An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist

Dear Dawkins

I’ve finished it.  I can now pray more intelligently for Professor Dawkins, having read part one of his memoirs.  As I’m a Christian, the man has made himself my enemy, so I’ve been trying to work out how I can do good for him and pray for him.

What did I find?  A review of an autobiography might follow the same chronological order, but following the example of the Gospels, I’m not going to tie myself to that.  Let’s split it up into

  • Music & poetry,
  • Embarrassment & bullying, and
  • Information  & science.

There is a real possibility that my inferences are incorrect, and I’m no psychologist, but read the book for yourself and see what you think.  At least Dawkins is an expert on himself.

An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.  Richard Dawkins.  Bantam Press ISBN 9780593070895  RRP £20.

Music & Poetry

From hymns to drinking songs, music features strongly throughout, even woven into the biology of birdsong at Oxford.

Going back to the two books I received from Amazon, of which this is one, I was surprised there were more lines of Christian hymns in this autobiography than in the other kids’ song book ‘Jesus Loves Me’.  Whether or not that’s to establish some credentials as an erstwhile keen theist who saw through it, I don’t know, but it is revealing.  From my own experience, hymns from my childhood still have direct access to my brain – a phenomenon Oliver Sacks observes as bypassing much of the thought pathways we so scramble and tinker with during our lives.

There’s a friend for little children,
Beyond the bright blue sky
A friend who never changeth
Whose love can never die…

Dawkins guesses this was taught him by his parents, as it was associated with happy childhood memories in Likuni, Malawi, pre-school.  While someone else might trace Dawkins’ adult aggression to his early peripatetic years, I really can’t be bothered and wouldn’t read anything into it, despite his own mother being concerned about his insecurity.

What I have wondered is how much our parents’ priorities influence us, what that influence brings, and whether we recognise the extent of that influence and are able to challenge our resulting outlook.  Only the other night we were discussing a comment made that what our kids see as important is not always what we think we are telling them is important – it’s more what they observe us spending most time in.  Mr & Mrs Dawkins must have thought it good for Richard to have some Christian input, and that he should be able to make his own mind up when the time came, and Richard himself mentions the line of clergymen from which he came.

But what came out of ample material furnished by Dawkins was that the quantity and content of that Christian instruction was pitifully poor, and it’s exactly that childish misunderstanding of Christianity that seems to come through in his later anger directed at ‘faith-heads’.  He apparently never went to church in Africa, but he was Christened, he was Confirmed, and was keen to go to Communion.  He was an Anglican.  But does that mean he was a Christian?

The song from Malawi continues:

…Unlike our friends by nature
Who change with changing years
This friend is always worthy
The precious name he bears

By the time he got to 16, Richard had changed – outgrowing a period of what he calls religious fervour that it now embarrasses him to think about.  The hymn music was turned off after a diversion into Elvis and the young Richard refused to kneel in chapel at Oundle.  What was the reaction from those around him?

“Mr Ling also summoned my parents for a heart-to-heart talk, over tea, about my rebellious behaviour in chapel… Mr Ling asked my parents to try to persuade me to change my ways.  My father said (approximately, by my mother’s recollection): “It’s not our business to control him in that sort of way, that kind of thing is your problem, and I’m afraid I must decline your request.’  My parents’ attitude to the whole affair was that it wasn’t important.”

Yes – I thought so.  I got that impression long before page 143.  That’ll explain a blind reaction “They couldn’t all be right, so why believe the one in which, by sheer accident of birth, I happened to be brought up?”  I thought for a bit that this was just a narrative passage without value judgment on that interesting but ultimately easy question, but it seems that was where this Christianity ‘meme’ became so diluted for Richard that he was strong enough to overcome it.  There is another possibility – that it was Richard who was so weak that he fell victim to Darwin’s meme – the ivy that crept over his parents, his schools and the Christianity taught and practiced by the adults around him, until it shut out the light.  His faulty definition of being ‘brought up’ in Christianity has skewed his world view.

