No Ordinary Life

By Ben Swift

“There can be no mistake about it. A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred right here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.” (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White)

While it may or may not be the intention of authors and script writers, it’s not uncommon for those in tune with God’s Word to grasp some important truths from their works, as He speaks to us through a whole range of contexts. Charlotte’s Web is one such story that comes to mind. Despite being written for children, this incredibly moving and thoughtful work of literary art has much to say when it comes to life and draws readers towards topics that perhaps move beyond life from a naturalist point of view, into a place where questions from a supernatural point of view can be asked.

Towards the end of ‘Charlotte’s Web’, the farmer Mr Zuckerman, owner of Wilbur – the pig seemingly surrounded by miraculous signs – suggests that maybe we are all surrounded by miracles on a daily basis but rarely have our eyes open enough to notice them.

One could argue that it’s not only life itself that’s a miracle, it’s that we are able to appreciate it in being so. What is it about human beings that allows us to consider life, not only from a biological perspective but from philosophical, anthropological and theological perspectives to name a few? Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that if we are simply random by-products of natural selection that we would care less about the deep questions concerning who we are, both as living beings and in relation to a first cause of existence? I’m pretty confident my dog doesn’t lie around contemplating these questions.

Perhaps that’s why great children’s novels such as Charlotte’s Web are so powerful, because by animating animal characters with human traits such as reasoning, we can identify with them and in turn learn about ourselves. An example that comes to mind is where Wilbur the pig, a humble childlike character, makes the following point that gets to the heart of many debates between atheists and theists on the origin of creation:

“What do you mean less than nothing? I don’t think there is any such thing as less than nothing. Nothing is absolutely the limit of nothingness. It’s the lowest you can go. It’s the end of the line. How can something be less than nothing? If there were something that was less than nothing, then nothing would not be nothing, it would be something – even though it’s just a very little bit of something. But if nothing is nothing, then nothing has nothing that is less than it is.”  (E.B. White)

Just as the Christian believes that faith is a gift from God, sustained by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, humanity’s ability to reason is also a gift. It is what separates us from the animals, allowing us to contemplate meaning and truth. This is where the argument of the naturalist or humanist crumbles in that if we are all sitting at a point in time in an ongoing process of natural selection, there would be no reason for the development of reason, it simply doesn’t fit the requirements for the survival of the fittest. It would be ridiculous for me to be even writing about this topic at all if the naturalist was correct in their humanistic reasoning.

“It is agreed on all hands that reason, and even sentience, and life itself are late comers in Nature. If there is nothing but Nature, therefore, reason must have come into existence by a historical process. And of course, for the Naturalist, this process was not designed to produce a mental behaviour that can find truth. There was no Designer, and indeed, until there were thinkers, there was no truth or falsehood. The type of mental behaviour we now call rational thinking or inference must therefore have been ‘evolved’ by natural selection, by the gradual weeding out of types less fitted to survive…. But it is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn them into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so.” (C.S. Lewis)

It is only when the gift of faith is intertwined with the gift of reason that a human being can cast off the shackles of the naturalist’s confined way of thinking. Only then can the miracles in life, that include and stretch beyond those suggested in Charlotte’s Web, be seen in all their glory – that is reflecting the glory of God the Creator. After all, we have been made to relate to our creator who has revealed himself to us in ways that defy the logic of an existence limited to nature as science currently defines it.

There can be no mistake about it. A miracle has happened on this farm called Earth. What is impossible in nature has been made possible supernaturally through Christ. What was once lost can now be found, what was once dead can be given life again, life in all its fullness. Let us then be encouraged to embrace Christ’s supernatural truth, one that brings us a hope well beyond the cycle of life and death offered by those who seek to define life apart from its source.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

Culture Club Remix

By Ben Swift

‘God is remaking the world… by the act of redemptive new creation through which humans are once more to reflect God into his world and the world back, in worship to God.’ (N.T.Wright)

It is true that we humans are drawn to specific aspects of what we label as culture and that throughout history we have sought to play a part in the evolution and enhancement of culture. It is also true that as the years roll on in one’s life, changes in culture become not only evident but form a part of a person’s history and perceived identity.

