The Strange Islamic View That Jesus Was Not Crucified….

[This piece arose from a very frustrating conversation with a Muslim sort-of-evangelist at Manchester’s Christmas market; I’m sorry it’s well into tldr (“too long didn’t read”) territory, but one of the annoying things with this issue is that it tends to be dealt with superficially and ‘soundbitey’ and not in the depth it needs. And to be honest, the discussion here is still too short….]

The Islamic view of the crucifixion is based on the following text from the Quran

That they (the Jews) said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah“;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-

— Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisaayat 157–158[7]

And to be blunt, what on earth does this mean? Wikipedia tells me of many conflicting ways in which Islamic scholars interpret the text.

A DIGRESSION….

Before discussing this text further I’d like to say a bit about how I regard Muhammad. Now clearly, as I haven’t chosen to become a Muslim, I don’t believe him to be a prophet of God, nor do I believe the Quran to be the ‘Word of God’. However, very importantly, I don’t believe Muhammad to be a deliberate fraud.

In the case of the Mormon religion, I’m afraid I’m somewhere round about 99.99% certain that founder Joseph Smith did not find a collection of gold plates inscribed with the ‘Book of Mormon’, nor did he translate them, nor were they mysteriously taken away by God after Smith translated them. On the contrary, I believe Smith simply wrote the book himself and essentially – and very deliberately – created a fraudulent religion. I guess he didn’t imagine that this would end with his death by being effectively lynched (albeit shot rather than hanged); this left the Mormon movement being run by people who unlike Smith himself really did believe in it. I have often wondered whether, if Smith had lived to die a natural death he might eventually have owned up….

I don’t think Muhammad was like Joseph Smith – I think he genuinely believed in his revelation from God. But I also don’t think it is a revelation from God; I think it comes, albeit kind of subconsciously, from Muhammad himself, and from his thinking, and also with his limitations.

THE ISLAMIC POSITION

In a version of the Quran given me by a Muslim friend there is commentary and on this passage it says

It is not profitable to discuss the many doubts and conjectures among the early Christian sects and among Muslim theologians.

The Orthodox Christian Churches (and the commentator appears here to include Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as the various ‘Eastern Orthodox’ groups) make it a cardinal point of their doctrines that his (Jesus’) life was taken on the Cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven. This is necessary for the theological doctrine of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins, which is rejected by Islam.

And that is, I fear, one of Muhammad’s limitations. He simply didn’t understand the doctrine of the Atonement. To be fair, his local Christians weren’t, it seems, the most orthodox in the world, and were not themselves giving a very coherent explanation, and arguably the local Jews didn’t give him the best understanding of their faith either. But the big problem, I suspect, was that Muhammad didn’t understand the ideas of the Trinity and of the Incarnation of God in Christ.

In reaction against the ‘multi-god’ paganism of his fellow Arabs, he vehemently believed in a God of absolute one-ness – and so couldn’t believe in a God who is complex, a God who is in human terms a relationship rather than just a single personality. And so for Muhammad, Jesus is separate from Muhammad’s ‘unitarian’ God. And basically, unitarians always have trouble with the concept of the Atonement.

If Jesus is just a man, how can he possibly bear all the sins of humanity? And worse, even if Jesus is thought of as more than just human – say an archangel as the Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently believe – why does God need someone else, a ‘third party’ to pay the price in order to forgive us? Why does He not either inflict on us what we justly deserve, or alternatively, just forgive us at his own expense? A God who would apparently happily inflict justice upon us but for the intervention of a third party doesn’t seem very loving; and a God who wants to ‘lovingly forgive’ but, in order to do so, needs to inflict punishment on an innocent third party – well that doesn’t even seem very just or moral. Trinitarianism doesn’t have this problem because in that view Jesus isn’t a ‘third party’ – he is quite exactly God forgiving at his own expense; but unitarian views can’t believe that and so can’t have a self-sacrificing atoning Jesus.