Why was Mr Ling apparently more concerned about Richard’s behaviour than his immortal soul?  What on earth do Christian teachers expect when they uncritically teach a theory that Charles Lyell said gets Moses out of science?  In this respect, Richard Dawkins is just a product of his upbringing – his rebellion is logical, sensible even.  We’re living now with the consequences of an Anglicanism that settled into the experiential, so empty as to spawn this quote from Alfred Noyes: ‘If I ever had any doubts about the fundamental realities of religion, they could always be dispelled by one memory – the light upon my father’s face as he came back from early communion.’

God alone knows to whom the millstones should be posted.  Maybe they could have spent just a tiny bit less time numbly repeating ‘we have left undone what we ought to have done’, skipped chapel themselves to spend time chatting through some fundamental realities with a young Richard and his chums.

Oh well, Richard.  So far, if I’d had only your conception and experience of Christ, I might have rejected him as well.  Thankfully I had enough adults around me who challenged prevailing thought to at least query what my biology textbook was telling me.  Now I know why I’ve thrown so many of your books back onto the shelves of Waterstones – a quick flick found the non-sequiturs from the arguments that bored me literally to tears at school.  Here’s an example of one from this book:

“I bamboozled myself into believing that the appearance of design demanded a designer. I blush to admit that I had not at that stage worked out the elementary fallacy of this argument, which is that any god capable of designing the universe would have demanded a fair bit of designing himself”.

I blush to read that last bit.  That’s why it’s God that’s postulated, not Wickramasinghe’s aliens. God is defined (as far as we are able) as a self-existent eternal being.  Why should our understanding of created material, time-bound world preclude the existence of such a being?  Is such an exclusion evidence based? No.  Surely he has read EA Abbot’s Flatland where the two dimensional creatures can’t fully comprehend a three dimensional being? Maybe it came too late for his prejudices, because every book he’s written has come across as two-dimensional, and maybe that truth is now dawning on the wider world.

The bounded thinking persists to the end of the book, when to quote Dawkins, who quotes Bill Hamilton, who quotes the poet AE Housman:

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither; here am I

That knitting there, Richard – it’s a verb.  Those genes do knitting, and they have an innate idea of the finished jumper.  You’re fond of gap-leaping prose and poetry but the wind didn’t give them the idea, and it’s a cop-out to say that they’re immortal.  That Big Bang – Arno Penzias’ vindication of the Pentateuch, gives you a beginning for our universe.  The genes are here now.  You haven’t explained how they got here. Take as much time as you like – making the changes smaller doesn’t help.

Something to pray about?  Wouldn’t it be great if the music enabled him to wind back the years and revisit the places where the poetry was only half understood?  It could be the making of a scientist.

Embarrassment & Bullying

It’s heart warming to think that our scientific colossus can share his embarrassments with us – we all have our own.

The acute embarrassment that was brought to my attention was the birthday party at Chafyn Grove.  In short, boys would invite their friends to a table of cake, jellies and other good things.

“I understood the principle, and I understood about supplying the duty master with a list of your friends’ names.  What slipped my attention was the small point that you had to arrange for your mother in advance to send the cake and jelly.  On my birthday – perhaps my ninth – I wrote out the list of my friends and gave it to the duty master, who read it aloud.  My chosen friends walked eagerly into the dining room, surveyed the empty table and … even after all these years embarrassment prevents me from describing the scene any further.  What still baffles me is that it never occurred to me to wonder where the cake was supposed to come from… perhaps I thought it materialised by supernatural magic, like sixpenny bits when you put a tooth under your pillow”.

While I’m sure it’s meant to show that when he was a child he understood like a child, he thought as a child, and when he became a man he put away childish things, to me it makes me squirm for a different reason.  He’s still inviting people into an empty room.  Still thinking that genes materialised by supernatural magic for him and his friends to play with.   Still assuming that no-one need put them there in the first place, in the same form of superstition that thought rubbish created flies, laid to rest by Pasteur after the publication of Origin of Species.

The whole thing reads like a ghastly inversion of the parable of the wedding feast – where Dawkins invites his friends to the gnashing of teeth part, being determined that there has not been, is not, and never will be another person who wants to supply a feast, who made him, who loves him, who died for him.

