Therese became a practising Christian. Therese has three grown up children and lives in Worcestershire, where she attends an evangelical church. She is still teaching English in her role as Curriculum Leader in a Birmingham Sixth Form College.
Hebrews 10, I find astounding. Certain verses of it summarise, concisely and powerfully, why Jesus was born upon the Earth and why He consented to die, in a way that would maximise the shedding of His blood. God, His father, was weary of animal sacrifice that just could not redeem His people from the depths of the iniquity and the recidivism that was destroying them:
"...every [human] priest stands [at his altar of service] ministering daily, offering the same sacrifices over and over again..." (Hebrews 10:11) (Amp)
I guess, simply put, people had got into the habit of glibly saying sorry, then doing it again; they sinned, sacrificed a goat, then sinned again. As long as they didn't run out of goats - or sheep or bulls or doves, depending on their means to raise or purchase livestock - they felt they could buy impunity and appease God.
I can't get my head around how disrespectful this is to God, their Father, and their deliverer from slavery. It makes Him no better than any pagan god to which people made blood sacrifices, in the hope that this would buy them favour, good fortune or a good harvest. The implication, in Hebrews 10, is that the hearts and souls of the people were disconnected from the slaughter of the beasts they bought and left at the Temple to be killed by priests. Sacrifice had become a meaningless 'tribute' - a ritual before a distant idol.
And how holy and sacred was the slaughter of hundreds of animals every day, as far as the priests were concerned? The Temple must have been more like an abattoir than a place of worship; weary priests sloshing about in blood and animal excrement - the whole place stinking and much too hot; the noise of bleating, lowing, calling animals and birds, deafening. Not very dignified or 'priestly' and it must have been hard work. It seems that, from reading Hebrews 10, there was no relationship between God and His beloved people, even symbolised by the repeated shedding of animal blood. God loved as He had always done, but the love was not reciprocated:
"You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you: 8‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. 9They worship Me in vain;" (Matthew 15:8)
It reminds me a little of the ritualistic confessions I had to attend as a child, growing up in an Irish Catholic context; particularly when I attended a convent boarding school in Tipperary, Eire, in the mid 1970's. Each Saturday, I was ushered into a dark box to speak my sins into a grille, behind which a Priest sat and listened, then absolved me of the sins I would return to confess in a week's time. I could not, it seemed, refrain from behaving deceitfully (meeting boys in secret) having nasty thoughts about the nuns who taught and (over) disciplined me, and I often had angry thoughts about my parents (who had consigned me to boarding school). Sometimes, I even made up stuff, to have something different to say - or just something to say - in Confession! Still, if I confessed my venial sins, even in a bored way to a bored priest, I'd be sure to go to Heaven if Sister Rosario actually killed me during the ensuing week. Jesus was just a figure, hanging from a wooden cross at intervals on the convent walls and school corridors. I understood nothing of His crucifixion. I was never required to read a Bible and certainly didn't own one. I was required to attend Mass every morning, though, and remain awake through a sacrament about which I understood nothing - the 'transubstantiation' of bread and wine into Jesus' body and blood .
The point is, I doubt whether my enforced, insincere and ritualistic accounting of my repeated sins, to a priest I feared, as if he was the bogeyman, had any real significance before God.
In Hebrews 10:4 and 5, we read:
"4...the blood of bulls and goats is powerless to take sins away 5 Hence, when He [Christ] entered into the world, He said, Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but instead You have made ready a body for Me [to offer]" (Amp.)
The writer goes on:
"8...You have neither desired, nor have You taken delight in sacrifices...all of which are offered according to the Law - 9 He then went on to say, Behold [here] I am, coming to do Your will. Thus He does away with and annuls the first (former) order...so that He might inaugurate and establish the second (latter) order. [Ps 40:6-8]" (Amp)
Wow. There could not be a clearer exposition, relying on Jesus' own words, of the reasons why Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Jesus, the ultimate Lamb, was intended to replace, for all time, any sacrificial animal for the atonement of sin. Further, the shedding of His blood would be an eternal payment for the sins of all men and women who would ever believe in its salvific power.
