What does the Holy Spirit do for us?

     In Romans 8 there are seven things the Holy Spirit does for us:

     1) The Spirit sets us free from sin and death (verse 2)

     2) “Live according to the Spirit” and we can fully meet the righteous requirements of God’s law (verse 4), “put to death the misdeeds of the body (verse 13),” and we desire what the Spirit desires, not what our sinful nature desires (verse 5).

     3) A mind “controlled by the Spirit” is life and peace, meaning it’s no longer hostile to God, it has no trouble submitting to God’s law and it’s able to please God (verses 6-8).

     4) If the Spirit of God (or Christ) “lives” in us, we are not controlled by our sinful nature anymore (verse 9), we “belong to Christ (verse 9),” God gives life to our mortal bodies (verse 11) and our “spirit is alive (verse 10).”

     5) If we’re “led by the Spirit” we are “sons of God (verse 14),” we’ve received the “Spirit of sonship (verse 15),” and “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (and therefore) heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (verses 16-17).”

     6) We’ll never be slaves to a spirit of fear again (verse 15). 

     7) The Spirit “helps us in our weakness,” “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” and “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (verses 26-27).”

     What more could we ask for? The Spirit frees us from what’s killing us, puts new desires in our heads that are good for us, creates a new and wonderful relationship with God for us, gives us life and peace, removes our fears, helps us when we’re weak, enables us to obey God’s will for our eternal benefit, and helps us realize we’re God’s children and we belong to him. There’s no reason, therefore, to go back to a life of worrying what’s going to happen to us. The Spirit takes care of our every need, past, present and future.  

     The wonderful result of having such a Spirit (as well as personal proof we’ve got the Spirit too), is a confidence in God and our relationship with him. “We know,” as Paul writes in verse 28, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We just know God is always working everything out exactly according to his purpose for us. And how do we know? Because we have “the mind of the Spirit (verse 27)” that not only helps us helpless humans obey God, but also totally trust him, too.


Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 4)

Healing the wounds

Unfortunately, by the time we believe the monster of evil really exists, and we’re ready to do something about it, it’s already messed up our minds and done its damage. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:21, precious years of our lives are wasted in selfish pursuits that accomplish nothing. And all during that time we were blissfully unaware of evil’s existence it enjoyed its freedom to do what it liked to us, inflicting all sorts of wounds in our minds that probably still make relating to God and to people a real problem for us.

Paul too was blissfully unaware that “every kind of covetous desire” lurked in his brain just waiting for a commandment like Do not covet to spring those desires to life, Romans 7:7-8. It was a shock for Paul, because instead of the command making him stop coveting it actually made him want to covet. But how was that even possible? What was happening inside his head to make him that way? It was frightening, because instead of God’s good law making him a better person, it was only revealing how awful he was.

We see that in Paul’s attitude to Christians. He hated them. By his own admission Paul was utterly obsessed in doing away with them. “I stormed through their meeting places,” Acts 26:11 (The Message) “bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people.” He had Christians beaten up and thrown in jail (22:19). He voted in favour of them being put to death too (26:10), and when he’d finished causing havoc for the Christians in Jerusalem, “I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”

And Paul did all this, verse 10, “On the authority of the chief priests,” so Paul was highly regarded by the religious leaders as an upstanding citizen, a man admired and looked up to, a man who got things done.

On the surface, therefore, Paul was a good man. He was self-assured, confident and on top of his game. But inside his head it was a different story. In reality Paul was a vicious thug, who took to violence with ease and relish. Given the opportunity to bully people, including women and children, he was off like a shot, rolling up his sleeves and ready for action.

His religious upbringing and strict obedience to God’s law hadn’t done him much good, then, had it? But that’s the startling lesson we learn from Paul’s life, that even obeying God’s law didn’t stem the flow of evil juices squirting hatred and cruelty into his head. And one day it hit Paul, that “in my mind I’m a slave to God’s law” (Romans 7:25) – which he truly thought had made him a good person – but his behaviour and actions revealed quite the opposite, that in fact he was ‘suffering from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour’ – an exact definition today of a psychopath.

Imagine that: Paul the psychopath, the typical evil person you see in movies feared by all, because he explodes into violent behaviour in a second and he can shoot people dead without a moment’s pause to think. Paul, in other words, was sick in the head. On his own admission he was “a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13), and there was nothing, including God’s law, that could do anything about it.

The law, of course, was supposed to prevent that happening, but instead it only showed Paul where the monster had been hacking away inside his head inflicting its horrible wounds, and making him a deeply damaged man.

On the other hand, Paul could now identify and pinpoint the damage the monster had done. The “Do not covet” law had successfully dredged up from the depths of his mind the awful reality of his craving for power, and how that had turned him into a vicious bully, a hopeless hypocrite and a total sham. The law, in other words, had revealed how sick his mind really was. It had shown him in no uncertain terms that he, the great religious scholar Paul, was in fact mentally ill and certifiably bonkers, and for the sake of public safety he should be locked up in an institution and sedated.

Did that make the law bad? No, but it did make it embarrassing, because it gave Paul no place to hide from what he’d become. But the positive side of that was – it unearthed what was really happening inside Paul’s mind that was making him do such awful things. It got the monster out into the open. Paul could now see he was sick in the head and what was causing it.

The Law, therefore, had been a perfect diagnostic tool for showing Paul he was a pyschopath. And isn’t diagnosis the first step toward healing? You can’t get to grips with what ails you if you have no idea what the problem is and what’s causing it. The first step in all healing is diagnosis.