It’s still possible for him to avoid that eternal embarrassment, against which any mockery from his current set will seem as a fruit fly when he looks back withFly regret.

So I’ll pray he can go back to that early field where Paley dropped his watch, and just think for a second or two that for all the teenage arguments about inference, maybe there was a someone who really did drop a watch. That at least opens the door to the alternative – I dare say he’s welcome to a theory of it being assembled by natural law over 700 billion years, but why be so narrow minded?  The key fact that he didn’t see the watch being placed doesn’t entitle him to mock someone who thinks it was, as if he is more scientific.

On bullying, suffice it to say that at Eagle school “there was a boy called Aunty Peggy who was mercilessly teased, seemingly for no better reason than his nickname… On one occasion we all stood around and watched him in a serious and prolonged fight… The sympathy of the crowd was with the bully, who was good-looking and good at games”  apparently Richard felt bad but was not moved to do anything.  Nietzsche’s superman was going about his business.

Then, at his next school, Chafyn Grove, a brilliant scholar was more seriously bullied.  Richard looks back with regret, and thinks about the Nazi mindset.

At Oundle, this particular vice seemed to be swapped for others, and Oxford was a place for grown-ups.  But on we go to Berkeley, where “we, the younger faculty convened meetings where we tried to bully our colleagues into cancelling their lectures in solidarity with the activists…”

Dawkins makes the link for us back to the earlier pattern of behaviour, and is good enough to express remorse and say “I should have stood up against the bullies.  But I didn’t… Should have known better.”

It’s as if that’s drawn to a close and judged as morally wrong, but here’s the preceding bit where I scribble ‘LOL’in the margin: “I have seen the same thing more recently on the internet in the form of cyber-bullying by radical activists powerful enough to act as a kind of thought police, just as I saw the same thing at school when willing accomplices would rally around a playground bully”

He’s still doing it!  Here’s the playground bully, and visit RDFRS for the thought police.

CureIt’s not just my impression; one man was so turned off by the abuse on Dawkins’ own website when a gentle reasoning David Robertson challenged the thought police that he became a Christian.

So what do we pray here?  Lord, would you please help Richard Dawkins really leave the bullying days behind him, and look at his arguments on their own strengths and weaknesses, whether they dominate others or not?  Free him from a need to belittle others to make himself feel secure, we ask.

Looking at the new site, it seems things may be improving.  Go on Richard – stand up against those bullies.  I won’t get an ‘Atheism is a mental disease’ t-shirt in retaliation because you’re precious to God.  In fact I think religion is a bad thing, but faith in a right object isn’t.  I’m not convinced you’re aware of the difference.

Information & Science

In 1986, there was a debate at the Oxford Union on the motion ‘This house believes that the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution’.  For the motion were Edgar Andrews and AE Wilder-Smith, and against were Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith.

Most of the debate was typical spoddish Oxford types spraffing on, but AE Wilder-Smith made some points which the others couldn’t answer.  The motion was lost, but this autobiography seems to want to lay the bones of the Late Wilder-Smith’s arguments to rest.  To me it just ploughs them all back up to the surface.  Dawkins’ appeal at the time was to the crowd, that if they voted for the motion the university would be mocked, which is interesting.

We have a wonderful introduction to Grandfather Bill Ladner’s work on the Marconi transmissions from Poldhu.  Claude Shannon is mentioned on pages 20, 228, 231.  Surprise value and language is mentioned in Dawkins’ Oxford studies.  But this is typical ‘meme immunisation’ without actually engaging with the underlying argument.  Water must flow uphill to climb Mount Improbable.  Words in a newspaper must be derived from the natural laws governing ink and paper, and if you’re reading this on a screen, the pixels must have purpose and yet have got here by blind natural forces.  Creativity is at once lauded in friends and colleagues, but denied to anyone else.  Apparent purpose must be maintained without there being overall purpose.  To use Dawkins’s own slip in this book, neurons must find their ‘correct’ organs without any concept of ‘correct’.

