What if – Jesus had not been born?

In the original Christmas story, God comes to this planet in the person of Jesus to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of ourselves (Matthew 1:21), and to help us experience peace (Luke 2:14).

And Christmas today, in a roundabout way, focuses on both those things too. It’s a muddle of Christian and secular traditions, yes, but they allow us to put the messiness of the world aside for a while and enjoy an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. Witness the billions of people, non-Christians included, who love the peace and goodwill that comes from giving and exchanging gifts, getting together as families, donating to charity, sending sentimental cards to each other, and greeting strangers with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”

But why would non-Christians get involved in all this stuff? It’s a blatantly Christian holiday, for heaven’s sake, with its Christian name, Christian symbols and Christian traditions, like the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and even candy cane. And shopping malls still belt out carols broadcasting the Christian gospel. But non-Christians soak it all up too. It’s the most amazing phenomenon on the planet, that people of all faiths make a Christian holiday the highlight of their year, and don’t anyone dare cancel it either, or suggest we change its name. So how could this have happened?

Well, it happened because of Jesus. If he hadn’t been born we wouldn’t have Christmas. Maybe we’d still be celebrating the birthday of Sol the sun god on December 25th, which started back in the 4th century with its festive atmosphere, lights, decorations, and bloating oneself on food and drink, and with Sol pictured flying across the sky in his chariot pulled by griffins (later changed to stags). Dress him a red suit and change the stags to reindeer, and Sol wouldn’t have any problem being accepted today. 

But instead of celebrating Sol’s birthday, the Christian church took Sol’s birth date and said Jesus was born on that day, and rather cleverly, in maintaining the pagan traditions on that date too, the church made December 25th a very acceptable Christian celebration. But again, none of this would have happened if Jesus had not been born. 

It’s because Jesus was born that we’ve ended up with an old pagan sun god’s birthday becoming Jesus’ birthday, but few people seem worried by that, and see no need to change it, Christians and non-Christians alike. But why would that be, I wonder? 

Well, for Christians it’s the chance to celebrate Jesus’ birthday and all that his birth meant for humanity, and – as a nice bonus – be able to broadcast the Christian message once a year to a receptive audience, minus the hassle and persecution. It even puts Christianity in a good light, with Christians and non-Christians mixing happily together.

For non-Christians it’s been a bonus too, having time off, but with a little magic thrown in too. There’s something about Christmas that’s different, that no other holiday through the year even comes close to. It could hardly be called peaceful, with the mad rush for gifts and setting up family get togethers, but there is still a calm that descends at some point during the Christmas season that is truly magical.  

Our behaviour at Christmas-time changes like no other day or season of the year. What a coincidence, then, that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by a promise of peace. We have stories to back it up too, when soldiers stopped killing each other in World War 1 at Christmas time, and exchanged gifts instead of bullets.   

Jesus being born, then, has made this world a different place, or at least given us a desire to make the world a different place. Is peace where the world is going, therefore? Well, yes, according to the reason given in the Bible for why Jesus was born. He brought the life that God meant us to live. He lived that life himself as a human being, and then promised that after he ascended back to his Father he would live that life in us too. And here we are every Christmas proving that to be true, because we like living the life of peace and goodwill he lived and promised. Even non-Christians, who have no interest in Christianity or Jesus Christ, do all kinds of peace and goodwill things at Christmas-time.

There’s something definitely fishy going on here, then, because, one has to ask: “Would any of this have happened if Jesus had not been born?”

What if – male and female are only what God designed humans to be?

It was sad to read from a parent how confusing this “gender Issue” has become. Are there really more than two genders, she wonders, or maybe no genders at all? And can children really feel trapped in the body they were born with, and never be able to live a normal life unless they inhabit a different body, a different gender, or switch between two or more genders, or become genderless? 

And what if a cross dresser of uncertain gender in both looks and manner is invited to their children’s school to read books that encourage kids to question their gender and sexual identity? And what if your child then comes home demanding to become a different gender and wants surgery to make it happen? And is gender determined by feelings or biology? 

No wonder parents are confused, and worried too, that they could have their children removed from the family home if they as parents disagree with what’s being taught to their children and resist it. 

But why all this fuss and uproar about gender? It wouldn’t have anything to do with those in the past who hated being restricted by what God created, and wished to seek alternatives, would it? I ask that, because a little research soon uncovers such individuals by name, whose experiments with children and their own personal choice of lifestyle were accepted by society and promoted by school policy makers. We know the history, in other words.

