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Friday, 28 April 2017

Where is your faith really placed?

The temptation to run away "Flee like a bird"
Psalm 11 addresses a common human problem  - the temptation to run away from problems - and in particular, to escape in our own particular way to our own "idol":  "flee like a bird to your mountain." We all run away in different ways - that's the idea. Some drown their problems with drink, some flee into the arms of a holiday, others run to gluttony.

What "mountain" do you instinctively run to?

By the time David had written this psalm, he had decided he would not run away but that he would make God alone his refuge, "In the Lord I take refuge" and he was prepared to resist any temptation to flee "How then can you say to  me?"

But leading up to that moment of resolution was a process, a meditation.

(1) The temptation
The temptation was powerful! Wicked people were firing on the righteous! The very foundations of society were being eroded. Let's run away! It makes perfect sense! A question encapsulated the strength of the problem and the powerlessness of the ordinary believer, "What can the righteous do?" Let's pilgrim father to a new promised land!

Sometimes our circumstances may look, to our own eyes, and here is the point, to our own puny analysis,  beyond remedy. And in these circumstances we are tempted to abandon ship and run to our own "mountain" or rather "mountain god".

(2) The truth
What should we do? David stops to think! He does not allow his heart to rule his head. Let's ask ourselves: what is the truth of the matter? Well, first, God is still with his people, "The Lord is in his holy Temple", and secondly, God is still King of the universe, "The Lord is on his heavenly throne", and thirdly, God knows what is going on, "He observes the sons of men". Fourthly, his attitude to the righteous is positive (he examies them- and examine must include love) while his attitude to the wicked is righteous hatred. Fifthly, he will one day punish the wicked and sixthly, God loves justice.

Armed with these truths, how on earth could you run away?!

(3) The resolution
So David resolves to affirm his trust in God alone, and to resist the temptation to run, no matter how powerful the urge, "In the Lord I take refuge." What a wonderful affirmation of trust!

Who will we trust?
In the end, this Psalm asks us who - or what - will we trust in? There are three options:

(a) Will we trust in our MINDS? The powerful arguments put in favour of running away? What if those arguments are flawed? What if, say,  there are only three bows bent towards one billion righteous? What if only one foundation out of a thousand is being attacked? Why trust your mind?

(b) Will you trust YOUR MOUNTAIN? Will you run for comfort to food, drink, friends, pleasure? What is your mountain? Your strong substitute for God?

(c) Or will you trust in GOD ALONE? Our hearts are fickle and they stray so easily and so often. We think we trust in God, but in point of fact we are often trusting in something else.

The journey of faith is in large part learning to trust in God and God alone.

"My soul finds rest in God alone." (Psalm 62:1)


Monday, 24 April 2017

Miracles and Science

Can miracles take place?

A common western objection to Christianity is that it is founded on a miracle - the supernatural Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This miracle is crucial to the Christian faith, so much so that if Christ had not been raised then Christianity would be a pure deception.

So, how do we tie up the resurrection of Jesus - trillions of dead cells coming back to life in an instant - with science?

Closed system assumption
Science relies for its normal operation on the assumption that any one part of the universe is a closed system. Take the solar system. Our ability to predict the orbits of the planets from the laws of motion depends on assuming that an angel isn't randomly nudging them this way or that! This is what we mean by a closed system and it's a good - and indeed essential - assumption to make.

When I was a PhD student with an experimental "rig", for example, I assumed that there were no angels or demons inside the rig and that I could therefore model the physical processes taking place within it using mathematical equations.

All the predictions scientists make day by day are based on this assumption. 

The assumption can't be proved
The problem however is twofold. Due to the vastness of the universe, there is no way that science could ever know whether the universe was closed. And secondly there are no theoretical reasons why the assumption needs to be true. So while science assumes the universe is closed it cannot either demonstrate that the universe is closed or provide any theoretical reasons as to why it has to be.

So we are left with an open system in which miracles can happen anywhere and science is OK with that - not that we are looking for cart-before-horse science approval of the miraculous!

Closed system?
Of course underneath the foregoing argument is a very subtle materialism. It assumes that there is no God upholding the regular laws of the universe. The truth of the matter is that what we call regular laws are nothing other than the underpinning mighty power of the Son of God who "sustains all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3) and who "holds all things together" (Colossians 1:17).

In other words there is no such thing as a closed system! How ridiculous the notion of a creation where the Creator is abolished from his universe a priori! How arrogant! How blasphemous!

The universe, which while it is not God (we are not pantheists), is permeated by God's mighty power and sustained by that power.  Normally God choses to work in a regular way (normal nature) but sometimes he choses to work in a supranatural way (miracles).

Miracles are just God tweaking the way he normally works in one region of his universe and making things work in a different way. Miracles are not God "intervening" - he always intervenes, for he is God! Miracles are simply God working in mode B rather than in mode A.