Fatherly Comfort in Times of Trouble

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ACKNOWLEDGING THE TROUBLES OF LIFE

Man is born to trouble,” said Eliphaz to Job, “as surely as the sparks fly upward.”

This is not a truth that we always want to acknowledge. When the sun is shining and life is good we hope that it will never end. We always want good times to roll on forever. Any reminder that trouble might come our way is hit out of field by the human psyche with all the force of a top baseball player.

But God’s word tells us about reality. It gives us the true shape of life so that we do not live under a cloud of the world’s lies. The Bible corrects our nearsightedness. Scripture will not permit us to be victims of the devil. Thus, God in his majestic truthfulness testifies that trouble is an inescapable part of life for a Christian. St. Paul goes so far as to say that no true Christian will live a trouble-free life on this earth.

This does not mean that every Christian’s troubles will be the same. Some may face extreme situations like martyrdom and exile from their homes (like the Christians in ISIS occupied territory). Others may simply face the daily weariness of work and family, and the mental struggle of living in an ungodly world.

There is, after all, a deep existential tension of being a Christian in the 21st century. There must be. There should be. Nobody can love the world, writes St. John, and love God at the same time (1 John 2:15). Friendship with the world, says St. James, is enmity with God (James 4:4). Given this, Christians can feel like they belong to a shrinking number of the sane. The irreverence and ungodliness around us can torment the mind and soul just as the things Lot saw in Sodom caused him great distress (2 Peter 2:7).

Sometimes Christians experiences trouble as the by-product of the sinful nature. Even as redeemed people, we can make misjudgements, be rash, and come to wrong-headed conclusions about things. We can make bad decisions. There are a legion of examples.

Pastor Tim Conway once related the story of a friend. This young man married a woman who was a local beauty pageant winner. His godly friends counselled him against the match. They could see her true character but like many eager young people, he saw only the surface. Shortly after the marriage the young man discovered his bride was contentious, ill-tempered, and disloyal. She withheld herself from him sexually, had flirtations with his friends, and eventually ran away with one of his buddies never to return.

Christians can (and do) make errors of judgement. We do not always faithfully observe the teaching of scripture, wisdom and the Church. Even Christians can make choices that plunge them into years – perhaps a lifetime – of trouble. No wonder the scriptures tell us to consult the words of the Lord frequently. Meditate on God’s law day and night, writes the psalmist (Psalm 1:2). Joshua commands the people to not only think on God’s word, but to have it continually on their lips (Joshua 1:8).

It is supreme wisdom to adapt our behaviour to God’s will. To walk circumspectly and thoughtfully. For this will keep us from falling into sin. It will prevent us from piercing ourselves with many needless sorrows.

But sometimes we do not stray from the narrow way of Jesus. At times our hearts are overflowing with praise to the King. Our fellowship with God in prayer can be so rich it is as though we walk in the perfumed gardens of Eden with the Lord. At times Jesus can draw us so near to the extent we can almost wonder if we are about to enter heaven. At such times, God’s holiness falls on the heart, we long for more and more righteousness, and his word is life to us.

And then trouble can come.

This is a paradox indeed! Trouble can come when we believe ourselves to be following most closely on the heels of the Master. This has been the discovery of many godly men and women throughout the ages. They often built the Kingdom of God under the weight of trouble. Amy Carmichael, the Irish missionary who spent fifty-five years in India saving girls from temple prostitution, was bedridden in her latter years. Why did such trouble come to such a powerful missionary for the Lord?

We can wonder about this. Why do difficulties sometimes come when the heart burns for the Lord and for the fulfilment of his righteousness? This is a mystery, but there is comfort from the Lord. For though a man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward, God is the Saviour and Father of all who believe.

TROUBLE, NOT SUFFERING

Notice that I avoid the word “suffering”. In the modern world the word “suffering” is an impaired word. For a start it is commonly linked to ill-health. “Poor Mrs Oliphant,” we say, “she suffers from arthritis.

Under such repeated usage dinned into our ears, we come to associate suffering with a continuous state usually afflicting the body. This raises the high bar on what constitutes “suffering”. People can mistakenly conclude that unless you have Big Bad Stuff going on in your life it is not suffering. The word tends to excludes many painful human experiences. “Oh, you are getting harassed at work? That doesn’t sound so bad. The rest of your life is OK. Can you really call it suffering?

The word “suffering” also evokes fear. It conjures up terrifying visions. It excites painful anxiety. “What kind of suffering am I to endure?” we may fret, “What is going to happen to me?

Such anxiety may be difficult to avoid but it is wrong. It is evident that by God’s grace most Christians do not experience the worst of life. Some brave Christians (whose reward in heaven is undoubtedly very great) do indeed undergo a baptism of fire and their lives are admittedly very difficult. But such Christians are always compensated with abundant joy and grace so that like St. Paul they are enabled to sing even while in the stocks of prison.

Nonetheless, this kind of deep hardship is not a general rule. It does not seem to be God’s intention that his Christian people be kicked to the curb. In fact, God richly blesses his children with many joys both temporal and spiritual. His Church – as a rule – does not go about in ceaseless mourning. God has made a time for tears but also a time for laughter, and for most Christians, there is indeed more laughter than tears.

Thus it is neither healthy nor wise to meditate on the difficulties of others. Neither should we get caught up in the stories of the disgruntled who seem angry at God for their pain. It is not for us to judge the invisible spiritual forces or God’s mysterious purposes. Neither is it up to us to work out all the details of someone else’s life. It is not our place to judge the Judge of All the Earth. A speculative mind on the issue of trouble is polluting.

God has set before us lives to ponder in scripture. These people were no strangers to trouble. But the lives he offers to us to consider are ultimately triumphant ones. All of them. That should be the focus. For as Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones once preached, “Some Christians seem to think that God wants them for the same reason the devil does: to torment them.” Such thinking always arises from error and it produces a calumny against God. God is a Father to his people. That is a solid, unassailable truth.

Thus the word “trouble” is better. For a start it is more expansive. It covers a lot more ground and includes the full panoply of Christian struggle. From the minor to the major.

FATHERLY COMFORT

The Letter to the Hebrews contains comfort for anyone who experiences trouble.

It comforts in three ways. Firstly, by reassuring readers that Jesus is a faithful and compassionate high priest whose heavenly intercession is truly efficacious. Secondly, the letter gives a long list of people who were able to face many difficulties through their faith in God. Faith is not just an esoteric feeling, the letter tells us, it takes concrete forms. The letter shows us how to have faith. Thirdly, the letter provides us with answers. It teaches us that our troubles should be regarded as God’s fatherly dealing with us.

There is far too much to mention all at once. But reading this letter prayerfully, with special attention to Hebrews 11 and 12, will surely offer substantial joy, comfort and strength. Here are some thoughts.

The chapter opens with the following statement:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This truth comes first because it is the foundation of peace in the turbulence of the storm. If we do not believe that God created all things then we do not have the sort of faith that can receive God’s comfort.

It is not sufficient to simply “believe” in God’s creative acts on an intellectual or mental level. We are surrounded by talk of evolution and the Big Bang. The unbelieving world operates on the basis of this grand deceit and pummels the Christian relentlessly. Unbelief is so ubiquitous that it can chip away – slowly at first – at the Christian’s certainty. Evolution and Big Bang cosmology can quite easily leak into the mind of the Christian so that he plays a double-game. One the one hand he can persuade himself that he believes in creation, while in his heart he doubts and secretly thinks these theories have validity.

A conviction of creation must be deeply internalised so that we come to see that Christ stands behind every painted surface in the universe; whether the rise and fall of a leaf, or the roll of thunder, the rays of sunlight. We must know that Jesus governs all creation.

