ETERNITY – The Arthur Stace story

Sydney, Australia, celebrated the beginning of 2000 by displaying on the Harbour Bridge the word Eternity in the iconic copperplate handwriting of Arthur Stace.

01 eternity1

He started early, usually before dawn, and he wandered through all the streets of Sydney.  Every morning he was somewhere else, Wynyard, Glebe, Paddington, Randwick, Central Station.  As he said – where God directed him.  Every night the message appeared in his head.  He was a very little man, bent, grey-haired, only five feet three inches tall and just seven stone.  He looked frail enough to blow away.  Then with the formality of another generation he always wore a grey felt hat, tie and prim double-breasted navy blue suit.  Sometimes in the dawn light he would be seen around Wynyard Station.  He would nod to the drunks still left on the pavement and he would look at the debris of the affluent society stretched out on the park benches, trying to keep warm under newspapers.  If he detected any movement there would be a pat on the head or a warm greeting.  He had the air of a man who understood.

As he walked every so often he would stop, pull out a crayon, bend down and write on the pavement in large, elegant copperplate – Eternity.  He would move on a hundred yards then write it again, Eternity, nothing more, just one simple word.  For thirty-seven years he chalked this one-word sermon and he wrote it more than half a million times.

He did not like publicity.  He regarded his unique style of Evangelism as a serious mission, something between Arthur Stace and his Maker, so for a decade these Eternity signs mystified Sydney.  They were an enigma.  Sydney columnists wrote about it, speculated on the author, and several people walked into newspaper offices and announced that they were the author.  The real man kept quiet.

The mystery all came clear in 1956 and the man who cracked it was the Reverend Lisle M Thompson of the Burton Street Baptist Church.  Arthur Stace was actually the church cleaner and one of their prayer leaders.  One day Lisle Thompson saw Stace take out his crayon and write the famous Eternity on the pavement.  He did it without realising that he had been spotted.  Thompson said: “Are you Mr Eternity?” and Stace replied “Guilty Your Honour”.  Lisle Thompson wrote a tract telling the little man’s extraordinary story and Tom Farrell, later had the first interview.  He published it in the Sunday Telegragh on 21 June 1956.

Arthur Stace was born in a Balmain slum in 1884.  His father and mother were both drunkards.  Two sisters and two brothers also were drunks and they lived much of their time in jail.  The sisters ran brothels and one of them was ordered out of New South Wales three times.  Stace used to sleep on bags under the house and when his parents were drunk he had to look after himself.  He used to steal milk from the doorsteps, pick scraps of food out of garbage and shoplift cakes and sweets.

His schooling was practically non-existent; so much so that this was noticed by Government officials.  At the age of twelve he became a state ward.  Not that this helped him greatly.  When he was fourteen he had his first job – in a coal mine – and his first pay cheque he spent in a hotel.  Already he had learned to drink at home so like the rest of the family he became a perambulating drunk, living in a fog of alcohol.  He went to jail for the first time when he was fifteen, then it became a regular affair.

He was in his twenties when he moved to the seedy inner suburb of Surry Hills.  There his job was to carry liquor from the pubs to the brothels, and particularly his sister’s brothel.  Then there were other jobs such as cockatoo at a two-up school, that is the character who gives warning of the approach of the police.  He was mixed up with various housebreaking gangs and because of his size he was splendidly useful as a look out man (1).

During the first world war he enlisted in the 19th Battalion, went to France and returned home gassed and half blind in one eye.  Back in Surry Hills he took up his old habits, drink in particular.  He slipped from beer, to whisky, to gin, to rum, to cheap wine until finally living on hand-outs. All he could afford was metholated spirits at sixpence a bottle.  His alcoholism was so extreme his mind began to go and he was in danger of becoming a permanent inmate of Callan Park Mental Asylum (2).

He told Tom Farrell that in 1930 he was in Central Court for the umpteenth time.  The magistrate said to him: “Don’t you know that I have the POWER to put you in Long Bay jail or the POWER to set you free.”

“Yes Sir,” he replied, but it was the word POWER that he remembered.  What he needed was the power to give up drink.  He signed the Pledge but he had done that many times before.  He went to Regent Street Police Station and pleaded with the Sergeant to lock him up. “Sergeant, put me away. I am no good and I haven’t been sober for eight years.  Give me a chance and put me away.”  The Sergeant said: “You stink of metho, get out!”

This was the depression time and a metho drinker, dirty, wretchedly dressed, had to be the least likely of any to get a job.  Outside the Court House there was a group walking up Broadway.  The word had got around that a cup of tea and something to eat was available at the Church Hall.  In the nineteen thirties one would endure almost anything for free food.

The date was August 6th and it was a meeting for men conducted by Archdeacon R.B.S. Hammond of St Barnabas’ Church on Broadway.  There were about 300 men present, mostly down and outs, but they had to endure an hour and half of talking before they received their tea and rock cakes.  Up front there were six people on a separate seat, all looking very clean, spruce and nicely turned out, a remarkable contrast to the 300 grubby-looking males in the audience.  Stace said to the man sitting next to him, a well-known criminal: “Who are they?” “I’d reckon they’d be Christians,” he replied.  Stace said: “Well look at them and look at us.  I’m having a go at what they have got,” and he slipped down on his knees and prayed.

After that, he did find it possible to give up drink and he said: “As I got back my self respect, people were more decent to me.”  So he won a job on the dole, working on the sandmills at Maroubra one week on, one week off at three pounds a week.

Some months later in the Burton Street Baptist Church at Darlinghurst he heard the evangelist, the Reverend John Ridley.  Ridley was a Military Cross winner from the World War One and a noted “give-‘em-Hell” preacher.  He shouted: “I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.” (3)  Stace, recalling the day, said: “He repeated himself and kept shouting ‘ETERNITY, ETERNITY’ and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church.  Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity.  I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it.  The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name.  I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelt Eternity for hundred quid.  But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script.  I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”

Stace claimed that normally his handwriting was appalling and his friends found it illegible.  He demonstrated this to a Daily Telegraph reporter.  He wrote Eternity which snaked across the pavement gracefully with rich curves and flourishes, but when he wrote his own name ‘Arthur’ it was almost unreadable.  “I’ve tried and tried but Eternity is the only word that comes out in copperplate,” he said (4).  After eight or nine years he did try something else “OBEY GOD”, and five years later, “GOD OR SIN” and “GOD 1st”, but finally he stuck with Eternity

He had some problems.  There was a fellow who followed him round and every time he wrote Eternity this other character changed it to Maternity.  So he altered his style to give Eternity a large, eloquent capital E and maternity took a dive.  The City Council had a rule against defacing the pavement and the police “very nearly arrested” him twenty-four times.  “But I had permission from a higher source,” he said.

He lived with his wife Pearl in Bulwarra Road, Pyrmont and this was his routine.  He rose at 4 am, prayed for an hour, had breakfast, then he set out.  He claimed that God gave him his directions the night before, the name of the suburb came into his head and he arrived there before dawn.  He took his message every 100 yards or so where it could be seen best then he was back home around 10am.  First he wrote in yellow chalk, then he switched to marking crayon because it stayed on better in the wet.  He did other things. On Saturday nights he led gospel meetings at the corner of Bathurst and George Streets. At first he did it from the gutter but in later years he had a fine van with electric lighting and an amplifier.

Aruther Stace died of a stroke in a nursing home on July 30, 1967 (5). He was 83.  He left his body to Sydney University so that the proceeds could go to charity.  The remains were finally buried at Botany Cemetery more than two years later (6).

There were suggestions that the city should put down a plaque to his memory.  Leslie Jillet of Mosman said that there should be a statue in Railway Square depicting Stace kneeling chalk in hand (7).

In 1968 the Sydney City Council (8) decided to perpetuate Stace’s one-word sermon by putting down permanent plaques in “numerous” locations throughout the city.  Sir David Griffin, a former Lord Mayor, tried to perpetuate what he called “a delicious piece of eccentricity”, but a team of City Commissioners killed the idea.  They thought it was too trivial (9).

But finally Arthur Stace did get his plaque.  It happened ten years after his death and was all due to Ridley Smith, architect of Sydney Square.  He set the message Eternity in cast aluminium, set in aggregate, near the Sydney Square waterfall.  The Sydney Morning Herald Column 8 said: “In letters almost 21cm (8in) high is the famous copperplate message Eternity.  The one word sermon gleams in wrought aluminium.  There’s no undue prominence.  No garish presentation.  Merely the simple Eternity on pebbles as Arthur Stace would have wanted it (10).

Ridley Smith did have an interest in Arthur Stace, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.  As a boy he used to hear him preach on the corner of Bathurst Street.  Even more interesting, Ridley Smith was named after the fire-breathing Reverend John Ridley, the very man who converted Arthur Stace back in 1930 (11).