Muhammad, as I see it, was kind of subconsciously feeling towards a way to have a place for Jesus in his teaching, but without that kind of problem for his unitarian beliefs. And unfortunately he had very incomplete views of both Judaism and Christianity as he took them into his ideas – effectively hijacked them, indeed. Was he, for example, aware of the Old Testament idea of the ‘suffering servant’ in Isaiah? Was he aware of the occasions when the gospels record Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection? Basically Muhammad couldn’t accept Jesus as any kind of ‘saviour’ – so he had to reinterpret him.

To Muhammad Jesus could only be a prophet like Muhammad himself (though presumably he saw him as lesser in many ways). And it seems that in Muhammad’s thinking, Jesus could not possibly die as the gospels portrayed, as the victim of a shameful form of execution; God couldn’t possibly let a true prophet suffer such a fate. Yet he couldn’t totally avoid the gospel witness that there was a crucifixion. And this passage of the Quran is an attempt to avoid the idea of Jesus being crucified while sort of explaining how and why there is a crucifixion in the Apostles’ accounts.

BUT – if Jesus was only what Muhammad says, and he wasn’t actually crucified anyway, why does the New Testament so emphatically say he was crucified, dead, buried, rose again, etc.? I mean in Muhammad’s view that can’t have come from Jesus. Yet each of the gospels gives a very large proportion of its space to Jesus’ last days and the crucifixion, with John being an eyewitness supporting Jesus’ mother Mary. And each gospel contains accounts of Jesus’ “Resurrection appearances” to the disciples in which Jesus rather makes a point of having been crucified and having risen from the dead.

And on the day of Pentecost Peter very publicly preaches in these terms, recorded in Acts 2; 23ff

Men of Israel, listen to these words; Jesus the Nazarene, a Man divinely accredited to you through mighty works and wonders and signs, which God wrought through him in your midst, as you personally know, who under the determined will and foreknowledge of God was betrayed by lawless hands and whom you killed by nailing Him to the cross – Him God raised up by unfastening the cords of death; for He could not be held in its grip….”

Peter could hardly more emphatically contradict Muhammad…. And soon after, addressing a crowd after a miracle of healing, he is speaking again in similar terms….

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and disowned before Pilate, when he had decided to set Him free. But you disclaimed the Holy and Righteous One and requested a murderer for your reward. You killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead – of this we are witnesses.

Even during Jesus’ life He repeatedly foretold His own death, that he would be crucified at the instigation of his Jewish opponents. Some of the passages could be seen as ambiguous in terms of the Quran’s words – but many of them are really clear. I want to pick for now on one particular case, involving Peter again and recorded in Mark 8; 27ff

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages around Caesarea Philippi, and on the way He asked his disciples, “Who do the people assert me to be?”

They told him “John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets”.

He asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?”

Peter answered him, “Thou art the Christ”. And he charged them to tell this to no one about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer much, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be executed, and after three days rise again. He told them this without reservation.

Then Peter, drawing him forward, began to remonstrate with him; but turning round and looking at his disciples he rebuked Peter, saying “Get behind me Satan, for you are not considering God’s ways, but those of men”.

Matthew gives us the content of Peter’s remonstration, though it’s pretty obvious from the context anyway. “Mercy on you, Lord! This must never happen to you!” Or in simple terms, it looks like Peter is thinking exactly the same kind of thing as Muhammad – except he, of course, is thinking it in advance, “This must never happen!” whereas Muhammad is coming centuries later and saying – for essentially the same reason – “This can’t have happened because it doesn’t fit my ideas of Jesus”.

One of the questions I’m inevitably asking here is who is better to trust – Peter and indeed the other apostles who knew Jesus, who were around at the time, who could say “ of this we are witnesses” … or Muhammad nearly six centuries later, and hundreds of miles away, contradicting those witnesses simply on a claim that “God told me….”??