But despite the enormous pressure to go along with what the policy makers have promoted, most boys like being boys and most girls like being girls, and they like being married to, and having sex with, the opposite sex. What the Bible says God originally created, therefore, is still the preferred norm.   

But did God Intend only male and female in humans, and if so, why?  

Well, wouldn’t it be great if there really is a God who loves us so much he wants billions of us, and he designed a way of guaranteeing his billions by making the means of reproducing us through male and female so pleasurable? 

Not according to Charles Darwin, however, who in 1862 wrote: “We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality; why new beings should be produced by the union of the two sexual elements. The whole subject is as yet hidden in darkness.” 

Well, it’s not “hidden in darkness” in the Bible. Scripture gives a clear reason for “the cause of sexuality,” and why “new beings” are produced by sex. It’s because God wants the Earth filled with human offspring created by males and females who are infatuated with each other and love having sex so much they can’t stop producing children. And that’s because every child has the image of God imprinted on his or her genes, so that through those children God’s wisdom and incredible creativity would make this planet a showroom for his genius.

It would also show what love produces. In males loving females and females loving males, that in turn creates loving children, it reveals the great secret of what has made life so eternally fulfilling for God too. Love really is what makes the world go round, for God and humans, but how would we have known that without it being so obviously visible in the love between male and female? 

And to make it visible, we males and females have lovable qualities that make us irresistible to each other. And isn’t it great knowing that, because all you have to do as male and female is be male and female and know that someone out there will find you irresistible and want to live with you and love you for life? 

Some might say they can find that with members of their own sex, which is sad because it ignores the other obvious fact, that males need females and females need males. Each has qualities that the other needs, or lacks. And for humans to successfully caretake this planet and produce children who can spread that care to the planet, both male and female qualities are needed. 

Corporations, charities, churches and governments have all discovered that when you have a balance of men and women working together “they can,” according to one article among many I read, “produce exceptional results in the workplace and even more importantly, they wind up doing the same for their personal lives and therefore for the world in general. Women benefit from working with men, and men benefit from working with women. It is symbiotic.”

The symbiosis of men and women is a fact of life, proven by experience in the real world that what God created works best. And in our billions we’ve been given the chance to discover that and prove it for ourselves. 

What if – there really were two trees to choose from?

So, what if the two trees God planted in Eden in Genesis are the vital key that unlocks why we humans exist and what life for us is all about?

I hope they are, because evolution speaks nothing to me about why we humans exist and what life for us is all about. It theorizes about how we became human, and why we turned out the way we did, both physically and mentally, but offers nothing at all as to what our purpose is, other than believing we evolved. 

But, so what if we evolved? Who cares, when we’re faced with world issues we cannot solve, and we could even be facing our extinction from a combination of disease, climate change and devastating worldwide wars over dwindling resources?

What if, though, all these issues we cannot solve can be traced back to those two trees, because of what those two trees pictured? And I say “pictured,” because I have no way of proving if the two trees were real or an allegory. Either way, though, is there something about those two trees that gives us a starting point for figuring out what life is all about and why we’re in the mess we’re in now?

Well, for a start, two trees tell me that life comes down to two choices. And through raw experience we discover that too, because we have thousands of years of human history to look back on to see what our choices have done to us – and how they’re playing out in our own lives right now too. 

I know from personal experience, for instance, that if I choose to do only what pleases me, and the driving force in my life is my rights, expectations and feelings, I become arrogant, demanding, angry, frustrated, critical, depressed and a pain and bore to live with. And when an entire culture is based on self and feeding one’s own appetites, feelings and self-image, we end up with what we’ve got now, a world so consumed with consuming that we don’t even care if we litter and destroy the planet, the only home we’ve got. 

We know from raw experience, then, that a self-centred life is a destructive one. But experience isn’t enough to change us, is it? We know, for instance, that the fashion industry is highly destructive, from how clothes are made, to the massive waste and the huge ugly rotting piles of clothing caused by overproduction by factories for profit and over consumption by individuals for self-image. But we don’t have the power within ourselves to stop it. 

On the one hand, then, we’ve been conned into thinking the lifestyle we’ve created is good, but when (at last) we realize we’ve been conned it then hits us that we’re stuck in a destructive pattern we cannot break, or if we do try to break it then millions of poor people lose their jobs.  