It’s a great pity, then, that the Mental Health community doesn’t start with God’s law as its main diagnostic tool. Faced with someone like Paul, whose behaviour clearly revealed a deeply disturbing mental illness of some sort, a quick skim through the Ten Commandments could help reveal which areas of the mind the damage has been done.

Paul focused on the tenth commandment in Romans 7:7 as the one that stuck out for him. For someone else it might be the ninth commandment about lying that suddenly shows him how much his whole life has been a lie, creating a false image of himself to get attention and admiration. ‘He’s such a nice person’, people say of him, and he certainly comes across as charming and poised, but it’s all just an act to hide some deep seated fear of being isolated or left out, or not being popular. And it’s that fear that has driven him to be someone he isn’t, a charmer and an extrovert, making his relationships with people shallow and selfish, and it’s driving him crazy, because he knows he’s a fake, but he can’t do anything about it.

With others, perhaps, it’s the eighth commandment that reveals how much they steal from other people’s lives to make their own lives seem better. They love dropping juicy hints about weaknesses in other people’s lives to make their own lives look good by comparison, which in reality is stealing from someone else for personal gain. And suddenly they see how their whole lives have been about using others to enhance their own standing in people’s eyes, and it makes them feel utterly sick.

Good, because in Paul it was only when he saw himself for who he really was that he begged for help. And isn’t that the second step in healing? It’s realizing how wretched and helpless we are. It’s recognizing the monster of evil has got the better of us, and it always has, and it’s been playing with our mind making us think we’re such fine people, when in reality we’re emotional basket cases, and it takes only the slightest provocation to set us off in anger, jealousy, or self pity.

And we’ve still got seven commandments to go yet, each one of which would reveal more embarrassing but very accurate descriptions of the mental illnesses we carry around with us. Or, as Paul phrased it in Romans 7:6, “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” God’s ten commandments are brilliant at revealing the mental illnesses that wreck our relationships with God and people, torment our conscience, and make it very difficult for us to face ourselves in the mirror.

So now we have the first two steps in healing mental illness; it’s diagnosis, first of all, aided brilliantly by the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ expansion of them in Matthew 5 to 7; and secondly, that we need help beyond our own resources, and even beyond obedience to God’s commands, because we’ve got mental illnesses so engrained in our personality that there is nothing we can do to dislodge them. It’s like trying to separate the colours in a pot of paint. Once the colours are mixed together there is no getting them out again. And that’s exactly where every human being finds himself after years of living in this world. Mental illness is part of us. We’re all mentally sick in some form or another, and we need help.

And is there ever a day, even after we’ve become Christians, when we’re not flagellating ourselves for some stupid thing we’ve said, or for an emotion that broke loose we really regret? Does a day pass when we haven’t told ourselves off for something we should or shouldn’t have done, to the point, perhaps, we’re even muttering aloud with frustration at our idiocy, with head in hands rocking to and fro like people in mental institutions do?

Good, because when Paul got to that point and cried out for help to deal with the agony in his head he got help. But what a surprise that must have been for Paul, because all his life he’d depended on himself, thinking that’s what he was supposed to do. Wasn’t it up to him to obey the commandments? Wasn’t it on the strength of his own mind and determination to do what was right that pleased God? Wasn’t obedience what life and salvation were all about?

Surely, then, to cry out for help was a sign of weakness. If the nation was in trouble, yes, you cried out for help then, just like the Israelites cried out for help in Egypt. But not for personal help. God didn’t exist to help, Paul thought, he existed to be obeyed, and on that score Paul had done very well. On his own strength he was as close to obeying God as perfectly as any human could (Philippians 3:4-6), and that’s what gave him his confidence and peace of mind.

That’s what gave Job his confidence and peace of mind too. He obeyed God well and life was good. But like Paul he’d never actually known the power of evil until God let evil loose on him. And that’s how Job came to realize how powerless he was. He grimly hung on to his obedience as his only defence until God intervened and showed Job in Job 40:9-14 that Job was dealing with powers that were way beyond him. No way could Job by his “own right hand” save himself (verse 14). And Job suddenly saw that, repented of trusting in his own faith and obedience, and turned to God to help him.

God allows evil to have its way with us to help us realize what we’re up against, and how powerless we are, so we cry out to him for help, just as Paul did in Romans 7:24, and “Thanks be to God,” verse 25, when God answered.

But notice HOW the help came: It came “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In answer to our plea for help God directs us to Jesus, because it’s through Jesus he saves us from evil. And he does it in two stages. The first stage already happened before we were born or knew evil existed, when God sent Jesus to “be a sin offering,” Romans 8:3. At that point evil was “condemned.” The lock it held on the human brain was broken, and from that point on any human wishing to be rescued from evil could be freed from it by simply crying out to God for help.

But that was only the first stage. We’re out of evil’s cage, but now what? Well, the reason God freed us from evil’s cage through his Son was “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us,” verse 4. Now, at last, the commandments could be kept without evil twisting them into temptations. Evil had been so clever when IT held sway in our heads, because it would take anything we knew to be wrong and somehow turn it round so we’d want to do it. Paul, for instance, knew the commandment, “Do not kill,” but he found himself signing death warrants for Christians, just like Christians go to war and kill other Christians. It doesn’t make sense (Romans 7:15), but evil somehow justifies such incongruities in our heads, and we’re not even aware of them. We’ll even get angry if someone points them out.