Eternity

References
(1) Sunday Telegraph, 21 June 1956.
(2) Reverend Lisle M. Thompson, The Crooked Made Straight.
(3) Daily Telegraph, 12 June 1965.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1967.
(6) Daily Telegraph, 8 October 1969.
(7) Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1968.
(8) Daily Telegraph, 30 April 1968.
(9) Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1976.
(10) Ibid, 12 July 1977.
(11) Ibid, 13 July 1977.

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LINKS TO OTHER INSPIRING STORIES

Best Revival Stories – “Living Faith”
“Before they call I will answer” – Dr Helen Roseveare
The Spirit told us what to do
 – 2 teenage girls start 30- churches in China,
also in Great Revival Stories 
Speaking God’s Word
 – Communist leader healed and thousands saved,
also in Great Revival Stories 

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Jesus on Dying Regrets: Advice about The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

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Advice about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

 

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0When we reach the end of our lives, do we have any regrets?  What stopped us from doing what we should, or what we were called to do?  A palliative care nurse, working for years with the dying, shared the top five things she heard from patients as they pass on.

These are brief selections from the book Jesus on Dying Regrets. I have used material from FaithHub and added summary headings and quotes from Jesus and from Bible passages that relate to those regrets of the dying.  The book expands on these passages.

 1  Be true

11.  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

Jesus gives real life: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Jesus challenges us to lose our lives to find life.  “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).   Paul adds, I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

2  Work wise

 

22.  I wish I didn’t work so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

Jesus said:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20), and added, “What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:25).  Jesus was even more radical in talking about living in God’s kingdom:  ‘Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (Matthew 6:31-34).

 

3  Express feelings

 

33.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level.”

Jesus calls us to live openly in the light, not in shadows: “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And he added, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16).  Jesus championed openess and honesty: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).  He calls us to loving relationships: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).   ..

4  Stay connected

 

44. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end.”

Jesus emphasized loving relationships: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35), and gave practical examples: ’ You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).  Concerning forgiveness Jesus added,  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14).

5  Be happier

 

55. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”

Jesus reminds us that lasting joy is found in serving.  The night before Jesus died his friends argued about greatness:  “A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, …  ‘But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:24, 27).  After washing his friends’ feet that night Jesus said: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-17).

Adapted from http://faithhub.net/regrets-before-dying/

See also PDF Common Regrets of the Dying, by Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware

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Life

Renewal Journal 20:  Life

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All Renewal Journal Topics:

1 Revival,   2 Church Growth,
3 Community,   4 Healing,   
5 Signs & Wonders,   
6  Worship,   
7  Blessing,
   8  Awakening,  
9  Mission,   10  Evangelism,
11  Discipleship,
   12  Harvest,   
13  Ministry,
   14  Anointing,   
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16  Vision,   
17  Unity,
   18  Servant Leadership,  
19  Church,   20 Life

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Contents:  Renewal Journal 20: Life

Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

Primordial events in theology and science support a life/death ethic, by Martin Rice

Community Transformation, by Geoff Waugh

Book Reviews:
Body Ministry
and Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival, by Geoff Waugh

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Editorial

I edited 20 issues of the Renewal Journal, beginning from 1993.   I am grateful for all the contributors to the Renewal Journal.  They identified and created cutting edge issues in this momentous decade into the 21st century, now updated in 2nd editions.  Renewal Journals, 2nd edition (2012) are now available in print – see Amazon and The Book Depository.  They are available in four bound volumes

The Renewal Journal is ecumenical and interdenominational in its scope both for writers and readers.  Renewal and revival transcend our divisions and transform our relationships.  I am grateful.  The 21st century continues to see the spread of powerful, current revival and renewal movements worldwide.

Most of the articles in this issue were presented and discussed at a ‘Contemporary Issues in Ministry’ conference held at the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College in Brisbane, Australia.  Their titles indicate their content.  They invite and challenge us to die to the old and rise to the new.

Death is painful, especially where love is deep and strong.  The longer we live, the more we have to live with the pain of that loss of loved ones (parents, spouse, relatives, friends) and the loss of loved things (possessions, activities, vocations) until ultimately our own death transforms us and unites us in perfect love.

Meanwhile, if we choose to die to self-centred living, we can live in resurrection life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Gal 2:20).

©  Renewal Journal #20: Life (2007, 2012)  renewaljournal.com

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1 Revival,   2 Church Growth,   3 Community,   4 Healing,   5 Signs & Wonders,
6  Worship,   7  Blessing,   8  Awakening,   9  Mission,   10  Evangelism,
11  Discipleship,
   12  Harvest,   13  Ministry,   14  Anointing,   15  Wineskins,
16  Vision,
   17  Unity,   18  Servant Leadership,   19  Church,   20 Life
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Primordial events in Theology and Science support a life/death ethic, by Martin J. Rice

Primordial events in Theology and Science support a life/death ethic

by Martin J. Rice

Martin Rice (Ph.D.) has written and taught in science and theology, including teaching at Christian Heritage College School of Ministries in Brisbane where he completed his Graduate Diploma in Ministry Studies.  This article is a shortened and adapted version of a paper, given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia.

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Primordial events in theology and science support a life/death ethic, by Martin Rice:
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An article in Renewal Journal 20: Life:

Summary: Primordial events in both theology and science support a basic life/death ethic

Several remarkable coincidences between some primordial events described in the Bible and, independently uncovered through the programmes of modern science, facilitate the derivation of basic, binary ethical principles.  Such broadly-based principles are potentially widely influential, by virtue of their primordial and grand, contextualizing character.  Whilst the time-scales of these events are always likely to be contentious, the biblical and scientific events themselves are strikingly similar, and generally not contentious.  Although it could be argued that the coincidences are artificial, the Bible having influenced the scientists’ interpretation of their data, an even stronger argument can be made for independence of the two data-sets.  Such coincidences, therefore, suggest nature itself (for example the night sky, the reef, and the rainforest) advertises a grand context; a life/death context, that conditions all ethics.  Common principles, derived from the science and the theology of primordial events, clearly modulate the viewpoint that ethics are an entirely culturally-determined, social construct.  They also add an ethically instructive note to our enjoyment of the harmony of our spectacular environment.

This hybrid paper, is offered with something of the attitudes of Arthur Peacocke (1996, p.94), who writes, “But to pray and to worship and to act we need supportable and believable models and images of the One to whom prayer, worship and action are to be directed.”; and of Hugh Ross (1999, p.47), who says, “Rather than elevating human beings and demoting God, scientific discoveries do just the opposite.  Reality allows less room than ever for glorifying humans and more and than ever for glorifying God.”

Introduction: evangelism goes out and meets people where they reside (Acts 1:8).

Scientifically trained people sometimes ask challenging questions of the Christian faith.  For example, among believers it is not usual to ask, “Why did God create a universe having the observable characteristics of our one?  Or, “What is the connection between the invisible God and our visible space/time reality?”  Or, “How does eternal Life compare with earthly life?”  If asked, they are usually answered with general truths, like, “It is to give God glory”, or, “Because God is a loving, creator God”, or, “Because God’s Word says so and I believe it”.  However, most contemporary thinkers seek more technically specific answers.  Failing that, they are likely to turn off from hearing the Gospel.  In addition, ethical relativism thrives in situations where a connection between God and human society is perceived as distant, tenuous, or imaginary.  Such negative outcomes make it pertinent for theologians, students of the Bible, ethicists, and evangelists to be aware of the actual questions being asked, and to work at addressing specific issues, in terms of appositely contextualized biblical revelation (see Carson, 2000).  Jesus guaranties the power of the Holy Spirit for those who will witness to the Gospel in diverse situations (Acts 1:8); however, it is not reasonable to expect God’s Spirit to over-ride sound logic and reason, since these come from the same Spirit (e.g. 1 Kings 4:29; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 1:17; 4:23; Hebrews 8:10; 1 Peter 1:12,13).  As Mark Ramsey, a well-known preacher, puts it, “The Bible says you are transformed by the renewing of your mind, not by the removal of your mind!”.  This means transformed cerebration but also standing out, being different, being a loving community of ‘resident aliens’ in an over-individualised world (see Carson, 1996, p.478).

The substantial contributions of intellectuals who submitted to God, such as Isaiah, Saul of Tarsus, Luke the physician, Augustine of Hippo, Hildegard of Bingen, etc., demonstrates that evangelizing thinkers could be worth while.  Great minds are created by God to do great good but, without Christ, they may do great harm.  Evangelising intellectuals is a priority: what the University thinks today, Society will enact tomorrow!  Might our society be reaping a bitter harvest from its earlier neglect of sowing well- reasoned seed, and its failure to cultivate the fields of academia with the Gospel?  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, academics who are Blood-washed, born-again, and Bible-believing, should be able to produce wiser and more powerful intellectual advances.  Did Jesus ever say to steer clear of academe and the intellectual knowledge enterprise?  Matthew 13:52 would suggest otherwise; here the learned of God’s Kingdom are told to become wise in applying both ancient and contemporary knowledge.  Matthew 6:33 emphasises, that for those who are submitted to God’s rule, everything else follows.  Pearcey and Thaxton (1994), and Murphy (2003), provide excellent philosophical underpinning for the harmonizing of science and theology.

