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Friday, 26 January 2018

The Reformation Gave Birth to Science

Before the Reformation
There are all sorts of reasons why science was born in the West in the 1600s - and most of them are connected to Christianity. Peter Harrison explores one important reason in his book, The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of Natural Science. 

Before the rise of modern science, Aristotle - Greek science - reigned. (In fact if you criticised Mr Aristotle in a British university all the way til around 1650 you'd get your knuckles wrapped!)

The Greek view of nature was related to the Greek view of books, of texts. Embarrassed by their myths and heroes they decided to explain them away by allegorising the texts: those terrible heroes weren't real and their stories weren't real, they only referred to something or someone else.

In a similar way, nature, they said, points away from itself. Nature is symbolic. So the two lights in the sky are really symbols for our two eyes, and so on.

Therefore, don't pay too much attention to the natural objects themselves, just work out what they refer to.

Biblical literalism and the Reformation
Along came the reformers! They taught that the literal sense was the real and most important sense of the Bible. Away with the four-fold interpretations of Scripture they said. Tragically many of the church fathers had bought into the Greek method of interpretation so the reformers had to wave good be to a good deal of them also!

The result of this new attitude towards the Bible was that it flowed over into the West's new attitude towards nature. Nature was not there merely to act as a reference to other qualities or objects, it was there to be studied for its own value. Now lots of attention was given to nature.

And hence a new attitude towards nature emerged form the reformation's new attitude towards the Bible and produced the soil in which science could flourish.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart

The Peril of an Unforgiving Heart
Let's start with the opposite. According to Scripture, it is possible to possess a "bitter root" - a heart in which bitterness of some kind or another has taken hold.

Just as a plant's roots take hold in soil - bindweed, the gardeners curse, for example - so some past bitterness can infect the human heart - and be the cause of much trouble..........

"See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15)

That bitterness may be against God - perhaps we feel he let us down in the past - or it may be against some human being. Whichever, this root has never been dealt with, never purged, never dug up and cast into the fire, this offense never forgiven.

And the result is that it causes trouble and spreads to many other people, "defiles many."

An unforgiving heart not only affects the person, but spreads its defilement wherever it goes. By gossip or slander against God or man, the embittered soul pours out their sour story of woe to all who will listen.

What is the cure to an embittered heart? 

The cure to a bitter heart
The Scriptures provide us with many resources to help us cultivate a forgiving heart. In the first place, we must tell God that we forgive those (which may include God!) who we feel have sinned against us in our daily prayers (Matthew 6).

Secondly, we must realise the mountain of our own sin, and how the Lord has forgiven us billions and by contrast contemplate the pennies others have sinned against us by comparison and extend forgiveness for those tiny sins (Matthew 18).

Thirdly, we decide to leave all revenge to God, and free ourselves from the awful burden of being the Judge (Romans 12).

Fourthly, we remember that one of the very properties of divine love is that "it keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13). God himself has put away our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103) - an astounding feat for Holy Omniscience.

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart
Nothing pollutes a heart more than unforgiveness - in essence it is the polar opposite to the Gospel. And few things bring joy to a heart more than forgiveness and forgiving-ness.

Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
(Romans 4:8)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Uncontrollable Mystery on the Bestial Floor

William Yeats
The poet William Yeats wrote a strange enigmatic and unusual short poem called "The Magi" which ends with this well-known line, "The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." He was referring to the incarnation - the uncontrollable mystery -  the baby who was born among the beasts in a humble stable. I am not sure what Yeats meant by "uncontrollable" and the word "unfathomable" would be better.

With the glitz of Christmas over, it may be time to ponder this remarkable mystery - God made flesh.

The greatest miracle?
Of all God's many acts of power and wonder, the Incarnation must rank as the first. When it comes to mysteries, the Trinity comes first - the union in One of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the Trinity was Something that always was, whereas the Incarnation was an act of God whereby the Son of God took on human flesh at one point in time and space - surely the greatest of all God's many mighty acts of power.

Let's ponder this miracle and worship......

The Son of God became a real man
The Son of God did not become a "sort of human being", he became a true human being like you and me. While his father was not Joseph, his true mother was Mary. The power of God overshadowed Mary and the Holy Spirit performed a miracle in her womb, but Jesus Christ was a true man, who came, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:3, in "the likeness of sinful man." That is, Jesus was as close to us as it was possible to be  but without sin.

As a man Jesus could get tired, become ill, injure himself and be tempted as we are but always without sin.

The Son of God continued to be God
Although at the point of his conception the Son of God became a true man, yet he continued to be God. The angel Gabriel made it clear that the one to be born would be called the Son of God - his divine title.

The Son of God was One Person with Two Natures
And so this is where the mystery runs deepest. In One Person, the Son of God combined two natures. He was at one and the same time, true man and true God. These natures did not mix so that a third nature arose, but were combined in One Person, with One Will and One I, forever! Who can ever begin to understand such a thing? How can Someone be both all-knowing and limited in knowledge? How can Someone be both limited to one point in space and time in his human nature and yet be omnipresent in his divine nature?

All kinds of errors have arisen over time in regard to this point of doctrine. Some have said that Jesus was only part God and part man. Some have said he became a new nature - a mix of human and divine. Some have said he wasn't really man or that he wasn't really divine. But Scripture - and orthodox tradition going back to Chalcedon - teach that Jesus Christ was both true God and true Man in one Person.

"He became what he was not (a man) and continued to be what he always was (God)."

The only thing that changed when the Son of God took on human flesh is that he laid aside the trappings of his divine majesty and humbled himself. Once risen and ascended into heaven he regained the glory he once had with his Father.

The Reasons for the Incarnation
The Son of God took on human flesh to save us. To pay for the sins of men he had to become a man, but to pay for all of our sins, he had to be God. To become the mediator between God and man, he had to be a man to represent us and he had to be God to represent Himself. All for love's sake he became man! What a wonder and what love!

The Son of God took on human flesh so that God could understand our plight. God knows from the inside what pain, sorrow, bereavement and loss are all about because in heaven, at this very moment, stands a true human being, who is our advocate. The claim, "God does not understand my situation" is now and forevermore a lie!

The Son of God became a man to set an example of self-giving for the sake of others. That is the meaning of the beautiful poem in Philippians chapter 2. Paul introduces the highest doctrine imaginable to sort out the most mundane problem  - Christians seeking their own will. What did Jesus do? He gave up what he wanted for the sake of others.

When we pray, let us remember that in heaven there is a man who understands our lot as men and women living in a broken world. He understands all the trials and temptations of this passing world, yet without sin.

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.
Lord of eternity
Dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility
And washes our feet.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.