We all have stand out memories of bold personalities who have had obvious impacts on the culture of our time. Who could forget the influence of Michael Jackson as he stunned the world with his debut performance of Billy Jean, dressed in a never seen before, single fingerless glove that helped revolutionize fashion in the Western World? Then came Boy George with his provocative pushing of gender boundaries as he fronted the pop band ‘Culture Club’.

It’s often through the influence of larger than life characters that aspects of culture are questioned and reshaped. And culture does change. In my lifetime I have seen the culture of workers heading to the local pub for a beer or ten after work being replaced with an obsession with working out at the gym and driving under the influence of protein shakes rather than alcohol.

If human beings have the ability to affect change in culture then how do those who identify themselves as Christ’s image bearers go about influencing the shaping of culture? Is this even a part of life with which we should be concerned with?

Consider the following passages of Scripture:

‘For those who identify with their old nature set their minds on the things of the old nature, but those who identify with the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Having one’s mind controlled by the old nature is death, but having one’s mind controlled by the Spirit is life and shalom [peace].’ (Romans 8:5-6)

‘In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of this world. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.’ (Romans 12:2)

Following in the footsteps of reformer John Calvin, we who seek to influence culture as the image bearers of Christ must recognise that the chief purpose of humanity is to glorify God. Richard Kroner suggests, “Since faith is the ultimate and all-embracing power in the human soul, nothing whatever can remain untouched by it. Therefore religion has the power of integrating man’s culture through his faith, because it rises above all culture, it being no part of culture as such, but the mystical experience of apprehending God.” (Van Til)

It is clear that we are called to be like yeast, allowing God to work through us to penetrate and influence the cultural bread of our day, as the world continues to conform its culture to one that sits apart from the Creator. Let us not forget that God is also the creator of all beauty and the culture that we seek should recognise and reflect all that is truly beautiful in creation. Consider the following passage written by Neil Cullen McKinlay:

‘What is beauty? Beauty is whatever is pleasing to the eye of the triune God who made the heavens and the earth and all therein. For it is written, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). As a frame encases and enhances a painting, so God’s morals surround beauty. Beauty glows because it is pregnant to God’s Moral Law. To be truly appreciated the inherent moral dimensions and parameters of beauty must also be beheld. Bald is beautiful only because God has numbered the very hairs of our head.”

If the Church, the Body of Christ, is to be an agent of cultural influence that bears the image of God, the question needs to be asked: “Is the Church influencing culture or is the Church being influenced by the culture in which it sits?”

Few of us, Christian or not, are ignorant to the debates happening within the Church that highlight the pressures of worldly culture. One thing remains clear though. The Church, if it is to truly serve and reflect God, must not conform to the world. It must seek to know, through the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit, what to accept and what to renounce. The new creation that God is working through His little human reflectors, must not be in denial of our humanness but rather embrace and reaffirm our purpose as intended by the one who knows us deeply, the Word behind all of creation.

N.T. Wright suggests, “The resurrection of Jesus enables us to see how it is that living as a Christian is not simply a matter of learning a way of life that is in tune with a different world and thus completely out of tune with the present one. It is a matter of glimpsing that in God’s new creation, of which Jesus’ resurrection is the start, all that was good in the original creation is reaffirmed. All that has corrupted and defaced it – including many things which are woven so tightly into the fabric of the world as we know it that we can’t imagine being without them – will be done away.”

The world and the Church, when it comes to culture, are often heading in different directions. But that should come as no surprise. It’s when this isn’t happening that the alarm bells should sound. We, as Christ’s image bearers, need to embrace the divinely inspired concept of culture and all that is truly beautiful. We must ensure we provide the salt that the world needs to live as renewed human beings, carrying the hope and anticipation of a renewed culture, in a renewed creation with the triune God.

The Way of Enoch

By Ben Swift

‘The Triune God is full of Grace. He gave His own reflection five senses to appreciate His beautiful creation. And with His own finger He delicately wrote His law of love on His little mirror as He breathed life into him.’ (Cullan McKinlay)

It can take you to a remarkable place within your consciousness when you begin to comprehend that each one of us was created to reflect God’s glory, purposefully crafted in His image. Nothing else could be more important in life than living in communion with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.

