The devil, bad pizza, and Todd Bentley's healings

Brian Fulthorp writes an interesting post on spiritual warfare, a follow-up to an earlier post.

What he says is mostly very sensible and important. But there is one issue that I would like to take up. He writes:

We don’t want to confuse coincidence with causation – sometimes it really was the bad pizza from last night and not always a Spiritual attack.

He goes on to talk about Paul Hiebert’s “flaw of the excluded middle.” But it seems to me that his own thinking is characterised by a version of this flaw. For he seems to believe that a bad stomach, like the one his wife suffered on Sunday night, has one of two causes: either it is a spiritual attack from “the devil and his cohorts”, or it has a physical explanation such as a bad pizza.

But this is a false dualism. The problem seems to be that in Hiebert’s worldview, at least as I see it summarised in this short article which Brian linked to, the two separate tiers of a typical western worldview have been replaced by three separate tiers. And by implication any one action must originate in just one of these tiers. So, to the physical explanations and the transcendent divine explanations accepted by typical western theists, Hiebert seems to add a third separate explanation related to spirit beings in this world.

Now I believe Hiebert, and Brian, are right about the reality of this intermediate spiritual world. But it seems that they separate it from the other worlds, and if so they go wrong here. A better picture would be of this intermediate world as the filling which links together the otherwise separate world into a united whole.

An implication of this for me is that it is wrong to say that any event has a cause just in one of the three domains. So, I would say, Brian’s wife’s bad stomach had a physical cause, perhaps a bad pizza, but it also had a cause in the spiritual world, the devil or one of his minions attacking her. And it also had a cause in the divine realm in that God only allows such things for a good purpose.

So I don’t accept Brian’s apparent dualism. I would say that every bad stomach has a physical cause. I don’t think I believe that the devil can affect stomachs directly apart some physical means. I would also say that every bad stomach has a spiritual cause in that such bad things are always indicative of the activity of personalised evil. Also everything is subject to God’s sovereignty and only happens because he wills it. In other words, every event has causes in all three realms.

I would apply this principle also to good things that happen, like healings. Here we come back to the discussion of what Todd Bentley is doing. I would hold that healings like those reported at Lakeland, Florida are ultimately caused by God. I would suggest that in them there is some kind of agency of good spiritual forces such as angels – and this would partly justify Todd’s interest in angels. And I would also say that there is some kind of physical cause of each healing.

So, I would expect that when someone who has been healed at Lakeland presents themselves to a doctor, the doctor will generally find some medical explanation of the unexpected cure, some unusual coincidence of factors which has allowed a complete recovery. This may be one reason for the scarcity of medical attestations of healing. Even the girl who was raised from the dead on the third day was probably, according to the doctors, wrongly declared dead and in fact just in a deep coma. But does this invalidate these things as miracles? No, because God who is in control of all things is able to bring together the medical factors to bring about the healing at just the time he wants to. If he chooses to do so at just the time that Todd declares someone healed, then he is being faithful to his promise to do anything his faithful people ask (John 16:23-24).

Now I don’t claim that absolutely everything that happens has a physical explanation according to the ordinary laws of physics. The resurrection of Jesus, which was not just the healing of someone who looked dead but was not, is a clear example of an event with no normal physical explanation. And the final resurrection of our bodies will also be such events. I suspect that this happens rather rarely. Maybe it happens in some unusual healings, what Todd Bentley and others call creative miracles such as regrowing of limbs – but see this story about how even this can have a physical explanation. I really don’t know how common such miracles are in the world today. But when they do happen they are a sign of something extraordinary, the new world breaking into the old. There is a lot more to explain there, but I won’t try to tonight.

So let’s avoid unnecessary compartmentalising of events, good or bad. Let’s avoid overblown claims that every healing involves a complete suspension of the laws of physics, rather than what the world might describe as a lucky coincidence. Let’s also avoid the scepticism which denies any healings, which so often comes from a worldview which does not allow for the suspension of the laws of physics. Let’s instead glorify God for the wonderful things which he is doing, even when he is using physical processes to do so.