It’s not clever, and I’m not the only one to have noticed it when I was small.  Christopher Booker mentions in his review of this book that when the Selfish Gene came out, Dawkins got cross because people choked on his intellectual schizophrenia.  Listening to the 1986 debate, Dawkins again says ‘To say evolution happened by chance is a travesty”, yet he must have chance or natural law is no longer free.  If he has a creative natural law, it has never been proven, is not falsifiable, and is never observably free from the disintegrating laws of thermodynamics.  GK Chesterton said that it doesn’t help to give more time for a miracle to happen if it’s still a miracle. John Lennox has given Hume’s objection to miracles a drubbing.

AE Wilder-Smith’s approach, respected but avoided by Professor Maynard Smith, was that the evolutionary theory reduces to a formula:

 Inorganic matter + Energy + Time = Biogenesis

He then set out the premise of creation, in language that even a Flatlander could understand:

 Inorganic matter + Energy + Time + Information = Biogenesis

And all science can do with the people who breed, and play with existing genetic material that they didn’t make, and zap soup into proteins with electricity in expensive labs, and rescue and care for the results, and programme computers – is pretend they aren’t actually there.  Even better, close the door on thinking about them by saying, like Stephen Hawking, ‘Philosophy is dead’. That famous philosophical statement.

The information has to arise by accident, driven by the gene’s metaphorical soliloquy on survival which we overhear in this book.  But why survive?  Why reproduce?  The ‘why not’ is far stronger physically and chemically.  The encyclopaedic gene is a reversal of natural processes and is required to organize inorganic matter into life.  Dawkins’ computer experiments all come across as desperate attempts to levitate above natural laws by pulling on his own bootlaces.   The maths doesn’t help.  Chemistry doesn’t support it.  Physics is against it.

In Wilder-Smith’s inimitable accent “It’s for the birds”.

So in our closing prayer for Professor Clinton Richard Dawkins, let’s ask God to keep us humble, patient and loving, and bring Richard into the presence of The Word – the information sent from God, before whose risen DNA doubting Thomas knelt and said ‘my Lord and my God!’

Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! how great thou art!

2: Righteousness of God – Am I Dead or Alive?

 

20130411-085758.jpg
Dead as a doornail                                  Alive Alive-O

Romans 6:6                                                   Romans 6:7-8

Romans 7:4 (a)                                              Romans 7:4 (b)

Ephesians 2:5 (a)                                         Ephesians 2:5-6

Colossians 2:13 (a)                                      Colossians 2:13-14

Galatians 2:19 (a)                                         Galatians 2:19 (b)

Luke 10:25-28

To summarise this post, the clear concept of two natures in our salvation and ongoing relationship to God is vital in understanding righteousness. The concept of switching back to the old nature is portrayed in the Bible as a nonsense for good reason.

And to sum up the picture above, Galatians 3:21 is the source.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

 

At the end of the last post, man had been tried in every situation of responsibility and had failed every time, the law being another way in which he was tested. Legal righteousness is righteousness that meets the standard of a law, and none are found to have it. Further, by its command to do, law becomes a command to be, and finds us not being, as amplified by the Lord’s words, from whom we draw the summary ‘Do this and you shall live’.

Here we go again with our friend’s article:

 

.. The great moral principles of [sin], the three stages, suffice here: lust; lawlessness in will, or transgression; and hatred of God Himself as goodness. The first Adam, the flesh, is thoroughly and wholly condemned. Another Adam is set up — the Second man: God looks for nothing from the first. He sows (this is just the truth of the parable of the sower; He brings something by the word of life); He does not look for fruit. The fig-tree in His garden, after all His pains, only cumbers the ground. It is, for faith, cut down, and will be so, in fact. Leaves it had, but no fruit; and the judgment of the Lord is, not only that it had not produced fruit, but “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever.”

It may be said This was Judaism. True, but Judaism was flesh under law. And this was what judgment was here pronounced upon. Flesh was judged — Adam and all that sprung from him. Not only was evil fruit condemned, but no fruit (which the Lord, in a probationary way, looked for) was ever to be borne by it.