If this is our faith, it transforms into a source of comfort. It is a great encouragement to know that we can pray to the King of Creation, a King who governs not merely a nation, but all existence. This is the King who sculptured the planets and ignited the stars. If he can do that which is very great, can he not help us in our times of trouble? Can he not perform miracles of grace in our lives? Most assuredly, he can.

The writer goes on to provide a long list of saints who accomplished things by faith. Many of these saints – in fact, all of them – endured struggles of many kinds. But by faith in the Living God, they not only endured, but triumphed over them.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8).

Here the writer emphasises faith in God as we plunge into the unknown. Times of trouble can be frightening precisely because often we do not know what is going to happen. The unknown can make our trouble seem unbearable. Will I be ruined? Will I be outcast? Will I be killed? Will I lose my faith?

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Abraham also was sent on a journey into the unknown. He left behind all that was familiar and safe. He did not know where he was going. He journeyed in the dark but he had the faith to believe God would look after him. And God led him safely all the years of his wandering.

The writer goes on:

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

By faith, Abraham and Sarah did the impossible. They produced a child when Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah’s barren womb was unquestionably dead. No child had been conceived within her for 90 years. Her past history with childbearing – that is to say, zero children – could have left her with little hope for the remaining years of her life.

For indeed the years had made their mark on the pair. No doubt both were grey-headed and growing gaunt and feeble. They had been allowed by God to age to the point where they were past all possibility of reproduction. Physiologically it was impossible. Barrenness had been a source of trouble and grief in their lives. And God now promised to relieve them at the point where it seemed they had missed the boat.

Yet, hoping against all hope, and believing against all belief, they had faith in the promises of God. God used the material before him. He caused Abraham to desire his wife; and he caused life to flare into existence inside Sarah. After such a long wait, she experienced the joy of being a mother.

In times of trouble; in times of sadness, loneliness and grief we can wonder whether God will ever come for us. Will joy ever lighten our way again? We may sometimes patiently wait and pray for a long time. But faith is always rewarded in God’s economy. And the longer we wait, the greater the reward tends to be. This should serve as a great inspiration to cling to the promises of God in his word. To take him at his word in faith. To keep praying, to keep doing good, to keep plodding heavenward. It is a Christian cliche, of sorts, but it is nonetheless moving: keep on keeping on.

In the 12th chapter, the writer tells us:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Sometimes Christians experience trouble due to God’s corrective discipline in our lives. The writer tells us that this discipline is for our good. It is intended to make us more holy and thus more ready for our meeting with the King at the end of the world.

When God lands blows upon his children in the form of troubles, he does so out of fatherly concern for their soul. Perhaps we are starting to flirt with spiritual danger. Perhaps we are growing cold or arrogant. Perhaps we are hardhearted and need the carapace of self-regard cracked apart. Perhaps we have sinned (or are sinning) and need to be yanked back onto the path of Jesus.

Whatever the case – even if sometimes we may not know the reason for it at all – this corrective discipline, the writer assures us, produces peace and righteousness when it is finally over. Correction and discipline does not feel pleasant for the moment. It is painful and grievous. We do not like it. But the results make it well worthwhile. It leads to the Christian surrendering bad attitudes, habits or desires and learning to love and follow Christ more wholeheartedly. It leads to a life that is more abundant. A life that is brimming with Jesus. A life that is more flourishing like the tree planted by a spring, with its branches that grow over the wall heavy with fruit (Genesis 49:22). It leads to a life that is more joyful, more complete, more rich, more free, and more godly.

It leads to a life that is more full of Jesus; He who is the source of all goodness, joy, laughter, peace, and righteousness. He who is the light of the world.

The Darwinian Icarus: How Evolutionists Avoid their Logical Endpoint (Part I.)

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Evolutionary theory is stoutly defended by atheists and progressives because it provides one of the major planks of their worldview.

The theory is cherished and frequently clothed with an aura of infallibility. Evolution is a fact, they thunder, and anyone who disputes this is worthy of ridicule and contempt. Such a person must be unenlightened and unintelligent. Christian scientists and scholars in significant and reputable universities who question evolution are typically deemed suspect. When their questions raise serious challenges to the theory, they can be safely dismissed as fringe nutters or fundamentalists. “Real scientists” do not question evolution.

Richard Dawkins put it this way:

One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity’s sake, let’s stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact.

It is no wonder that evolution is aggressively proclaimed as a “fact” for it serves an important psychological and moral purpose in the atheist, progressive, and liberal worldview. It provides a mechanism that lets a person to occupy a godless worldview in a way that seems intellectually coherent. This is something Dawkins acknowledged in his book The Blind Watchmaker (1986):

Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

In other words, Darwinian evolution provides answers to the questions any fulfilling worldview must address. It answers the issues of origins – the perennial question “where did we come from?” – and thus offers a means by which human beings can establish an alternative morality that is not based on revelation. Thus evolution holds a place of supreme importance for nearly every secularist.

Moreover, it is the single bang in the cannon. There is nothing else. If you want to live independent of God, then evolution is the only horse in town as far as the secularist is concerned. Therefore, no matter how many difficulties exist in the theory (such as the galactic jump from inorganic matter to the first organic cell), and no matter how many holes there are in theory’s key assumptions (such as the dearth of mutations that increase genetic information), Darwinian evolution remains an untouchable Moloch. It has to be. The secularist has no alternative.

But Darwinian evolution is even more than a worldview or an ideology, it is also used as a source of moral and intellectual supremacy. It is the battering ram that is hurled against the ramparts of the Church. It is aimed squarely at orthodox Christians, that turbulent band of medievalists who bunker inside their religious fortress and stubbornly refuse to abandon the Creator!

Such is the oppressive pride that is impossible to wade through the words of social liberals, or Dawkins, or other celebrity atheists without encountering  their extreme contempt for anyone who does not share their viewpoint. Dawkins’ opines, with his characteristic certitude:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Laurence M. Krauss, a “notorious atheist” at Arizona State University (who has spent much of this year being investigated for sexual harassment), goes even further:

You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

One may note the mystical element contained in the writings of these materialists. You are made out of stardust, Krauss says, you are the product of powerful cosmic forces.

Krauss’ above statement from his book A Universe From Nothing (2012) is typical of what might be described as Darwinist theology. Theology does seem to be the correct term, for the cited text has quite clearly passed from the realm of empirical science and into the realm of myth. It is myth woven into poetry. It is a genre of writing that shares striking similarities with spiritual literature, as it attempts to evoke awe and wonderment. It also serves an apologetic function in its naked attempt to persuade people to abandon Christianity.

This tells us a lot about the place of evolution in the firmament of secular thought. Does any other theory get this sort of treatment by secularists, humanists and atheists? Not at all! No scientist talks in this fashion about germ theory. No scientist writes books of florid prose in which he seeks to inspire faith and awe at the theory of gravitation. No scientist uses the heliocentric model of the solar system as a basis to “forget Jesus”. It is upon evolution and its allied cosmology alone that they make this call – evolutio solus.

But evolution is not just the weapon of radical atheists. Evolution also spills over into political disputes as well. During the United States presidential election in 2008, Matt Damon appeared in an interview that went viral. In the interview he challenged Sarah Palin’s suitability for high office, in part, based on her beliefs about origins.

Damon could have chosen to challenge Palin on a wide range of legitimate political issues. After all, her governorship in Alaska had more than its fair share of controversies, and her performance during the campaign did not inspire confidence, even among conservatives. Even the Republican presidential candidate himself, John McCain, later expressed regret about choosing her as his running mate. So there was plenty of material. Despite that, Damon chose to specifically allude to issues of origins.

Damon said:

I think there’s a really good chance that Sarah Palin could be president, and I think that’s a really scary thing because I don’t know anything about her. I don’t think in eight weeks I’m gonna know anything about her. I know that she was a mayor of a really, really small town, and she’s governor of Alaska for less than two years. I just don’t understand. I think the pick was made for political purposes, but in terms of governance, it’s a disaster.