And the other question is, what would Jesus say? And I honestly think that he would say the same to Muhammad as to Peter – “ you are not considering God’s ways, but those of men”. What Jesus considered “God’s ways” are threaded through the gospels – in the texts where he foretells his death, but also when he speaks of “giving his life a ransom for many”, or “No one has greater love than this; to lay down his life for his friends”. Or in the Last Supper when he talks of broken bread as his body, and how his blood is ‘poured out for many’. Over and over, Jesus shows a very different view to that of the Quran and Muhammad. And it’s both elaborate and coherent; while Muhammad’s/the Quran’s answer is frankly neither, just a glib ‘soundbite’ from centuries later and far away, answering a ‘problem’ which is basically in Muhammad’s own mind.

And there’s another problem. As it stands the Quran passage is ‘aimed’ at the Jews and pictures them triumphing at having killed Jesus when, according to the Quran, they haven’t, just “ but so it was made to appear to them”. And this is kind of understandable, as misleading Jesus’ enemies. But how about Jesus’ friends? Do they, after faithfully following Jesus in his life, get to learn the Quranic truth of Jesus not being crucified at all but raised up safely unto Allah?

No, they get to meet ‘someone’ who for forty days – six weeks – claims to be Jesus and far from letting them in on the Quran’s truth of Jesus’ non-crucifixion, goes out of his way to insist that he is the Jesus who died on the cross; he shows them his scars, shows the wound in his side, and so on, and only after forty days is taken up into heaven. Remember that commentary in my copy of the Quran – stating as the orthodox Christian view that “he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven”, and saying this is necessary to the view of Jesus atoning for sin, but is not the Muslim view. The Jesus who appears to the disciples on the third day and for another forty days almost goes pretty much out of his way to behave in contradiction of this Muslim view!

I can see no reason to reject the gospel account of the resurrection appearances; yet it is precisely because of those appearances, and the explanations Jesus gave the disciples during that time about the why and wherefore of his death and resurrection, that the disciples went about preaching the doctrine of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for sins….

On the Muslim view, was this being who came to the disciples even Jesus? And if not, did God/Allah really allow Jesus’ followers, after the trauma of seeing him apparently killed, to be deceived by a false ‘risen Jesus’ teaching a false view of the whole affair? I struggle to believe in a God who would do that to faithful disciples, who would not protect them from such – according to the Quran – falsehood. Yet that’s what the Quran seems to be telling us….

And I’ve not even started on some of the other incoherences – according to the Quran, did anybody die on the cross or was the whole thing an illusion…? One of the problems is that the Quran simply doesn’t tell us, nor as I understand it does Muhammad elaborate further in the teachings known as the Hadith, but there are some strange ideas around like that Judas died in Jesus’ place. Really??? The Quran simply doesn’t give enough information to be useful….

And I’m having to ask why the need of an illusion that Jesus was crucified anyway? It doesn’t really make any theological sense to have Jesus only appear to be crucified – what real purpose does that serve? On at least one occasion when Jesus was threatened we see him just walking through his accusers and away – surely he could have done that kind of thing again, with no need for any elaborate charade of an unreal crucifixion. Indeed Jesus himself said that had he been unwilling to be crucified he could have had ‘twelve legions of angels’ to defend him (Matt 26; 53)

. I’m inclined to the view that the trouble for Muhammad was simply that there was too much evidence for the crucifixion – he couldn’t just ignore it. But he couldn’t accept the standard Christian interpretation which is ‘Trinitarian’ where Muhammad was very much ‘Unitarian’.

The point I’m kinda getting at here is that for whatever reason, Islam is claimed to be deeply connected with Christianity and Judaism – yet also claims clear differences as on this particular issue. And the issue is whether at this point Islam makes a credible case for how it connects with its predecessors, or whether in practice it shows such a disconnection as to discredit its claims. Does this really look like a revelation from God about Jesus? Can we really take this one paragraph of the Quran as adequate contradiction of the massive evidence of the Gospels and the rest of the NT? Can that work out?

