginning, since he is the beginning. Rest assured, for the theologically fastidious, Christ is indeed the centre of this series. For we can't understand heaven without him - nor him without heaven...
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Augustine and the fall of Rome

This piece in Christianity Today compares the attacks in the US five years' ago with the fall of Rome in AD 410 (H/T Craigs). However, I wonder whether the comparison might be just a little over the top. The fall of Rome could be compared to an invasion of the American mainland by, say, Afghanistan in which Washington D. C. is captured and largely destroyed.

Although the 2001 attacks were a shock and deep tragedy, the scale of the disaster can be overstated.

Gloria Dei vivens homo

The glory of God is a living human.

- Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses. IV.xx.7

God loves life. He made it. His Spirit sustains it. His Son died for it. The Author of life, the Spirit of life and the Living one: Father Son Spirit live and share their life.

Heaven: don't worry it's not the end of the world

A heavenly new series
...Clouds, harps, angels, souls in bliss, white light, rugby...

What is heaven? Who lives there? What does it have to do with Christian hope? As I've hinted at briefly in previous posts, I don't think that "going to heaven when you die" is an accurate summary of what the Bible teaches us to hope for. This series will aim to untangle some threads commonly confused in modern Christianity in order to recover one often neglected aspect of the gospel, the radically subversive hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for naming the country in this pic.