Cutting out the nonsense about petrol (gas) prices

No one, outside the oil companies, is happy at the current high price of petrol (gas, for my American readers), currently at least £1.10 per litre here which equates to about $10 per gallon in US units. British customers are threatening blockades and boycotts in an attempt to bring the price down. It won’t work, of course, and Sam Norton explains why. International oil prices may rise and fall a bit but the long term trend must be upwards, because oil production is gradually falling while demand is still rising. This means that all of us are going to have to change our habits to use less oil.

How can this happen? Well, in principle the government could intervene with a rationing scheme, but I don’t think anyone wants that. If the market remains free the only other way of balancing supply and demand is to allow the price to rise, on the forecourts as well as in the international markets. That is the only effective method of cutting consumption. It is of course a blunt weapon, with disproportionate effects on the poor and on those living in rural areas – and perhaps on small businesses. These especially bad consequences can perhaps be mitigated with tax breaks, and it is good that the British government is considering them. But the government cannot deny the unpalatable truth, that high petrol prices are here to stay. So we all need to change our habits to use less. If we don’t do this voluntarily, which is unlikely, we will be forced to do it by spiralling prices.

One significant positive step that the government could take, perhaps necessarily in co-operation with other governments, is to charge as much tax on aviation fuel as on petrol. That would put a dampener on the boom in cheap flights, catering mostly to people who don’t need to travel, or who fly because it is cheaper than overland and under-Channel travel. Putting a brake on this rapidly growing use of fuel would help to provide more for the rest of us and keep down prices for essential uses.

And all this is quite apart from the good environmental reasons for burning less oil, and for higher prices as a way of ensuring this.

"Reformed" perspectives on Lakeland

I have posted a lot here about the outpouring in Lakeland, Florida led by Todd Bentley. And I have received a lot of criticism in comments from people, mostly with an evangelical perspective, who have apparently written off Todd on the basis of rumours that he is theologically unsound, and extracts from old articles and recordings offered out of context.

So I was pleased to find that not all “Reformed” evangelicals are following this knee-jerk rejection line. Several are cautiously welcoming what is happening. Thanks to CHARISMATICA for most of these links.

Adrian Warnock has posted a series (three parts so far, to be continued) by Jesse Phillips, a Sovereign Grace pastor in Florida. Jesse offers a fair assessment of a visit to Lakeland from a Reformed charismatic viewpoint. He is not overwhelmed by the experience, but accepts it as genuinely from God. It is unfortunate that he visited on one of the few nights when Todd Bentley was not present in person, which might partly explain the less than overwhelming atmosphere.

See also Jesse’s “Reformed-TULIP-Charismatic-Girl” sister Janelle’s report of the same meeting. She is disappointed that the teaching was shallow, but then Todd doesn’t claim to be a teacher, and presumably his stand-in doesn’t either. As Ephesians 4:11 clearly teaches, God’s gift for some people is to be teachers, and for others like Todd to be evangelists or in various other ministries.

The international leader of New Frontiers, Terry Virgo, has posted twice about Lakeland, starting here. Part 2 is the best analysis of what is happening that I have read. Terry points out that

God’s gifts are [not] proofs of holiness or marks of maturity given only to the most advanced Christians to demonstrate God’s approval of their spiritual progress.

So we can accept that God is working through Todd without endorsing him in every way. So, referring to Toronto in 1994-95, Terry writes:

What influenced me most significantly was not the extraordinary physical manifestations but the extraordinary lasting change that I observed in the lives of people I knew. Many displayed a new love and devotion to God and a new sensitivity to the Spirit’s presence. Some embraced a new commitment to Christ and his mission to win the world for his name. The physical manifestations gradually faded but the transformed lives have remained.

And he obviously hopes for similar from Lakeland. Of course it is too soon to tell about the long term effects, but there is no reason to expect anything different. But there is an important condition for lasting blessing:

Some who testify to a powerful surge of blessing now in their church through contact with Lakeland, say that this is not happening to them in a vacuum, but in the context of healthy local church life where eldership oversight is clearly in place, Biblical foundations are already established and a longing to reach the lost with the gospel is already in focus. Praise God! This is how it should be. …

In the midst of what has been historically regarded as authentic and powerful revival, Jonathan Edwards found himself exposed to extraordinary phenomena on all sides. He neither dismissed it all nor accepted it all but offered his own critique, sometimes defending and sometimes challenging what took place.