It won’t surprise you that my answer is NO.

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More on the Packer/Lloyd-Jones controversy

I’ve noticed that my posts on that have attracted a lot of attention, especially from America. For some reason the Lloyd-Jones post seems to get more views – I’d like to stress that they are a pair and should ideally be read together.

In view of this interest I’ve decided to revisit the topic and say more. I repeat a point I made in both posts – I may be criticising both men on one issue, but they are still for me major heroes of the faith and I’ve really appreciated their writings in my own Christian growth.

I’ve really nothing new to say on Packer – I’m still just a bit gobsmacked by what Packer wrote about the establishment/state church issue back in the 1970s (and I’ve been unable to find any later revision on his part – if you know he has changed his opinion significantly, please let us know). I’ll reproduce the passage again here….

.one finds that the main theological issues that have divided Protestants who hold to sola Scriptura have been these; (1-3 omitted)….(4) how the churches should be related to the state – the issue in debates about establishment throughout the world since the seventeenth century; (5) whether churchmen’s children may properly be baptised in infancy or not – the issue between Baptist and all other Protestant churches; …..[i]

What are we to say to these … matters of debate?  First, that whatever divisions they may have occasioned in the past it is very arguable that, being in reality secondary questions, they need not and ideally would not have this (divisive) effect.  Second, that it is also very arguable that in each of these cases unexamined assumptions brought to the task of exegesis, rather than any obscurities arising from it, were really at the root of the cleavage.  The trouble was that presuppositions were read into Scripture rather than read out of it, as follows; ….(4,5) The fourth and fifth debates reflected the presupposition that Scripture must legislate on the issues in questioneven though no biblical author addresses himself to either. ….  (My underlining – SL)

It is a confusion to blame the principle of sola Scriptura for conflicts which sprang from insufficient circumspection in exegesis”.

I’ve again left out the issues not directly relevant to establishment – baptism remains in both because it’s quite important to the establishment question and because Packer’s linking of them made it difficult to leave it out.

As I said previously, I understand why back in the 1960s and 1970s the state church/Christian country issue didn’t seem a major priority and didn’t get the full attention even of giants of the faith like Lloyd-Jones and Packer – even my other hero, CS Lewis, was an Anglican till his death despite having written, in The Four Loves a really swingeing attack on the misconduct of ‘Christendom’. Though I feel that had he lived to see the renewed ‘Troubles’ in his native Ulster less than a decade after his death, he would have made a similar analysis to my own (which was indeed in many ways a ‘Lewisian’ analysis!). But now with religion and state issues constantly headlined because of the problems with extremist Islam, we were clearly too complacent and we should have thought a lot more about the matter.

I repeat my puzzlement that Packer just didn’t seem to see that the state/church link would inevitably be a source of not only conflict within the church, but lethal wars in the world in general. And my puzzlement that so normally acute a scholar could possibly think the Scriptures don’t address the issue – on which I’ve found more than a little to expound in this blog.

My view of Packer remains pretty much as it was; that he was mostly right in the general idea of not splitting the church over doctrinal purity unless the church formally changed its standards, he was wrong because he failed to realise that the Anglican Church by its establishment was already ‘impure’ in a really crucial way, not to mention totally improperly entangled in the surrounding world in a way that seriously compromises the gospel of being ‘born again’. Indeed establishment involves a major and unscriptural redefining of the Church and of who constitutes the Church.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones still has me a bit unclear on his exact views – so I’m currently taking advantage of the availability of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on line and I’m hearing his views on the key text of Romans 13. And hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be reporting back on what I’ve heard….

I have to say, though, that so far it is sounding as if he comes from the same basic interpretational tradition as Ian Paisley – though much softened and mitigated by being brought up in the relative peace of mainland UK rather than in the conflicted hothouse of Ulster. Nevertheless, the basic ideas seem to be much the same.

Christmas commercialism gone bananas….

