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Monday, 28 September 2015

Life on Mars?

Mars One
An ambitious project called Mars One is aiming at sending a crew to live on Mars in the year 2027. The team have been told that once they leave planet earth there will be no way to return home - it's a one-way ticket deal.

Six people have just started living in a dome in Hawaii in a NASA experminet to see if it's possible for people to live in Mars-like conditions for a year. They will not be allowed out except in a space suit to test the endurance of human beings for prolonged life on a Mars-like planet.

When living on Mars three obstacles must be overcome. First, bodily survival, food, water, air and climate. Second, in a confined space how will the members handle inevitable conflict? You can't run away and hide for a few weeks. Third, the spiritual dimension. How can human beings exist for long in an environment that is devoid of life and beauty?

Some western scientists talk about colonizing Mars, preapring the planet and the human race to live there should earth become inhospitable and inhabitable. There are good reasons to doubt that this will ever happen. It is likely humans will land on Mars, but I don't believe we will ever live on Mars, and here is why.

Problem 1: Physical life. The temperature and atmosphere of Mars mean that no human will ever be able to walk on its surface without a space suit. (Those who think that we can change the atmosphere of a planet are playing God.) There must be real questions over whether in the long term the necessary resources for life such as water and oxygen - and a secure habitation - could ever be sustained.

Problem 2: Confinement. The fact that the living quarters will be very small and no-one will be able to leave without a space suit on, makes the prospect of life on Mars claustophoic in the extreme. We were created to live in a garden, not an outhouse.

Problem 3: Psychological/spiritual. The greatest reasons for doubting the feasability of life on Mars are psychological and spiritual. We were designed to live on earth, placed in a garden for infinite delight and distraction. Without the need of a spacesuit we can run into forests and plains and explore the beauty of the world.  No other boring planet (and they are ALL boring without life) will ever satisfy the curiosity of the human mind. A man-made environment is simply not enough to sustain "life".

I predict that the end product of settling down to such an artificial life in a dome on Mars will be some form of madness.

Mars One plans to fund the project by "Big Brother" kind of access to the crew. Viewers are likely to get more than they bargained for.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Why I believe in Hell

The most terrifying doctrine in the Bible
There is surely no more terrifying, no more serious, no more difficult doctrine in the Bible than its teaching on hell - a place of eternal, conscious suffering, for those who reject the God they know exists from creation, or worse - reject the Jesus who they have heard about. No Christian should speak about hell without sadness and even tears.

In every age, this difficult truth will be undermined, spoken against, revised and denied - but there are particular reasons this truth will be denied today. First, we live in an easy world. By that I mean, we, speaking of the West, find ourselves in comparative comfort and ease. Any doctrine which implies discomfort will naturally be alien to us. Second, we are a minority-rights culture, where the thought of any group being treated poorly sounds just wrong to a modern ear. Third, we are a rationalistic culture, in which the mind is king  - this doctrine does not seem reasonable to the human mind (which is why liberals have denied it for yonks).

Reasons to believe in hell
I believe in hell, because (1) it runs against the natural mind of fallen human beings. This may seem to be a strange reason, and it's not a main one, but so much of God's truth is counter-intuitive, supra-intellect, beyond our ability to understand, that if a doctrine is automatically denied because it fights against reason, that is a reason to suspect that it may be true; for who can know the mind of God? If all a man believes is understandable to his intellect, his doctrine is very unlikely to have a divine origin. This is not to say that we should believe any doctrine that is irrational, but one good reason to consider as true a well-established doctrine, is that the small feeble and fallen human mind fights it.

I believe in hell because (2) it supports the justice of God. A God who allows Hitlers and Stalins to get away with monstrous sins, indeed allows any sin to be overlooked is not a just God: such a "god" is a monster - overlooking evil and wrongdoing.

I believe in hell because (3) I believe in the cross of Jesus Christ. The suffering of the Son of God who became sin for us and was therefore punished on the cross only makes sense if you believe that God is a just God who must punish sin. If God can overlook sin, if he can turn a blind eye to sin, if there is no hell, why didn't he overlook all sin and spare his Son from Calvary? Why did he send his Son to redeem us at such great cost if  he could have simply overlooked sin?

I believe in hell because (4) I believe in evangelism and mission. There is, frankly, no point in sharing the Gospel around the world, if everyone is automatically going to heaven. Why waste our time  - indeed this is why liberals don't bother with the Gospel, why upset people if there is no need to? Just feed their bodies, don't bother with their souls.

I believe in hell because (5) the Bible teaches it. Now of course we are getting closer to the core reasons. The only way to deny the Scriptures' plain teaching about hell is rip out considerable chunks of the Bible or do one of those pathetic revisionist interpretation. Take one example alone. Paul says to Christians who are being persecuted that one day God, "will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord..." (2 Thess 1:8-9). No amount of liberal hickledy pickeldy pockery "this doesn't mean that, that doesn't mean this" magic can alter the plain meaning of the words "punished", "everlasting", and "destruction".

I believe in hell, most of all, because (6) Jesus, the Son of God, the lover of souls, taught it.  In fact, it is a well-known and well-quoted statistic, that Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else. I believe Jesus when he says: "But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 8:12), and "It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell" (Mark 9:46), and "In hell where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham.." (Luke 16:23) and, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Mat 24:46).

The essential message of the Gospel is "flee from the wrath to come"; come to Christ who has paid hell for us, so that we don't have to bear it ourselves and instead become the recipients of the amazing grace of God.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Beauty of Change

The English drop in temperature
Here in England, we know that Autumn is on the way by sudden drops in temperature, often felt most acutely in the evenings. These temperature drops signal the onset of a long winter ahead with all the inevitable changes in clothing and behaviour the cold will entail.

The beauty of change
And yet how beautiful change is! Each season has a beauty and charm of its own, and God has designed the seasons to give us variety, hungry as we have been created for new things. We would be distraught if our children remained children, we would be disppointed if seeds remained seeds. Change is built into God's design of the world.

The seasons of life
As in nature, so in life. Life is filled with new seasons as age, family, providence and health all lead us into new pastures. How we respond to these changes is crucial. Most of us are naturally reserved and resistant - or even reluctant to change. Change will involve new challenges and we can so easily find ourselves settled in our old (comfortable) ways.

How to embrace change
The way to embrace change - and especially the winters of our lives - is first, to realise how important change and winter is. Vernalisation is a process in plants which enables them to flower in spring only after a prolonged cold spell. Without the cold spell, there can be no flowering. And so often that is the way change works in our lives, before spring must come winter. Many years ago I read a sermon by, I think a Puritan, called "Winter afore Harvest" in which he showed from the Scriptures that before there can be any spiritual harvest in our lives, the cold snap of God's humbling winter must be felt.

So if you are in the winter of spiritual life, take hope; spring and harvest will soon be here!

Secondly, remember that even in the winters of our lives, God is at work in our souls, pruning us, accomplishing his sanctifying work. In this season we often cannot see God at work, but we need to be assured that the good work God has begun he will bring to completion, and so often that is through  cold shivery winters.

Thirdly, remember that God is faithful even when we cannot see his hand at work. We worship a faithful God whose love is steadfast and enduring and whose love does not depend on our feelings, but on his majestic unchangingness. Let is trust in him at all times.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.