Dave's Deliberations

Random jottings from David Matthew, a Christian teacher and writer whose main website is www.davidmatthew.org.uk

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Location: Castleford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Married since 1962 to Faith. We have three wonderful children and three equally wonderful grandchildren.

January 02, 2005

The Asian Tsunami Disaster


'Tsunami kills 150,000 in Asia on 26 December 2004.'

The world has been shocked by the scale of this event and the vast numbers killed. How can we explain such ‘natural disasters’ in the light of our Christian faith and the teaching of the Bible?

These disasters stem from the fact that we live in a fallen creation. When our first parents sinned in Eden, God, being just, had to punish sin. The way he did so is interesting. First he pronounced a curse on the serpent (Satan); then he did the same to Eve, who from now on would bear children in pain. But when he addressed Adam the curse took an unexpected form:

‘Cursed is the ground because of you…’[1]

The word ‘ground’ in the original Hebrew is adam. That same Hebrew word is also translated ‘man’—in fact Adam, the first man, was named after the earth from which God had made him. This points to an important truth that runs right through Scripture, namely, that humanity and the earth are intimately connected. To be more specific, it is humanity’s moral condition that affects the earth more than anything else.[2]

Because of this connection, when Adam fell the whole of creation fell with him. Ever since that time, creation has been in a fallen condition and has been subject to phenomena that have often proved harmful to its human occupants: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods etc. The recent tsunami that swept so many to their death is yet another reminder that this earth of ours is deeply affected by human sin.

This does not mean that the victims were more sinful that anyone else or more deserving of judgment than the rest of us. The fact is, as sinners we all deserve to die. It is only thanks to God’s grace in Christ that salvation is freely available to all who will accept it.

The earth can only be liberated from its fallenness as man is liberated from his. To some extent that can take place now. A society that upholds godly standards of morality on a broad scale can help stabilise the created order. But not until Christ returns to put sin away once and for all will the earth be totally freed from the inner turmoil that causes natural disasters. Paul puts it this way:

‘All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.’[3]

In other words, the connection between humanity and the earth continues right to the end. When all sin is gone, when the curse is lifted and our redemption is complete, then the natural order will also be freed from the harmful phenomena that have tarnished its beauty.[4] No more earthquakes, no more tsunamis then.


Notes

1. See Genesis 3, especially v14-19

2. See, for example, Leviticus 26:3-4 where Israel is promised the earth’s blessings (rain in season and fruitful ground) in response to their moral obedience; Hosea 4:1-3 where, because of Israel’s rampant ungodliness ‘the land mourns’ in the sense that animals, birds and fish die; Isaiah 24:1, 3-6 where ‘the earth is defiled by its people’—it suffers famine because of their immoral behaviour; Zephaniah 1:2-3 where the order of natural disasters is a reversal of the order of creation in Genesis; 2 Chronicles 7:14 where, as the people ‘turn from their wicked ways’, God promises to ‘heal their land’ in the sense of allow it to prosper agriculturally (this verse, contrary to common usage, has nothing whatever to do with revival).

3. Romans 8:19-21 New Living Translation

4. 2 Peter 3:13

October 18, 2004

Tatty Umbrella

'Our worst faults,' one sage observed, 'are the ones we are either blind to or proud of.' The first we can excuse; the second, never. Yet here is where the Church of England is most at fault: it is for ever trumpeting its inclusivness as if it were a virtue, when it is in fact a boil on its ecclesiastical backside.

Anglican inclusiveness, far from being something to boast of, is a cause for shame. It makes the C of E like a pub where the barman offers—alongside the beers, wines and spirits—bleach and turpentine. If the toxic offerings are questioned he replies that the historic bar must remain inclusive. And so we find elbowing each other, under the Anglican umbrella, incense-swinging anglo-catholics, Bible-believing evangelicals and resurrection-doubting liberals. I see no virtue whatever in trying to keep them together for they have little, if anything, in common, except the label 'Anglican'.

The issue has re-surfaced, of course, over the ordination of practising homosexuals. Horrified Anglicans who hold to the C of E's scriptural basis mutter about a breakaway to maintain the church's integrity, while from under the same umbrella others lobby for an allegedly Christlike inclusiveness that forbids us to 'judge our gay brothers'. Meanwhile, a white-knuckled Archbishop of Canterbury grips the brolly's handle and tries to placate all parties with waffle.