It seems to me that we do not have to take a stance simply dismissing what is happening as a circus or to only demonstrate alarm at the dangers that seem inherent. Nor should we naively embrace and unquestioningly accept the complete package.

For myself, I long for the power of God to be released so that Jesus might be wonderfully glorified in our generation. …

Amen! So do I, and with Terry I pray for this. Indeed this is what I and my church are looking for in our local area. Over the last few years we have worked hard on establishing the biblical foundations and stirring up a longing to reach the lost. Now, I think but it needs to be in God’s timing, we are ready to move on to the next stage.

On Friday my vicar and his wife and two youth leaders return home from Lakeland. That night (7.30) there will be an “impartation” meeting at my church in Chelmsford where they will seek to pass on what they have brought back from Florida. Sadly I will miss this as I had already booked in at a conference in Leicester from Thursday to Saturday, but another similar meeting with something of a youth emphasis is planned for Sunday night (7.30). We hope and pray that this will be the beginning of “a powerful surge of blessing” in our church and our community.

Answering the unanswerable on suffering

Sam was asked by Scott Gray some unanswerable questions, so after trying his own answers he decided to turn this into a meme and ask five others, including myself!

Here are the questions:

1. if the nature of god is omnipotent, benevolent, and anthropomorphic (that god is a person, who sees suffering as wrong, and can change all of it), why does god not act to relieve all suffering, or at least the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest amount of people the greatest amount of time?
2. if you were god, and you were omnipotent and benevolent, how would you respond to suffering?
3. if this is not the nature of god, what is the nature of god, that allows suffering in the world?
4. if these are the wrong questions to ask, what are the right ones?

Wow! How am I supposed to answer this? I will have a quick try, but don’t expect anything profound. I won’t try to make four separate answers here, but perhaps answer all four questions together.

The basic reason, as I see it, why God does not simply remove all human suffering is that in doing so he would have to override the free will which he has given to his human creatures. (I will not go into the separate issue of animal suffering here.) The issue here is nicely illustrated by the psalmist, speaking here as the mouthpiece of God:

Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

Psalm 32:9 (TNIV)

God could make us humans do exactly what he wanted us to do, controlling us by the “bit and bridle” of his almighty power. But this is not what he wants us to be like. He has made us with understanding and he wants us to act according to it. We can only do so if we are released from the “bit and bridle” and given our freedom. Sadly, as has been seen ever since the Garden of Eden, humans choose to abuse that freedom by doing all kinds of wrong things.

The inevitable result of those wrong things we humans do is suffering. Most human suffering is caused by human folly. I can say that even of natural disasters, whose impact is usually vastly more than it might have been because people have chosen, or have been forced by other people, to live in unsuitable homes in unprotected areas which perhaps should not be inhabited at all.

God could act to stop people living like this or take them out of danger zones. But he can do this only by overriding human freedom. And that is something he has chosen not to do. He has chosen to limit himself in order to make for himself a mature people who can stand on their own feet. So, just as a wise parent does not protect a growing child from every possible danger but allows him or her to learn by experience what is good and what is bad, so God allows his children to learn by experience, even of suffering. Just as his own special Son Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8), so we too, his children by adoption, are expected to learn obedience through suffering.

But suffering should not be taken out of perspective. As I wrote in a provocative post a week ago, at first quoting John Hobbins,

Suffering and death have no meaning whatsoever except insofar as they will be vanquished forever.

Indeed! To Christians death should be a joyful release from this earth (2 Corinthians 5:1-4), although of course tinged with sadness for those left behind, and suffering is temporary and a preparation for greater glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When we taste the heavenly glory, it will so overwhelm us that we will no longer count our sufferings here as something to be remembered or compared with anything else. This is how Jesus put it:

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16:21-22 (TNIV)

I nearly forgot, this is supposed to be a meme and I am supposed to tag others. So I hereby tag Lingamish David, MetaCatholic Doug and Koiya Chronicle Eddie. It would be interesting just to see your initial thoughts, don’t feel obliged to post a theological tome!