The false principle of all this system is, that it is making out the righteousness of the first Adam under the law, instead of putting us in the Second entirely and absolutely, and treating the first as dead and gone. Had I then no personal responsibility? Not indeed under law, as a Gentile — still I had. Sin reigned over me and death. Hence Christ was, in sovereign grace, made sin for me and died, not to build up the old man again, after death, when it was dead, and confer righteousness on it, but to put me in a wholly new position in the heavenly man, who is my righteousness; to set me in the righteousness of God, seated in heavenly places in Him. Christ was the root and spring in life of the redeemed race; and the first is wholly set aside, judged, condemned, and dead. Christ is of God righteousness to us. All is wholly new, though we are personally brought into it only as quickened with the life of the second Adam, having Him for our life.

This is the special doctrine of Paul: no thought of a righteousness of law acquired by another for us. There is atonement for sin, in which we lay, which we had committed as in the first Adam; but I repeat, no conferring of righteousness on it, but closing its history, and being before God in death, in which He in grace took its place, in respect of the judgment due to it. “I am dead to the law, by the body of Christ, being married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.”

Hence, there was no connection of sinners with Christ under law. A corn of wheat, except it fall into the ground and die, abides alone; if it die, it brings forth much fruit. We are united to Christ in His new position, where He is the righteous man at the right hand of God, when He has died unto sin once, and is alive unto God. But if the corn of wheat die alone, as come amongst the family of the first Adam, death is written on all that is of Adam. It has ceased to exist, so to speak, before God.

And when the Spirit of God, in the Ephesians, speaks, in its full extent, of the blessing we are called to, He does not speak of men as having lived in sin, or being condemned under law as having a life in which they had to keep law. Man was dead, wholly dead, in trespasses and sins; the Jew is viewed not as a transgressor, but as by nature a child of wrath, even as others. (Eph 2:1, 2:5-6) But what is the first object then presented? Christ dead (i.e., in the place, by grace, where we were), raised far above all principality and power, and then we, “quickened together with him, raised up together, and made to sit in heavenly places in him.” In view of the counsels of God there was, so to speak, no living man at all. There was man dead in trespasses and sins, but a Christ dead there too; and as God raised up Him, so us with Him who descended for us there. When God deals with us morally, as responsible beings, He does see us living in sin, breaking law, despising goodness. This last is the way the point is looked at in the Epistle to the Romans. In the Ephesians it is simply a new creation when we are dead.

To make this a little more clear — there are two ways I can deal with the point of the relationship between God and man. I may simply take the counsels of God and begin with them. This is done in the Ephesians. Or I may take the actual state of men as responsible children of Adam, and shew how grace meets this state. The result is blessedly confirmatory of the other, but the point of view different. This last is the view taken in the Romans — the ways of God in His moral government met by grace. In the first, man is found dead in sin. All is God’s work from beginning to end. Christ is seen — to bring about this blessed counsel in grace — dead; and we, dead in sin, are brought back up to God, according to these counsels, with and as Him. In the Romans, man is proved to be dead, dying under the effects of sin and his moral condition as a living responsible being, a child of the first Adam; and this responsibility, as a sinner who has ruined himself, met by grace.

But before I unfold the Epistle to the Romans in its bearing on the point which occupies us, under the added light of that to the Ephesians, I would gather the statements of scripture as to righteousness to see how far it has to do with law, in the case of a believer. Of course a man under law could only be righteous by keeping it. But is this the way (i.e., the making good legal righteousness in any way) in which righteousness is obtained by the believer — his title to be in heaven? Turning to Romans 3:21, I read, “But now the righteousness of God without the law” — not without the man’s doing it, and by another doing it for him, but apart from law entirely, choris nomou. It is witnessed by law and prophets, but it is another kind of righteousness, made out independently of it. “To him that worketh not” — well, what instead? — but believeth on him that has wrought it out for him instead? Not at all: “but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4). It is opposed in kind. So, further on, the promise that he should be heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed by law. It was not on this principle. It is not that it is on this principle, but that another had to carry it out: but it was not on the principle, not by law. The law entered by and by (Rom 5: 20). We are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6). Why, then, must I have it fulfilled in my place? We are become dead to the law by the body of Christ (Rom 7: 4). How held to its fulfilment, if I am dead to it, and consequently it has no more dominion over me? So, further on, we are delivered from the law, being dead in that in which we were held. Then he enters into its power as a means of convicting of sin, which is not my object here, but of which I purpose speaking further on.