Thoroughly intellectual Christians are capable of the best.  J. Rodman Williams (1996) has set a bench-mark in producing, Renewal Theology – Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective.  C. Peter Wagner is another author from the pentecostal stream, who writes at a high academic level.  In addition, there are many from the evangelical stream (most famously C. S. Lewis) able to reach the intellectuals, including thinkers like Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, Os Guiness, Nancy Pearcey, D. A. Carson, Gordon D. Fee, and many others.  In Australia, Kirsten Birkett, author of  Unnatural Enemies – an introduction to science and Christianity (1997), edits Kategoria, an excellent, Christian, critical review, published by Matthias Media, Kingsford, NSW.  A new frontline, research journal has appeared called Theology and Science (Volume 1, Number 1, April 2003, sponsored by The Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley).  Whilst some of the papers in this journal and its progenitor (CTNS Bulletin) may be insufficiently founded on Holy Scripture for many believers, they do at least address controversial issues in the theology, science, philosophy, and society interface, and thus invade the academic strongholds of atheism, with ideas of God.  With the confidence of God’s judgment against worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-20), the academy of pentecostal thinkers is surely even more mandated to invade every domain of thought with the light, life, logic, and love of Jesus Christ (e.g. Colossians 2:2-4).

To the ends of the Earth: a scientific world-view

Much that is written in science and technology has powerful theological overtones (usually without the conscious knowledge of its authors!) and often has implications for human culture and ethics.  In 1959, C.P Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution appealed for greater acknowledgement of the relationship between the arts, government, and science.  Snow would have been amazed how drastically things had changed, 40 years on, when Willimon (1999) wrote, “It has been one of the great postmodernist discoveries that almost everything is opinion.  Almost everything is value laden.  We have no way of talking about things except through words, and words, be they the words of science or the words of art, are more conflicted than they may first appear, more narrative dependent, story based.  Science is as ‘religious’ as religion.”  Historian, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), alerted scientists to the tremendous influence their imagination has in directing the path of science.

Philosophers of science (such as A.F. Chalmers, in the 1999 edition of his, What is this

thing called Science) are now thoroughly cognizant with the apparent impossibility of finding a truly objective foundation for the scientific endeavour.  That is not to say that science isn’t largely objective; after all, no one has to think twice before getting into a motor vehicle or using a computer.  It does mean, however, that any opinions that science expresses on why its products work, or what the larger context is, are fraught with contradictions.  Science on its own is able to tell us how things work (within limits), but it is unable to say why they work, nor what the overall grand story is.  The “why” question is intimately linked to questions about the origin and destiny of all things, and it is here that science becomes inarticulate.  In fact, as this paper moves to demonstrate, science needs Christian revelation to support its major world-view, and to complete its contextual integrity.  Science and Christianity are great partners but awful opponents.  The common view that they are separate and irreconcilable ways of knowing [or NOMA, non-overlapping magisteria {cf. the late Stephen J. Gould’s Rocks of Ages (1999)}], should never be acceptable to a Christian.  In contrast, Richard H. Bube (1995) has derived a taxonomy of the variety of possible productive relationships between the Christian faith and science.  Carlson (2000), provides a thorough debate of this issue. In this paper there is no attempt to dictate from parts of Holy Scripture as to what scientists must believe.

Creation Scientists have fully occupied that area, loyally and creatively defending the Word of God, and producing a library of literature and multi-media (e.g. see web sites: http://www.icr.org; http://www.ChristianAnswers.Net; http://www.answersingenesis.org; etc.).  Whereas, much of Creation Science can be seen as a form of apologetic defense and of confrontational rhetoric {e.g. In Six Days – Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, edited by John F. Ashton  (2001)}, the approach outlined in this paper is frankly evangelical, and essays to be eirenically logical.  This, different type of approach, does not overtly contradict but reaches out to encounter science where it is, and enlivens and elevates it through biblical insights, built around a philosophy that could be called ‘Invasion Theology’.  At no stage does invasion theology attempt to prove science wrong by quoting scripture, but neither does it compromise God’s Word by syncretising it with un-Christian views of the meaning of scientific discoveries.  The vision is to meet an enquirer on their own scientific territory and, right there, to demonstrate that God’s Word stretches into science, and that the living Word is able to lead scientists intellectually and personally into the arms of Christ.  The apostle Paul was comfortable to be a Jew with Jews, a Gentile with Gentiles, and weak with the weak. Paul teaches Christians to focus on winning as many souls for Christ as possible, by any fair means that work (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).  He also warns Titus to avoid futile arguments (Titus 3:9).  In the same ethos, invasion theology consciously evades religiosity.  For a variety other points of approaches to the Genesis issue, see Hagopian (2001).

The most profound place of encounter between science and Christianity is at the primordial events that generated the observable universe we live in.  To find out ‘how science thinks’ is not problematic; a web subscription to the weekly, world-leading science journal, Nature, is sufficient to provide clear information on the latest discoveries and developing theories.  Science is renowned for the instability of its theories of origins, but most of the time in recent years it has considered our universe of space/time to have originated from nothing, by means of a ‘Big Bang’.  In big bang theory, a non-space/time ‘singularity’ becomes (against all statistical probability) unstable, and generates the commencement of our universe, in the form of a gigantic bubble of expanding space, light, heat energy, and time.  The energy then produces matter: subatomic entities such as quarks, that eventually cooperate to form the simplest of all chemical species, hydrogen atoms.  Billions of tons of hydrogen become attracted together by gravity and eventually form stars.  Stars are hydrogen-consuming, thermonuclear, fusion reactors, generating heat and light on a grand scale.  Stars also manufacture the lower atomic weight elements, and, when a star eventually ages and explodes as a supernova, it also synthesises the higher atomic weight elements.  This generates most of the chemical elements of the Periodic Table and widely scatters them through space, to form inter-stellar dust clouds, which are able to aggregate by gravitational attraction, to form planets, satellites, meteorites, and comets.  Some of these may then revolve around a star, to form arrangements, such as we observe in our own planetary system.  Science then proposes that (if conditions are right on the surface of a planet) microbial, plant, animal, and even human life may develop.  Generations of human societies accumulate knowledge and skills to the point where they invent science and technology, develop radio-telescopes and cyclotrons, and begin speculating about primordial events!  This story depends upon profound cooperation (including loss of personal identity) among the diverse varieties of cosmic entities.  It is the standpoint of this paper that far too much emphasis has been placed on competitive interactions and this now needs to be adjusted to reveal the extent to which our universe depends upon cooperation.

Just as science has originated a detailed narrative to explain the birth of our universe, it also attempts to extrapolate from its data to predict how the universe may die.  The earth first, scorched by an expanding red-giant sun; the universe next, as it attains maximum entropy and time ceases.  Such a simplistic, atheistic cosmology is deeply unsatisfying to any thinking, feeling human being.  In the cosmogenesis of unaided science (which in parts can yet be extraordinarily detailed and well substantiated) everything happens by accident, with no meaning beyond the mechanics of existence and survival; ethics are simply a by-product of an arbitary requirement for social stability.  Science’s non-theological universe is thus deadly cold; a place of frustrated hopes; a frantic, meaningless interlude of light, life and pain-wracked consciousness, caught between two periods of unstructured, lifeless, utter darkness.  This raw scientific vision mocks at the beauty and meaning of light and life and love, by chaining it between preceding and succeeding eons of darkness, death, and empty loveless-ness.  Truly, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5).  The very rawness of this unadorned scientific worldview cries out for the Christian ministry of wisdom, faith, encouragement and, indeed, for deliverance.

The indispensable Word of God: the Bible adds meaning to science’s worldview

The Biblical story of primordial events is largely found in the early chapters of the book of Genesis.  The first part of the first chapter of John’s Gospel is crucial, and there are key verses in the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.  The Christian understanding of the origins of our universe can never be separated from Christology, since it pleased God the Father to make his Christ the creator of all that exists, in the spiritual, as well as the material universe; the Christ antedates all things, and entities only obtain their meaning and function from him (Colossians 1:15-19).  Polkinghorne (1988, p.69) writes, “One’s instinct to seek a unified view of reality is theologically underwritten by belief in the Creator who is the single ground of all that is.”  The challenge for a Christian thinker is to come to such a knowledge of God’s Word, as to be able to provide a bridge from Christ to the lost world of scientism, described at the end of the section above.    In order to achieve that, it may be necessary to re-examine cherished beliefs (like the sexual transmission of ‘original sin’) that have come down the centuries from early church fathers, like Augustine.  A thoroughly biblical worldview is required, to meet science and the intellectuals at the place where they labour today, not where they loitered many centuries ago (cf. Mt 13:52).  Paul instructs Timothy to make full use of the holy scriptures (verses that are full of God’s life-giving breath) to teach, train, and equip for good works; and to correct error, and rebuke wrongdoing (2 Timothy 3:16).  Inspired by the Lord, the Holy Spirit, this surely must be a life-giving journey into God’s reality, and never a matter of dead religion.