Todd Bentley and an angel called Emma

In ongoing discussions about the “outpouring” in Lakeland, Florida a number of people have mentioned as a criticism of Todd Bentley that he talks about an angel called Emma. For the first time this evening I have seen some evidence of this. Ian Matthews lists this as his number one reason for being suspicious of Todd’s ministry, and he gives a link to an article which Todd wrote in 2003. Ian says that Emma

apparently ministers in his revival meetings.

But what does Todd really have to say about Emma? I quote in full the section from the article with the only mentions of Emma:


Now let me talk about an angelic experience with Emma. Twice Bob Jones asked me about this angel that was in Kansas City in 1980: “Todd, have you ever seen the angel by the name of Emma?” He asked me as if he expected that this angel was appearing to me. Surprised, I said, “Bob, who is Emma?” He told me that Emma was the angel that helped birth and start the whole prophetic movement in Kansas City in the 1980s. She was a mothering-type angel that helped nurture the prophetic as it broke out. Within a few weeks of Bob asking me about Emma, I was in a service in Beulah, North Dakota. In the middle of the service I was in conversation with Ivan and another person when in walks Emma. As I stared at the angel with open eyes, the Lord said, “Here’s Emma.” I’m not kidding. She floated a couple of inches off the floor. It was almost like Kathryn Khulman in those old videos when she wore a white dress and looked like she was gliding across the platform. Emma appeared beautiful and young-about 22 years old-but she was old at the same time. She seemed to carry the wisdom, virtue and grace of Proverbs 31 on her life.

She glided into the room, emitting brilliant light and colors. Emma carried these bags and began pulling gold out of them. Then, as she walked up and down the aisles of the church, she began putting gold dust on people. “God, what is happening?” I asked. The Lord answered: “She is releasing the gold, which is both the revelation and the financial breakthrough that I am bringing into this church. I want you to prophecy that Emma showed up in this service-the same angel that appeared in Kansas city-as a sign that I am endorsing and releasing a prophetic spirit in the church.” See, when angels come, they always come for a reason; we need to actually ask God what the purpose is. Within three weeks of that visitation, the church had given me the biggest offering I had ever received to that point in my ministry. Thousands of dollars! Thousands! Even though the entire community consisted of only three thousand people, weeks after I left the church the pastor testified that the church offerings had either doubled or tripled.

During this visitation the pastor’s wife (it was an AOG church) got totally whacked by the Holy Ghost- she began running around barking like a dog or squawking like a chicken as a powerful prophetic spirit came on her. Also, as this prophetic anointing came on her, she started getting phone numbers of complete strangers and calling them up on the telephone and prophesying over them. She would tell them that God gave her their telephone number and then would give them words of knowledge. Complete strangers. Then angels started showing up in the church.

I believe Emma released a financial and prophetic anointing in that place. That was the first angel that I have ever seen in the form of a woman. Some angels I’ve seen seemed like they were neither male nor female. However, Emma appeared as a woman who was like a Deborah, like a mother in Zion. When she came, she began to mentor, nurture and opened up a prophetic well. The people in the church began having trances and visions and the pastor began getting words of knowledge and moving in healing. That congregation also saw more financial breakthrough than they had ever seen before.

What can we make of this? First, Todd, as quite a young Christian, was told about Emma by the respected leader Bob Jones. Soon after this Todd saw a vision which he understood to be this same Emma. So if this is an error, it is Bob’s error, only taken on second hand by Todd. This is the same Bob Jones who last week prophesied over Trevor Baker in the YouTube clip which I linked to before.

Second, this angel is seen to distribute gold dust. But I note that this is a vision of an angel, and presumably the gold dust is also visionary, not literal. In the vision it is clearly symbolic of the generosity which came to this congregation leading them to make a large offering. So there is no call for the mockery I have seen that people should collect the gold dust to raise money for the poor. In fact it seems that Todd’s meetings bring in plenty of money for his work for the poor quite apart from the gold dust.