People reflect God in so many ways and not always as predicted or expected. Several years ago I attended an Anglican church in which the senior minister left me with a simple yet lasting piece of insight. Each morning he would get up before sunrise and spend time walking quietly, just himself and his maker, listening, reflecting, praying and enjoying time out of the world’s insanity.

Walking with God in this way is by no means a new concept, but in the crazy world in which we live, I suspect it is a dying or at least a fading practise. Perhaps a lesser known biblical character, Enoch, a member of Adam’s family, knew this well as he provides us through Scripture with a way of deepening our relationship with the Triune God.

‘So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.’ (Genesis 5:23-24)

God took Enoch! What this infers is that amongst the vast numbers of people who have lived on the Earth, only two never died according to Scripture. Enoch and Elijah. This raises the question, “Why?” “What is it about Enoch that separated him from the pack and what can we learn from his ways?”

Andrew Bonar suggests that God and Enoch were in the habit of taking a long walk together every day and that one day God said to his companion, “Why go home? Come all the way with Me.” And so it was that God took Enoch directly to live in His presence.

While we shouldn’t place our hope in sharing Enoch’s direct assumption into God’s dimension, we as followers of Christ can learn a lot from the way of Enoch. Here we find a man of outstanding sanctity who enjoyed intimate fellowship with God. It has also been suggested that the example of Enoch’s assumption played a part in the origin of Jewish hope for life with God beyond death, an assurance now made clear through what has been achieved through Christ in His death and resurrection.

As we look to be inspired by the life of Enoch, we come to see the development of a great faith, one that was built over time, strengthened continually in the presence of the Heavenly Father.

‘By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found because God had taken him”, for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.’ (Hebrews 11:5-6)

As with the gift of the human mind’s ability to reason, faith in God is also a gift. Our understanding of the gift of faith cannot be separated from our understanding of God’s Grace in that we as people can do nothing to earn it. We can therefore only receive it with joyful and open arms as we embark on our journey to know the Triune God more deeply.

The gift of grace received by faith has the power to take us beyond the foolishness of human reason and philosophy alone. Luther understood this well, a concept that paved the way to a reformation that would change the world. Oswald Bayer in reflecting on Luther’s thoughts suggests, “The image of God for the human being consists in the fact that the individual is the representative of God and is the one responsible for carrying out his mandates here on earth. Whoever is not satisfied with being an instrument of God and with being one who carries out his mandates destroys and misdirects the proper way to act in the image of God by glorifying himself instead, wrongly applying what was promised to him – the ability to reason using language.” Surely Enoch because he pleased God, must have had a strong understanding of what it truly means to be a human being, created in God’s image.

It would make sense to ask at this point, “What is this faith that Enoch and followers of Christ identify with?” It is the gift of being able to hear the gospel message and respond to what has been finished once and for all through Christ in His death and resurrection. It is the recognition of the reality of who God is and who we are as His creation.

We would all do well to learn from the way of Enoch, walking closely with God, closing our ears to Sinatra’s words of, “I did it my way,” and instead living as God intended, in His Grace. Perhaps a good place to embark on this journey would be to reflect on the following prayer by A.W. Tozer:

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”

More than a Fish Sticker

By Ben Swift

‘Never forget that only dead fish swim with the current’ (Malcom Muggeridge)

Dr Nakashima Atsumi, in his preface to ‘True Path of the Ninja’, suggested that to live with spiritual richness within modern society, amongst the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, you need to change your sense of value and be confident in yourself. I find it interesting that even in the pages of ancient Japanese philosophies, the promotion of ‘the self’ still takes centre stage. Who could ever forget the famous line from Mohammad Ali’s lips, “I am the greatest! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived.” Ali, while voicing these words, highlights just how far the heart of humanity has strayed from the truth as revealed through Christ.