Just because we were freed from evil’s cage, therefore, doesn’t mean we’re automatically freed from the wounds evil caused in our heads as well. They don’t just evaporate and disappear. Instead, they still fester and itch and bother us. Take any of the commandments – and especially Jesus’ expanded version of them in Matthew 5 to 7, where he includes what we’re thinking as well as what we’re doing – and it’s embarrassing to realize our minds are still messed up and susceptible to temptation in obvious areas, like judging others, being jealous and angry and easily offended, and looking at stuff on the internet we shouldn’t.

But God provided for all that through his Son too, in the second stage of saving us from evil. This time it’s not our rescue from evil; it’s our recovery from it. Now the healing begins, that enables us to keep God’s commandments even in our thinking. In other words, the commandments are about mental health too. In fact, they define it. That’s why the law is good and holy: Keep God’s law and we have a thoroughly healthy mind.

Salvation, therefore, is in two stages: Rescue, first of all, and then Recovery. It starts with realizing we are mentally ill and crying out for God’s help, and then God sets about the long term job of healing our wounds, a process Paul calls “living according to the Spirit,” Romans 8:4.

It’s a rather surprising process, though, because it involves a lot of fighting. C.S. Lewis pictured the process in The Chronicles of Narnia, in the many battles fought between the forces of good and evil after Aslan the lion died and came back to life again. Life in Narnia was a constant battle. And so is life for a Christian seeking healing in his mind from the wounds of evil.

Paul spells out the battle in verse 5: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” 

Paul makes it clear that life for a Christian is a battle of the mind. The fighting isn’t with swords and clubs as it was in Narnia, but imagine the battles in Narnia as a picture of the battle going on in our heads. It’s the same as the battle going on every day in our bodies between the good and bad bacteria. God designed our bodies as a constant battle, and now as Christians it’s our minds that are the battlegrounds.

God isn’t against fighting, therefore, but he’d rather we directed it to where it counts, which isn’t fighting against each other, it’s fighting the war in our heads. And it is war, Galatians 5:17, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other…”

And it’s good they’re in conflict, because before we were Christians our minds were filled with covetous desires, most of which we were probably unaware of, and even if we were aware of them we had nothing to fight them with. But when the children entered Narnia they were given weapons. And that’s how God answers our cry for help: He gives us weapons – weapons that enable us to fight the covetous desires in our heads that made us mentally ill in the first place. Now we can set our minds “on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). The Spirit’s desires versus the covetous desires: It’s the greatest battle raging on this planet at this very moment, and it’s all happening in the minds of Christians, because it’s Christians who are the first to understand what it takes to dislodge evil from human minds, as the first step in healing the whole world.

And what it takes is war, because evil, just like the forces of evil in Narnia, ambushes us at every opportunity. It has all the advantages of location and manpower too. It can call upon all sorts of people and situations any time any day to trip us up and tempt us into thinking wrong thoughts, or reacting badly.

But we have weapons. We’ve got the Lord’s Prayer and that lovely phrase, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil,” meaning God can help us recognize temptation and avoid it. We can see it coming and mentally prepare ourselves in how to deal with it. That’s a powerful weapon in taking away evil’s advantage. We can see the ambush we’re being drawn into. We can see the gun barrels poking through the bushes, and we can take avoiding action.

We also know what weapons evil likes using too. It likes to make us feel resistance is impossible. We’re led to believe we have addictions we cannot conquer. But James says that’s rubbish. Resist evil, James writes (4:7), and evil scampers off in fright, because it’s not used to resistance. It expects an easy fight, because with humans that’s been its experience. A little temptation here, a little blinding there, a fiery dart in a sensitive area – and humans fall like flies. In evil’s experience humans don’t resist; they give in.

But like the children in Narnia, Christians have weapons to fight back with, and they’re not afraid of a good fight. Bring it on, because God issued us with a whole armoury of weapons, for attack and defence, that in the hands of a skilled and determined Christian enable him “to stand up to everything the devil throws his way,” Ephesians 6:11 (The Message). Note the word, ‘Everything’. It was the same in Narnia too, because mere children became ferocious adversaries. After a few setbacks and lessons learned as to how evil works, they became impervious to evil. Nothing evil threw at them could touch them, just as “the evil one” cannot “touch” Christians either (1 John 5:18).

The battle of the mind is easily ours to win, because we have amazing weapons, like the shield with Made by God out of nothing but the best materials written on it, that can actually extinguish flaming arrows fired at us by the devil himself (Ephesians 6:16). Picture ourselves holding that up when someone fires a ridiculous accusation our way. We have a shield that can fizzle it into nothing.

Can we grasp the fact that God is now healing minds, the evidence being the battles we win? We’re in a fight but we can expect a string of victories, because God is strengthening our minds. We are becoming seasoned fighters.

And it’s all thanks to Jesus Christ providing us with his Spirit, the best weapon of all, because we’re up against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), so we need a spiritual force to fight them with. And we’ve got it in “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9) constantly fuelling our brains with Christ’s brain, Christ’s thoughts, and Christ’s “righteousness” (10). The same Spirit that kept Jesus safe from evil as a human being, Jesus now passes on to us. We’re the next in line to become skilled in its use.