You do the actuary tables, you know, there’s a one out of three chance, if not more, that McCain doesn’t survive his first term, and it’ll be President Palin. And it really, you know, I was talking about it earlier, it’s like a really bad Disney movie, you know, the hockey mom, you know, “I’m just a hockey mom from Alaska”—and she’s the president. And it’s like she’s facing down Vladimir Putin and, you know, using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink, you know, it’s just absurd. It’s totally absurd, and I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about how absurd it is. I … it’s a really terrifying possibility.

The fact that we’ve gotten this far and we’re that close to this being a reality is crazy. Crazy. I mean, did she really—I need to know if she really thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago. That’s an important … I want to know that. I really do. Because she’s gonna have the nuclear codes, you know. I wanna know if she thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago or if she banned books or tried to ban books. I mean, you know, we can’t have that.

He plainly suggests that if a person has the temerity to believe in creationism, by definition they are not responsible enough to have access to the nuclear codes. The unmistakable inference is that creationists must be stupid, or dangerous, or both.

But Damon’s statement goes further than just Palin. Since most Christians believe in the divine creation of the universe – and many believe in Young Earth Creationism – and since either belief necessitates a rejection of the evolutionary timeline, by logical extension bible-affirming Christians must also be stupid, dangerous and irresponsible. And they are to be held in contempt by their sophisticated betters.

The liberal glitterati abounds with exactly this viewpoint.

In 2014 there was a much ballyhooed debate between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham the founder of Answers in Genesis. A year after the debate the National Geographic published an interview with Bill Nye.

The piece opened with:

Last February, the former engineer defended the theory of evolution in a debate with young-Earth creationist Ken Ham, a vocal member of a group that believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Nye’s decision to engage Ham kicked up plenty of criticism from scientists and creationists alike.

The experience prompted the celebrity science educator to write a “primer” on the theory of evolution called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. In his new book, Nye delights in how this fundamental discovery helps to unlock the mysteries of everything from bumblebees to human origins to our place in the universe.

Having established Nye’s credentials as a crusader for evolution, the National Geographic asks its first question:

Who do you hope will read this book?

To which Nye replies:

Grown-ups who have an interest in the world around them, people coming of age who have an interest in science, people who still want to know how the world works.

This is the big concern of mine with respect to the organization Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham and all those guys: their relentless, built-in attempts to indoctrinate a generation of science students on a worldview that is obviously wrong.

Two interesting things emerge in this statement. Firstly, Nye implies that people who will be interested in evolution are “grown ups” and those “coming of age”.

Now, he might simply be talking about age groups of the people who would read his book. To understand his comment in this way would certainly be the most straightforward interpretation, except that throughout the interview the themes of maturity and intelligence repeatedly comes up.  For instance, he talks about a “mature society” that can filter out the bad ideas. He calls creationism “inanity”. He says that Ken Ham is trying to “indoctrinate a generation of science students”. He says his “breath was taken away” when he first encountered creationists. He calls the creationism “silly”.

But he also specifically attacks the worldview of creationists. To have a worldview that hinges on a belief that God created the heavens and earth, says Nye, is “obviously wrong”. The inescapable conclusion from these comments is that Christians must not be mature and probably not very intelligent.

Last year, in a tabloid piece in USA Today, Tom Krattenmaker wrote:

Creationists will believe what they want to believe. But they should know the consequences. Continued fighting to promote creationism is hurting religion’s credibility in an age when science and technology are perceived as reliable sources of truth and positive contributors to society. Anecdotal and polling evidence implicate religion’s anti-science reputation in the drift away from church involvement — especially among younger adults, nearly 40% of whom have left organized religion behind.

Krattenmaker is a self-confessed secularist who wrote the book: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus For Those Who Don’t Believe. He also writes an occasional blog for The Humanist.

Krattenmaker is about as secular as you can get. He supports fashionable liberal shibboleths and coordinates projects arising from Yale Divinity School. His articles for The Humanist seem generally enthusiastic about the supposed decline of the Church and Christianity. His conclusion is typical of a secularist liberal. It is deeply unfashionable to believe in creationism, says Krattenmaker, because it is anti-science and this drives people away from religion. In this he echoes what so many have said before him, and what the majority of liberals continue to say today: “the Church must change or die“.

Such is the supreme arrogance and folly of secularists, humanists, liberals, and atheists when their words are contrasted against those uttered by the Church’s divine Founder who promised, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it“. That Founder knew a thing or two about the universe. For he made it.

From the Mailbag: Enemies of the Cross of Christ

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Dear Agnes,

Thank you for your message and for taking the time to express your feelings about Rick Genest. I want to respond to your message with both respect and depth. So I have chosen to break your post down into its major points and to include my response to each.

Hopefully this will help you to understand my perspective a bit better.

You wrote: 

Hi. Rick Genest touched with his smile much more lives for the better than these words will ever.

Perhaps you are being hyperbolic here for effect, but history shows us that words tend to outlive smiles.

With gentleness and respect, I must point out that the above statement is emotional but not very logical. You are really only stating that you held Rick Genest in high regard and have a corresponding disregard for my article.

But likes and dislikes are irrelevant to theological truth. I notice that you never point out errors of fact or logic in the article. That is because there were no such errors. I research my topics carefully. Rather, your basic complaint is that you did not like the article. You did not enjoy the way the article made you feel. 

But Christianity tells us things about ourselves (and others) that we do not always enjoy hearing. It offers tough truths about the human condition. That is why genuine Christianity is unpopular and that is why most people have no interest in a daily commitment to following Jesus. People never want their idols dethroned.

In the light of Christianity, it does not really matter whether a person “touched lives” with their smile. It does not matter whether a person is nice to others sometimes. Remember, the greatest villains in history have had a kindly side. Hitler was very fond of children and played games with them. Stalin is reported to have once stopped his chauffeured car and offered people a ride home. Stalin’s smiling visage could be seen everywhere in the Soviet Union.

Smiles and personalities mean a lot to mankind but very little to God. What really matters to God is the inner life. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What is important is a person’s true standing before a holy God. This is revealed in the honest answer to the question: is Jesus the Lord of my whole person?

You say that Genest “touched with his smile more lives for the better”. I find myself puzzling about what this means. How did he “touch lives”? What does it mean to “touch a life”? It’s a common phrase but one that is seldom explained. And what make Genest’s smiles more special than anyone else’s?

He was a pure and beautiful soul. Please look one of his interviews not just his pictures.

This is the very opposite to how God sees mankind.

If the Bible teaches us one thing about the human condition, it teaches us that mankind is sinful. This is such a prevalent teaching in scripture that you really only need to read a few pages to encounter it. It is underlined. Highlighted. Over and over again. And nobody is exempt. The Bible says that the sinful nature is transmitted to every single human being through their parents. Consequently, the entire human race consists of sinners. Exclusively. Not one person is pure. Not one person is righteous.

This does not mean that all human beings are as bad as possible neither does it mean that all human beings are sinful in the same way. Some people are more tempted to steal. Others are more tempted toward sexual sins. No matter where our weakness is found, the scriptures teach that sin has affected every part of our being to one degree or another. Our mind, affections, will, relationships, and even our bodies are corrupted on some level.

The message of the Christian gospel is that only one human being had a “pure and beautiful” soul. His name was Jesus Christ and he is mankind’s Redeemer and King.

The universal sinfulness of mankind is an essential component for a Christian worldview. In other words, if a person rejects this truth, he cannot really be a Christian. For scripture says:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)

And in another place:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Jesus teaches that the human heart is the source of evils and miseries:

Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

And Eliphaz rhetorically asks:

What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?