If we really seek truth as it exists in Christian Scripture, that is to desire the message of Christ and what He asks of us, we will find a message so profound and so challenging that it will tear us away, if we allow it, from the very fabric of worldly wisdom. It will lead us into a truth that exists poles apart from the messages that have been imbedded into our consciousness and cultural DNA since the first bite of that forbidden fruit. This truth however, comes with a cost.

Several years ago while studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, I came across a guy who was changed by the Gospel message. He had come to university with plans to complete a degree in commerce and then enter the world of finance, a high-powered corporate arena that would set him up well by worldly standards. The challenge for him came when the Gospel message transformed his goals into those of Christ. This didn’t go down very smoothly with his atheistic father who simply saw his son throwing his future down the toilet. But this story isn’t unique and shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus never inferred that He came to make our lives easy or filled with wealth and pleasure. Consider His words as recorded in Matthew 10:34-36: “Don’t suppose I have come to bring peace to the Land. It is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword! For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, so that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” These are hardly comforting words but words that ring true, especially for those who have become isolated and banished from places such as Jewish and Islamic households for the sake of Christ.

As human beings the struggle for survival is in our DNA. The idea of choosing to die to ourselves for the sake of gaining life through Christ is counter intuitive. It goes against the grain of everything we feel. It is far removed from our role in the ‘survival of the fittest’. It is for this reason that the goals of Psychology and Theology often don’t see eye to eye.

Psychology can give us some interesting insights into human behaviour however. It has been recognised for instance, that human beings show an overt desire for conformity and to be part of a group. It is therefore natural for the human being to want to conform to the world’s way of thinking in order to avoid exclusion and suffer a demotion of self-worth through popular opinion. After all, who wants to be caught wearing a skinny tie in a fat tie year?

In 1954, psychologist Maslow proposed a theory for human motivation which he represented using a pyramid consisting of multiple layers. This ‘pyramid of needs’ was used to show the hierarchy of needs that must be met to achieve self-actualisation. Maslow suggested that these needs provide the motivation for all human endeavour. At the bottom of the pyramid are the most fundamental physical needs (physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem) and at the apex lies self-actualisation, the ultimate universal goal of the human being. Once again, we come to a way of thinking that suggests the serving of the self as the ultimate goal. (The Story of Psychology, Anne Rooney)

An interesting question for Christians to ask then would be, “What does it mean to live in the world but not of the world and how does this relate to taking up my cross?”

C.S. Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’ writes: Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out.”

C.S. Lewis has a brilliant way of illustrating things and his writings point clearly to a very challenging part of what Jesus asks of us all, laying down our life only to take it up again in Him.

‘Then to everyone He said, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his cross daily and keep following me. For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his own life on my account will save it. What will it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but destroys or forfeits his own life?”’ (Luke 9:23-25)

To die to oneself for the sake of following Christ is a challenge to say the least. It requires a humility that is very rare in this world and goes against everything that the world equates with success. No doubt this is why Jesus himself recognised that the task is impossible as He spoke to the rich young ruler seeking eternal life. This upright man was unable to deny himself of his wealth in order to gain eternal life. Consider Jesus words, “Furthermore, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope however. He adds the words, “Humanly, this is impossible, but with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19: 24 & 26)

While it’s true that Jesus asks the impossible from us, it is possible to be transformed as the Holy Spirit works within our hearts and minds, helping us to develop the childlike humility needed to surrender to Christ. Kyle Idleman in his book, ‘Not a Fan’, suggests, ‘When you finally surrender all that you have and all that you are, you will discover the strangest thing. It’s only by becoming a slave to Jesus that we ever truly find freedom.’

Entertaining Ourselves To Death

By Ben Swift

‘The Gods are a long way away and they don’t bother about us, so relax and enjoy your life.’ (A quote rooted in Epicureanism, N.T. Wright)

There is a feeling of anticipation and excitement in the slightly hazy atmosphere of the room. The windowless walls, painted black, set us apart from the outside world, adding to the professional lighting effects that suggest a show worth queuing for. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the new world now. The stage is set, the spotlights poised and ready to shine their light on the musicians and lead vocalists as they grace the stage. Dry ice machines intermittently pump out just enough smoke to create a feeling of mysticism in the air. Then enters the keyboard’s sustained chord.