In such a short paper as this, it is not possible to fully develop major theological points, and that work has to be left for another venue.  However, to develop the basic argument, summary positions have had to be taken regarding the nature of God, the origin of evil, the sequence of primordial events, the reason for our universe to exist, and the predicted outcome of it all.  Much further reading is available, and authors such as Southgate (1999) have developed excellent teaching programmes at the interfaces of science and theology.  Multi-disciplinary courses in this area are proliferating and becoming popular in many good universities.

It is not hard to convince many scientifically educated modern or post-modern thinkers that science is inadequate to measure ethical qualities such as: faithfulness, kindness, justice, mercy, humility, righteousness, love, joy, peace, holiness, forgiveness, patience, self control, etc.  This then permits the suggestion that there are entities beyond the containment of our space/time universe; a suggestion confirmed by fundamental physics in regard to the mathematical value of constants governing the forces that subtend the material universe.  Our universe very clearly has inputs from outside its ‘box’.  That those inputs are highly tuned to produce circumstances conducive to human existence is also demonstrable.  The scientific evidence for design (and hence the Designer) grows stronger every year (e.g. Dembski and Kushiner, 2001).  A scientifically-literate enquirer might then be led to consider the possibility that the God of Christians is truly the same person as the unseen designer of our universe, the originator of uniquely human persons; an inspiring, self-giving God of light, reason, life and love.

Regarding the nature of God, the Bible clearly states that he alone is immortal, dwells in unapproachable light, and is impossible for a human being to see (1 Timothy 6:16); that God is love (1 John 4:8), and is spirit (John 4:24); that his invisible qualities can be clearly learned from unbiased examination of the world around us (Romans 1:20); and that everything we need to know about God has been revealed to us by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (e.g. Philippians 2:6; John 6:36; 10:30; 14:9).

Since God, and God’s dwelling place, are full of light, life, love, holiness, and perfect order (e.g. 1 John 1:5), the question arises as to where the disorder described in Genesis 1:2 comes from.  What is the origin of the pre-existent darkness, formless emptiness, and watery depths (perhaps a hebraism for ‘rebellion’).  This question is rarely addressed theologically but, in the context of outreaching to those scientists aware of the yawning nullity proposed to precede the Big Bang, it is especially pertinent.  Theologically, the answer can hardly be less than that the Genesis 1:2 situation, described by Moses, is evidence for the revolt of Satan and his rebel angels.  Jesus said that he saw Satan fall like a bolt of lightening and that could well refer to an incident before the creation of our universe (Luke 10:18).  Darkness in scripture is almost always (though not invariably) associated with evil (2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 6,13, etc.).  A foundational proposal, here called ‘Invasion Theology’, is that a pre-existing negation of God’s immortal, life-giving love, a rebellion, locked in the deepest darkness, has been laid bare, and exposed in its minutest detail, by the Christ of God.  It is proposed that Christ achieved this by invading that dark, chaotic pre-primordial place with our universe of light, life and love.  This concept is bolstered by 1 John 3:8, when the verse is taken as a statement regarding the eternal work of the Christ, not just his earthly mission revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.  In that sense, when Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19:30), are there not overtones of his unceasing work, that started with the most primordial of events (Gn 2:2)?  Whilst this may be an unusual view to theologians, it functions well as a bridge between the understanding of primordial events proposed by science and that revealed in the Bible.  Invasion theology makes it almost inevitable that there would be a deceitful, death-dealing serpent loose in God’s Garden, at the ‘start’ (Genesis 3:1-4)!  Invasion theology would view Adam, Eve and their children as delegates of God, mandated to extend the invasion throughout the earth, revealing and destroying the various levels of the princedom of darkness.  As God’s people, Israel inherited the same sacred task, and Christ’s church is commissioned for similar work today.

Finally, Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh and, by his life and teaching, comprehensively demonstrated the victory of life over death. The invasion was complete, empowered and now to be extended to every creature.  The resurrection of Christ is, in that sense, the most important event of cosmic history.  The Resurrection guaranties his words regarding the forgiveness of sin, his prophesies about end-time events and the regeneration of all things.  These are processes and events beyond the direct reach of science, though the evidence for Christ’s resurrection is objectively excellent (Stroebel, 1998).

Consequences of an invasion theology worldview: a basic binary ethical overview

A crucial point in any scheme of ethics is the definition of GOOD (e.g. Honderich, 1995, p.587).  From the invasion theological perspective, ‘good’ is seen in the invasion of negation.  That is, God’s activity in creating light, logic, life, and love; bringing into being a whole cosmos of meaning, reason, beauty, and worship.  This may provide a way out of the dilemma first formulated in Plato’s Euthyphro, in that good is good both because God commands it and because of what it enacts (Honderich, op. cit.).  It may be thought that there could be no coincidences here between theology and science, simply on the grounds that whilst ‘good’ is a proper object of study for ethics and theology, it falls outside the boundaries of science. Surely science is concerned only with the accuracy of data and the productivity (truth) of its hypotheses, theories, and laws?  However, upon reflection that judgment might have to be revised.  Science simply cannot avoid conceding that those factors that enable it to exist and to operate successfully are essentially ‘good’.  Science did not exist, nor could it exist, in the pre-existing darkness of negation.  Such a darkness and negation are not neutral, they are inimical to, and clearly subvert, the essential foundations of science itself, and so science would not be remiss in referring to them as objectively ‘evil’.

Factors such as light, logic, life, and love are essential for the very existence of science.  Without light scientists could not see, without logic (part of wisdom) there would be no rational basis for science, without life there would be no humans to work in science, without love and cooperation our society would be so violent as to afford insufficient opportunity for science.  Science must admit that the pre-primordial darkness of negation  (revealed in the Bible and independently described by science) is evil and its invasion by light, logic, life, and love is good.  The work of establishing order, understanding, and cooperation in our universe is unarguably the basis for the scientific endeavour; any resurgence of chaos and confusion is an anti-scientific force.  So at its very heart, science is far from being an ethically-neutral discipline.  This truth may come as a shock to most practicing scientists and technologists!  Factors that facilitate science are unconsciously accepted as ‘good’, and those that degrade the scientific process are ‘bad’.  Working scientists are in the habit of applauding research work as either ‘good science’ or denigrating it as ‘bad science’.  To be meaningful and productive, science relies completely upon the immanence of logic and reliability in the universe, upon the integrity and skill of the scientists themselves, on the probity and standards of the community of scientists, and ultimately upon the sustaining interest and/or support of Society.

Peacock (1990, p.129) quotes atheist, Stephen Hawking, “Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?  Is the Unified Theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?  Or does it need a Creator, and if so, does he have any other effect on the universe?”  Peacock (1990 p.132) writes that Hawking, examining the uniformity of the initial state of the Universe, concluded that, so carefully were things chosen that, “it would be very difficult to explain why the Universe should have begun this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”  Peacock (1990, p.143) also writes, ‘in a letter of January 1633 . . . Galileo wrote, “Thus the world is the work and the scriptures the word of the same God.”  Truth itself is one, yet lies make it into a binary system.  Peacock (1990, p.88) again, describes Fred Hoyle’s attempt to dispense with the idea of a creation moment by introducing a steady-state model, based on ‘continuous creation’ at the centre of the Universe and dissipation at the edges; an effort that was criticized by Stanley Jaki as, “the most daring trick ever given a scientific veneer”!  Science is full of such binary ethical judgments; and examples range from honest mistakes, through weak thinking, right up to outright fraud and corruption of the scientific process.  Scientific truth is subject to the same limitations and degrading influences as any other branch of truth and, indeed, the created universe itself.  It, we, and God’s own Spirit all groan over this painful situation (Romans 8:22,23,26).  The whole cosmic enterprise is attacked and harassed, being subjected to frustration and decay, living in hope of the emergence of humans who are pleasing to God (Romans 8:21,22).  The whole of creation finds fulfillment in the revelation of the true followers of Christ; who are the harvest the universe is scheduled to produce (Romans 8:19).  The book of Revelation is primarily concerned with the final exposure and destruction of the rebellious work of the devil, and the identification of the faithful co-workers of Christ.  In one sense, the whole cosmic story is summarized in those two events, both of them giving great glory to God.

