Archive for May, 2012
I wrote this a long while ago, whilst in the middle of it all. Now having gained some perspective, I think it may be helpful to re-publish. (it was first published here: http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/knowing-christ-in-the-dark)
I was giving a public talk in defence of the Christian faith. Having answered the first question without any difficulty, I proceeded to address the second. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a fear rising within me that was somehow different to the nerves I am used to. I had been exhausted that day, and I found it difficult to collect my thoughts and understand the flow of the argument I was attempting to deliver. The audience of 100 people looked at me expectantly. I remember stumbling over my words as my mind raced. What was happening? Panic rose within me, and I thought ‘I just can’t do this, I have to get off the stage.’ I had no choice – I gave my apologies and walked off the stage to the bewilderment of all around.
A month or so after this incident, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which had been brought on by stress. This soon led to a form of depression which cost me my job and I had to step down from many of my responsibilities at church. This season has caused me to ask many questions about God and his character:
“We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!
Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?”
Thomas Hardy once wrote these words in contemplation about the seeming contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the existence of evil. For both experiential and philosophical reasons this has been an ancient question. In our universities it is known as the ‘problem of evil’. How can God be good if he allows suffering?
Forms of this question are pondered by many who suffer. We may be able to sympathise with Hardy’s sentiments, although I imagine we might come to different a conclusion. It has led many to believe that God does not exist at all. However, what does the Christian do with a question like this?
Having experienced depression and fear as a Christian, I have struggled at times to trust in the goodness of God. These times have generated within me an interest in understanding what being a Christian really means, and how I can judge if I am keeping the faith. When I was first filled with the Holy Spirit I believed that perhaps the inexpressible joy would last forever, the sufferings I read about in the Bible did not fase me, because I assumed the internal joy and certainty would last, and I would be able to overcome anything! The reality was quite different. Instead in times of trouble it seemed that God had abandoned me, my joy was gone, my mind left racing with the thoughts ‘Is God really . . .?’, ‘Can I trust him with this?’, and ‘I don’t think I am strong enough to do this, will God really be there for me?’. I am sure there are many readers who recognise these thoughts. Indeed, the Psalms are filled with these questions.
The main question for me was this: Do I still know Christ if I cannot feel his presence? Encouragingly Asaph describes a very similar dilemma in Psalm 77:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
In the depth of despair in which he found himself he says:
10 “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’”
Asaph remembers the times when God moved in power, and he puts his faith in God’s character, as shown to be true and good by the miracles he performed in Israel’s history. Asaph does not say, ‘because I feel that God is good’, but rather that “I will remember . . .” I am sure that even when Asaph remembered God’s works, there was still a temptation to think, ‘but, has God’s unfailing love vanished forever, despite this?’ Instead Asaph goes on to praise God saying “With your mighty arm you redeemed your people”, and in so doing he is sure that God still desires to redeem him from the trouble in which he finds himself.
So what is the basis of Asaph’s faith? Is it his feelings or his experience? It cannot be either, for the psalm clearly shows that Asaph is in emotional turmoil. Is it his morality? Again, it cannot be, for the psalm itself does not mention any of Asaph’s deeds. Does he place his faith on the strength of his conviction? No, for he is questioning this very conviction by asking “has your unfailing love vanished forever?” Instead Asaph places his faith in the person of God, and his character as demonstrated throughout history.
In the same way we are to trust Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, and we can do that even when we do not feel his presence, or even when we are tempted to question his faithfulness like Asaph did.
We can trust Christ because we know him, and he has changed our lives. How can we be sure that we know Christ in times of trouble? Firstly, knowing Christ is not solely ‘belief’ or based on a theological system as is says in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Therefore Asaph is able to question God’s faithfulness and his own belief in God’s goodness, but still rest his hope in God despite his doubts. Secondly, knowing Christ is not only feeling his presence, as clearly we all go through times when we do not feel close to God. Lastly, knowing Christ is not only doing the works of the kingdom, as Jesus says that on the final day some will claim that they did mighty works in his name, and he will say “I do not know you”.
Therefore, knowing Christ is a relationship by God’s own initiative: the cross of Christ. Knowing Christ will affect the way we think, feel and act, but our faith is not based on any one of them, but rather on the character of God displayed supremely in God’s unfailing love at the cross. Any of us who have felt abandoned by God, or any of us who have been tempted to believe that God might not be for us can take comfort in the fact that their acceptance by God is based on the sacrifice of Christ. It is not, at root, based exclusively on our thoughts, feelings of actions.
In this way I can know Christ when I feel that I am in the dark. Thank you Lord.
A friend recently sent me this video asking me for my thoughts:
I wrote the below as a reply, but as I have written so much, I thought it could also be recorded here for others’ comments.
I thought Harris (Lecturer in the video) seemed like a genuinely nice guy who was exercising his freedom of thought & Speech. Good on him!
However, I wasn’t convinced by his argument for many reasons that I list below. But mainly because he didn’t answer the question: ‘what should Society look like? And how would it be run?’ it’s very easy to say what you don’t like about something, but until you have provided an alternative solution, it’s not always very useful.