Third, it is an unwarranted generalisation to write that Emma “apparently ministers in his revival meetings” on the basis of an account of just one occasion when she turned up at a meeting. There is no indication that Todd ever saw her again. I have seen no suggestion that she has been reported as ministering at Lakeland.

So, what is the issue here which has made this such a stumbling block for Ian and others? Is it the idea that angels have names? But that is biblical: the angels Michael and Gabriel are named in Scripture. Is it the apparently modern form of this angel’s name? Well, Emma is a modern name I think, but it might well be an adaptation of the Hebrew word AMMA, which means “cubit”, or AMA “female servant”, both of which would be appropriate names for an angel – “cubit” being suitable for the measuring angel of Ezekiel 40-47 and Revelation 21. Or is the problem that this angel is apparently female? Well, I accept that there may be no explicitly female angels in the Bible, but arguments from silence like that are very dangerous. Or perhaps the problem is simply that Todd is seeing angels at all? But since the apostles, Philip, Cornelius, Peter and Paul did (Acts 5:19, 8:26, 10:3, 12:7, 27:23), why shouldn’t Todd?

Of course the underlying issue here may be that Todd is claiming in any way at all to hear from God and to be in touch with the spiritual realm. For Bible deists that is of course a problem, and maybe that is Ian’s real problem. I took the term “Bible deist” from Jack Deere’s book Surprised by the Voice of God, in which, as I wrote then, Deere

explains how he moved from the position that God speaks only through the Bible to an expectation that God speaks to his people today, if only they will listen to him.

So, does Ian reject (in the words of his second objection to Todd) because of

The Gnostic overtones of special knowledge and revelation

any claim to hear God, or only Todd’s claim? If only Todd’s, what makes him special? If any such claim, then is Ian declaring himself a cessationist and Bible deist? If so, this seems to sit oddly with one of the core values of his church:

We are open to the renewing, empowering and transforming work of God the Holy Spirit.

Surely anyone who is truly open in this laudable way will be open to the possibility that God is really speaking to and through Todd Bentley.

As for Ian’s last objection,

The seeking after ‘blessings’ – it seems to distract from the ‘business’ of being the body of Christ to a needy world

– I have more sympathy here. There certainly are some blessing and revival junkies making a lot of this just for themselves. Todd can’t stop them turning up, but he doesn’t encourage them. What he does encourage is people visiting Lakeland and then taking his anointing back to their home churches. This is certainly happening in some places. This anointing is intended to equip Christians to be more effective as the body of Christ to a needy world. So let’s stop carping about it and seek the equipping for ministry which God is offering.

Todd Bentley's tattoos and baldness – and the dead are raised!

At the risk of being accused of fuelling revival on my blog by blatantly posting on a subject which brings many hits, as Lingamish (now David Ker) was accused of doing, I will mention Todd Bentley’s tattoos here. Today I was watching some recorded extracts from one of his evenings, and he was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “JESUS Loves me & MY TATTOOS!” And his neck and forearms emerging from the T-shirt were indeed covered with tattoos, as I had seen before.

When I first saw this I thought that he must have got all these tattoos during his days as a drug dealer, before he dramatically became a Christian and started on his evangelistic and healing ministry. But apparently not. I have Todd’s 2004 book “Christ’s Healing Touch volume 1” (I don’t know if there is a volume 2), and this is illustrated with a number of pictures of him preaching and healing at various campaigns around the world, most in Third World countries. So don’t say he ignores the Third World! Several of these pictures clearly show his neck and forearms without tattoos. So he must have got all the tattoos within the last few years, when he was already a Christian in a major ministry.

As for what this means, I don’t know. I’m sure some people will see it as proof that he is of the devil. To me at least it shows that God is able to use powerfully a man with tattoos, and that getting tattoos is not an unforgivable sin!