Independently, Christianity and science have revealed remarkably coincident views of primordial reality:

  1. Good is the desirable overall context and precedes evil;
  2. Evil is an aberrant subset that separates from good;
  3. Good is logical, orderly, consistent and reliable;
  4. Evil is unreliable, treacherous and chaotic;
  5. Good, by its nature, invades evil;
  6. Evil resists and corrupts good;
  7. Good does not rest until evil is eliminated.

The visible reveals the invisible: binary ethics gazes out at us, wherever we look

Of all the visually spectacular features of our universe, the greatest must surely be the night sky, viewed from a high place or country area, free from obscuring clouds, air pollution, and light contamination.  The awesome beauty and breathtaking wonder of the endlessly diverse, and seemingly countless, stars, and of our Milky Way galaxy, beggar rational description.  In our age of science, an observer can be expected to read much more meaning into that scene than simply its awesome beauty.  Primordial negation is the backdrop, a thing of timeless darkness: energy-less, substance-less, lifeless, inhuman, loveless; a murderous place of death, darkness, deception, and hate.  But countless beautiful lights burn in that darkness; time extends its merciful reign; planets revolve around suns; life flourishes on planetary surfaces, and it challenges the very teeth of negation; consciousness bursts forth, accompanied by conscience; literature and the arts flourish, and the dear Lord becomes known by name.  Is it any wonder that God drove his prophets and his people into the wilderness so often, where the visible sky teaches of the invisible majesty of the Lord?  The scientific details of modern cosmology contains many more parables that supports the ideas of invasion theology and of a basic binary ethic.

Australia still has some relic rainforests remaining.  They are places of extraordinary biological variety, productivity, and unusual longevity; highly diverse and highly stable ecosystems.  Rainforests rarely have any one species in large numbers, instead they seem to be knitted together by levels of multiple mutualism.  Cooperation between species is their dominant motif.  Rainforests advertise to humanity the advantages of unity and mutual help, as effective means of withstanding the assaults of chaos and destruction.

The Great Barrier Reef is justly one of Australia’s most renowned biological resources and arguably the largest living thing on planet Earth.  The GBR is about 2,000 km long, occupying an area of about 200,000 square km, where the requirements for clear, unpolluted, shallow, warm, salty, moving water are satisfied.   The GBR depends for its existence upon a minute organism – the coral polyp.  Without countless trillions of these tiny anthozoans, building their colonies and providing food and shelter to a dazzling array of much larger and more sophisticated animals, there would be no reef.  The coral polyps themselves are of about 400 varieties.  Their beautiful colours are mostly provided by the symbiotic algae that live within their bodies.  The glory of the reef is thus sustained, at its base, by the humble mutual service of two very different types of simple organism.  The life of corals, though simple, provides for a profusion of amazing, and often subtly complex living beings (including delicious species of fish, crustaceans and mollusks!), that would otherwise not exist.  The many ethical messages of this scenario need little emphasis.

It is remarkable that though the night sky, rainforests, and the reef are some of the most photographed objects in existence, yet their use as teaching examples for ethics courses would not be so well known.  They contain countless spectacular examples of invasion theology and its perennial ethic of the boldness of light, transparency, order, cooperation, and life penetrating and flourishing over the spiteful negation of concealment, darkness, chaos, antipathy, and death.

Conclusion:

It is hoped that this paper’s melding of science, theology, ethics and nature provides a useful starting point for thinking about the very foundations of life and death.  Certainly the postmodern dilemmas (e.g. “The pursuit of knowledge without knowing who we are or why we exist, combined with a war on our imaginations by the entertainment industry, leaves us at the mercy of power with no morality.” Zacharias, 2000, p.23) cries out for an objective reality.  Perhaps science and theology, in an uncharacteristic symbiosis, are together becoming strong enough to point convincingly to the Rock of reality.

Bibliography

Ashton, J. F., editor (1999). In six days. Sydney: New Holland.

Birkett, K. (1997). Unnatural enemies. Sydney: Matthias.

Bube, R. A. (1995). Putting it all together. New York: University Press of America.

Chalmers, A. F. (1999). What is this thing called science? Brisbane: UQ Press.

Carlson, R. F. (2000). Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP.

Carson, D. A. (1996). The gagging of God. Leicester: Apollos.

Carson, D. A. (2000). Telling the truth. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan.

Dembski, W. A. and Kushiner, J. M., editors (2001). Signs of intelligence. Grand Rapids,

Mich.: Brazos.

Gould, S. J. (1999). Rocks of ages. New York: Ballantine.

Hagopian, D. G., editor (2001). The Genesis debate. Mission Viejo, Cal.: CruxPress.

Honderich, T. (1995). The Oxford companion to philosophy. Oxford: OUP.

Murphy, N. (2003). On the role of philosophy in theology-science dialogue. Theology and Science 1:79-93.

Peacock, R. E. (1990). A brief history of eternity. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.

Peacocke, A. T. (1996). God and science. London: SCM.

Pearcey, N. R. and Thaxton, C. B. (1994). The soul of science. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.

Polkinghorne, J. Science and creation. London: SPK.

Ross, H. (1999). Beyond the cosmos. Colorado Springs, Col.: NavPress.

Southgate, C., editor (1999). God, humanity and the cosmos. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Stroebel, L. (1998). The case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

Williams, J. R. (1996). Renewal theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan.

Willimon, W. H. (1994). The intrusive word. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Zacharias, R. (2000). In Carson, D. A., editor (2000).

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Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

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The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death

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Dr Irene Alexander wrote as Dean of Social Sciences at Christian Heritage College, where she taught subjects which focus on personal transformation. She has interests in spiritual direction, integration of faith and counselling practice as well as contemporary spirituality.  This article was presented at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane.

 

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An article in Renewal Journal 20: Life:

A central theme of the Word is the recurring pattern of life – death – life. “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, ..emptied himself, ..and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And the cross, and what it represents, has become the symbol of our faith, faith in a God who dies to give life.  The spirituality of our faith is thus a spirituality of descent – knowing this descending God who seeks to serve, not to be served.  And with this spirituality we become men and women who can reach out to those around us who are broken, and we can befriend our own places of woundedness.

One of the great themes of the Bible is the recurring pattern of life – death – life.  In the first chapters God creates life in the garden where stands the tree of life.  But we, foolish beings, chose death, and separation from life.  The rest of the Bible tells of the finding of our way back to Life, and eventually a new heaven and a new earth.

The story of the Exodus is of life once held, lost in slavery, and then journeying through death, through the wilderness, to life again in the promised land.  The promised land is a place flowing with milk and honey, but through turning away from relationship with God, the only true life, the Israelites find themselves in death again – in exile, until God brings them through to life again, redeeming them.

The very theme of the Christian life is death to the old, symbolised by baptism and new life in Christ.  Baptism is an identification with the life-death-life theme of God’s own life, death and life.   What does it mean that God himself chose this theme, this process to win us to himself?  And that he wove it into the seasons of the year, reminding us over and over that death comes, but through death, the rising to new life?

God on a cross

I remember being struck, when reading C.  S.  Lewis’s biography, that one of the things that brought him to salvation, rather late in life, was his pondering on the idea of a God who dies.  Apparently a colleague remarked one day, casually, and with only passing interest “Rum thing that, God on a cross”.  The idea confronted C.  S.  Lewis and he mused over it eventually being totally challenged by this God who died.

Sometimes as Christians we get so used to the idea of the Cross that we lose the shock of it – God, the life-giver, the almighty, the Creator – giving away his life, his might, his being.  Yet this is the central theme of the Bible and of the gospels and of the life of the Christ.  “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

The crucified God is the centrepiece of our faith.  And those of us who grew up with an empty cross as our focus knew it was only empty because life is born out of death, because God himself had died so that we too may live.  And the cross, and what it represents has become the symbol of our faith, faith in a God who dies to give life.

A descending God

Cosby (1998) explains that the God of Philippians 2, and of the gospels is a ‘descending God’.  Whereas the focus of much of the western world is ascent to success and status and power, the way of the Christ is through taking the form of a servant, humbling himself even to death.  Says Cosby, “In the Gospel it is quite obvious that Jesus chose the descending way.  He chose it not once but over and over again.  At each critical moment he deliberately sought the way downward” (p.  28).

Again, “..it becomes plain to us that God has willed to show his love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty…God is the descending God.  The movement is down, down, down, until it finds the sickest, the most afflicted, the most helpless, the most alienated, the most cut off.  The truest symbols that we have of Jesus are the lamb – the lamb led to the slaughter, a sheep before its shearers being dumb.  Total poverty: a dumb sheep, the Lamb of God, and the Servant Christ kneeling with a towel and a basin, washing feet on the eve of his crucifixion.  The weeping Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey” (p.  29).

