Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God's Super Injunction

The whole super-injunction and privacy saga has hit a breaking point. The anonymity afforded by courts to various scandal ridden public figures has proved unsustainable. That which has been whispered in private is being shouted from the rooftops.

It seems that in our internet age the only way to protect your family from embarrassment will be to refrain from doing things that might embarrass them. Kind of simple when you think about it.

However, the problem is that we all have secrets and ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ at various levels – perhaps a youthful indiscretion, a ‘moment of madness’, an unhappy phase of life – that none of us would wish publicised or regard as ‘everyone’s business’. Yet the reality of our age is more & more to deny people such discretion. Every compromising photo posted on Facebook becomes effectively undeletable, as do our hastily expressed opinions or off-the-cuff quips. The Christianity Explored illustration of having all the details of our life put out on public display doesn’t feel quite so theoretical anymore.

But actually even if our private lives were splashed across the Tabloids on a daily basis it still wouldn’t reveal the half of it. All those thoughts, unseen actions and carefully manipulated words would still remain unexposed. And it would be the cumulative weight and mass of all those little sins that would truly shame and condemn us – no ‘moment of madness’ or ‘exceptional circumstances’ will explain away sins committed repeatedly day-in and day-out.

It’s why God’s Super Injunction is not to gag the truth about us – but to gag our excuses for it: so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God (Rom 3:19). The Gospel is a call to stop self-justification, to stop protesting and making excuses for ourselves. It is a reminder of reality – we have not lived as we ought and we cannot cover it up from the one whose opinion ultimately matters. That’s why, Romans reminds us, in God’s court room there will be no arguing – just silence.

Our greatest need is not the suppression of truth but the granting of forgiveness. The former might save our face now – but only the latter can save our souls then. So take the advice of Jesus Himself: ‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way...’ (Matt 5:25).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kate McCann & Guilt

Kate McCann has revealed in her book ‘Madeleine’, that she was so ‘weighed down by guilt’ that she found it difficult to allow herself any pleasure in life. In describing the aftermath of every parent’s nightmare she expressed the sense of it feeling totally inappropriate to allow herself enjoyment when her daughter could be suffering – a situation haunted by a sense of guilt over the circumstances of her daughter’s disappearance.

The McCann’s case is truly horrific and most honest parents will feel a sense of vulnerability in having contemplated it. There are few parents who haven’t left their children unattended in a ‘safe place’ for even a few minutes – but of course it only takes a few minutes... and therein lies the torture when things go wrong. It would be a proud and callous heart that ‘threw the first stone’ at the McCanns.

What struck me though was the effect of ‘guilt’ – the sense of responsibility, regret and shame that changes a person’s whole perspective on life. The intensity of self-disapproval that makes any right to personal enjoyment seem wrong and illegitimate. A sense, ultimately, of injustice – that’s it not fair for others to be deprived of benefits, as a consequence of my actions, and for me to enjoy any such things.

For some such guilt is overcome through self-justification and hardness of heart. But for others, especially in cases where the faults or outcomes have been catastrophic, the guilt can become all consuming infecting every aspect of life. Even when some form of amends is possible – replacement of goods, apologies, compensation – the core effects of distress, lost time, anger, fear, pain – can never be undone or unfelt – the clock truly can’t be turned back.

It is why guilt is so powerful and debilitating – often humanly impossible to resolve. And it is why the Cross stands at the centre of the meeting humanity’s deepest need – forgiveness. Because at the Cross, in his humanity, Jesus took upon himself all our guilt – he plumbed the depths of all the unrequited pain and loss that sin has left in its wake. By exhausting the injustice, in himself, through being the bearer of the wrath & indignation justice demands - he is able to close the holes and chasms ripped open in our souls by guilt (Is 53:4-5). In Christ, through His death, we can be free from guilt because in Jesus there is healing and reconciliation at the deepest levels of the cosmos itself (Col 1:20). The debt and consequences of our actions are not left outstanding but have been dealt with, paid in full, once and forever (Heb 10:19-22).

None of this is to be simplistic or trite regarding the feelings we might have over our failings and sins. Sorrow over fallen acts is not inappropriate – they are part of the right responses and inevitable frustrations of living as fallen people in a fallen world (2 Cor 7:10; Rom 8:20-23). But the knowledge that in Jesus restoration and resolution has been made possible allows us to see light even in dark places. It is the hope that even our worst experiences will one day be settled for good in God’s Kingdom.

Pray that Kate McCann will know that hope in her life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Follow the Compass

Out in the hills last week doing some Munro-bagging* - six if you must know, yes, just the one day – anyway as we navigated between the peaks (did I mention we climbed six?) I was once again struck by how easily it is to get disorientated. On several occasions my instinct of where to go was completely counter to reality. It was the classic choice of follow the compass or your feelings – and man can your feelings be at odds with the compass. You stare at the compass and think, ‘that can’t be right’ – even to point of tapping the compass in case it’s jammed. But, of course, in the mountains losing faith in the compass is to risk losing your life too.

Well the compass is a well used illustration in encouraging us to keep faith with the Bible –to follow Scripture even when it feels counter-intuitive to do so. But let me take it down/up (?) a level to think about the key ‘compass bearing’ of 'Grace'.

We might understand grace in our heads – but so often our hearts find it hard to believe. Our natural instinct is only to feel loved, accepted and secure by God – when we have proved ourselves lovable, acceptable and desirable to God. So when we sin, have drifted in our devotions, been negligent in service – our natural instincts are to feel insecurity, despair & disapproval in relation to God. And the more we follow that instinct of needing to prove ourselves – the more of a vicious cycle it is – because (a) we lack consistency and (b) however highly we ‘perform’ there are countless further levels in which we’ll soon become aware we fall short in.

Rather the answer is to follow the compass needle that tenaciously points to ‘grace’. Believe the compass – let it be your guide in life, let it rule overrule your natural senses, and let it govern your understanding of God’s relationship to you in Christ. Now ‘Grace’ is not an excuse to set aside the disciplines of holiness or the pursuit of Christ-likeness (Rom 6:1-2) – but it is the basis on which to do so. It is the objective, unswayed, trustworthy and directing pointer of truth – ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works’ (Eph 2:8-9.

So follow the compass.

*Munros are Scottish mountains over 3000ft.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cambridge Change

'Cambridge Change' is the idea of something remaining the same yet changing in regard to other things. So, for example, last year I was taller than John - but this year (because John has grown) I'm shorter than him. I have not changed yet I have lost a property, a feature, a characteristic of my previous being. Cambridge Change is an important concept in theology - it shows how God might seem to change in relation to ourselves and yet be changeless in Himself.

I heard it whispered recently that the church I'm in was being seen by some as 'increasingly right wing' (theologically speaking I hasten to add). Which is odd because I didn't think it had particularly moved in any new direction theologically in recent years. It seems to me to not be being 'increasingly' anything different theologically from what it has been in the past. Maybe 'Cambridge change' is the real change here?

After all, 40 years ago if you agreed with the general theological position and beliefs of people like John Stott, Martin Lloyd-Jones, JI Packer and Leon Morris you would have been called 'Evangelical'. Now if you hold the same general thinking you are required to be called 'conservative Evangelical'. Interesting!