And whilst these words might accelerate our heartrates and move us to worship - which responses are right and fitting - the mystery of why the shedding of blood was ever a 'thing' remains.
In Hebrews 9:22, we read:
“Nearly all things are cleansed with blood according to the Law, and unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.”— Hebrews 9:22.
I read these words and accept them. I believe them. But I do not understand them. I know that life is in the blood:
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’" (Leviticus 17:11)
My understanding of God's mysteries is an impossibility while I live on Earth. For now, I must believe and accept that I do not live on bread alone, ""...but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4.) And so, I feed hungrily and digest, without knowing whereof I eat - just as the Jews devoured manna in the desert (Exodus). I know it will sustain me.
Jordan Ring's book 'Volcanic Momentum' is a revelation - as is he! This is a truly useful and excellently conceived guide to breaking out of ordinariness, inertia and helplessness and taking meaningful steps towards achievable dream realisation. The prose style is beautifully clear, the advice and suggestions always respectful and rooted in empathy born of personal experience and given the author's relative youth, there is an astounding wisdom and maturity informing his work - and a real humility which is never affected and never undermining of his justified confidence in his own ability - and his fitness to encourage others.
Jordan's vivid Christian faith is resonant throughout this book and frequently, directly referenced. The section entitled 'Oh, Captain, My Captain!' where he advocates that we have in mind a role model or inspirational figure, when we are self-motivating, is very moving and, I found, personally galvanising. Jordan's role model is, resoundingly, Jesus.
This is the sort of book that, as you are reading it, you want to share with the people who are most important to you. It is a motivating and galvanising 'must read'. Well done, Jordan - and thank you!'
It is the most natural thing in the world to get angry with God when things go wrong. Atheists do it all the time. Richard Dawkins has made a career of being angry with a God in whom he does not believe.
And for Christians? Well, to take an extreme hypothetical situation, if our faith in God were absolute and all-eclipsing, we would not mourn our dead. So focussed on Heaven and our transient, alien status on Earth would we be, that death would simply be a welcome portal into the eternal life we are promised; the gateway to the promised land, and we would rejoice that someone we loved had made it home – perhaps without having to travel for very long.
In time, such sentiments may begin to colour maturing grief but I don’t know any Christians – even very mature Church Leaders – who would not be devastated by bereavement of a close family member. And I suspect that even the most devoted and faithful would experience anger against God at some level, if the loss were of a child or a spouse.
If we are in a relationship with a loving God, then, as is the case with all relationships, if He appears to let us down or allow disappointment or grief, then it is faithful and very human to be annoyed with Him. Why? Because it is not rational to be annoyed with something you don’t think is there. (cf first paragraph)
An easy analogy is an earthly father-child relationship, temporarily weakened because the father has made a decision to work abroad or sell the family home. That ‘arbitrary’ decision impacts massively on the child’s life; the child has no control over or say in a decision that will potentially devastate him or her - sundering friendships, generating massive anxiety at the thought of starting a new school, leaving behind everything that is familiar. Not fair. And dad’s to blame. The child might even doubt the father’s love, that he can do such a thing, knowing the consequences for his family. But, if the relationship was normal and loving up to the point of the change in circumstances, the angry, grieving child will know she or he is loved and that, whatever the father’s heart is in this, it is true. The child will know, beneath the protests and anger, that his or her welfare will have been a paramount concern in the decision to move or relocate. This might provoke even more incredulity at the final decision but eventually, it is likely to be a source of solace. In time, the upheaval may well be highly beneficial in ways the child simply cannot imagine in his or her initial grief.
This scenario is not analogous with the trauma of bereavement. We’d have to look to the crucifixion for that. But it serves to delineate how stuff happens when Christians least expect it or against our wishes and prayers. And, when it does, it is a natural process of a genuine, loving relationship, to feel angry with the more powerful party in the relationship; the one who could have prevented heartache or trauma, who could, in an instant, stop the bad things from happening.