So in Galatians, as many as are of works of law are under a curse — not as many as have broken it: all under it had; but that is the position of one under it. No man is justified by the law; for the just shall live by faith, but the law is not of faith. That is, our justification does not proceed on this principle, whoever may meet it. And how are we redeemed from its only effect — a curse? The curse is taken by another. It is not met by another’s fulfilling it; not a hint of it. After faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. I have nothing to do with it as a way of righteousness. How was another to be my righteousness by keeping it? I must have righteousness; but I am not under law, so that righteousness should be claimed in that way. If righteousness came by law, Christ is dead in vain. How could this be said if it does come by law, Christ having livingly fulfilled it to be our righteousness? And mark, His death is appealed to. Christ is dead in vain, if law is the principle on which I have righteousness. For faith, in the death of Christ, the very nature is dead in me from which the righteousness of the law would have been expected. “I am crucified with Him; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Is He under law? If not, I am not. If I am justified, says the apostle, by works of law, why have I cast it all down? If I build law after Christ, I am a transgressor in leaving it to come to Christ. But I through law (says he) am dead to law (i.e., not bound to it), that I might live unto God (which no one under law ever did: it is weak through the flesh); for by works of law shall no flesh be justified, be he Jew, or Christian, or who he may, or whoever may do them. No one is justified by works of law. We are set on a wholly different ground — dead and risen again in the second Adam. We are in the presence of God through the rent vail. Again, Christ is become of none effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law. You are fallen from grace. It is on another principle. It is not Do this and live.

As regards walk, even, it is the same setting aside of law. If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under law. If led of the Spirit, they were going right, yet they were not under law. We are not children of the bondwoman. The whole of the system on which I am now commenting, and which places man on the ground of legal obedience, flows from not apprehending the truth of being in Christ. But of this point in examining the Epistle to the Romans.

These quotations will give not a particular, difficult, or contested passage, but the well assured view of the Spirit, often expressed. The Epistle to the Romans, to which I now turn, will give the great principle on which this depends, and how the saint passes from the old state to the new.

What I find in the scripture is this: when I read in the Ephesians of the counsels of God, I find nothing of the law at all. All is God’s work, and all is in Christ, who is not spoken of as alive down here, but is first viewed as dead, then exalted, and believers exalted in Him. It teaches unity now of all saints in Him, when taken out of death.

If I turn to the Romans, I find the responsible man in flesh proved guilty, not seen dead; but no remedy for his condition by making it in any way good, but death brought in; at which point we arrive at the beginning, so to speak, of the Ephesians, but making thus the state of man uncommonly clear. We do not find even Christ exalted in the Romans (save in one passage which does not apply to this point and confirms the general view I am presenting), nor the counsels of God as to the Church. The result of the union of its members is presented in one practical passage. The Epistle to the Romans places the individual on the ground of righteousness, and thus of true liberty in life, but does not reach the union of the body with Christ. Hence, death and resurrection, which suppose man to have had to say to sin in life, are its theme. After stating that its purport was God’s good news, it begins with a divinely powerful display of the wickedness and evil state of man, alike terrible and true; and terrible, because true. Gentile conscience must quail before its plainness, telling things as they were; and Jewish hypocrisy, too, laid bare by the edge of that very word in which it made its boast, seek to hide itself in vain in its anger. All the world is guilty before God.

But grace meets this. By deeds of law none are justified; by law is knowledge of sin. But now righteousness of God is manifested. What is this? The first idea, so to speak, which is given us of God’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17), is exceedingly abstract. In other passages we shall see the way it is brought about and made good as to us; but here I do not doubt it is its general nature and character. It is God’s, not man’s. It is — has its character, quality, and source — from God, not from man. It is what it is that is spoken of, not how it is. It is a righteousness after this fashion, not man’s. It comes from God for man, not from man for God. Hence it has the character and qualities of its source, whoever may be given to profit by it.

So wrath of God from heaven: it is not human wrath or justice on earth ending there in its nature and quality, nor even divine wrath exercised in an earthly way by earthly instruments. It is divine, from heaven.

