Friday 24 April 2020
Thanks for your last letter. I must commend you on your superb memory. To be able to remember back to being 19 or 20! As the saying goes for both of us, it wasn’t yesterday or even the day before. I do know who you are thinking about though.
Picking up on a few of the comments in your letter, the difference between ‘coincidence’ and ‘God-incidence’ is a thought provoking one, particularly at this moment in time. Is all that is happening in God’s will and indeed God’s power to affect or change? If it is then does this give us concerns over whatever our concept may be of a loving heavenly Father? If it isn’t, then are we just drifting along alone in time and space, the result of a series, even an endless series, of random events – coincidences.
My thinking is that everything has to be in God’s control, the good and the bad, otherwise God isn’t all-powerful. The fact, as now, that bad things can and do happen doesn’t alter the nature and presence of God. The God who knows what suffering is, as experienced by Jesus, is a God I can trust for each day and seek to follow however haltingly or imperfectly. When I feel like grumbling, the preacher in Ecclesiastes 5:2 makes a very good point: ‘Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.’
I feel that the God-incidences in our lives are a means of blessing and delight, perhaps only seen or appreciated in hindsight. You may not have been meaning this, but for the kind of person you mention who would only have God-incidences, well I imagine they could be a bit exhausting!
When I mentioned Chris Wright’s book, and I hope I have understood him correctly, the meaning of Good Friday being ‘exodus-shaped’ is, as you say, about the liberation from sin and its effects, both of which Jesus achieves on the cross of Calvary. In Jesus’ triumphant cry ‘it is finished’ our sins are dealt with once and for all. Equally we see that the costliness of Adam and Eve’s disobedience that infected all of life from the Garden of Eden onwards, is paid for in full. Jesus releases us from all of this and also frees all creation too. The vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where all pain, tears and death are removed is so powerful. It’s the Promised Land that through Christ all creation can enter. It’s an exodus prepared by God, provided by God and performed by God. It may be hard for us to envisage all of this, but by faith and experience we can rejoice in God’s promise.
I must admit I do value all the versions of the Bible we have. I find each one helps me in my understanding of God’s word. Many of our churches have the New International Version (NIV), in its various forms, or the GNB – Good News version as the pew Bible of choice. Do you remember pews?! When I visit folks in their homes or hospitals, I carry the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). There is good reason to use each and it helps sometimes to compare. By the way, thanks for your words of encouragement. I gained a greater appreciation of the NRSV during my college days. However I do enjoy the English Standard Version (ESV), which as you say is a very literal translation.
In the use of ‘for I am sure’ or ‘for I am persuaded’ in Romans 8:38 you make an interesting distinction. I wonder though if the King James or Authorized Version’s (KJV or AV) ‘persuaded’ can be viewed as being as definite or complete as ‘sure’ in the ESV? In thinking a little more about this use of ‘persuaded’, it has been helpful to me working through this in an attempt to describe our view of God amidst the storms of life. Being persuaded (past tense) can be viewed as not simply having blind faith or acceptance but, having considered all that has happened, all that has been said, a decision has been reached or made. In a calm, well-reasoned capacity it is therefore no longer an ongoing activity, as in persuading. The decision making process has reached an endpoint: I am persuaded. I’ve made a further search and the NIV and NRSV both use the word ‘convinced’. J B Phillips makes the case more strongly ‘I have become absolutely convinced’ whereas the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) has ‘certain’.
Thinking about pew Bibles, the last worship service we attended pre-lockdown, was actually in the home church of our dear friend Elizabeth, who I mentioned last week. The pew Bible there is the AV or KJV. The message that day was based on Luke 10:1-11, where Jesus sends out a further 70 disciples to work in the harvest field of the Kingdom of God. As I followed the preacher reading from their version, the passage began as Jesus ‘sent them on ahead of him’. However the wording in the Authorised Version really hit me as it translates these words as: ‘sent them two and two before his face’. I know this is saying in effect the same thing, but what struck me, with my very literal head on, was that wherever it is we may go, and whatever may be happening, it will always be and can only be before Jesus’ face, before God’s face. Whilst it is true that we may be sent by God to carry out a particular task or role, it doesn’t mean we are being sent away from God and at some point we return to report back, as the 70 disciples did. Whatever it is we are journeying towards, the great comfort to me is that God, in Christ, with the anointing presence of the Holy Spirit, is always looking at me and seeing me. I am before His face and completely surrounded by His grace.
Goodness, I am going on a bit here, I’ll try to restrain myself. I don’t know if I ever shared much with you about the time we spent at the Methodist Summer Fellowship three summers ago. One of the highlights, along with Professor Tom Greggs’ Bible studies, was an interview with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. During the conversation he made a humorous comment about the disciple Thomas, describing him as the ‘Eeyore of the 12 disciples of Jesus’. He suggested you can hear it when Jesus speaks of his intention to go back to Judea and raise Lazarus from the dead and Thomas says: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ But I do like your take on Thomas as being one of those reliable people who just knew ‘what was what’ and wasn’t likely to be taken in by too much embellishment. My granddad Liddicoat would have described such people as being ‘forthright and simple honest’. What you go on to write is really speaking into some of the thoughts and issues I have been reflecting on of late. Thomas stood his ground, he was not afraid to speak with personal honesty, perhaps because he knew his own heart. But then he made a wonderful statement concerning Jesus: ‘my Lord and my God!’ This is as succinct and as truthful a summary on Jesus Christ that you are ever likely to find. I thank God for all Eeyores and Thomases, who have had the courage to speak on matters I may only dare think about.
I will offer just one last thought on being sure, persuaded, certain, convinced, without doubt, just as Thomas must have felt on that incredible meeting with Jesus. In the opening chapter of Paul’s second letter to Timothy in which Paul expresses his own dogged determination in spite of all he was suffering: ‘But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.’ Does this remind you of that old hymn, ‘I know not why God’s wondrous grace’? I think verse four is startlingly current as we put our trust in God:
I know not what of good or ill
may be reserved for me –
of weary ways or golden days,
before His face I see.
And the chorus is all St Paul!
But ‘I know whom I have believed;
and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed
unto Him against that day.’
With love in Christ,