I believe that, in the initial shock of drastically altered circumstances, it is not helpful for Christians to tell their hurting brothers and sisters that God has a plan and this is part of it. That may be helpful later, when the storm has lulled and such truths do not sound like patronising and unsympathetic platitudes. In the midst of disappointment or shock, when the known world is being splintered and dissected, as if by a tornado that won’t move on, it is appropriate to just hold hands with the person whose life is being dismantled, and weather the storm with them, wishing it was not there.
When Elijah wished for death because he could not understand how God could leave him vulnerable to the murderous Jezebel, he accused God of betraying him, in effect. Twice, he says:
“I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars and killed Your prophets…”
He is clearly furious with a God he does not dare to confront head on. Look at the language, the repetition of the possessive determiner ‘Your’ and the third person formalisation of his address to his friend and saviour, ‘the Lord God of Hosts’, to whom he is speaking directly! The exchange is similar to one spouses might have, with one aggrieved party on the verge of screaming his or her fury and sense of betrayal at the other, but not quite daring to go that far, for fear of the damage that might ensue. So, the passion is subdued in expressions loaded with hurt and accusation. The subtext is ‘I did so much for YOU and this is how you repay me?’ Elijah even says:
“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life;” (1 Kings 19:4)
‘Possible translation? ‘Just kill me – you may as well; what you have done is tantamount to death for me in any case.’
God does not shout back. He does not get angry. Instead, He walks with Elijah until Elijah can go no further. When, exhausted and profoundly depressed, the prophet collapses and sinks into sleep, God sends an angel to guard him and, when Elijah awakes, there is food for him:
“He looked, and behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a bottle of water at his head. “ (1 Kings 19: 6)
Does Elijah instantly praise God and become penitent for his ungracious behaviour, his forgetfulness of the great love he knows God has always borne him? No. He eats sullenly and goes back to sleep:
“And he ate and drank and lay down again.”
It’s hard not to find parallels with a sullen and unforgiving child nursing a grudge against a parent.
Eventually, with great gentleness, the angel awakens Elijah once more, and says tenderly:
“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7)
God, through kindness and practical help, sympathises with Elijah’s distress and does not attempt to dispel it or rebuke him. It is not an indication that Elijah has abandoned God or lost his faith; it is, rather, an understandable human response to wildly difficult and abruptly changing circumstances. God simply supports His friend through it.
God does this with Jonah, Moses, Gideon, David, Job – men of great faith who experience great distress and, in their humanity, become depressed, or angry with God, because they know He is omnipotent and could deliver them in an instant.
It’s too easy to become self-condemnatory when we blame the God we serve for the difficulties we face. He understands. And our Christian brothers and sisters would do well to understand too, and curb their prayers to ones of humble supplication or pleas for mercy for their suffering siblings. Or else, be silent, and simply lay bread before them for the journey that is presently too great to be endured. Further down the road, when they are stronger, perhaps it will be apt to ask, gently:
This is no idle boast – Under the meticulous artistic auspices of Paulius Virbickas, founder of Lectio Divina, and supported by Kickstart, the renowned international project-backing organisation, a truly magnificent 1840’s Family Bible has been lovingly revived by Virbickas’ publishing team. It is an original King James translation and has 1600 pages and over 900 illustrations to accompany the scripture. Paintings and drawings by the world’s greatest and most inspired artists grace the text from leather bound, embossed cover to leather bound embossed cover. Even more than the heart-swelling awe these illustrations are certain to evoke, the World’s Most Beautiful Bible is replete with maps and architectural representations of the Middle East in Christ’s time and before, so that this astounding text is a source of historical and geographical knowledge that emphasise the reality of God’s Word.
To find out more about this truly unique Bible and how you may acquire a limited copy, that you can personalise as a family heirloom for decades to come, follow this link:
So, Isaiah 50:10 is one of the most challenging verses in the whole Bible, I think - though, punctuation from translation/version to translation/version, may bring a bit of relief to some, as will be considered later.