These older pictures also show Todd with a mess of curly blond hair on the top of his head. Mike M wrote in a comment here that Todd was bald, and wondered why God hadn’t healed him of this. But surely baldness is not a sickness, but rather a glorious part of how God made some men “very good”? In a further comment I suggested that Todd was not actually bald but that he had shaved his head. But looking more closely I see that both are true. Some of the TV pictures clearly show very short hair growing at the back and sides of his head, but not on top. So Todd has done what many balding men do: he has shaved his whole head to disguise his advancing baldness. Why not? He certainly has more street cred in his appearance like that than as the boyish blond in the older pictures. Yes, I’m sure that is deliberate, becoming like the people on the street to win the people on the street.

But I must say I wondered if I should even post about trivia like tattoos and baldness as I watched bald, tattooed Todd taking testimonies. That evening, as well as several dramatic healings testified to by nurses who had brought their sick patients for healing, there were no less than four testimonies of people being raised from the dead. These included a stillborn baby, a woman who dropped dead in a gym, and a baby who drowned in a pool; medical or paramedical staff had given up on all of these but after prayer they came back to life. Most dramatic was the story of a three year old girl who was pronounced dead on a Monday night and came back to life on the Wednesday morning, in a hospital on the way to being cut up for organ donation.

Mike M asks why the mainstream media do not report healings and raisings from the dead. Surely the answer is obvious. Their reporters and editors cannot cope with this kind of thing as they, like most people in the western world who have been “educated” into a materialist worldview, don’t believe such things are possible. Indeed, as I wrote nearly two years ago, even most evangelical Christians in the West are Bible deists, by which I mean, among other things, that while professing to be Bible-believing Christians they don’t actually believe that God does anything in the world today. So for these people, as well as for those with a materialistic and atheistic worldview, miraculous healing simply cannot happen, and therefore any reports of it must be fakes. They are simply embarrassed by any proofs of genuineness. The media are dominated by people who think like this and so avoid reporting what they simply assume, despite the best evidence to the contrary, to be fakes.

Nevertheless, whether the media report it or not,

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Luke 7:22 (TNIV)

Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of what the Holy Spirit is doing through Todd Bentley and others involved in this outpouring.

Christians are like Levites …

… according to this interesting post by Michael Barber:

The Levites have had to renounce (“he did not acknowledge” [Deuteronomy 33:9]) their own family members–father, mother, brother. Likewise, Jesus explains that his disciples must renounce “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters”.

His disciples therefore are called to be spiritual priests. In this his disciples fulfill the original vocation of Israel, described in Exodus 19:6: “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” However, because of their idolatry the priesthood went only to the Levites.

1 Peter explains that this vocation now belongs to believers: “ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

A revival of Gentle Wisdom

All this talk of revival and outpouring at Lakeland and Dudley seems to have brought revival to this blog, at least in terms of the number of readers. My daily readership has grown steadily from 218 on 4th May, the day before I posted on speaking in tongues, to 856 and still counting today.

Some other blogs linking to my series on revival and outpouring or discussing the same issues:

Dave Faulkner: Welcome to Todd World

maggi dawn: An Unequal Blessing

the red pill: An outpouring on outpourings

Leaving Münster: Bored of Outpourings!

MetaCatholic: Still a sceptic for Jesus

The Simple Pastor: Revival or Jesus?

42: More on Todd Bentley

It should be obvious that I by no means endorse all the positions taken on these posts. Nevertheless they are all worth reading. I have left comments on most of them giving my reaction.

No dream is impossible

A few days ago Doug tagged me with the Impossible Dream meme. Since then we have had our disagreements about the Dudley outpouring. But there are no hard feelings, so now I have more or less recovered and caught up from my tiring weekend I have some time for the meme.

The meme is a simple one: name your impossible dream. But this gives me a problem, because I don’t actually accept that any of my dreams are impossible. Unlike Eddie, I don’t have any sporting dreams, so it doesn’t matter to me that I am too old to fulfil them. I am probably also too old to serve in the police or the armed forces, or to train as an astronaut, but these have not really been my dreams. Well, doing a space walk would be cool, but maybe not impossible: in a few years time I probably could be a space tourist, at least inside the spaceship, if I chose to blow most of the capital value of my house on three minutes of weightlessness.