I’ve now seen in several shops something really absurd – and actually potentially dangerous and/or money-wasting.

Namely, food items in ‘Christmas’ packaging and very prominently labelled as for the said festival – but with a sell-by/use-by date as early as mid-November! Bit pointless, surely??

And yeah, some slight danger. OK on the whole these are items which are likely to be OK to eat someway past the sell-by/use-by date, but I can see a serious possibility that because the stuff is so prominently labelled as ‘Christmas’, people may simply not check the small-print and often not very prominent dating info and on Christmas Day may be eating stuff six weeks or so out of date! Is that a good idea?

Or of course if they do eventually but belatedly check the date, they may find themselves feeling they have to throw out stuff which, because of its ‘Christmas’ packaging has actually cost more than the same thing at other times of the year…. And for that matter, what’s the point of paying probably extra for Christmas stuff if you’re going to have to eat it weeks before Christmas?

 

Apart from anything else, like how is this really the ‘spirit of Christmas’, I can see this as possibly an issue for Trading Standards….

Ian Paisley – end of an era…

Ian Paisley had a considerable effect on my life and thought. In the late 1960s when I went to Uni, I was still pretty vague about Church-and-State issues, and most of what I did think was liberal secular rather than biblical in nature. Then I encountered the resurgent Ulster Troubles with in effect ‘Evangelicals like me’, people with whom I clearly shared a great deal of common beliefs, behaving in ways which appalled me but which they claimed were very much biblical. I had to ask myself if they were right – in which case, to be honest, I might have concluded that if that was authentic Christianity, I didn’t want anything to do with it…!

As I’ve recounted elsewhere on the blog, I came up with the (still unusual) analysis that the problem was not in the disagreements between Catholic and Protestant, but in their agreement that you were supposed to run a ‘Christian state’. Take out that factor and you simply had disagreements which could be conducted without bombs and guns and so on. But with that ‘Christian state’ idea, it wasn’t really possible to have peace – both sides wanted their version to be the favoured version in the state, both wanted the other side to be discriminated against, and both naturally wanted not to be discriminated against themselves; and this had everyday practical results which led to the fighting we saw in the ‘Troubles’. (History had meant that in Ulster/Eire things had always remained stressed so that the less fraught situation of mainland UK was unable to develop).

Following from that analysis, I discovered that the New Testament doesn’t in fact teach that ‘Christian country’ idea, which in fact goes back to 3-4 centuries after Jesus, but teaches a somewhat different relationship between the Church and the surrounding world. This in turn led me to the major Christian group which practises the NT teaching, the Anabaptists of the Reformation era and their modern descendants – for more detail see elsewhere on the blog.

Ian Paisley I feel ambivalent about. I have little doubt that he was a genuine Christian of good intentions; but his upbringing in Northern Ireland meant he was in a way ‘trapped’ by the prevalent ‘Christian state’ thinking, and couldn’t get outside it – and so sadly much of his life and effort was wasted on pursuing the goal of a ‘Protestant country’ and leading people there into what were unfortunately unChristian activities rather than the really devoted defence of the faith that they believed it to be.

I’ll probably write more about this in the near future – I wanted to respond to the news of Ian Paisley’s death, but I didn’t want to do a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction without some deeper thought about it….

Republicans also marching….

 

We hear so much of the Orange Order’s marches and parades we tend to forget that Northern Ireland’s Republicans also do it; currently a controversial parade, backed by Sinn Fein, is proposed in Castlederg, County Tyrone.  What makes it controversial is that it will honour “Tyrone’s republican dead, including two IRA members killed by their own bomb in 1973” (BBC Teletext).  Already the proposed parade has been re-routed by the organisers to avoid “the town’s war memorial and Methodist church”.  Despite that Unionists are still describing the parade as ‘grossly insensitive’ and wanted it prevented by the Parades Commission.  In fact the Commission gave a ‘restricted go-ahead’.