And wonder of wonders it is not the Lion of Judah who is worthy to open the scroll which ushers in the end of time, but rather the Lamb.  The apostle John tells in Revelation 5:4 “I wept because no-one was found who was worthy to open the scroll…Then one of the elders said to me ‘Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah… is able to open the scroll..  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if he had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.’”

Through being the Lamb, Jesus conquered death.  It was through his dying that he defeated the powers and authorities, “triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).  And Cosby (1998) notes that it was his death that turned our hearts to him also.  “What was it that captured our hearts?  It was that figure dying on a cross… If the Lamb of God…  the form of the Servant Christ giving his life away for others – for me – if those deep expressions of reality captured my spirit, literally broke my hard heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh, ended my captivity and delivered my spirit, why do I think that the expression of authority or power or success or efficiency is going to break anybody’s heart?” (p.  30).

A self-emptying God

The God who Cosby (1998) calls the descending God, Maggie Ross (1988) in Pillars of Flame explores as the self-emptying God – this is the meaning of kenosis: “The heart of Christianity is the self-emptying, kenotic humility of God expressed in Jesus the Christ… At the heart of God’s humility is this: God willingly is wounded” (p.  xvi).  “…a kenotic living God who is unceasingly self-outpouring, compassionate, and engaged with the creation….  God’s inviolable vulnerability, God’s unswerving commitment to suffer with and within the creation, to go to the heart of pain, to generate new life, hope, and joy out of the cry of dereliction, out of the pain to utter self-denudation, utter self-emptying, utter engaging love” (p.  72).  Indeed this is the character of the prodigal’s father – the willingness to give, to suffer the pain of loss and wounding, to hold back in patient waiting, to respond in self-forgetting joy and forgiveness.

The spirituality of descent is the practice of a spirituality which knows this descending God.  Rather than the all-powerful Zeus-god of the Greeks, prodigal children know the God who gives, the God who waits, the God who experiences the shame and brokenness of his own.  This descending God seeks to serve, not to be served, not just in the life-time of Jesus but in the millennia following, in the present world, where it is so easy to choose ascent, success, status, positions of power in our churches and ‘Christian’ institutions.

Jesus deliberately broke the purity codes of his culture in order to include the outcasts (Sims 1997).  Time after time, at meals, in the homes of Pharisees, in public places, he knowingly touched the untouchables – the bleeding woman, the leper, the Samaritan woman.  “Suppose the only God that exists is the descending God.  Suppose the only way we can know God is to go down, to go to the bottom…If God is going down and we are going up, it is obvious that we are going in different directions.  And we will not know him.  We will be evading God and missing the whole purpose of our existence” (Cosby 1998, p.  31).

The descending God then, is one who serves, one who lets go of position and status and power, in order to touch the lives of those around him.  “We have seen what Jesus was like.  If we wish now to treat him as our God, we would have to conclude that our God does not want to be served by us, he wants to serve” (Nolan cited in Sims 1997 p.  16).

It is significant to note what John says about Jesus at the beginning of the story of the Servant Christ who washed his disciples’ feet: “Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God… girded himself with a towel” (John 13:3).  Jesus was a servant who also knew his identity – he was not serving as one who did not know his boundaries, or one trying to earn approval.  He knew who he was, but knowingly chose to serve.

Servant leadership

In his book The Leadership Paradox Denny Gunderson (1997) notes that Jesus said very little about leadership.  Rather his lifestyle demonstrated servanthood – “I came not to be served but to serve”.  This book explores a number of stories of Jesus’ life to help us discover what servanthood meant in the reality of daily relationships.  Gunderson notes that the Greek word Jesus chose for servant was ‘diakonos’ which literally mean ‘through the dust’.  He tells the story of a servant who leads a caravan to safety through a dust storm even though it meant sacrificing his own life.  Our word deacon comes from this Greek word and is translated servant, deacon, or minister.  Gunderson then explores other gospel stories showing a God who walked through the dust of earth to his death in order that we might find what it is to live as servants, loving our God and loving each other.  This is what Gordon Cosby means by the spirituality of descent, that we learn to live as deacons, servants, who are not afraid of walking in the dust, and in the dark places of people’s lives – and of our own.

Henri Nouwen (1989) tells the story of confronting his own dark places and learning to care for others in theirs in his powerful book on Christian leadership In the Name of Jesus.  Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest who became a lecturer at Harvard and Yale.  He was an extremely popular speaker and writer.  As he entered his fifties  though, he realised that he was “living in a very dark place and that the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death.

In the midst of this I kept praying, “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you… In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said, “Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.”… So I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words, and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society… the small, hidden life with people whose broken minds and bodies demand a strict daily routine in which words are the least requirement does not immediately appear as the solution to burnout.  And yet, my new life at L’Arche is offering me new words to use in speaking about Christian leadership. (pp. 11-12).

Nouwen focuses on servanthood and the specific barriers which might prevent us from being true servant leaders – the need to be relevant, the need to be spectacular and the need to control, to be powerful.

In another of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen (1996) helps us identify other blockages to serving others.  He describes us – the prodigal – discovering the utterly endless, ever responsive love of a Father – who would pick up his robe and run to meet us as we are – foot-sore and ragged, dirty and wounded – and take us in his arms in delighted self-giving welcome.

And as I discover that totally accepting love, which takes me to himself – and holds my pain and my shame, my sin and my brokenness, and simply holds all in his love, so I dare little by little to see myself as I am, to lower my defences enough to see my own brokenness.  And part of my seeing is a recognition that I, too, am the elder brother.  In me is judgement and resentment, envy and exclusion.  In me is reaction that causes me to exclude myself from the celebration of grace – the grace of a Father who embraces the sinner, who goes towards the outcast and the shameful ones, who indeed runs to bid them welcome.  And slowly, slowly I too acknowledge in myself the judgements and criticism, the self-righteousness and legalism which hold me aloof from my brothers and sisters, which indeed hold me aloof from the broken and sinful places of my own being.  And I seek to learn what it is to embrace my own fallenness, and that of my brothers and sisters.  And too, to let them see me as I am and to hold me in grace.

A difficult lesson this one – to know it is my own self-judgement that causes me to hold others at arm’s length lest they see me too well.  And so I hold myself back from receiving their embrace, and the grace of the Father mediated through them.  I prefer my image of my own self-righteousness and hold myself in isolation in order to retain it.  But slowly as I receive the love of the Father I can allow my defensiveness to thaw little by little and allow others to see the imperfect being that I am.  It is only as I learn to hold the paradox of my own mix of light and darkness, that I can learn to celebrate with another their own pattern of shadow and light.  And the willingness to walk in humility, says Nouwen (1989), will lead to “a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favour of love” (p.  63).

A God “disenthroned”

As we reflect on the prodigal’s father, who stoops to embrace the sinner, we know that Jesus is indeed God’s self-disclosure – “the cosmos is ruled by a self-giving Love who chooses to endure crucifixion rather than decree any abridgment of human freedom” (Sims 1997 p.  17).  “We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot have a God who is an iron-handed ruler in remote control of the cosmos and, at the same time, a historic incarnation of that God who consistently defines himself as a servant… [We must] choose between a God enthroned in the power of imperial privilege and a God “disenthroned” in the more exquisite power of servanthood” (p.  17).

And the paradox is that once we have glimpsed this servant-King, who tells us that his flesh must be our real food, that we must learn to feed on his brokenness and self-giving, that even though we may be tempted to draw back, we are so drawn to him that we say, as Peter did “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6: 68).  And even then we may, as Peter did, be prepared to give our lives to fight for him, but not know how to give our selves in the surrender and powerlessness of the Lamb.  But this is the way to life.

“Just as crucifixion and resurrection form the centrepiece of the life and work of Jesus, so too the cross and its promise of life reborn are central to his invitation to live” (Sims 1997, p.  48).  The crucifixion is not just a plan God thought up to ‘fix things up’ after humans rebelled.  “The Crucified God is simply the eruption into history of the cosmic redemptive love that is built into the structure of the universe from its start.  The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV)” (Sims 1997 p.  58).  Relationship with the God who dies is relationship with Life.

The God who dies

One of our difficulties in talk about dying is that it touches on our own very natural fear of death and the process of dying.  Nouwen (1998), in noticing his own fears suggests a key reason for this: “You are still afraid to die.  Maybe that fear is connected with some deep unspoken worry that God will not accept you as his.” For death has to do with separation and the death God speaks of in the Garden – when you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall die – is the death of separation from God.  One of the purposes of life is to lose our fear of death.  It is only in deepening our revelation of God’s love for us that our fear of death is lessened.  John speaks of our growing understanding of God’s love (in 1 John 4: 18) “perfect love casts out fear”.  If I truly know I am loved I am no longer afraid.