Once upon a time a description such as this would have felt most at home in Rolling Stone Magazine or the like, possibly as a rock journalist penned his or her experience of a Pink Floyd or Bon Jovi concert. These days however, they could be describing the experience of entering into any one of thousands of rapidly expanding megachurches throughout the Western World.

This should come as no surprise as new generations move with the times, but it does raise the question, “Do we in The Church and society in general, now live in a world where the ultimate sin is to be bored?”

It was once suggested by Anglican Minister, John Swift, that you can tell a great deal about what a church holds most important in terms of congregational worship, simply by walking into the church building and noting what stands out. For example, many Presbyterian and Reformed churches will place the Bible and the pulpit in a central position of importance while a church of a more Catholic orientation will often have the alter front and centre, to show that they consider the sacrament of Communion to be the highpoint in The Mass. So what can we derive from a church that has been carefully architected and set up using the same techniques of the world’s great theatres?

In his book, ‘This Little Church Went to Market’, Garry Gilley suggests, “It would appear, when it comes to entertainment, Christianity has caught up with the culture at large. One social observer, Neal Gabler, who has no axe to grind in this regard, making no pretence to be a Christian, has noticed, ‘Evangelical Protestantism, which had begun as a kind of spiritual entertainment in the nineteenth century, only refined its techniques in the twentieth, especially after the advent of television.’” Gilley later goes on to write, “The problem is the main business of entertainment is to please the crowd, but the main purpose of authentic Christianity is to please the Lord. Both the Bible and history have repeatedly shown that it is seldom possible to do both at the same time, for very long.”

While by no means are all activities of modern day megachurches negative, in fact some great things have come from them, it is worth considering the consequences of aligning with the culture of entertainment and ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as an ultimate focus.

If we think of entertainment and pleasure in terms of false gods in the same way as the Ancient Greeks saw their gods Mars or Mammon, we can start to get some insight into the problem. Theologian N.T. Wright interestingly suggests that the ancients would have believed that ‘those who worship gods become like them; their characters are formed as they imitate the object of worship and imbibe its inner essence.’ Perhaps it’s not surprising that the rise of the megachurch, with its power to entertain and give the people what they seek, has its roots in the United States, the unofficial capital of The Free World, where the relationship between celebrity and influence so often go hand in hand. It’s a sign of the US times when the most powerful, high budgeted political positions of influence be handed to stars of the big screen. Why is it that presidential candidates rub shoulders with pop stars and Hollywood royalty at the pointy end of their campaigns? Is it that they know what god has the most influence on people’s votes?

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of The Church becoming entangled with the culture of the world is in the sacrifices that result, including a lack of spiritual growth. When congregations are being served with messages of pop psychology lined with a dash of half-truths, the message may be popular but it won’t provide Christ’s sheep with the solid food they need to mature. As The Church and as Christians we have been given clear instructions. Consider the following words of Paul:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

It is clear from Scripture, that church be a place where we are transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit and by hearing and meditating on The Word, growing in our knowledge of Christ’s truth. We must move beyond simple understandings so that we can, as The Church scattered, be able to give a reason for the faith we have, standing firm in a faith that has deep roots that won’t shrivel and die when hard times arrive.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

It is obvious that the growth of God’s Church is of great importance to all Christians, or at least it should be. It simply has to be done in accordance with Scripture and not under the influence of pressures to conform to popular culture. After all, consider the popularity Jesus earned in his ministry, a popularity that found him nailed to a Roman execution stake, the cross. Are we really willing to take up our cross? Or do we simply want to be entertained in our pursuit for happiness? 

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Finite Man, Incomprehensible God

By Ben Swift

“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” (Albert Einstein)

I recall in my university years, purchasing a poster that I stuck to my bedroom wall, vividly displaying a photo of Einstein sharing these words. Many of us are familiar with this famous quote and Christians are often swift to use it to claim the great mind of Albert Einstein for Christianity. The truth however, when the context of Einstein’s quote is considered, is far from what it may first infer. According to an article from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, a more accurate rendition of Einstein’s quote is, “I want to know how God created this world. I’m not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts, the rest are details.” In fact it has been suggested that Einstein used the term ‘God’ in exchange for ‘the laws of the universe’. In this way the laws of Physics are represented as the ‘thoughts of God’. What he was suggesting was that he wasn’t so much interested in experiments and the filling out of the implications of theories but rather in how the universe was created and exists from a mathematical stand point.