But unified the church is not. To pretend otherwise is to invite scorn. And any claim that inclusiveness is Christlike is nonsense. Jesus didn't go running after the Rich Young Ruler to bring him back with, 'I'm sorry I was so judgmental. Please come and head up the church's Greedy Rich department.' Sure, he welcomed sinners, but his word to them was, 'Go and sin no more.' The C of E should not be welcoming practising gays into its clergy, it should be expelling them from its pews.

In every generation the church has had to choose between unity and truth—and up to now truth has generally come out on top. When a corrupt Catholic Church proved unwilling to embrace the truth recovered by Luther and Calvin, unity was rightly ditched in the birth of the Reformed churches. When one of these, the C of E, showed itself too inflexible to cater for Wesley's converts, unity once again gave way to truth and Methodism was born. In the East, by contrast, unity has won the day. The Orthodox Church, smug about its unbroken unity, continues to persecute Christians of any other ilk and to suppress the truth, both doctrinal and practical, revealed to later generations.

The choice between unity and truth remains. Before Christ's return we should expect to see the church achieve both, but for now, it's time the Church of England stopped its charade of unity. Let it split. Maybe those from its ranks who honour God's Word will then be able to maintain a credible testimony.

October 06, 2004

A Good Death

In the Victorian era the great taboo was sex. Death, by contrast, was an open topic, prominent in everyone's thinking and freely discussed.

Today, it's the other way round. Sex is the everyday topic, with death the great taboo. People are into death-denial, hoping maybe that a robust enough pretence that it doesn't exist will somehow make it go away.

The secular Westerner defaults to the view that when you die you disappear up the crematorium chimney in a puff of smoke, and that's it. No afterlife. No judgment. No nothing. So let's get the funeral over, then we can get busy again with living. We'll turn the radio on to churn out pop music in the background and, with a bit of luck, death will retreat once again to the fringes of our consciousness.

Death as taboo has even touched Christians. In 'charismatic' circles especially, where people believe in God's power to heal the sick, there's a tendency to emphasise the healing option to the point where the possibility of death is ignored. Usually, it's on the basis that to acknowledge it would be the kind of 'negative confession' that allegedly puts a spanner in the wheels of the healing mechanism.

A Christian acquaintance has just died of cancer. In the grim final stages of the disease he was surrounded by well-meaning Christians who warned visitors 'not to say anything negative' to him. By that they meant, 'Don't mention death.' What a pity! By this blinkered attitude they robbed him of the privilege of what an earlier generation of Christians called 'a good death'.

And what is that? It's looking death straight in the eye with the challenge, 'O death, where is your sting?'—on the grounds that Jesus, by his own death, has drawn its sting. It's admitting, 'I'm on my way out, folks, but death is for me just a curtain through which I'll soon step right into the presence of the Lord I love, so be glad for me!' It's gathering the family around, saying a bold goodbye to each one, with a smile amid the tears and the reminder that we'll meet again in glory. It's dispensing a blessing on those soon to be left behind. It's a satisfied, 'OK, Lord, now you can take me anytime you want.'

A good death inspires the bereaved family. It fills sons and daughters with faith and hope. It reminds them that this life is no more than the ante-room of the life to come, so they should work at keeping their priorities right. Dying in denial, on the other hand, has harmful effects. It leaves a flavour of 'unfinished business' in the air. It robs the family of a warm, hope-filled leave-taking. It can destroy the faith of vulnerable children who naively believe that the assurances of last-minute healing must be fulfilled.

Denial of death is based on imbalanced doctrine. That the Lord is able to heal, and does heal, no serious Bible-believer can deny. But that he must heal, provided we press the right proof-text buttons and steer clear of 'negative confessions' is nonsense. In this present age we have merely 'tasted the powers of the coming age'; the full banquet, where healing is permanent and death is no more, awaits the age to come, after Christ's return. We err if we hold that none of the powers of the coming age are available today. And we err just as much if we hold that all of them are ours now. Death-denial comes in the latter category and is a tragic error.

Let's be open to God's healing grace and, at the same time, recognise that unless Jesus returns first, death is a prospect we all must face. And when it comes, let's face it with dignity.