In my Bible, the Amplified, it reads:
"Who is among you who [reverently] fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendor [in his heart]? "
That's sobering and quite scary. I'm not referring to the American orthography or typically US use of the Oxford comma. Or even the italicised conjunctions usual for the Amplified Biblical text. It is scary because it says the same thing essentially as:
"Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?"
which is from the 1611 King James Bible. The Early Modern English archaic verb inflections change not a jot of the Late Modern US semantic impact; I understand this verse to be a recognition that those who believe in and fear God, may, none the less, 'walk in darkness' (and, to amplify the paradox, also, in 'deep trouble and 'without the shining splendour' one might expect of such a person). It is acknowledgement that inevitably, the 'flesh' will dominate the spirit at times.
The verse reminds me of a contentious and, for some, oft misquoted, verse from Job - 13:15. In the KJ and the NIV the verse is translated most familiarly as:
"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him "
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face."
But, as Gordon S Grose, a writer with 25 years as a Baptist Pastor under his belt, points out in an article for Christianity Today (Job's Most Beloved Verse May be Different Than you Think, Aug 20th, 2018), there is an NIV footnote on the same page as the verse that offers:
" “Or, He will surely slay me; I have no hope—/yet I will.”
"Note that the footnote reads opposite of the text translation: “I will hope in him” versus “I have no hope.” says the writer, and Mr. Grose goes on to ask, "How could the same Hebrew words be translated to mean the opposite of one another?"
Grose points out that there are other Biblical versions that present as primary, the footnoted NIV translation. The New English Bible, for example:
“If he would slay me, I should not hesitate; I should still argue my case to his face.”
And according to Mr. Grose, the NEB goes as far as to say the more familiar rendering of Job 13:15 is incorrect:
"Their study note on verse 15 reads, “An older (and traditional) translation incorrectly renders the verse as expressive of unflagging trust in God: ‘Though he slay me, I shall wait for him.’ ”
Why does it matter? And how have I linked these two OT verses? Well, if we accept the translation of Isaiah 50:10, as posited by the Amplified and KJ, quoted above, and we accept the possibly 'original/authentic' version of the Job verse, we are presented with a slightly dark but indulgently tolerant acknowledgement of the perversity of human kind and the very real, daily difficulty of walking in faithful certainty, through this life.
It is hard to ensure that the knowledge of God we may have, and the obedience imperative, born of belief in Him, are always enough to make our hearts shine splendidly. It is hard, in spite of knowing that we know that God is with us, not to walk in darkness sometimes. The above versions of Isaiah 50:10, acknowledge this fleshly reality in no uncertain terms.
The antidote to darkness is in the second part of Isaiah 50, verse 10:
"Let him rely on, trust in, and be confident in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God."
and in the KJ:
"let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God."
When we are unable to emit the light and joy that ought to be the effects of our faith, we are to walk in trust, anyway; as disappointed or fearful children of good parents must learn to look beyond the immediate circumstances of their mistrust and fear and believe that their parents have only their best interests at heart. Which reminds me of Job, 13:15 - that is, the possible translation that ends with a stolidly 'defiant' Job, protesting his faith while also protesting against his fate:
"If he would slay me, I should not hesitate; I should still argue my case to his face.”
I take comfort in these translations. I shall meditate on them on days when I wake up feeling as though I have slipped into a pit or, when the bitterness of disappointment cuts me to the quick, because I experience failure or injustice, in spite of faith and prayer that I would not. I shall remember Job's wretchedness and Isaiah's wisdom and take heart; God understands my humanness and as long as I get around to trusting Him again, that all things work for my good, if I will serve His purpose (Romans 8:28), I am very likely to recover and one day, understand why my heart is allowed to darken or even break, though I am so loved.
It's human to be angry and upset. It's a divine act of will and faith to love on and trust anyhow, because we choose obedience - even blindly.
And the alternative translation of Isaiah 50:10?
"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the LORD and rely on your God."
This NLT translation is shared with the NIV and ESV. All three versions put that all-important question mark in a place that, to my mind at least, changes everything. Consider again the KJ:
"Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God."