No Christian could accept your verdict that Genest was a “pure and beautiful soul”. Not because he was especially evil. But because inwardly, all human beings are ugly and wild, and that is why everyone needs the purity and beauty of Jesus.

Yes, he was not a Christian, he might have lost the track but we never judge where somebody goes.

To the best of my knowledge Rick Genest was never a Christian. He did not attempt to live out Christian teachings. He did not promote Christ’s kingdom. Never once in his life did he ever profess Christian beliefs. In fact, his interviews and life suggests that he rejected everything about Christianity down to brass tacks.

Now the Christian gospel is very clear about what happens to people who do not believe in Christ. It says that unbelievers are forever lost.

Yet here you seem to leave open the possibility that an unrepentant unbeliever will be found worthy of everlasting life. The problem is that your viewpoint is a direct contradiction of the entire Christian religion and what Christ himself teaches.

We do not need to judge where unbelievers go after death because God has judged this matter already and has rendered his verdict. Hell is real. Repentance is urgent. Faith in Jesus is the desperate priority of life. Because when a man dies without a Saviour, he is separated forever from God. What’s more, hell has no exits.

This is why evangelism is so vital. There is only one hope for mankind and it is the cross of Christ. 

St. John tells us:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

Let’s use the words of St. John here to evaluate Rick Genest’s situation.

Did Rick Genest believe in Christ?

No.

Did Rick Genest live by the truth of God’s word?

No.

Did Rick Genest come into the “light” and publicly display his Christianity?

No.

Is a person matching this description under the condemnation of God?

Yes.

I am a christian, I believe in Jesus and I say that I hope the best for Rick.

I hope you would agree that being a Christian is not merely a matter of self-identity.

I grew lemon trees once. Their flowers had a citrus fragrance. When it was time for fruiting, they grew lemons. I could have stuck a label onto them that said “oranges”. I could have scotch-taped flowers to them and called them “roses”. But the labels would not have changed the truth. It was still a lemon tree.

Likewise, with religion. It is quite easy for people to take a name to themselves. A person can call themselves a Muslim, for example. But if he does not read the Qur’an, eats pork, never go to mosque, does not live up to the Five Pillars, has no idea about the Hadith, and no interest in Muhammad, is he really a Muslim?

Of course not. Nobody would accept that as valid. Religious identity is more than a label.

The same goes for Christianity.

One of the most important criteria for being a Christian is fidelity to the words of Jesus. The Lord said, “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). Part of that teaching is that people who reject God’s salvation in Christ are damned.

Thus, when you say that you “hope for the best for Rick” what you are really doing is disagreeing with God. When you suggest that a person can go to heaven without any faith in Jesus, without love for Christ, without repentance, and without any humble submission to God, you are really denying the core teachings of Jesus.

Bottom line: if you do not like the words of Jesus and refuse to live by them, then you need to be honest and admit that deep down you just don’t like Him.

He touched my life with his genuinity and death and I think that this article could have been written with love and not hate.

Your message demonstrates the frightening tendency of the 21st century millennial to describe any contrary opinion, viewpoint, or idea as a form of “hatred”. I encourage you to think more deeply about that term and how it is used. To simply claim that a particular view is “hate” without any knowledge of the motivation is dangerous and even bigoted.

What you regard as hatred is an opinion that is directly shaped and formed by the Christianity you claim to espouse. No Bible-believing Christian would find anything especially controversial in my article. Yet you see it as a form of hatred because for you Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ, or the Bible, or living out a life in humble obedience to God’s word that is very different to the culture around us.

I am quite sure the day will come when the New Testament and the words of Jesus will be described as “hate speech”. Should that day arrive in the near future, I am equally sure you will forsake your Christianity with little pain, since it seems not to be the bedrock of your worldview or moral compass.

Those who were on the edge of suicide because of pain are never judgemental. We can not judge somebody else’s struggles. I have been there, I know what am I speaking about.

Of course we can judge other people’s struggles! To claim otherwise is a raw demonstration of the silly moralising that has now become the vogue in the West.

Exactly the opposite is true.

With a bit of common sense and a level head, we can often judge other people’s struggles with a fair degree of insight. For example, picture a person who repeatedly takes drugs, commits crimes, and is imprisoned multiple times. With very little effort we can judge that such a person would be better off not taking drugs and that their drug-taking is the source of misery for themselves and for everyone around them.

We may even be able to judge the reason they chose a self-destructive course. Maybe they had bad friends. Maybe they ignored their parents’ counsel. We can analyse their situation, judge the rightness or wrongness of their choices, and see where things went wrong. We can do this because we are not doomed to solipsism, and because God has given us the ability to observe, to learn, and to evaluate the evidence before us.  

Judgement can even be professionalised. There are a range of occupations which involve making a judgement about other people’s struggles – determining whether they are genuine, what sort of help is required, or whether the struggles are merely excuses for bad behaviour.

It always astonishes me when I hear this moral assumption being confidently asserted. Oh, we cannot judge someone else! What astonishes me is just how irrational it is. It is impossible to consistently apply such a philosophy. For instance, in your short post you certainly judged me. According to you I am writing from the vantage point of “hate”. Why are you not pleading that my struggles be taken into account as justifications of my writing? 

The reality is, when people disclaim judgement, they are judging. Human beings cannot function without making judgement about other people, their words, actions, and values. So it is a form of radical hypocrisy to demand that other people suspend their opinions – to “stop judging” – because we happen to not like what those opinions are and want instead our own judgement to prevail.

Nor life, nor death can apart us from the love of God, though I know that we should never give up. God bless You !

St. Paul did not say this. He said that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). The context and terminology tells us that the apostle was speaking to professed Christians about the special redeeming love that God has for his chosen people – for the people who have bowed the knee to Christ Jesus their Lord.

Although God loves all of his creation he does not love everybody in the same way. He has a general love for all people and he shows this by sending the rain and the sun, and giving blessings to all. On the other hand, he loves his own people – his Church – with an everlasting and saving love. Although his Church are unworthy sinners like everyone else, God predestined them and saved them through his Son.

This verse should never be used to falsely offer hope in the cases of people who have died in an unrepentant and sinful condition. It is a sobering and serious reality that those who die without faith in Christ are lost for all eternity. It is for this reason that a serious Christian will regularly meditate on the “Four Last Things”: death, judgement, heaven and hell so that having received from God the promise of everlasting life, he will not be found to have fallen short of it (Hebrews 4:1).

St. Paul warned the Church about “enemies of the cross of Christ”:

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ… Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

What does it mean to live as an enemy of the cross of Christ? There are different views among orthodox theologians and commentators, but all would agree that in essence it involves a denial of the necessity and power of the cross. An enemy of the cross does not need to be a fanatic wielding a Kalashnikov or someone burning churches with their hands dripping with blood.

An enemy of the cross can be quite mild mannered and civilised. They can be softly-spoken and even ostensibly gentle. All one needs to do is advance the possibility that the cross of Christ is an optional extra, and they have set themselves up in opposition to it. To suggest that a person can go to heaven without Christ is to deny the Lord, invalidate the gospel, nullify the Faith, and blaspheme the cross.

Given the impossibility of escape from judgement without a firm anchoring in Christ and the forgiveness of sins that comes only through his cross, it behooves us all in this generation to take more seriously – in humility – both our staggering need and God’s great gift of mercy in the Most High Jesus Christ and his cross.

The Death of a Minor Celebrity

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It was reported this week that a young Canadian by the name of Rick Genest killed himself (although some of his friends and associates have claimed his death was an accident).

Rick Genest wanted to be a freak.