It is not “the” righteousness of God, a fact, an existing thing, which is spoken of, but “righteousness of God” — this quality of righteousness. But hence it must first be found in God Himself; or it would not have that essential quality. Hence we are after God as to the new man created in righteousness and true holiness.

“The righteousness which is valid before God” (which is the sense put by Luther and Calvin on the expression) is utterly astray, because legal righteousness, where it existed, would be valid before God. If accomplished, it would be accepted. Man would live in doing it; but then it would be not God’s righteousness, but man’s: whereas the whole point on which the apostle insists in this expression is, that it is God’s, and not man’s.

Mr Bacon’s Easter Story?

Waitrose have got a bit of a cheek, haven’t they?

Waitrose Easter

They sent this to me after a while of being a member of their loyalty scheme (which is great, I might add).

I opened it, and was put right off a perfectly good company.  Why?  They had my name on the front, Easter was the theme, and inside there was just food on sale.  If any moneychanger’s table needed kicking over, surely this is ripe candidate, where the events of Jesus Christ’s arrest, mockery, trial, death by crucifixion, side being pierced, the veil of the Temple being rent, Christ’s burial, the weeping of Mary, the resurrection, events that drove Christianity through successive bloody persecutions and on through the past 2,000 years are reduced to Lamb and Anchovy, Zesty White Wine and a delicious pud?

That’s not my Easter Story!  Don’t put my name on that please, O Waitrose Marketing Department!  Don’t worry about me kicking over any of your tables during my lunch hour – the only man who had a right to do something like that is synonymous with the word ‘Easter’.  Isn’t it just a very slight miscalculation if you use the mental image of that man being nailed to a cross to sell lamb and wine?  I got strong Monty Python-like impressions of you standing next to the events saying “Get your passover kit here!”  “Albatross, get your albatross!”

Well – their odd marketing has worked to some good. I felt Mr Bacon here had better put his Easter Story out there.  Not as tidy as the John Lewis Partnership’s, but maybe a bit more thoughtful.  It’s a mind map of events, covering some of the points in a connected way, because those historic events were indeed connected.  Nothing can improve on the words of the Bible, but I thought I should explore it for his sake, who went through it all for me.

Click on the pic below, and it should take you to the map I’m working on.  It will be updated in future as there is endless depth to add, but it did help to think through that ‘stolen pagan festival’ thing for starters.

Easter Mind Map

Happy Easter, Waitrose!  No hard feelings, on account of what Easter’s really about.

And they are few who find it

Few there be

 

I did this in a bit of a screaming hurry back in March for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2012, and wasn’t surprised it didn’t get picked – impenetrable subject matter, bad caricatures done in the early hours and the improbability of an oversized cartoon taking up space on a gallery wall.  I was so late I’d had to put the dimensions on the form before I started the picture.

It was my first attempt at something right out of my head in the manner of old religious figurative art, rather than sketching what I see, and was more difficult than I’d imagined.  Quite rewarding though, so I’ll bore you with it.

The title is from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, verses 13-14, and was provoked by repeatedly hearing Diana Johnson (MP), Giles Fraser and others going on about the Church of England being a ‘broad church’ that could be inclusive of all sorts of what used to be called sin and unfaithfulness.

 Enter in through the narrow gate, for wide the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who enter in through it.  For narrow the gate and straitened the way that leads to life, and they are few who find it.

Not a ringing endorsement of breadth in the route to life.  That way is certainly open to all without exception, but Christians’ job has to be to point to the narrow gate and the strait way, turning people back from the destruction the Lord warns of again and again. This is prescriptive, but is only negative to those who think repentance is negative, or follow Freud rather than deny self and take up a cross.

So, the picture shows what to me personally is a chilling scene, but superficially pleasant.  Destruction is on the horizon, through the gate at the top left, where the broad way leads.  From Biblical prophecy I was going to put the budding fig tree in leaf, but given the arrogance of us Gentiles thinking that we are the people and wisdom will die with us, painted in the pruned olive tree from Romans (11:25) against the background of a cloud of judgment – visible enough to all, but the Lord’s clear warning in Luke (12:56) requires a response to what we see:

Hypocrites, you know how to judge the appearance of the earth and of the heaven; how is it that you do not discern this time?