You mean, Christians are supposed to become skilled in the use of weapons? Oh yes, Paul answers in 2 Corinthians 10:3, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” What? Christians are into waging war as well? Too right we are, Paul says in verse 4, “The weapons we fight with…”

Christians are out there swinging weapons? Yes, but they’re “not the weapons of the world,” because you can’t fight evil with worldly weapons. Guns and tanks cannot destroy evil, just as therapy, medication, and mental institutions cannot heal mental illness. We’re up against forces of evil that need “divine power” to “demolish” them (4), but because Jesus equipped us with that power it is now possible for us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (5).

What Jesus is offering us is the chance to take control of our minds. No more being ruled by our emotions, impulses, temptations, and the stupid ideas of our culture. We can eject them out of our brains like owls spitting out the bones of a mouse. And this is what God wants us to grasp, that we’re in that process right now where Jesus is training us in the use of the same weapons he used, just like a master of Kung Fu passes on all his weapon skills to a youngster.

We now belong to Jesus, meaning he’s taken us under his wing as his personal project, his goal being that we develop minds as strong as his. He died to free our minds from the grip of evil, and now he lives to fill us with his mind instead. And through the Holy Spirit he gives us the power to “set” and “reset” our minds every day on the same wavelength as his mind, so that our minds are steadily and relentlessly being transformed more and more in into the likeness of his mind.

So, yes, evil may have the advantage over us right now, but we have weapons that enable us to prevail on any battleground and terrain of evil’s choosing, so that we can stand firm against the devil just as Jesus did. And as we prevail we get the sense that our minds are getting stronger and healthier.

The wounds are being healed.

(Continues in part 5 on May 21/18).

What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make?

If the Biblical record is true that Jesus came back from the dead and actually appeared in human form to hundreds of his followers, some amazing things should have happened, right?

Well, one hundred billion Christians since that time is pretty amazing. Without Jesus’ resurrection the movement Jesus began would have fizzled out, Jesus would be just another failed revolutionary leader, and his followers would have disappeared back into the woodwork.

The fact that billions of people believe Jesus was raised from the dead, and many willingly went to horrible deaths because Jesus’ resurrection proved he was who he said he was, surely indicates something remarkable happened back there that still reverberates in people today. But what noticeable difference has it actually made in people?

To answer that I’ve tried to imagine what difference it would have made in me had I seen Jesus alive after he was dead. God gave us an imagination that enables us to think how we might react in a situation, so, after the shock of realizing Jesus was alive again, what would I have done next?

Well, my first reaction would likely be wanting to tell people about it, as anyone with shocking news would, but then it would be down to the business of what Jesus was resurrected for. It would obviously be to continue what he started, so that would take me back to what he spoke about and did in his human form before he died. And in his own words he came to announce the Kingdom that God was creating in this world, how God and his Kingdom operated, and that God was inviting us to join him in the creation of it – and especially now that the resurrected Jesus is fully in charge without anyone being able to stop him.

I’d be studying into the shape of that Kingdom, therefore, and what a citizen of such a Kingdom would look like, as taught by Jesus to his twelve disciples. And the obvious fact that his teaching from Matthew chapters 5 to 7 would change the world if everybody followed it would surely make me want to live it so well that it would change the world where I lived to prove it was true. And I’d hope for the rest of my life that I could keep that as my focus rather than trying to argue people into believing in Jesus resurrection, based on a few sketchy stories from long ago.

But that’s the catch with Christianity. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s by living what Jesus taught that the difference in Jesus’ resurrection can best be seen and experienced.

Was Jesus’ resurrection fake news?

We live in an age where anybody can make something up, spread it as news, and people believe it. So was that the case with Jesus’ resurrection?

If it was then it has to be the best fake news ever invented, because billions of people have fallen for it since it was first broadcast, billions more are still falling for it today, and billions more will likely fall for it in the future.

So what makes it so appealing?

Well, who wants to die? The idea, then, that someone came back from the dead, and in a human body too, has to be the most appealing thing possible for people who like life, like being human, and would rather not die. It makes us susceptible to believing a lie, yes, but there’s no denying the appeal.

And there’s no denying the appeal of being restored back to life and to all those things we love about this world that we never got the chance to explore and enjoy in this life now. Even if it’s only a daydream, what more appealing daydream is there?

Being resurrected back to a restored body and a restored world would also mean an end to pain and suffering. All the mental and emotional junk messing up our heads gets cleared up, no more anxiety and depression, and no more wrecked hopes and dreams from accidents, parental neglect, political turmoil, greedy cheats and scammers, disease, pollution, poverty, and all the other plagues and evils of this world. Imagine a world free of every physical, emotional, mental, and social hang-up and handicap. And all because a man who predicted such a world was resurrected from the dead to prove what he said was real.

And wouldn’t it be nice to know that a human just like ourselves, who understands us, is now in charge and has everything under control, and he’s bringing us all along the same route he went so we can be resurrected to life after death too? It really is appealing, but what if it’s all a terrible lie, conjured up by people who knew how to appeal to our base instincts to – to accomplish what, though? What gain was there to those who told the lie?

It got them a following and money, perhaps, but so what, when eventually they died? And by now, surely, we’d be able to see through their scam. But what if what Jesus said he’d do for us begins to happen to us when we believe him? Because that’s what makes his resurrection believable to all these billions of people, not because a few first century people said his resurrection happened.

If only Jesus had NOT been raised from the dead…

I imagine a lot of very bright, intellectual people have thought to themselves, “If only Jesus had not been raised from the dead,” because they’ve had to spend much time in heated and often fruitless debate with Christians trying to convince them the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

That’s because Christians insist Jesus was raised from the dead as the reason Christianity exists at all, and with so much at stake Christians have used every tool and argument possible to prove Jesus’ resurrection was real. And that has put huge strain on human brainpower to refute that Christian claim, because how do you prove that one hundred billion Christians through the ages have all been deluded?