He set out to achieve this distinction by covering himself with tattoos of bones and insects. The top of his head was shaved and tattooed with exposed brains. His eye sockets and tip of his nose was black (whether this was tattooed or aided by cosmetics is uncertain). Around his mouth and over his lips were tattoos of teeth. Over his torso were tattoos of ribs with fragments of skin tissue hanging between the bones, and insects scuttling around the illusion of a cavity. Metal piercings in his nose and ears completed the image of a living Frankenstein’s monster.

Genest wanted to look as if he were in a partial state of decomposition like a zombie. Indeed, his nickname was “zombie boy”, an title he gladly adopted as part of his public signature. To say that he succeeded in his aim to look horrific is an understatement. The tattoos are repellent. Yet the New York Times reported that Genest had been proud of his appearance. “Please do stare,” he was quoted, “I like it.”

Unsurprisingly, the Guardian reported that Genest had a long history of depression. In May of this year, for example, he posted a photograph of himself in a hospital bed wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “Kill Me” and a tongue depressor hanging from his mouth. The article mentioned that he frequently wore this shirt for media interviews. The shirt was referred to with the definite article – “the Kill Me shirt” – since it had appeared so often in photographic shoots. The use of the definite article accords the shirt an iconic status, although it never seemed to occur to the Guardian writer that a shirt that invites people to murder the wearer – even if worn only for shock value – points to the real source of Genest’s problems and does not at all deserve a celebrated status.

Genest made both money and fame from his appearance. He displayed uncanny instinct in generating an income from his repugnant appearance. Even the sympathetic eulogising of the left-wing press cannot disguise Genest’s evident eye for career development and industry shrewdness.

For example, the New York Times mentions that he was named in the Guinness World Records in 2011 for having the most insects tattooed on a human body. Setting aside the complete lack of merit inherent in such a title, it is noteworthy that to get a mention in the Guinness World Records would require Genest to apply for a record title.

The Guinness process is exhaustive, requiring several witnesses, authenticated evidence, and detailed photographs. Genest could only have received his title by being an initiator and driver of the process. Depending on how much personal effort he was willing to invest in his application, it may have cost him a large amount of money. An official Guinness consultant – marketed by the Guinness organisation to people who wish to obtain notoriety; in other words, people exactly like Genest – would have cost thousands of dollars and still required him to be painstakingly photographed from head to foot.

Genest was also aware of the value of victimhood. He ascribed forms of victimhood to himself publicly on several occasions. He claimed to have run afoul (among other things) of school bullying and religious parents. Both of these alleged forms of “oppression” are quite commonplace, and most people successfully move past the memory of difficult childhood experiences when they reach maturity. But with a horrific visage to illustrate the supposed depth of his angst, Genest was able to weave a narrative fabric out of humdrum teenage experiences and thereby elicit the needed pathos for forging fame. Victimhood is the coin that makes the coffer sing in the 21st century.

When asked about other people’s reaction to his appearance, Genest expertly coloured his life with a sparkling beatific quality worthy of a Greek Orthodox iconostasis. His self-appraisal is highly suggestive of a self-indulgent and narcissistic personality.

What changed was the masses’ reaction to me. Prior, I had my place amongst those who understood me and had the luxury of privacy. Now I often feel that every walk of life either has a question or an opinion about the way I breathe air – although I do seize this opportunity to raise awareness for tolerance, acceptance and embracing our differences.

Here, other people are merely “the masses” who did not understand him. For Genest, the ignorance of “the masses” was both an indictment against them – for they lacked broadness of vision – and evident proof of the enlightened complexity of his existence. To be unconventional is a sign of moral superiority. This is the internal narrative of the entertainment world in which he swum. Aberration is sophistication. Revolution is evolution. Normality is boring.

Genest also hinted at his frustration that the people around him had the temerity to hold an opinion on the repellent tattoos he chose to inflict on the world at large. But fortunately for everyone, their narrow-mindedness only produced more virtue in his beneficent heart. It gave him an opportunity to “raise awareness” for the liberal shibboleths of “tolerance”, “acceptance” and “embracing differences”. By this he meant that, contrary to all appearances, his tattoos performed a public service. By making himself so horrendous and ghastly to look at, other people must (and ought) to accept and tolerate him. This caused them to grow to be as broadminded as he was.

At times his hypocrisy was staggering, yet no interviewer ever pressured him to explain the incongruity between his words and his life choices. For example when asked “what is the philosophy behind your tattoos”, he answered:

The zombie concept is also often used as a metaphor for runaway consumerism. Rebelling from this notion is the very meaning of punk. The origins of the zombie creature came about from stories of people being buried alive in times of plagues and such crises; that would come out the other side ‘transformed’. Zombies, to many, represent a pervasive xenophobia. As in my life, I was often out-casted, hated or misunderstood.

Genest answered by pointed out that within his subculture, his tattoos serve as a metaphor for “runaway consumerism”. It is surprising that Genest was not perspiring from the sheer effort to sound deep and meaningful at this point in the interview.

Despite his concern about “runway consumerism”, Genest’s most publicised employment involved working as a model for the fashion label Rocawear and performing in high end fashion shows in Berlin and Paris. He also appeared in a music video with Lady Gaga (the stage name adopted by Stefani Germanotta) in the performance of her song Born This Way. Typical of the zeitgeist, the song begins with a long, disturbing prologue followed by an uptempo song in which Germanotta sings in her underwear.

Surely, in all the pages of history, there have been few industries which better exemplify rank consumerism than the pop music and fashion industries of the 21st century. Over and over, Genest appeared in slick photographic presentations wearing designer gear. In one photograph, he is turning somersaults on red leather couch positioned against an expertly arranged tapestry, set against a mottled wooden floor. The image appears to be extensively photoshopped, light-filtered, and edited until it is more artificial than real. In another marketing photograph he huddles in a bed glaring up from underneath his labelled attire.

After insinuating to his interviewer that his tattoos were a cry against runaway consumerism, Genest is asked for more details about being “the face” of the fashion label Rocawear. One cannot help wondering whether the interviewer was asking tongue-in-cheek because it is such a naked inconsistency.

To this Genest replies with an burst of enthusiasm:

Growing up in the city as a teenager, I have always embraced urban culture and style. It is a great honor to represent what I live, breathe, and bleed for as long as I have. I’m excited to be involved with Rocawear’s re-launch across Europe for Spring Summer ’13.

Urban style and urban culture, says Genest, is what he lives, breathes and bleeds for. What, then, is urban style and culture? This is not defined by Genest, but presumably Rocawear’s designer hoodies, oversized caps, and ridiculously baggy trousers permits us some insight into what Genest believed urban style to be. In short, it “urban style” is a carefully cultivated shtick that permits the safe and comfortable middle-classes to ape some of the grittiness of the city, so that they might feel a little more “authentic”.

Elaborately torn and disfigured garments are essential to this image. One line of jeans features imitation paint splotches down the front of the legs while others are purposefully cut and ripped. Others billow around the wearer’s limbs like prison garments, utilising fabric far in excess of what is necessary to cover the person sensibly. Apparently this is what Genest meant when he spoke of “urban style”. In other words, “urban style” is ghetto chic for people who will almost certainly be safely insulated from ever experiencing the horrors of poverty in an urban slum.

Genest also had roles in a few films and was busily working on a music album. The entertainment industry, like the fashion industry, are not exactly bywords for frugality and material restraint. To the contrary. One can think of few industries that symbolise the “runaway consumerism” against which Genest submitted his tattoos as a living protest, than the very industries he sought to make a career within.

Rick Genest was a man who spent his life living in an unreal bubble. Most of his tattoos were completed before his was out of his teenage years. For nearly half of his life he drew people’s gaze and riveted their attention. Whether walking down a street or attending a party, his visage was blatant. His tattoos extruded into the world around him and gave him the limelight he so evidently wanted. The desire to be noticed, to catch people’s gaze, to gain notoriety, to be the most obvious person in a room are all symptomatic of a person who is either profoundly insecure or profoundly narcissistic.