The Amplified went further and substituted the conjunction 'and' with 'yet' to imply that certainly -even usually -there are those who simultaneously have no light but fear the Lord. The NLT verse rendering suggests a conditional possibility that those who have faith might need a trust refill or even, that there is a distinction between those who fear the Lord and those who walk in darkness.
I prefer my question mark in a place that assumes there will be dark days for those who obey God. I see in such verse renderings greater evidence of God's compassionate heart. I sympathise more with Job's pitiable argument against unfairness, though he is on bended knee before his God, than I do with his unequivocally self-negating sacrifice before an incomprehensible deity. My Father's understanding of me, though He is a mystery to my limited comprehension, is my greatest hope.
I have just retired from over 3 decades of work and it has led me to ponder generally on endings. How often have we seen, in films and soap operas, the person on his/her death bed, after decades of bitterness and unforgiveness, galvanised by an urgent need to make amends or say final words to someone? Similarly familiar is the vicious parting shot; the final act of revenge or recrimination as someone evil dies grinning maniacally or disappears treacherously with the loot they've contrived to steal. The spiteful parting speech following resignation from a job is also a cliché. And cringingly embarrassing for most who hear it.
Should one try and reconcile/effect healing when endings loom or, is it more honest to let the wounds gape indefinitely? Is it hypocritical to seek out someone just because something is ending and say ‘Look, I’m sorry for how things were. Can we make peace?’
There is a woman in my church – an amazing, joy-filled woman - who makes me feel like Quasimodo every time she looks at me. I remember her saying out loud, emotionally, to the whole congregation one Sunday ‘”We all have to like each other – Jesus liked everybody!” I can’t remember why she was saying it but I thought it was a very odd thing to believe. If I have to like everybody then everybody has to like me. Not going to happen. This amazing woman is actually a Doctor of Psychology! Hasn’t she seen the stats? There is an 85% rule. Most (normal) psychologists and ‘relationship experts’ agree that if around 85% of people you meet like you, you’re doing ok and are likely to be a balanced person whose life is not determined by fear of others’ disapproval. Indeed, the corollary is that if everyone who meets you likes you, you’re probably doing something wrong;people pleasing at the expense of your self-esteem or conscience.
I wonder what the % of people who liked Jesus was? After all, He was reviled, rejected and crucified. And, did He like everyone? Really? The Pharisees certainly got on His nerves – and He openly criticised them. He called them hypocrites, white washed walls, serpents, graves and blind.
But, I know; He did so from a heart that loved them – even if He didn’t like their behaviour much.
So, my faith tells me that regardless of the world's stats and understandable, normal human behaviour, I must love everyone – even if I don’t 'like' them. I cannot be 'normal' and Christian. Criticism and unforgiveness are sins. Period. Every word that comes from my mouth is supposed to be encouraging (Ephesians 4:29). And, I’m not God – or a divinely inspired Prophet like John the Baptist or Ezekiel. I can’t openly call people ‘hypocrites’ or ‘whitewashed walls’. I can’t point a finger and say “Woe to you!” or “Repent!”
Because I would not be doing so from a heart of love but of judgement. Because I would not be acting from desperate longing for their salvation but from anger and resentment. Because I would be no better than the parabolic person who points out a splinter from an eye smashed by a plank. Because Christ was sinless and I most certainly am not.
So, what does love of the unlikable look like? The unlikable (from my myopic perspective, that is; other people love them), Well, it looks, I guess, like fair and honest treatment. It looks like my deciding not to be offended. Proverbs 19:11 tells me that it is to a man's (or woman's) glory to overlook an offence. Loving everyone - even if I don't want to or can't be their friend - maybe because they don't like me - is choosing to ignore the emotions they evoke in me and acting towards and treating them with the same respect I show to everyone else. It is never being prejudiced - whilst practising wisdom.
Wisdom is vital. We are not expected to open our hearts to those who wish us ill. As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:6:
"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
So...yes. Do seek out those whom you have offended and apologise - regardless of whose fault it was that you fell out - preferably before an 'ending'. And decide not to be offended by those who have hurt you, on an on-going basis. But also, if you suspect someone is a serial killer, don't ask them to babysit. That sort of thing.