On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a hard task, because more recent history has shown that billions of people can easily be deluded. People by the billion still vote for politicians, for instance, because they believe what politicians say is true. The shattering proof of our own experience, however, is that what politicians say and promise has little connection to what they do when voted into office, but people keep on voting for them anyway.

Delusion is easy, then, when people want to believe something is true. But does that apply to Christians? Well, awkwardly not, because Christianity didn’t begin with people wanting to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. According to the Biblical record no one, not even Jesus’ closest friends and followers, believed he’d been raised from the dead. They totally dismissed it as nonsense, and even ignored eyewitnesses. No argument convinced them.

Clearly, then, they didn’t want to be bothered by the idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead either. It was all too fantastic for them too. It was terribly disappointing that Jesus wasn’t the great Messiah they were hoping for, but that’s life, so back to their fishing boats they went, and the story of Jesus would have faded away into nothing. And for many critics of Christianity that would have been a much better ending to the Christian movement. But instead they’re stuck with all sorts of people who believe Jesus was resurrected, because what other plausible explanation is there for why this disconsolate, unbelieving group of disciples suddenly believed Jesus really had risen from the dead – and put their lives on the line to spread the news of it too?

And what has made one hundred billion people through the ages believe it’s true too? Is it the simple question, that “Without Jesus’ resurrection what would be the point of our human existence?” I wonder how the brightest and the best would answer that.

In the beginning….(pt 2)

How and why the book of Genesis became part of the Bible

So how do we come across as credible Christians in the world we find ourselves in? Our hope is that people are drawn to God because of us, but we’re up against the disturbing reality that we’re living in a ‘post-Christian age’ in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been rejected or forgotten. Where would you start, for instance, in answering your High School children or grandchildren (or other non-Christian family members) about what you believe as a Christian and not sound like a quaint religious oddity, or an out-of-date dinosaur from a distant past?

The first two verses in Genesis illustrate the challenge we Christians are up against. We live in an age, first of all, where Science is ‘God’ and only scientific explanations for how our world began and developed are accepted. The idea that there is another source of knowledge and explanation for our world, the one we Christians believe in – namely revelation from God – is not being taught anywhere, it seems, other than in our own Christian colleges and congregations, and by Muslims and Jews. But as Christians we then make an unfortunate mess of God’s revelation as well, because in just the first two verses of the Bible we’re already arguing as to what they mean. So now we face a second challenge, in how we must look to other people when we can’t even agree among ourselves, or even be willing to reason together. It’s embarrassing.

So, here are the two verses: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (verse 1). Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (2).”

For Young Earth Christians these verses are saying the Earth was created by God in a formless state about 6,000 years ago, and in the next six days God filled the Earth and the skies above with life and light, and this was the time when the first humans were created, and so were the sun, moon and stars. Old Earth Christians, however, believe there was a gap between verses one and two that could be billions of years in length. They read verse 1 instead, therefore, as the Earth starting off in great shape, but something dreadful happened in verse 2 that left this planet empty and useless. Some time later God then set about restoring the Earth with new life and new inhabitants in six days.

So now we have Young Earth Christians and Old Earth Christians at odds with each other, and neither group willing to budge or even bend. Both groups have a convincing supply of Scriptures to support their case, and they both resort to convincing facts of Science as well – BUT – they both interpret Scripture and Science differently. So the battle rages on, Christian against Christian. Trenches are dug, debates rage, the internet is hot with criticisms going both ways, neither side is the least bit interested in hearing the other out, and the credibility of Christianity takes another well deserved hit. No wonder people reject Christianity because of Christians. It really is embarrassing.

And I realize that no matter what I say next, it probably won’t change a mind that’s fixed on justifying its own position, but I’ll take a shot at it anyway. So let’s start off by saying something good about the Young Earth Christians, first of all, that they have a point, and a very good one – that the main topic in Genesis Chapter 1 is the six days of creation, not what happened before the six days of creation. So the Young Earth Christians have got us concentrating on what Genesis concentrates on first and foremost, to which I say ‘well done to them’.

But I can’t ignore the Old Earth Christians either, because if there is a gap between verses one and two – be it thousands, millions or billions of years – it allows room for all those geological ages taught in Science classes in school. And since it’s our children and grandchildren who’ll be carrying the banner of Christianity into the future, it should be them we are concerned about so that they can be credible Christians in their world and culture.

We old-timers probably won’t be challenged on what we believe Genesis is getting at, but the upcoming generation of Christians will be, so ‘the gap theory’ is jolly handy for university and college students seeking a career in the Sciences. All that tricky stuff presented in class about evolution, the fossil record, the Ice Age, when dinosaurs lived, and the Earth being billions of years old, can all be placed in The Gap. It really helps our kids and grandkids if the Bible itself provides the possibility of an Old Earth going back billions of years as well.

The Gap Is also jolly handy for finding a place in Earth’s history for Lucifer’s rebellion, because there’s no mention of Lucifer rebelling in Genesis, so if he didn’t rebel after the six days of creation, at what point in Earth’s history DID he rebel? Well, that can handily be placed in The Gap too. It’s not surprising, then, that ‘the gap theory’ has gained momentum, to the point now that all sorts of explanations for what happened before Adam are being accepted.