But something of the person is always lost by such self-seeking. Thus, it is impossible for anyone to tell what Genest really looked like. The tattoos functioned as a mask, concealing the person beneath. One is left to wonder whether even Genest himself could really peer beneath the inking to see his adult self. In any case, they would have served as a daily reminder as he stood at the bathroom mirror that he had rendered himself different. He had turned himself into a macabre character. The horror they resembled was an inescapable feature of his life and must surely have leaked into his perception of the world around him. How could any person find simple and unadulterated delight in a blue sky or a flower when their life was both swaddled and imprinted with horror?

It shows how full body tattoos can take on a life of their own. For although these morbid tattoos arose initially from Genest’s teenage personality, upon being tattooed, they in turn contributed to forging his character and his career. For instance, few things shape a person quite as much as the company they keep and the social circles in which they move. Genest’s tattoos would surely have alienated him from much of conventional society, forcing him to walk among the bizarre and freakish individuals that inhabit the moral wasteland of the entertainment industry. By tattooing himself in this way, he deliberately isolated himself from the very relationships that might have helped him to surmount his depression and find a meaningful and manly existence.

It is with extreme difficulty, for example, that one could imagine him ever having a settled marriage, being a dedicated father of children, or enjoying the comforting routine of a family life. Yet God has so created human beings that we discover purpose and comfort in fixed and permanent relationships, and in the nurture of children. Genest’s tattoos largely precluded him from the possibility of relating to the sort of woman that might have helped him to discover God’s intention for his creatures.

Even of his self-professed friends, now busily eulogising him in overblown language, there were many who personally profited from his tattoos. He was their marketing gimmick; their gritty freak to bestow their wares with some element of novelty. This makes it uncertain whether his closest associates truly valued him as anything other than a mobile stage fitting. Certainly without his tattoos, would they have given him a second glance?

Whether it was suicide – as has been reported by the press – or an unexpected accident as claimed by his friends and manager, we know only that Genest spoke to his girlfriend, went out onto a balcony for a cigarette, and fell to his death. Nobody witnessed his death. We have only his girlfriend’s word about the lead up to it, although there is no good reason to speculate that she is not being truthful.

Whatever the case, the death of an unbeliever has eternal repercussions, as death does for us all. Our Lord teaches us that there is no hope for souls who part this life without having repented and believed in the salvation of the cross through Christ. The future of the wicked is fixed and no rays of a new dawn will lighten their eternity. For this reason,  the Bible urges men, “Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”, for the day of salvation is today. Each day is our opportunity to find our shelter in the Rock from the deluge of judgement that will surely come.

It is bitterly ironic that after Genest’s death, a poem he wrote was posted to Instagram. It has been suggested this post was automatically sent by a posting app. Perhaps Genest had planned for this poem to be his final work before his death? The poem is dark. It references a pagan god and uses the tawdry and boring themes so beloved by those who think the darkness of the goth subculture is “deep”. He writes about flesh being cut, and the cold, the moonlight, and howling under the stars. The image that accompanied the poem featured darkness interrupted only by a circle of light.

In one sense, this is chillingly symbolic of his soul’s trajectory. Having quite literally loved darkness rather than light, Genest’s final word to the world – whether by design or happenstance – is also about the things of the night. Little did he realise that there is a darkness more terrible than that of his subculture and imagination. Our Lord called it “outer darkness”, a lonely wilderness everlastingly submerged in blackness, where the souls who refused to submit to Christ will wander in torment forever.

Genest was a wicked man. He did not commit murder or violent crimes, but he set himself against God and the imago Dei imprinted on his humanity nonetheless. By his own confession he lived a life that purposefully sought to normalise the aberrant and ungodly. He took his body and disfigured it into a grotesque death mask thereby claiming his ownership over it and pretending that it was not God’s. His very flesh which was meant to reflect the glory of God became a canvass upon which he could feature the horror of death, desecration of the sacred, and to turn people’s minds to devilish themes.

The death of this minor celebrity will make no difference to the vast majority of mankind. Like a candle snuffed out, he will be quickly forgotten. As so many before him have done, he has stepped suddenly over the parapet into an eternity he spent little time considering. For him, his short existence here is over; his time is up. Far sooner, perhaps, than he may have ever expected.

We may find little (or more accurately, nothing) to commend in the central, consuming passion of his life, or the empty and frivolous nature of his work. But the death of an unconverted sinner should at least remind us of the urgency of repentance and the hope that exists in Christ Jesus alone. By faith, we can make ourselves ready for eternity.

St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans are apt. They contradict Genest’s glamorisation of darkness, with an unshakeable and towering authority:

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make no provision for the flesh… (Romans 13:11-14)

 

Our True Theology is Revealed in How We Handle Money

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What shall I do? I shall pull down my barns and build greater. (Luke 12:18)

  1. Our true theology is revealed by our approach to finances
  2. Jesus presents the radical view
  3. Covetousness is the weakness of man
  4. St. Augustine describes the two motives of covetousness

1. There are very few things that reveal our true theology as precisely as our approach to finances. A person may profess to be deeply faithful to Christ. He may radiate piety, smiling humbly and making references to God all the time. Or she may regularly attend church, never absent from the pew. An external performance of Christianity is as old as the faith itself. And yet, our Lord takes pains to teach us that if our theology has not reached the wallet and chequebook – if the way we view finances are no different from the shrewd unbeliever – then our faith is, at best, questionable.

Our relationship to money – and indeed, to goods more broadly – tells us a lot about where we are in our relationship to God and the extent to which we trust God to be our provider. It shows to us the extent to which we are truly content with God. When we are content with godliness, this will manifest in both satisfaction and gratitude for the things we possess in the sure knowledge that all that we have (and no more) has been given to us by the express design of our Father for our own good.

Our attitude toward money is a great revealer of the quality of our conversion. Whether we are fretful about losing our property; worried about the markets; or whether we agonise over the future tells us much about the authenticity and depth of our faith. And, of course, how joyfully we give to others – “for God loves a cheerful giver“. Giving generously is particularly demonstrative of true conversion, for mankind in his dead nature is never tempted to divest himself of his money. He does not struggle with the inborn impulse to hand money over to others.

Quite the opposite. The prevailing sin of mankind is to be covetous, avaricious, greedy and grasping, which is why St. Paul could describe money as the “root of many evils”. On one hand, man ceaselessly wants more than he has. On the other hand, he holds jealously to what he has gained already, like the proverbial dragon guarding his store of gold.

The Lord addresses these impulses in the human heart many times during his ministry. Always, Christ directs us to a new view of life that must become the “new norm” for a true Christian. It is a view of life in which our relationship to things and money is radically altered. Where the bare frame of our human outlook is coloured in with divine realities, eternal priorities, and with a preoccupation with God and his kingdom.

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2. The view of life that Jesus teaches is neither comfortable (for it demands living by faith and not by sight), nor is it congenital to our inborn nature (because it makes eternal, invisible things the priority of life). Moreover, what Jesus teaches is starkly realistic and people have never liked stark realism in any generation. “Life is short and uncertain,” Jesus says, “and you could die tonight. So stop living in the fantasy world that everybody else lives in. Stop worrying about money and goods. Start labouring for the treasure that does not fade or spoil, a treasure in heaven that lasts forever“.  Jesus tells us that a man’s life – his true security and happiness – does not consist in the abundance of what he has.

This point is established by Christ in the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Of all his parables, this represents one of the Lord’s most stinging rebukes during his ministry. It deals directly with man’s natural covetous desires, although it is only part of a much longer discourse on money and worry. Nonetheless, even without the rest of the context, it still clearly reflects Christ’s low tolerance for greediness, and equally clearly sets out the new view of life that Christians are to have. Yet it has often been ignored within the church because its message is unwelcome and difficult, especially as times have become more prosperous and every individual has more to lose.