Time is short.  Jesus says that our competence in basic weather forecasting removes our excuses for not discerning how current evidence leads to an inevitable consequence.  Luke goes on to mention the need to come to terms with an adverse party while we’re on the road, before matters get taken out of our hands, as the Bible teaches they one day will be.  The gate, widened for easier access, symbolises a point of no return.  Coming back from that along the way, past some confused souls and some picnickers who really don’t care, we reach poor Peter Tatchell being offered some pleasant ice creams wrapped in loving words torn from their Biblical context, by a certain almost recognisable clergyman.  This action is essentially cruel, if what is happening is encouragement along a path of destruction, with no warning offered. Would those ice creams comfort in the hell of which Christ repeatedly spoke? Not a snowball’s chance.

The neighbouring tent is possibly the most attractive to the eye, and for all the wrong reasons – religion on show.  The gold-clad Pope is peddling Ishtar as the Queen of Heaven – a concept spoken against in scripture (Jer 7 & 44), but brought back in the Roman church in Mary, robbing Christ of his unique focus with a fiction.  There’s a Roman Vestal virgin on sale there too – striking in its similarity to pictures of Mary throughout the Uffizi.  The great series on BBC4 ‘The Dark Ages: an Age of Light’ says it better than I could.

This tent is found in Luke 11:52 –

Woe unto you, the doctors of the law, for you have taken away the key of knowledge, yourselves have not entered in, and those who were entering in ye have hindered.

The whole set-up gets in the way of the narrow path to life, which heads diagonally off under a rather relaxed archbishop, who has resigned his mitre and rests his feet on some Darwinian and other books with his mouth tight shut, convinced we wouldn’t understand God.  Lord Carey is there too, with one of his women priests as a bishop – how can he now stand using the argument for complementarity against gay marriage?  Good for him on the latter, but his feet can’t be in great condition from when he shot them years ago, and he has the next argument standing beside him.  In fact, while writing this, the news came out that the C of E’s House of Bishops has decided to allow openly gay men living in civil partnerships to be bishops – there goes the house of Bish-ups to perdition.  If the slow-boiled frogs of the remaining consciences ever leave, the C of E will become as Christian as the Three Self movement – entirely politically acceptable.

Never mind that group of badly drawn politicians smashing up the landmarks – they don’t know any better, poor blighters.

What am I doing in all of this?  Sitting on my backside like a lazy oik, playing with my laptop, and watching telly with my Bible in the grass.   I count myself no better than any of the other obstacles lying around the picture – possibly worse given the teaching I’ve had over 31 years since I got my first Bible and sat down to read it.

Another reaction is happening behind me – a man digging a foxhole because he knows what’s coming.  I’ve included him to make sure even the ‘non-denominationals’ don’t get away blameless.  It’s not fair to say all Brethren men are like this, but I’ve grown up with this natural reaction to give up and head for a bunker, which takes some overcoming.  However, that’s not the right reaction.

What’s the answer?  I’ve been enjoying Cranmer’s blog recently – his stand for so much common sense is an enormous refreshment, but despite his considerable wit, one can’t help thinking that even he will be faced with a choice of joining Jesus as Lord outside the camp of the established Church, or denying his Lordship by seeking to stay within it. Church politics is just stirring an inky pot hoping for clear water – whatever the denomination.

My little girl stands in front of the answer – a neglected narrow door, looking up at it, and how I pray she enters in as a little child, like everyone in the picture could.  In John (10:9), Jesus said,

I am the door: if any one enter in by me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and shall go out and shall find pasture.

This was a message that was designed to be grasped by children and was entrusted to fishermen to spread.  It’s simply that we each must have a personal transaction with Jesus Christ, where he takes our sins and we believe he died for them, and we regard his death and resurrection as ours and live for him as dead to sin.  We have no access to God or relationship with Christ except on the basis he proposes.

Let’s bend whatever power we’re given to help each other back on the narrow way and ask the Lord for help to stay in it.

Click here for a simple gospel outline.

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