One explanation goes like this – that in the gap between verses one and two God filled this Earth with another fully functional and perfect paradise full of plants, animals, birds, fish and human-like creatures, that either evolved over time or were created that way from the beginning. God then put this creation, and maybe our entire solar system, under the rulership of Lucifer, an incredibly beautiful and powerful angel, perhaps the most gifted and perfect creation God had yet made (Ezekiel 28:12, 15).

Some have suggested, therefore, that during Lucifer’s early rule great cities and civilizations emerged, ruins of which can still be found in many places on our planet, and so are drawings on rocks and walls – and in other strange phenomena – that hint of a highly advanced society.

The story then continues, that to begin with under Lucifer’s rule, all was well, and the dinosaurs during this time were harmless, non-violent vegetarians, not predatory killers and eaters of meat. Perhaps, as one Christian author wrote, God even gave Lucifer the gift and the chance to create animals, birds and fish that reflected the beauty and perfection that God had placed in Lucifer himself.

So here was Lucifer, king and (possible) creator of all he surveyed, with one third of the angels under his command. That’s a lot of angels, because Revelation 5:11 speaks of ten thousand times ten thousand (100 million) angels circling God’s throne, so one third of that number would be 30 million, meaning Lucifer ruled a mighty empire – with all the power and skill of millions of angels too. No wonder people believe that civilizations far more advanced than ours today existed in Earth’s distant past.

It’s also not surprising that Lucifer got to thinking he was a ‘God’ too. What else could have got him and millions of angels thinking they could charge up to God’s throne and topple him? Lucifer clearly considered himself God’s equal – and millions of angels thought he was too. And why shouldn’t they, when God had given Lucifer the same power he had to create life forms? Was God actually testing Lucifer, though, to see what he’d do when given such power?

The fossil record seems to support that too, because the dinosaurs became a lot bigger and more violent. Huge predatory dinosaurs with teeth for ripping appeared, so did dinosaurs with massive destructive tails, armour plating, spikes and clubs, all hinting at an increasingly violent and vicious world, and all suggesting a sinister change in Lucifer himself.

Did Lucifer create such animals as power went to his head? Did he enjoy creating violent creatures and watching them fight and destroy each other, like some mad Roman Emperor entertaining his people with blood sports and combat? And did the angels become so attuned to such violence and combat that on Lucifer’s decision to attack God (Isaiah 14:13-14) they followed him willingly into battle, truly believing they could win with Lucifer in command?

The battle did not go well for Lucifer and his angels, however. God sent them packing back to the Earth (Luke 10:18) and their home base was shattered. The entire solar system was pummeled, destroying whatever civilizations and beauty existed. One planet collapsed and exploded under the bombardment, huge scars appeared on all the other planets and their moons, and the Earth took a direct hit from one or more gigantic space rocks that very quickly enveloped the Earth in a dust cloud that blocked out the sun and brought on an Ice Age. Dinosaurs and other life forms were instantly killed, buried or frozen, and some were so well preserved that soft tissue can still be extracted from their bones. And there are hints in the fossil record and ice cores (and in ocean creatures that may have survived the darkness through to our creation today) that this happened only a short time before the six days of creation in Genesis.

This, then, becomes the explanation for the Earth becoming “tohu and bohu,” or empty and ruined, in Genesis 1:2. The Ice Age was probably already receding, leaving in its wake a barren landscape and layers of buried plant and animal life as the melt waters swirled and swished over the entire planet – an appropriate picture of Lucifer and his angels being called “raging waves” in Jude 1:13. The Earth that God had originally designed to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18) – that also made the angels shout for joy in Job 38:7 – was now a dark, lifeless wreck. It was God’s way of bringing down judgment on Lucifer’s rebellion. With sin comes death. God allowed Lucifer time, yes, but there comes a point when he acts with devastating power and consequences.

And that, according to one explanation from Old Earth Christians, is how and why Genesis opens as it does in Genesis 1:1-2. In verse 3, God then begins the process of making this dysfunctional planet become functional again. It’s a handy explanation for Christian kids in school and college for maintaining God as Creator, as well as the latest observations of Cosmology, Archaeology, the dating of fossils, the layering of the rocks, the Ice Age, and the existence of massive and violent dinosaurs. It also provides a handy place in Earth’s history for Lucifer and his rebellion. So I say ‘well done’ to the Old Earth Christians too.

But I also have to say it’s still only a theory based on the latest findings of Science combined with a sprinkling of scriptures that seem to support those findings. It’s also been thoroughly challenged by Young Earth Christians using both Science and Scripture as well. So how can we reconcile these two groups of opposing Christians, especially when our credibility as Christians in the eyes of people we hope to attract to God is at stake here too? What do non-Christians see in how we treat each other as Christians when we have differences?

Well, hopefully what they see is a humble and genuine attempt by both sides to find agreement. Surely both sides agree, for instance, that THIS era of Earth’s history that began with Adam and Eve is the most important. And surely both sides can also agree that the most important statement in Genesis 1:1-2 is the bit in Genesis 1:2, that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In other words, GOD was directly involved in what was happening, so isn’t the primary focus of both groups to get down to what God made this creation in Genesis for – not on whether the Earth is young or old?

And in seeking to understand God’s purpose for this world, surely both sides can also agree on the best way of going about it. We ask ourselves the obvious questions, like “To whom was Genesis written?” and “Why was it written that way?” And can both groups then agree that Genesis wasn’t written in 21st century terms to a 21st century audience, it was written to Israel in the 15th century BC (or thereabouts) by the Israelite Moses, because it was through ISRAEL that God’s purpose was primarily being revealed by the Holy Spirit?