Also, flashing onto teletext literally while I was writing that first paragraph, a DUP councillor was having to apologise over Facebook comments about the parade.  Apparently someone else posted about an ‘imaginary attack’ on the parade in which Sinn Fein figures would be killed, and the councillor appeared to approve. 

As you may have gathered I actually regard both sides as equally problematic.  In recent history, as the group opposing the government the IRA have been ‘terrorists’ – but there has clearly also been terrorism from Unionists as well as their nominally lawful responses.  This is pretty much a case of “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.  Going back in history things get horrendously tangled and I really don’t want to go too deeply into it.  Ultimately one can just about argue that the fault lies with Anglo-Norman freebooters in the medieval period, conquering bits of Ireland at a time when ‘Catholic and Protestant’ didn’t exist as such; indeed at that time, if anything the Anglo-Normans were fighting for the papal version of Christianity against the on-going remnants of a native dissenting ‘Celtic’ Christianity.  This may have some relevance to rights and wrongs in terms of English ‘colonialism’, but for Christians the ‘Christian country’ aspect is wrong anyway, as explained elsewhere in my blog.

Of course the republican parade is ‘insensitive’ – you’d need to be naïve to think it’s intended otherwise!  Loyalist parades are also insensitive and intended to be so; they’re clearly not intending just to entertain their Republican/Catholic neighbours.  A marching band in such divided circumstances is pretty much a weapon.  An Irish blogger tells me that the area in question sees some twenty Loyalist parades in a year; this will be the only parade by the republican faction.

On either side, these parades are not about ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ in the way Jesus taught, but very much the contrary.  Nor are they fulfilling Paul’s wish in Romans 12 that ‘So far as it’s up to us, we’ll live in peace with you’.  No, these parades are very much ‘so far as it’s up to us we will antagonise, provoke, annoy, and as near declare war as we dare’.  And if anything they probably hope for a violent response, to confirm to themselves and the world the villainy and hatred of whichever is the other side in each case. 

For this reason, churches and individual Christians on either side should avoid taking part in these parades, and should condemn them.  The Orange Order should decide whether it is a Bible-believing Christian organisation – in which case it should give up the clearly provocative parades and pursue its goals by less antagonistic means – or whether it is merely a political body about union with the UK, perhaps including a secular anti-Catholic agenda.  The Orange Order should also look deeper at its goals anyway, and reconsider whether a ‘Protestant country’ is a truly biblical idea, or whether it is actually a ‘Romanist’ heresy from the 4th Century which Bible-believing Protestants should reject.  The Catholic Church perhaps has a bigger problem here; they are the descendants of the original imperial Roman state church and even after last century’s ‘Vatican II’ Council still look for a special place in a state.

For us on the mainland – what goes on in Ireland has in my lifetime been one of the major things putting people off the Christian faith this side of the Irish Sea, and it’s time we stop just watching from the sidelines and make some effort to put things right.  Some of those involved are genuine but misguided Christians who we need to engage with and help them to free themselves from a terrible and all too often lethal mistake.  Others are only nominal Christians who in a situation of conflict simply support in a worldly way the ‘tribe’ they happen to have been born in; they perhaps need our help and prayers even more.  Whether genuine or nominal, the simple fact that they claim to follow Jesus makes them our business.

And here on the mainland some Christians actually support the violence in Ulster (often without realising they are doing so) by supporting here the same kind of ‘Christian country’ idea which is the root of the problem over there; such churches need to change.  The Anglicans are an obvious example; but other denominations and many independent churches have similar ideas and need to rethink their position.  UK Christians attending to these issues and becoming more biblical about them could be a major factor in preventing Ulster sliding back into a repeat of its bloody past.  Evil may triumph if we don’t make the effort….

A Passionate God??