Putting Einstein’s religious or philosophical stances aside, he does share a common thread with many who seek answers about such things as origins, existence, life, death and how everything in our universe works. From a Christian perspective, God has gifted humanity with what many like to think of as a complex mind and consciousness. Obviously it would be a redundant gift if we were not supposed to use it, but the question remains, “Just how much does God want us to know and how much should be left to faith and humility?”

While as followers of Christ we are called to faith, we are not called to ignorance. This is an important point. On more than one occasion the Apostle Paul in his letters, introduces his new ideas with the statement, “We do not want you to be ignorant”. As we read through Scripture and meditate on what it is revealing to us, we soon come to comprehend that while God provides His people with an incredible amount of insight into His character and the plan that has always existed for His people through Christ, there are many questions that still remain unanswered, or that must be left to faith. Leon Morris, a well-respected theologian, wisely suggests, “There are many things that we would like to know, but the Bible was not written to gratify our curiosity. Rather it is intended to help us in our Christian lives, and for that the important thing is that we should be ready when the Lord comes.”

Take for example the Parousia [the second coming of Christ]. There has been endless debate over the details of the events surrounding Christ’s return. A topic particularly popular amongst modern day Christians is that of ‘The Rapture’ and it’s timing in relation to ‘The Great Tribulation’. While the term ‘rapture’ does not appear in Scripture, it refers to what happens at Christ’s second coming when believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, particularly with reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar [ram’s horn or trumpet]; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.”

While some say that the concept of ‘The Rapture’ is a modern invention, undergirded with the support of fictional films and storytelling, others such as Christian writer, Spencer D Gear, suggest that it has roots in the writings of our Church Fathers and thus is historically supported. Even scholars such as Leon Morris in his commentary on Thessalonians admits, “The Parousia is a difficult topic. Within the short space of the mission it would have been impossible for the apostolic band to have given anything like a complete teaching about it.”

So what can we learn from studying what the Scriptures say in regards to Christ’s return. If you dedicate even a small amount of your time to analysing the various theories and arguments that surround this event, you will engage with some interesting ideas and your mind will boggle. But let me save you some time. No matter what your stance, if any, on pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture, there is a more important message to encourage each other with. A message that requires faith, where black and white answers remain the intellectual property of our incomprehensible God. As the Apostle Paul clearly suggests to the Thessalonians and to us, death has no impact on our relationship with Christ. We are wanted dead or alive so to speak. All things and all people are in His hands. If death could not hold Him down, for those that belong to Him, the same will apply.

Faith in God it seems is the inevitable resting place in which we must become childlike once again, humbling ourselves before the One who asks for our trust. This is why atheists for example will continue to find the message of the Cross a stumbling block because it will always require faith. As human beings, curiosity is innate and we all want answers. It is for this reason, the faith that Christ demands can only live in us through the work of the Holy Spirit, a gift allowing us to see beyond reason and towards a present and future hope with our incomprehensible God.

O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements! How unsearchable are his ways! (Romans 11:33)

Is the Devil in the Details?

By Ben Swift

‘If you just focus on the smallest details, you never get the big picture right.’ (Leroy Hood)

Of those who belong to Christ, few would dispute the fact that we currently live in between Christ’s resurrection and the new Heaven and Earth. To put it another way, in reference to the time in which we now live, the world, the universe and everything in it continues to groan as it awaits a perfect regeneration upon Christ’s return.

Fundamentally, there are several biblical understandings that the majority of Christians will confess to believing. You simply have to examine the creeds that each denomination adheres to. The surprise comes however, when after years of attending church and reading theological books, you come across discussions that throw new questions into the mix. Questions that lead to debates that dig down to the core of context and linguistics. To make the situation even more interesting, those involved often differ in the measure of importance they assign to particular understandings.