Hopefully, then, there are three points already that Young and Old Earth Christians can agree on to ease the tension between them, that:

1) It’s THIS era of the Earth’s history that we’re interested in most of all.

2) It’s GOD’S PURPOSE for this creation that we seek to understand most of all.

3) It’s through ISRAEL that God revealed his purpose most of all.

And there’s a fourth point that Young and Old Earth Christians can hopefully find agreement on as well, and that’s when – and why – this story in Genesis officially became part of the Bible. Moses probably wrote Genesis and the story of creation in the time between 1446 and 1445 BC when Israel was camped at Mount Sinai, but the Bible wasn’t put together until a long time later. So is there any relevance, or even importance, in the timing of Genesis being included in Scripture? Is there? It’s a question that both Young and Old Earth Christians could benefit greatly from in seeking an answer. So let’s take a look and see.

At heart and core the story of the Old Testament is the endless state of crisis that Israel, and then the Jews, were in. The height of that crisis came 700 years (or so) after Moses wrote the Creation story, when Israel was ripped out of their land by the Assyrians and taken into captivity, followed by the Jews also being removed and taken captive by the Babylonians a century or so later, and their beloved city of Jerusalem and its temple left in ruins.

These two events became the most traumatic and tragic time in Israel’s history. As one author wrote: ‘The Israelites understood themselves to be God’s chosen people: they were promised the perpetual possession of the land, the glorious temple as a house of worship, and a descendant of David sitting perpetually on the throne. With the exile (of both Israel and the Jews) all of this came to a sudden and devastating end. Israel’s connection with God was severed: no land, no temple, no sacrifices, no king. Rather than prompting the other nations to acknowledge the true God, which was Israel’s national calling, Israel was humiliated by these nations. Rather than the nations streaming to them, they were slaves in a foreign land. Israel was estranged from God.’

Everything that had connected them to God as God’s people in the past was now gone – except one thing. They still had the memory of their history tucked away in their heads from oral traditions passed on faithfully from generation to generation, as well as a patchwork of written documents they carried with them, the most important of which were the five books written by Moses (or mostly by Moses) from Genesis to Deuteronomy.

Those five books were all they had left to remind them of who they were. They were like treasured photo albums keeping the memory alive that the great God who made the world had made a covenant with them. It was to and through them, Israel, that God was revealing both his character and his plan as an immense blessing to the rest of humanity. In those five books, therefore, were all the secrets of God and the universe contained.

But they also contained a fearsome warning in Deuteronomy 29 and 30, that the great Creator God who had chosen Israel to represent him would react with “furious anger” (29:28) if Israel forgot what he’d chosen them for. Terrible calamity would result if they strayed from their calling, including being ripped out of their land. And then, only hundreds of years later too, it actually happened – they lost their land. God had warned them and they hadn’t listened. Suddenly, those five books, including Genesis, became more important than ever.

The importance struck so hard that this is what stirred the making of the Bible. Up to this point, nine hundred years after Moses had written Genesis, no actual Bible existed. There was no formal book as yet that had put all the oral and written stories of Israel’s history into one sacred text. The Israelites and Jews had kept the memories of their past alive by telling and retelling the stories of their history through the centuries – but now, suddenly, their history had come to an abrupt and horrible halt. They’d lost everything. There was nothing left anymore that identified them as God’s special people.

They’d been in trouble in the past too, and God had bashed them around a bit, but never had he deserted them like this. Were they still the Israel of old and the people of the covenant, therefore, or had they pushed God too far?

With no temple to seek God’s counsel in, but with eyes opened to their dismal failure, the Jews turned to the only solid and reassuring evidence they had of God’s promises to them. It was those five books that God had spoken to and through Moses. It was their beloved Torah, the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy, that they clung on to. It was all they had left as reassurance that God had not deserted them.

And this is how the Old Testament began to take shape as one book and one sacred text. It began in the depths of despair while the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, having lost everything that identified them as God’s people. They were in desperate need for assurance that God was still with them, and that assurance came in the first five books of what we now call ‘the Bible’. It was in response to God’s clear judgment on the Jews for deserting their post as God’s people, therefore, that the Bible began to be formed.

Every time we turn to Genesis, then, this is what we are reminded of: It’s how and why it became part of the Bible. Can we add that, then, as a fourth point that Young and Old Earth Christians can agree on? The fourth point being, that it’s why Genesis became part of the Bible that we concentrate on most of all.

It means putting ourselves in the shoes of the people it was written to in the first place. It was written to Israel, the one group of people through whom God decided to reveal his purpose in this era of the Earth’s history. Genesis was also one of the five books that would remind and reassure Israel many years later that God was still with them and his promises still stood as true as ever, despite the embarrassing mess that Israel and the Jews had made of their calling.

The putting together of the Old Testament, therefore, started during the Jews’ exile in Babylon, and it continued for some time after the Jews returned to their homeland, with other books of prophecy, wisdom and poetry being added, and new books written.

But the motivation behind it all remained the same, to go back to the beginning and rehearse their story, this time with their eyes opened to what it all meant. Who made this planet and humans, and what did he make them for? What went wrong, and how did God deal with it? And why did God set up such a specific line of people from Seth through Noah to Abraham to the formation of Israel as a nation and God choosing them of all nations as his solution to what went wrong? And again, what went wrong with that plan too, and was God still working with and through Israel to reveal himself and his purpose, despite Israel having conclusively failed him?