 

I was recently in an online forum and another participant mentioned how many early creeds etc. said that God was ‘without passions’ and so presumably had no emotions.  I’ve come across similar interpretations in other recent books and discussions, seeing this as an abstract philosophical depiction of God as what we’d call a ‘cold fish’ – remote, distant, uninvolved, unmoved, with nothing much corresponding to our feelings and emotions.  And rightly, this is rejected – God is not like that.  But then, in an attempt to attribute passion and feeling to God, modern writers and speakers somehow slip into the idea of a rather weak and vulnerable God.

This couldn’t be more wrong; just read some of Augustine’s words where he prays to God and celebrates God’s love for him.  Now I agree that in modern English usage it is broadly right to talk about a God who has ‘passions’ and who ‘passionately’ cares about things.  The trouble is, the older theologians whose ideas are being questioned were Latin (or Greek) speakers, or later theologians trained in ‘classics’, for whom the connotations of ‘passion’ and its related words were very different.  Like ‘gay’ in modern times, ‘passion’ has somewhat changed its meaning over the years ….

 

In the ‘classic’ languages, ‘passion’ is associated with ‘passive’ and with a whole notion of ‘suffering’.  In this context a ‘passion’ is something that happens to you; something overpowering from outside that takes you over, that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along to do something.  Now the limited gods of paganism could have passions in that sense – look at Zeus, only has to see a pretty girl (or boy) and he is smitten and out of control, and cannot be satisfied till he’s had that pretty young thing in bed (often he’s too impatient to actually make it to a proper bed!). He cheerfully betrays his own goddess wife, Hera, and often not merely seduces but kidnaps and rapes, or deceives, the object of his ‘passion’.  In other contexts also the pagan gods are portrayed as indeed moved by ‘passions’ – losing control and acting pettily, meanly, and with fickle inconstancy from one day to another. 

 

However, when you think of the one true God, the Creator, the fount and origin of all things, the perfect being, can you really think of him having that kind of passion?  If God could have that sort of passion – or rather, that sort of passion could have God – then there would be something(s), and likely not very desirable something(s), more powerful than God, able to frustrate his intentions and drag him into things against his better judgement.  If God is truly God, there cannot be other things outside him that can so affect him.  God is not a passive victim of wildly inconsistent passions.  That was the real point being made by these ancient theologians.

 

But they did not depict God as cold and remote and unfeeling – far from it.  They depict a God of warmth of feeling, of white-hot caring, way beyond human ‘passions’ in their sense of ‘passion’.  But they didn’t see God as ‘passive’ in his feelings; God’s caring is all active, he takes the initiative and actively throws his whole magnificent wonderful self into his caring.  Not that some external force grabs him and controls him, but that he himself is the very embodiment of that caring, that it flows out of him in majestic generosity.  God is active love, not the passive victim of forces beyond his control.  I’m tempted to coin a new word to get across the difference between our usage and the usage of those wise Latin-speakers.  They would not, with their usage of words, describe God as ‘passionate’ – what they wanted to say about God might rather be conveyed by the word ‘actionate’.

 

Our God is Love!!

‘Pay it Forward’

Some years ago there was a book, and then a film starring that superb young actor Haley Joel Osment – better known for Sixth Sense and AI.  The film sadly wasn’t very good, somehow many of the situations in it didn’t quite ring true, and that may well mean the book isn’t all that good; but it contained one brilliant idea.

Young Haley Joel and his class are asked to think of an idea that will make a difference, make the world better; and he comes up with the idea to ‘pay it forward’.  That is, when you do good to somebody, don’t expect them to ‘pay it back’ to you – instead, tell them to ‘pay it forward’ by themselves doing good to somebody else, and then follow the same idea for their own good act so that instead of a closed circle of ‘do something for someone – get paid back’, there will hopefully be an ongoing chain of more and more generous acts springing from the first one.

Clearly a good idea, and I think also a Christian idea; God’s grace to us is a classic example, God giving generously and then effectively telling us to ‘pay it forward’ both by doing good to others and by letting others know of God’s generosity so they too can benefit.  As I said, the film isn’t too good, but give serious thought to that idea….,