But what of the fear of the other death?  The death that is part of this process of our living through the seasons of life?  The death represented in the Wisdom literature by the wilderness, exile, the dark night of the soul?  We draw back from these dyings too, afraid that questionings, doubt, old answers that no longer fit, will be death to us.  The mystics assure us that these too are the way to life.  “She came up out of the wilderness leaning on her beloved” (Song of Solomon 8:5).  And Rilke (1996) in his direct, even raw, poetry notices how our own need, our own darkness, can lead to God:

“Then suddenly you’re left all alone
With your body that can’t love you,
And your will that can’t save you.
But now, like a whispering in dark streets
Rumors of God run through your dark blood” (p.  76).

 It is in these dark places, these places of liminality, that transformation takes place.  But so often we shrink from this as if it were death.  If we understand the process of life-death-life we dare to respond to pain and death as possible resurrection – as Eucharist.  “The pain of transformation is morbid [ie death-dealing] only if we choose it to be, only if we do not want to look beyond and through it.  If only we allow, the pain itself is transformed and becomes Eucharist; and Eucharist deepens us until we burn with Love in God’s very heart.  If we spend all our time trying to block out pain with illusion or to twist it to inflate our egos, we will stagnate; we will cause in ourselves the destructive pain of disintegration” (Ross 1988, p.  133).

The mystics understood this process and assure us that it is in the darkness that we find the Beloved.  In  The Dark Night St John of the Cross names the darkness, the absence of God’s felt presence, as the very place that we will be united with the Beloved, and indeed transformed:

Oh guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved in her Lover.

 This then is true relationship with God – a faith that God is present, that even though the floods may come, and the fire, God is present.  And this relationship enables us to journey with others in their wilderness and their darkness – having faith that God too, is for them, and with them.  “Faith is not assent to doctrines or surrounding ourselves with props and propositions.  It is trust that God – as Christ shows us – has been there before us, goes within us, waits to find us beyond the edges of utter dark.  And, found by God, we become aware that God is closer to our being than we are” (Ross 1988, p.  135).  This then, is the God who has lived through life, death and life, has shown us the way through, and now is present with each of us as we walk the same journey.

References

Cosby, N. G. (1999). By grace transformed: Christianity for a new millennium. New York: Crossroad.

Gunderson, D. (1997). The leadership paradox. Seattle: YWAM publishing.

Kavanaugh, K. (trans). (1979). The collected works of St John of the Cross. Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1989). In the name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian leadership. New York: Crossroad.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1996). The return of the prodigal son: A story of home-coming.  London: Continuum.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1998). The inner voice of love: A journey through anguish to freedom.  New York: Doubleday.

Rilke, R. M. (1996). Rilke’s book of hours: Love poems to God. Barrows, A. and J. Macy, J. (Trans). New York: Riverhead.

Ross, M. (1988). Pillars of flame: Power, priesthood and spiritual maturity. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Sims, B. J. (1997). Servanthood: Leadership for the third millennium. Boston: Cowley.

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Contents:  Renewal Journal 20: Life

Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

Primordial events in theology and science support a life/death ethic, by Martin Rice

Community Transformation, by Geoff Waugh

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Body Ministry
and Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival, by Geoff Waugh

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An article in Renewal Journal 20: Life:
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Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

Life, death and choice

by Ann Crawford

Dr Ann Crawford (Ph.D.) wrote as the Pastor-in-Charge of Citipointe Transformations in Christian Outreach Centre, and teaches Pastoral Care subjects at Citipointe Ministry College, the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College, Brisbane. This article was presented as a paper given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, September 11, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia.

 

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An article in Renewal Journal 20: Life:

Abstract

God’s command in Deuteronomy 30:19 – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life that you and your descendants may live… – sounds simple and extremely logical.  Most would agree that, in practice, following this command is not that simple.  Many factors cloud these choices, detract from the logic and create a complexity that causes people to continue to walk in the wayward footsteps that led Adam to a finite existence on earth.

As these issues of life and death choices are fundamental in the individual’s quest for wholeness and therefore pertinent to the people-helping ministry of today’s church, this paper explores these concepts by examining life, death and choice; by identifying blockages and deceptions experienced in our twenty-first century life-journeys; and by delving into the philosophy of existential suffering.

Introduction

“Throughout the whole of life one must continue to learn how to live, and what will amaze you even more, throughout life one must learn to die” (Seneca in Peck, 1997: 89).  These words penned centuries ago contemplate the paradox that is life and death, for to consider one is to be conscious of the other.  In accordance with Hebraic philosophy, we do not have an “either/or” choice for ultimately every person encompasses the “also/and” of living and dying.  So it would seem that the issue for the human person is not so much a choice between life and death but that “a deep consciousness of death ultimately leads us on a path to seeking meaning” (Peck, 1997: 88).

Abrahams (1961: 242) quotes from Jewish philosophy as he writes, “Much of the difficulty of the problem of evil is . . . due to the human belief that he (the individual man) is the centre of creation.  There is evil: but many so-called evils are nothing other than features of a life which includes death.”  Jesus’ expounds this philosophy as He tells a story (Luke 12:16-21) of a successful farmer whose bumper crop could not be contained in his storehouses.  The farmer’s decision to tear down his barns to build bigger ones was not the evil that incurred the wrath of God.  After a lifetime of living, this man had missed the meaning.  “Soul, you have many good things laid up, [enough] for many years.  Take your ease; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself merrily.”

For those in the people helping professions, this “missing the meaning” of life – and death – is of vital significance, both in our day-to-day stories and in what Snyder (1995: 194) terms the “Divine Design” story, characterised by “finding and doing the will of God”.  Consider God’s reply to the farmer where he not only paints a graphic picture of human mortality but he also highlights the consequences of the choice to find meaning in self-achievement and material possessions.  “You fool!  This night they [the messengers of God] will demand your soul of you; and all the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

It would appear that, in God’s economy, a meaningless life equates to a meaningless death and both incur his displeasure.   Therefore, another avenue of thought emerges from this story that further augments this investigation of life, death and choice.  This is the existential search for meaning described by Corey (1996: 171) as the struggle “between the security of dependence and the delights and pains of growth”.   Security is one of the person’s basic needs, and, in a postmodern society which Snyder (1995: 218) sees as being “the triumph of the contingent, the transitory and the ironic”, security is often sought in codependency and pain is to be avoided.  These choices side-track the meaningful process leading from suffering to peaceful wholeness.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that “the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all of the words of this law”. This paper will presuppose that the text of Deuteronomy 30:19 –  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life that you and your descendants may live . . .” –  is the revealed word of God and will undertake this  investigation of life, death and choice, not primarily from a theological perspective but from relevant literature, particularly that which pertains to people-helping and pastoral caring.  From this vantage-point it would appear that not only do the topics of life, death and choice warrant a deeper probing but that there are other issues that are inextricably intertwined into their inter-relatedness.  The existential search for meaning, freewill and freedom, and the over-shadowing limitations and extremes of worldview and culture add to the complexity of the life/death-decisions that human beings are faced with daily.

Life

The Hebrew word commonly translated “life” means alive, fresh, strong and is explained by Lockyer, as the “physical functions of people, animals and plants” (1986: 649).  This writer continues, “because God is the source of all life, it is a gift from Him.  He first filled Adam with the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and He continues to be the source of all life”.  In the New Testament the Greek “psyche” describes the breath or spirit of life.  “The word ‘life’ began to refer to more than physical existence.  It took on a strong spiritual meaning, often referring to the spiritual life that results from man’s relationship with God” (Lockyer, 1986: 649).

From these interpretations it could be deduced that “life” can be defined on several different levels.  The most rudimentary of these indicates any form of living thing but even this basic understanding proposes a mystery that scientists down through the ages have sought to unravel. For the last half-century, biochemists have sought for a mechanism by which non-living molecules could make the transition to living systems.

Transcending these empirical deliberations, Holmes (1983: 121) comments that a Christian worldview understands “human life as a body-soul dualism in close organic unity, so that we function in many if not all regards as holistic beings.”  Boivin (1995: 157) describes a Hebraic model of the person as conceptualising “the various dimensions of personhood as existing along a mutually interactive continuum to which the divinely inspired aspects of the human condition are directly apparent in the biopsychological aspects, without intermediate metaphysical states or constructs”.  Paul preached to the Greeks, “in him I live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28), echoing the holistic theories of these scholars and challenging the Platonic philosophical dualism that the body is the prison of the soul (Moreland and Ciocchi, 1993: 39).

Death

Death could be described as the absence of life.  However, the American President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioural Research (1983: 174-75) defines death as, “the state in which all components of mental life are gone, including self-awareness, thought, emotion, feeling and sensation.”  In an effort to clarify the dilemma of organ-transplant doctors, this definition admits that a human being is more than physiological by incorporating elements that are more usually associated with the “soul” to identify human life – or the absence thereof.   This definition would indicate that, at some point in the dying process, there is a separation of body, being the material part of the human person, and the immaterial soul, a position confirmed by the writer of Ecclesiastes 12:7:  “Then dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it”.  Moreland and Ciocchi (1993: 39) comment that, “this combination of material and spiritual resulted in a holistic ‘living soul.’”  However, these authors continue with the observation that, “there is no indication in the creation account that this combination was ever intended to be separated.”