One theologian observes:

The world, Christian as well as pagan, in each succeeding age, with a remarkable agreement, utterly declines to recognise the great Teacher’s view of life here.

3. Jesus begins by warning his audience to: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness” (Luke 12:14).

The fact the Lord urges his hearers to be energetically on guard suggests that covetousness is subtle and common. If a Christian is not on his guard, Jesus implies, and does not learn to think with kingdom mindedness, he will surely be overpowered by a view of life that is acid to Christianity. Like the seed that fell among the thorns, he will soon find the gospel choked in his life by the love of riches.

Note that the Lord refers to all kinds of covetousness. Covetousness is not simply the desire for more than we have. It is not even breaking the laws of God and man for the sake of gain like Judas Iscariot, although this is certainly the result of covetousness. Rather, covetousness also includes holding onto that which we already have and the attendant belief that life is not worth living if we lose our possessions, comforts, and little luxuries.

Jesus describes an industrious farmer who gets a bumper harvest. He is giddy with delight, for now he can pull down his barns – actually, enormous underground granaries – and build bigger ones, and retire. He can spend the rest of his life taking his ease, eating and drinking, and having parties.

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It is a significant example of covetousness for our Lord to have chosen.

Jesus often turns our concept of vices on its head, attacks our safe definitions, and drills down to the attitudes beneath them. Note how the rich man in this parable does not provide a typical illustration of what people generally think covetousness looks like.

The rich farmer does not seem like he is desperate for more. Quite the opposite. Here is a man who has finally reached a point where he judges that he “has enough”. Enough for what? Enough for a long retirement in which he can wallow in his wealth, living a life of ceaseless pleasure. It is a testament to the ever-current nature of the gospel that if we fast forward to the 21st century, we discover exactly the same widespread disposition among millions who make it a serious goal of their lives to reach easy retirement, so that they might hit a golf ball around a green or spending hours relaxing in local cafes.

God’s answer to such a disposition: “You fool!“. The fact that God speaks directly in this parable – which is uncommon in Christ’s parables – strongly suggests that this is not merely an illustrative story but a cautionary biography of a real person. A biography enhanced with Christ’s heavenly knowledge.

In any case, God refers to him sternly as a “fool”. A biblical fool is an insensible man who thinks himself clever when he is not. In his stubborn pride he refuses to hear or repent, and thus places himself beyond all correction or redemption. If this farmer was an actual historical person, then he had evidently not listened very obediently to the message of Ecclesiastes in which the preacher describes the very phenomenon Christ illustrates. Ecclesiastes observes that men who labour all their lives and store up wealth frequently do not enjoy their earnings, but die and leave it to others to enjoy.

Why is the man a fool? Because, having finally set everything up for a pleasure-filled existence, his life was going to end that very night. The earthly paradise he longed for would not materialise because the stopwatch of his life’s span had run down to zero. He had held on to things that he could only keep temporarily. And since everything that falls into our hands is ours only for a fraction of time, and since we are eternal souls, wealth and goods can never be the source of our happiness and joy. To live for them is madness.

The parable underscores the serious reality of life which ought to underpin our handling of finances. The reality is this: even if we gained the whole world, the day will soon arrive when our soul will be demanded of us and we must give an account before the Judge of all the earth.

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4. St. Augustine addressed the issue of covetousness in his sermon (Sermon 36) on the text of Matthew 19:21: “Go sell all that you have and give to the poor“. In this sermon, St. Augustine presents the two major motives behind covetousness or avarice. He also goes on to argue that for a Christian – when he is renewed by the Holy Spirit in both mind and soul – the same motives remain, but are now purified and changed in focus and orientation. Instead of drawing the soul downward, those motives are set free to draw him upward.

This concept of corruption is a central feature of St. Augustine’s theology, and it makes a vivid reappearance in the 20th century through C. S. Lewis’ writings, especially the extended application of this principle in his book The Screwtape Letters.

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St. Augustine explains that all human desires are, at their root, desires for God. Whether it be food, sex, drugs, money or music, behind every human yearning is a keenly felt emptiness, as if the soul had fallen into twilight and were vainly seeking to ignite the lamps with sodden paper. Man is a fallen creature, writes St. Augustine, and therefore does not realise his soul’s true need and does not seek for God. His soul cries out for communion with his Holy Creator but wretched man that he is! He tries to slake his thirst for an eternal God by indulging his sensual appetites. He engages in a relentless search for more – more money and more pleasure – as if the sheer volume of an unsatisfactory delight will eventually fill his need. So it is that “man is always restless until he finds his rest in God.

It is a striking theology that C. S. Lewis expands upon. “It is not that our desires are too strong,” writes Lewis, “but that they are too weak.” If we really desired abundant happiness we would seek it in Christ, the “Joy that man has always secretly desired”. Instead, man’s mind is so numbed and blunted by his fallenness that he thinks a bit of money or a new car will satisfy him. Lewis uses the illustrations of children stubbornly making mud pies in a puddle in the backyard because they cannot imagine what it would be like to go for a holiday to the beach.

This twisting of man’s desires and motives is a recurrent feature in St. Augustine’s writings. As in many of his pastoral writings and sermons, St. Augustine personifies virtues and vices. Of covetousness he writes:

What says avarice? “Keep for yourself, keep for your children. If you should be in want, no one will give to you. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future…” Thus avarice did enjoin one thing: “Keep for yourself, consult for the future”. 

Covetousness (or avarice), says St. Augustine, is motivated by the two impulses of keeping for oneself and laying up for the future.

“Keep for yourself,” says avarice. Suppose you are willing to obey her, ask her where you shall keep your gains? Some well-defended place she will show you, a walled chamber, perhaps, or iron chest. Very well, now you apply every precaution. Even so, perhaps some thief in the house will burst open the secret places; and while you are taking precautions for your money, you will be in fear of your life.

Or, it may be while you are keeping your store, he whose mind is set to plunder has it even in his thoughts to kill you. Lastly, even though by various precautions you should defend your treasure and your clothes against thieves; defend them still against the rust and moth. What can you do then? Here is no enemy without to take away your goods, but one within consuming them.

St. Augustine echoes Christ’s teaching here that our goods and money are simply never secure, regardless of our best efforts. Certainly, we can keep try to keep our money and property safe, but there are numerous cases of burglaries that have gone terribly wrong and someone has been left dead. Or banking errors that have seen people’s money leeched away. Or inflation or volatile markets that sees the value of every dollar erode away until it is worthless. Or, our goods become worn and damaged by mould, rust, or other forms of decay.

When covetousness demands that we “keep for ourselves”, it is a fictional demand. For even with our best efforts nothing that we have, from books to furniture to money, can be kept. Everything will pass from our grasp in time, one way or another.

No good counsel then has avarice given. See she has enjoined you to keep, yet has not found any safe place where you may keep.

Let’s consider her next advice, “Consult for the future”. But for what future? Only for a few and uncertain days.

She says, “Consult for the future,” to a man who may not live even until tomorrow. But suppose him to live as long as avarice thinks he will… [suppose] that he grow old and come to his end: when he is bent double with old age and leaning on his stick for support, even then he still hears avarice saying still, “Consult for the future.”

(The number of elderly retirees who have been caught in investment scandals in recent years have skyrocketed. Much of this has come to light in the current banking commission exposing poor industry practices. In some cases, people well advanced in years have taken out loans for properties that they would not live long enough to pay back. Others made more and more exorbitant investments into the millions. It is a technicolored confirmation of St. Augustine’s observation that even old people can continue to live in the delusions of covetousness.)