Take for instance a conversation that occurred over coffee following a sermon in which the preacher referred to Christ’s body as rotting in the tomb following His crucifixion on a Roman execution stake. While this was not the focal point of the preacher’s message, it did grab the attention of the more theologically educated listeners whose ears pricked up at what had been suggested. It would be fair to assume that most people, particularly fans of the television series CSI, would think nothing of the fact that a human being would begin to decompose almost immediately after death. Those who have acquired a detailed knowledge of the Scriptures however, would recall the following words from Acts 2:26-27, “For this reason, my heart was glad; and my tongue rejoiced; and now my body too will live on in certain hope that you will not abandon me to Sh’ol [the place of the dead] or let your Holy One see decay.”  The problem raising the theologian’s neck hairs, therefore, lies in the argument that death is a direct consequence of sin, brought forth by the actions of Adam in Eden. Christ however, being sinless and therefore not subject to its consequences would not decay in the tomb prior to being resurrected. This has flow on effects to how we interpret the events of Easter in relation to the words of the Prophet David and to the way we approach understanding our own resurrection bodies as we are made to be like Him.

So what you may be asking? Are these details important or is this just another example of the devil getting into the details, causing divisive confusion amongst believers?

The answer, I believe, is not a resounding yes or no. While we certainly need to understand the Bible correctly, in context and aligned with accurate teaching, we also need to be careful not to let the details alter our focus, making our narrow path just a little bit too narrow.

It would make sense then to return to the example of what happened to the body of Jesus inside the tomb. But in order to avoid making our focus too narrow, we must bring the investigation into a larger arena. One that seeks a larger context, leading to deeper theological understandings.

Douglas Macintosh in his book, ‘Theology as an Empirical Science’, asks, “What became of the atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and other elements which composed the earthly body of Jesus?” After all, science has revealed to us that throughout our lives and certainly immediately following death, our physical bodies are changing through both a constant shedding and renewal of skin or following death, the decomposition of all organs as bacteria get their chain gangs working. Jesus, being both fully human and fully God, would have certainly shed his elements throughout his life, so why not in his death? Scientifically speaking, when your heart stops beating, your body’s cells and tissues stop receiving oxygen. Brain cells are the first to die, usually within 3 to 7 minutes. Bone and skin cells, however, will survive for several days.

It would be reasonable to assume that in the days of Christ, the appearance of a dead body, in less than 3 days, would not show outward signs of decay. As Jesus’ body was resurrected on the third day, perhaps according to the Jewish understanding at the time, decay never occurred. This is in contrast to what happened with Lazarus whose body after 4 days showed clear signs of decomposition. Interestingly, according to a passage from Jewish literature, “For three days the soul hovers over the body, intending to re-enter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change, it departs.” In light of this tradition, the resurrection of Lazarus, four days after his death, would have been seen as especially remarkable. (Doug Ward)

The question needs to be asked, “Just how are we in today’s technological and scientific age, to read verses such as Acts 2:26-27?” Perhaps, the resurrection of Christ, from an Ancient Jewish perspective, did align with the words of the prophet David. His body saw no decay and was raised in a physical as well as spiritual sense, providing us with some insight into what lies ahead for our own resurrection in Him. Maybe, by analysing verses such as these through the lens of a powerful microscope and through modern medical knowledge, we lose the intended meaning and significance. But I’m sure there will be many who will argue that ‘no decay’ means ‘no decay’ at any level of understanding.

Certainly, while seeking to answer questions that stem from the details, investigations such as these just open up a whole new set. But without unanswered questions, wouldn’t the faith God demands of us be rendered redundant?

So it appears that while there may be times where the devil can be found in the details, God can be found working more powerfully, as he transforms our minds and hearts to the knowledge of His truth through His Word. It is through the powerful work of His spirit that in the details, we start to get the big picture right.

“Thus says Adonai the maker, Adonai who formed the universe so as to keep directing it – Adonai is his name: ‘Call out to me, and I will answer you – I will tell you great things, hidden things of which you are unaware.’” (Jeremiah 33:2-3).