This notion of separation leads to the contemplation of another dimension of death.  “Death occurs when something is separated from that which is its life.  Since the living God is the ‘fountain of life’ (Ps. 36:9), the action of man turning from him can only result in death” (Moreland and Ciocchi, 1993: 46).

Choice

Choice creates the impression of selecting from presented options and consequently is predominantly associated with freewill and the consequences.  Scriptural references, like the one from Deuteronomy 30:19, portray God, at various times through history, as offering his people a choice, delineating the options and describing the consequences both positive and negative, both good and evil.  Once the information has been delivered, God then allows His Image Bearer the freewill to not only make that choice but also to bear the consequences.

The first biblical choice encountered is the choice Adam and Eve made when confronted with tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God had commanded that they “may freely eat of every tree of the garden but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it for in that day you shall surely die” (Gen 2:15-17).  The Genesis account of the fall graphically illustrates the significance of the exercise of freewill, as Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and from the sweet communion with Father God they had experienced there. Peck (1997: 150-51) writes about this relationship between choice and freewill.  “What I do know is that we have the power of choice.  It is said that God created us in His own image.  What is meant by that, more than anything else . . . is that He gave us free will.  We are free to choose, for good or for ill, according to our will, and not even God can heal someone against her will”.  Jesus did not minister or teach in his own home town as the family and friends of his childhood had set their freewill against him and the healings and the miracles experienced by others passed them by  (Luke 14:23-30).

In Frankl’s account of his experiences in the Auchwitz camps he delves deeper into the questions of choice, freewill and suffering.  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”  (Frankl, 1984: 86).  Frankl’s observations of the human person, trapped in the horrendous circumstances of a Nazi concentration camp for a protracted length of time, revealed to him that it is possible to make choices, and, in fact, to make choices that would enable a man or a woman to craft excruciating suffering into bravery, unselfishness and dignity and to “add a deeper meaning to his/her life” (1984: 88).

The philosophy of the various dimensions of human freedom, while being a fascinating study, is far beyond the scope of this paper.  However, for the purpose of this essay, a summary of Satre’s observations (in Corey, 1996: 174) is sufficient: “We are constantly confronted with the choice of what kind of person we are becoming, and to exist is never to be finished with this kind of choosing”.

God’s blueprint

I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction (Deut. 30:19)

Human beings must then choose between two covenantal ways, the two possible responses to God’s laws for our life.  We cannot not respond.  We live only in covenant relation to our Maker.  We exit only in response to his sovereign rule (Walsh and Middleton, 1984: 65, 66).

This is a God of justice.  As the above authors allege, whether the choices are understood or even known, God still holds every human being accountable for these choices.

The pastoral carer is not only confronted with these choices in the course of his/her own existence but is called to work with people who are also in the process of becoming.  Those who have no cognition of the covenant relationship God has ordained necessarily suffer from a warped ability to make choices. As outlined in scripture (eg. Deut 27,28), all behaviour, all choices have consequences and the curses that result from choosing death are just as real as the blessings that flow from life choices.  Does this mean that those who are unaware of their choices, who believe they have no right to make a choice or who have been programmed with wrong information with which to choose, are doomed to death?

However, “Just as we cannot be neutral in relation to him, so he is not neutral towards us”  (Walsh and Middleton, 1984: 66). The cross is ample evidence of a merciful God who actively upholds his covenants.

Underpinning the ministry of pastoral caring is the biblical mandate to bring to the broken-hearted the message that God is not neutral.  He is a Father who is vitally interested in the well being of his children and he has a plan and purpose for each one.  At the opposite end of the scale is an awareness that no human being is able to be neutral and this revelation opens the way for the covenant to be proclaimed and the choices to be revealed.

The place of suffering in making choices

But, could it be that we often do not recognise the life-choice before us because the death-choice presents as the “soft-option”?  A loving father nurtures and protects his child.  However, that does not discount the inevitability that the child will, at times be exposed to pain, grief and suffering.  A loving father will not, in fact cannot, prevent his child from suffering but he will teach and guide his child to choose the life option despite the pain.  So it is with Father God.

Peck cites missionary/physician Paul Brand’s research into leprosy and explains that most “of the devastation of leprosy is caused by a localised absence of pain” (Peck, 1997: 28).  When there is no pain, injury and infection remain unnoticed and untreated, eventually leading to disfigurement and death.  Pain is a signal that something is wrong, that something needs to change.  Although physical pain can range from unpleasant to unbearable there is usually some treatment that can be administered that will relieve the discomfort.  However,

We do not like emotional pain any more than physical pain, and our natural instinct is to avoid it or get rid of it as quickly as possible.  We are pain-avoiding creatures.  Since it is a conflict between our will and reality that causes our pain, our first and natural response to the problem is to deal with it by imposing our will to make reality conform to what we want of it (Peck, 1997: 63).

Pastoral carers predominantly work with people experiencing emotional pain.  It is this emotional pain that often drives the sufferer to choose the death-option – not physical death or suicide but the kind of choice that focuses on gratifying and comforting self and/or projecting the pain onto others.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the philosophy of postmodernism dictates that we construct our own reality, that we impose our own reality upon the facts.  The  consequences of imposing our will upon our circumstances opposes the commands of God to follow his statutes, to choose to allow him to impose his will upon us.  The natural projection of this would be that people in a postmodern society would be likely to experience a considerable amount of emotional pain.  Pastors and those in the people-helping professions, would, I am sure, support these observations.

Frankl (1984: 154-155), in his dissertations on suffering, emphasised “that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death”.  He identifies the components of that meaning: hope in the future; experiences of the past; unconditional love; and purposeful sacrifice.  People-helpers have a mandate to know that, “the world in which we live is divine destiny.  There is a divine meaning in the life of every individual and of you and me” (Buber in Bruno, 2000: 29).  Those suffering emotional pain are searching for that meaning, whether they are aware of it or not, and the people-helper is called to encounter, empower and encourage these fellow children of God.

Conclusion

Frankl (1984: 95) quotes Spinoza when he writes, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it”.  By defining life, death and choice, and the intertwining and interrelated aspects of these topics, perhaps a clearer picture of the human sufferings and the human joys of life and death may be better understood.  There is a curious security, a peace that passes understanding in being in intimate relationship with a God of paradox – justice and mercy, majesty and love, law and grace – with a Father who beseeches us to “choose life, that you and your descendants may live”.

On further reflection, life redefined becomes a pilgrimage, a deliberate journey of valleys and mountain tops.  In God’s entreaty for us to choose life, perhaps he is longing for us to extract from this time we have here on earth as much meaning and purpose as we can, that while we live, we really live, and that we can take this divine energy called life and, in some way, impart it to those who experience this journey with us. Death, that dark foreboding that looms over us all, is not the destination of life but maybe even a facet of life that helps us to extract the last residue of meaning from suffering and joy alike giving us the choice to make the transition from one state to the other in unbroken fellowship with our Maker.

Bibliography

Abrahams, G. (1961) The Jewish Mind. London: Constable.

Boivin, M.  (1991)  “The Hebraic model of the person:  towards a unified psychologican science among Christian helping professionals.”  Journal of Psychology and Theology.  19 (2), 1991. p. 120.

Bruno, T. (2000)  Jesus, Ph.D. Psychologist.  Gainsville, FL.: Bridge-Logos.

Corey, G. (1996)  Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy.  Pacific Grove, CA.: Brookes/Cole.

Frankl, V. (1984)  Man’s Search for Meaning.  New York: Washington Square.

Holmes, A. (1983).  Contours of a Worldview.  Michigan: Eerdmanns.

Lockyer, H. (Ed.) (1986).  Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Moreland, J. and Ciocchi. D. (1993)  Christian Perspectives on Being Human.  Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker.

Peck, M.S. (1997)  The Road Less Travelled and Beyond.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Pohl, C.  (2001)  “Life and death choices.”  The Christian Century. Chicago:  Aug15-Aug 22, Vol.118, Iss. 23. p.14.

Snyder, H. (1995)  Earth Currents. Nashville: Abingdon.

U.S.A. President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioural Research  (Washington D.C. Government Printing Office, March 1983), p. 174-75

Walsh, B. and Middleton, J. (1984). The Transforming Vision.  Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity.

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Contents:  Renewal Journal 20: Life

Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

Primordial events in theology and science support a life/death ethic, by Martin Rice

Community Transformation, by Geoff Waugh

Book Reviews:
Body Ministry
and Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival, by Geoff Waugh

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