For what future? When he is even at his last breath she still speaks. She says, “for your children’s sake”. If only we could find that old men who had no children were not avaricious! Yet to even to childless elders, who cannot even excuse their sinful greed by pretending to have family affections, she still ceases not to say, “Consult for the future.”

…so let us look to those who have children. Can they be certain that their children will possess what they shall leave? Let them observe the children of other men. Some lose what they had by the unjust violence of others. Other children lose what they had by their own wickedness, consuming everything they possessed. So it is that the children of rich men can remain poor.

…But a man will say, “My children will possess this.” It is uncertain. I am not saying that this is a false claim, but at best, it is uncertain.

But now suppose that their inheritance of your estate is certain. What do you wish to leave them? What you have gotten for yourself. But everything that you have gotten was not left to you. Yet you have it. If you have been able to get possessions that were not left to you, then they will also be able to get what you have not left to them.

St. Augustine then shows how these motives can be more properly directed in a heavenly direction:

Thus have the counsels of avarice been refuted… Now let righteousness speak. The words will be the same, but they will not have the same the meaning.

“Keep for yourself,” says the Lord, “consult for the future”.

Now ask Him, “Where shall I keep?”

You shall have treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches, nor moth corrupts. Against an enduring future you will be able to keep it! Come, blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

How many days this kingdom will last for is shown by the end of the passage. After He had said to those on his left hand, “these shall go away into everlasting burning”, to those on his right hand He says, “but the righteous into life eternal.”

This is consulting for the future. A future which has no future beyond it. Those days without an end…  neither preceded by a yesterday nor succeeded by a tomorrow. So then let us consult for this future. The words which avarice spoke to you are not different from this, yet by them is avarice overthrown.

But what am I to do about my children?”

Hear on this point also the counsel of your Lord… I would be bold to speak through His mercy; I would be bold to say something, not of my own imagining, but of His pity.

Keep then for your children, but hear me. Suppose any one should lose one of his children… This is man’s condition. It is not that I wish to see it, but sadly we see cases of it. Some Christian child has been lost. Perhaps you have lost a Christian child.

But you have not indeed lost him. Rather you have sent him before you. For he is not gone away, but only gone before. Ask your own faith: surely you too will go there too? The same place where your child has gone.

Does your son live? Ask your faith… Consider with Whom he is. If any son were serving at the Court and became the Emperor’s friend, and were to say to you, “Sell my portion, which is there, and send it to me; would you find what to answer him?”

Well, your son is now with the Emperor of all emperors, with the King of all kings, with the Lord of all lords…

Standing Firm in the Winds of Persecution: Christ Overcomes

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(Text: Mark 14:53-65)

After the agonising night in Gethsemane, Jesus is arrested and eventually brought before the Sanhedrin. There he stands trial before the leaders of Judaism and by extension, the representatives of the Jewish people.

Contrary to Jewish legal precedent, this hastily assembled court meets at an unseemly early hour, and far from giving preference to acquittal, this court is designed to give the thinnest gloss of legality to a predetermined death sentence. St. Mark tells us that the “whole Sanhedrin was looking for evidence to put him to death”. In other words, this was a kangaroo court: prejudiced against the accused, presided over by biased judges, and one that ignored standards of justice in order to secure the desired outcome.

Or, perhaps more accurately still, this was an example of a legal process that has long characterised authoritarian regimes: the show trial.

The Lord had already given the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants shortly before so that the thoughtful reader can understand what is happening. Here the rightful King of Israel – the legitimate heir of the vineyard – is being usurped by envious and greedy men who want to hold onto their power, prestige, and the tradition-rusted, corrupted religion that had given them so much control over the people. The hour of darkness has come. St. Mark tells us that these rulers actively seek his blood. They want nothing more than to see him suffer a miserable and painful death.

It is worthwhile to note here how evil works. For there is nothing new under the sun. Then, as now, evil is expressed through institutions. Whether it is the Sanhedrin, or the modern parliament; whether it is the meeting of the High Priests and elders or a meeting of a corporate board, men and women generally do evil through institutions. Certainly, there are always some violent and cruel men at the bottom of the heap. There are the sharp-toothed bottom feeders who use actual force or inflict actual torments on others.

Yet even these violent men or women may, in some cases, be thought upon with mercy. The Lord prayed from the cross for the violent Roman soldiers who nailed him, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Not for the High Priests and the rest of the Sanhedrin. They knew what they were doing. And not for Pilate.

Although Pilate never drove any nails into Jesus or laid a single stripe on his back, the procurator was nonetheless quite aware that Jesus was innocent of any crime. He understood that the motive to judicially murder Jesus was solely to quench the outraged envy of the Jewish leadership.

Human beings create institutions. Nearly all of them are hierarchical, and all of them have both written and unwritten codes that govern them. Institutions can be very useful when they are overseen by benevolent and honourable men, but they are also susceptible to corruption and to the furtherance of unrighteousness. So often they provide a respectable covering, or a camouflaging skin, for distasteful behaviour: for greed, lying, manipulation, bulling, and propagating immorality.

When men and women gather together in an institution, they tend to work together to achieve corrupt purposes and promote the works of Satan in the world. We see this in corporations who successfully managed to suppress inconvenient information, as tobacco companies have done. Although many employees must have been made aware that they were promoting a dangerous product as documents were received, typed, circulated, filed, few spoke out against their companies in the heyday of the cigarette.

The cover-ups in government departments, the unbridled greed of corporate policies that often leave victims helpless in the face of a barrage of legal firepower, and the suppression of any Christian viewpoint in other circles points to the same corruption St. Mark documents on that cold night in the Judgement Hall. It is no wonder that ungodly activists who wish to remodel society in their own image are so quick to form groups, since propagating evil tends to be most effective when done in packs. Those who would advance God’s kingdom are often lonely men. The righteous are always outnumbered.

Institutions tend to be merciless, but merciless in a peculiar, paper-shuffling way. After all, Stalin, Mao and Hitler – who stand as history’s most vicious tyrants by dint of the sheer scale of misery and death they supervised – never killed anyone with their own hands. Hitler never gassed a single Jew; Stalin did not physically pillage the food from the Ukraine; and Mao never put a single bullet in anyone’s head. But, as St. Mark reminds us, guilt does not attach alone to those who perform deeds of evil, but to those who put the wheels in motion and use their positions to facilitate evil.

How do we stand firm, then, in a morally revolutionary age where institutions across society often seem irredeemably corrupt?

Jesus gives us the answer. Forsaken by his friends and delivered into the hands of his enemies, he stands (at first) silently like a sheep before his shearers. Their baseless accusations, distortions, and lies crash like water over his impassivity. Sometimes holding silence is necessary especially when it is clear that there is no point. One cannot reason with those who are determined to wield lies like a sword and who persist in their purposeful efforts to misunderstand or misrepresent us.

Yet Jesus also shows us the necessity of standing on the truth and declaring it. He did not hold himself aloof from suffering but shared it in full at the hand of unjust men. At the critical moment he did not resile from God’s truth. He stood firm, even knowing that his words would push the Sanhedrin over the edge and seal his crucifixion:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

One must stand upon truth at all costs. One must bear witness. In this case, Jesus bears glorious testament in that dark chamber to the reality that God had come; the Son of Man and the Son of God.

St. Mark reminds us that when evil manifests it is often through institutions of power. And small though a single Christian may be, the voice of faith rising from even the weakest believer can sound like a thunderclap in the eternal scheme of things. When we echo the words of Jesus and speak the truths which the world despises, we may suffer the cost at the hands of men and women combining in institutions of power.

But God, who is the ultimate Judge of all the earth, is not slow in keeping his promise. He will arise and do right. And those who followed the example of our Blessed Master will be vindicated and not fail to be rewarded in the life of the world to come.