But most of the things I might even consider dreaming of are ones which would in principle be achievable for me, if I chose to put my efforts into fulfilling them – although I accept that for some of them I had better get on with it if I am not to be considered too old, or likely to die of old age first. For I have confidence, perhaps too much confidence, in my ability to do well in any area of non-physical activity which I choose to turn my hand to. What I don’t have confidence in is my continuing desire to persevere with any activity that I am not really committed to.

So, like Doug, I could dream of writing a definitive work of theology. And I would not accept that such a dream would be impossible. It’s just that I don’t have the commitment to such a dream to put myself through the years of advanced study which would be necessary first. Mind you, I am learning a lot from reading blogs etc, which, if focused more carefully, could well form the core of a useful book, perhaps more likely to be a cult classic than a definitive work.

So what do I dream of? I think I can honestly say that the dreams I have left these days are all for the extension of God’s kingdom – with just one exception, the dream of being happily married, which I believe is something God has given me to hold on to even through years of singleness and disappointment.

To say that all my dreams are for God’s kingdom may sound impossibly holy to some, but I mean it. The background for this is that I went through a period of depression during which basically I had no dreams at all, everything was shattered. I have come through this depression largely as a result of what God has been doing in my life. He did this in part by giving me new hope and new aims which are entirely for him. I was reminded today, by TC’s strange post with a reinterpretation which I don’t accept, of this verse which expresses where I am:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 (TNIV)

While I don’t claim to be as advanced in this matter as the apostle Paul, there is a real sense in which I can say this with him. My old selfish life with its dreams has been “crucified”, put to death through years of depression, and the life that I now live is the life of Christ in me. Not perfectly so, of course, but to the extent that I can honestly say that, apart from marriage, the only dreams I have left are of playing a significant part in the work of God’s kingdom.

Now I don’t want to be another Billy Graham or Todd Bentley. I don’t really want to be an up front person, even though I sometimes dream of it. There is something of the frustrated leader in me, but that frustration would be satisfied by playing a significant part in the behind the scenes activities of a real revival or renewal of the church – as indeed seems to be beginning to happen. So I see in Lakeland and Dudley what may be the start of the fulfilment of my dream. Now this dream would be impossible to achieve by my own strength, by confidence in my own mental abilities, but with God nothing is impossible.

Well, what started as a not too serious answer to a meme has turned into a devotional self-examination. Not quite what Eddie and Doug had in mind. But I make no apologies for writing what I believe I need to write. However, I don’t want to pressurise anyone else into doing the same, so I won’t tag anyone else this time.

Why I am ignoring Burma and China

I have not been moved greatly by the natural disasters in Burma (Myanmar) and China. Why not? Am I callous? I sometimes feel a bit guilty for this. But somehow deep down these things do not move me.

One thing that I could say is that the tens of thousands who die in high profile disasters like these are in fact a small number compared with those dying every year from largely treatable diseases like malaria, which causes over a million deaths a year. It may seem callous to calculate like this, but there are probably more lives saved or rebuilt per buck from providing simple mosquito nets to poor Africans than from responding to the latest fashionable disaster appeal.

But there is also a more theological reason for not focusing on natural disasters, which is well put by John Hobbins quoting David Hart:

[T]here is no more liberating knowledge given us by the gospel — and none in which we should find more comfort — than the knowledge that suffering and death, considered in themselves, have no ultimate meaning at all.

Hart’s essay is profound, and also touches on how this matter relates to understandings of the atonement. If this extract doesn’t make sense to you, read it all. It is in line with Hart’s conclusions that John adds:

Suffering and death have no meaning whatsoever except insofar as they will be vanquished forever.

Indeed! To Christians death should be a joyful release from this earth (2 Corinthians 5:1-4), although of course tinged with sadness for those left behind, and suffering is temporary and a preparation for greater glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). As for those who die without explicitly being Christians, it may well be that God reveals himself to them in their dying moments; or maybe God knew that they would never repent and believe and so there was no point in keeping them alive. In any case, God is in control of all this. We should avoid falling into the world’s way of thinking in which death is the ultimate disaster.

So, as Christians we should not let ourselves be distracted by giving excessive attention to natural disasters, which are bound to come, but should keep our focus on the work of building God’s kingdom.