To seek an explanation for all these things the Jews looked to the past. Somehow they’d lost the plot and allowed themselves to be captivated by the idols and ideas of the world they were living in. But that’s not surprising when we’re experiencing the same thing happening in the Christian church today. The Jews weren’t the only ones to be captivated by their culture, because here we are today as Christians being captivated by Science when reading Genesis, either to support a gap theory or to counteract evolution, when Genesis isn’t the least bit interested in either subject. They weren’t what Genesis was written for.

Looking back to the time when the Bible was put together, we find it was stirred by God’s people realizing they’d lost the plot, who then did something about it, which is reassuringly relevant for us Christians today who’ve also lost the plot when using Genesis to prove whether our planet is young or old.

To a Jew our arguments over Genesis must seem ridiculous and trivial, and serve (rather embarrassingly) as further proof to Jews that Christianity really is a splinter group from Judaism that jumped the rails in its pathetic understanding of the Old Testament. Perhaps, then, we can learn from the Jews’ own experience of jumping the rails in their understanding of the Old Testament, that they did something about it. They woke up to the state they were in and they went back to the beginning for answers, as to who they were and why God had called them.

And that’s the context in which Genesis came to be part of the Bible. It’s in the Bible to remind those God has called to represent him – to do their job.

It also reminds us of how God reacted to those who didn’t do their job. Look what happened to Adam and Eve. And look what happened to Israel later on too, when it was their turn to represent God and they too failed in their duties. God let Israel become powerless, irrelevant and a public embarrassment (Daniel 9), and that has to be slightly unnerving when Christianity today is also being called out-of-date, irrelevant, and an embarrassment.

Young and Old Earth Christians, then, could make Christianity a lot more credible by getting back to why Genesis is in the Bible. It’s ironic that Genesis became part of the Bible because the Jews realized God had judged them for failing to represent him properly, when here we are as Christians living in a ‘post-Christian age’ in which young people are finding it hard to accept the God of Christianity because of our odd views of Science and our divisive attitudes toward each other over the meaning of Genesis. Could it be, then, that we too are experiencing a taste of God’s judgment in Christianity being rejected and forgotten?

But like the Jews we can do something about it. We can go back, like they did, to the book of Genesis, recognizing, as one Christian author wrote, that Genesis “underscores the fact that the people of God are not the product of natural human developments, but are the result of God’s sovereign and gracious intrusion in human history. He brings out of the fallen human race a new humanity consecrated to himself, called and destined to be the people of his kingdom and the channel of his blessing to the whole earth.”

That’s who we are. That’s who Adam was supposed to be too, and so was Israel. We’ve all been called to be the People of God, because that’s the real story of the Bible. It’s about people who lived and/or failed in their duties as God’s image-bearers and representatives. Paul takes us right back to Genesis too when writing about Jesus, calling him a ‘second Adam’. Jesus, in other words, did what the first Adam should have done, and what all the People of God after him are supposed to do, which is shine forth GOD’S love, goodness and wisdom. It’s all there in the book of Genesis, thanks to the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2 hovering over the waters ready to do his duty “in the beginning” too, in bringing life and God’s love and wisdom into our world.

In discussing Genesis, then, we’d do well as Christians to stick to how and why Genesis came to be part of the Bible in the first place. That’s our area of expertise, because in that lies our credibility and service to the world we live in.

(Part 1 was on March 10/18. Part 3 is on May 5/18)

Searching for God – so, where is he?

For anyone actually interested in searching for God, where would he start?

Well, we’ve tried all kinds of things. Some people searched inside themselves for God, and thought they found him in some sort of “divine light” lurking inside them. Others thought the divine was all around them, so they made images and statues of gods that represented what they thought the divine looked like. Others built a picture of God from visions and dreams they had of him, and even created religions with many followers from their visions too. Some people believed God is found in altered states of consciousness created by drugs, hypnosis, chanting, and being slain in the spirit. Most people just create their own image of God, based on the need for something bigger than themselves to help them cope through life, but other people think that’s nonsense, because God then becomes a figment of human imagination, an artificial crutch, a hope, not a reality.

If we found a signpost with “Searching for God” on it, therefore, it would point in a dozen different directions, so which road do you take that doesn’t risk wasting an entire lifetime going nowhere?

I think I’d start where Paul started in Acts 17, when he was challenged by the intellectuals of Athens to prove the God he believed in was real. Paul started with something those people couldn’t deny, that the creation we find ourselves in came from somewhere, and was set up beautifully to support human life. So let’s call that something “God.” The next question is, “Why would a God, whoever or whatever that God is, make such an amazing creation with amazing creatures like us?” It’s a good question, because if you were God and had the ability to create things out of nothing, why create a planet like this one, and why humans?

Well, if I was God I wouldn’t do it for nothing. I’d want the creatures I created to know it was me who did it, to show them how incredible I am, and therefore what powers I can unleash for their benefit. I’d hope they’d be impressed enough, and curious enough, to want to get in contact with me.

Which is exactly what Paul said, that God made things the way he did so we couldn’t help wondering how such an amazing creation came to be, so that we would go looking for its source and in the process actually find it. In other words, follow up on the undeniable evidence there’s something remarkable out there, and don’t stop looking, because if it’s true this God also loves us, he’ll guide us on our way.