Harris argues that the Government is a company. But of course it is. A company just means a group of people (although we now understand it meaning a group of people interested in making a profit). The fact that it is a profiting company was obviously against Harris’ expectations, but I knew this already. I suppose it’s because I work in finance, and I’m exposed to it. It’s not a bad thing that the government is a company. The government needs to raise money, from taxes and elsewhere. They do that through many things, with treasury bonds, but also by becoming a ‘public’ (plc) company by selling shares. By selling shares a company is raising revenue, in this case, to support the UK economy. As a result, I don’t really see the problem that Harris is highlighting.
Legislation & Statutory Instruments (SI): I have been taking financial exams over the last few years, and am aquatinted with the terms. Much of the law my company has to abide by is written in SI. I have a friend who is just finishing exams, in law, to become a barrister. I asked him about the difference between legislation and SI, and have recorded the conversation below:
Me: I hope you don’t mind me texting so early. But I have a legal question. Why are Statutory Instruments given the power of Law, but actually only legislation is law? Thanks!
Friend: You can txt me anytime Ruth! Good question. Statutory instruments are effectively amendments. So, rather than rewriting a whole Act of law, a ‘S.I.’ is created. Think of them as postites slapped on an act because the legislators either missed something out, have changed their minds on things or got somethong wrong. Thats why they are given such authority in the law.
Me: Ok cool. Also is there a difference in definition between ‘legal’ and ‘law’?
Friend: Not reeeeally. Just depends how you use the terms.
Me: I’m listening to this guy who believes the government is a conspiracy. (a friend wanted to know what I thought) and he said there was a ‘massive’ difference between the terms . . . . So you would disagree? R
Friend: It depends how u use them essentially. For example a barrister is legal representation, he is not ‘law representation’. The law in England and Wales is enforced in courts. It id not ‘the legal’ that is enforcdd in courts. Its an English language distinction, not a ‘legal or law’ distinction. There is nothing at all sinister to the similarities or differences to these words save an language one, ie what is the speaker trying to say.
Me: Would you say statutory instruments were contacts with the people, as long ad individuals consent?
Friend: Hey, no they are actually law. Consent isn’t applicable as they form part of the law as much as Acts of Parliament do… 🙂
Therefore, I disagree with Harris on this point. All law needs to be able to be amended as new situations arise and new parties are voted into power …. Etc. And instead of changing the actual Act, they make SIs that apply to that law, but which have the same weight and power as the original legislation.
I think Harris has, perhaps, tripped himself up on some if the terms and language of ancient law, which does not mean what he thinks it does. For example, the idea of each of us having a fictional ‘person’ that is created when we are born is surely due to semantics. I have always know this to be the case in a sense (although I never saw it in the sinister way that Harris does) because we are all taxed with our National Insurance number, which magically appears in the post when we are 16! This is because they have a record of everyone from birth. Therefore, this is just a way to effectively administer the millions of people in the UK. I believe in free education and health service – therefore I believe in taxation. In order for us to be taxed we need to have a national insurance number. How is the government going to keep a fair and accurate record of who owes tax? Registration at birth is the most effective way. So again, I don’t see Harris’ issue here.
As I’ve said above, I think it comes down to how you EXPECT government and society to run. It seems Harris was expecting something else, and when he learned how the system worked he assumed it was the result of people who maliciously wished to control us. But I don’t see it that way.
Police ‘officers’ do seem to use a legal language which would be helpful for all us to know. Otherwise you can get pulled up for something that isn’t an offence, potentially, I guess. I agree with this in as far as I do think knowledge of the law will help you greatly when talking with the police. But I’m unsure what distinction there really is between a police ‘man’, and police ‘officer’. What would the police man do differently to the police officer? As Statutory Instruments ARE law, Harris’ police ‘man’ would have to break the law if he were not to uphold them?
‘Legalise’, Harris tells us, is a legal language not commonly understood by the laity He also says that words don’t change their meaning, but history tells us that they do. I think that even ‘legalise’ cannot sidestep the inevitable evolution of language. So in this respect, I don’t see the changes as intentionally malicious or misleading by the government.
When he talks about birth certificates and goes crazy about the language used, he is not consistent. Above he says that ‘legalise’ uses words differently. But when discussing the birth certificate he implies that the government literally mean ‘informant’ when this is clearly an old way of saying ‘applicant’.
I find it a little distasteful that he calls social workers to task for taking children away from their parents, implying the do it for money rather than for the child’s good. I have many friends who are social workers, and I don’t believe that they are blasé about it. They often do not do it for money, but for the benefit of those they serve. I find this type of ‘simple’ black and white thinking he upholds rather too simplified and unhelpful when applied to every emotive and controversial subjects such as this.
Anyway, enough of me bagging on about my dislikes! I did think he was a genuine guy though, and he has a right to believe what he wants. I also think his insistence on peaceful protest very good, and that, at least, I can fully support 😉