If we’d taken the two trees seriously, though, we could have realized this would happen, because the first tree was a warning about what putting self first would do, and the second tree pictured the power to prevent putting self first. In Bible terms the first tree pictured the “deceitfulness of sin,” describing how easily we are conned into putting self first, and the second tree pictures trust in God, as the only power that can help us resist putting self first. 

And there you have it, the cause of all our problems, and the solution. So now we have a starting point for figuring out what life is all about and why we’re in the mess we’re in now. It starts with recognizing we’re faced with the same two choices that Adam and Eve were faced with. And admitting from our own experience – and the culture we’re presently living in – how easily we can be conned into a lifestyle of putting self first, which in turn has caused huge damage to our planet home, to our personal well being, and to millions of helpless people in impossible situations. Which then hopefully leads us to humbly admitting we need help in breaking our addiction to self from the only source that can help us. 

Those two trees have decided how life would turn out through the centuries for whole empires, nations and individuals. And for me too, because I can look back on my life and see with embarrassing clarity how easily I’ve been conned, but how wonderfully I’ve been rescued too. And that tells me what my purpose in life is, to trust in the God who created me to break my addiction to self so that the restoration of the planet home he gave us can begin in earnest, in preparation and practice for whatever else he has in mind for us for eternity. 

What if – we really are made in the image of God?

Well, for a start, if we are truly made in God’s image we couldn’t have evolved from monkeys, could we? And it doesn’t matter if we share DNA with other creatures either, because if God only made humans in his image then we are unique, a creature like no other.

That being the case, it’s worth a good look at what we’re made of, because if we’ve been equipped with stuff that no other creature in the world has, then there must be some purpose to it. 

But how do you figure out what that purpose is when school doesn’t teach it? All through my school years I had no idea what my purpose in life was, other than sit for hours in dreary classes and do hours of hated homework so that one day my education would provide me with a decent job. My curiosity and imagination were hardly stirred at all. I learnt a lot about what the world was like, but never why it came into existence. And I learnt a lot about how my body worked too, but never why I had such a body in the first place.

And going to church every week didn’t help much either. I can’t remember ever  having it explained to me, in terms that set my curiosity and imagination on fire, why this planet existed – and why we were the only one creature on the planet that wanted to know why too.

What did fire me up was wondering what this amazing planet could end up looking like if we humans weren’t so stupid. What if our minds were rewired so they were more in sync with what God had in mind for us? Or put another way, what if we acted like the image of God that we are? 

Well, if I’m reading Genesis right, God gave a human the chance to do just that. And with no distractions either, like fretting about one’s self image, and exploiting human weakness to make money. It was just a raw human starting from scratch with absolutely no idea what the planet or his own amazing body and mind were for. 

And God didn’t hit this fortunate human right away with religion either. There was no mention of heaven and hell, no talk about building churches, or trying to figure out how God could be a trinity. God simply said, “The world is yours; take care of it.” 

And God never said that to a chimpanzee, despite it sharing 99% of a human’s DNA. The chimp would have to put up with being a chimp for the rest of its days, but to the human God explained face to face that everything this planet contained was for humans and their children to discover and develop, while God provided the guidance, the food supply, an exquisite garden at the junction of four rivers to live in, and the water to make things grow.  

I wish I’d been that human, because the first thing I’d notice was all the luscious fruits hanging from the trees. But God then explained what he’d put that human in this exquisite garden for. It was to see what it would produce when cared for. And to help the human in his quest God also provided animals that could be domesticated and the most beautiful, wonderful creation of all, a woman, who would be the man’s equal and marvellous companion to share his quest with. 

And there it stretched before them, a world of staggering variety in plant, animal, bird and insect, liberally sprinkled with precious metals, jewels and perfumes. What, in the care of a human sharing God’s image and nature, would this planet then reveal?

Well, we never got the chance to find out, did we? Adam and Eve got really stupid and chose what a snake oil salesman offered instead. And humans have done the same thing ever since. 

But one day, the Bible says, and a lot said about it too, we get a second chance to see what this planet is made of under the care of humans who realize they’re made in God’s image and start acting like it. It will take a thorough rewiring job on our brains to get us to the point, but God’s been taking care of that too. 

I wonder, then, what is in store for us when we have bodies that never die and we’ve got minds that love this planet as much as God does. But isn’t that why God gave us curiosity and imagination when he made us in his image? It’s to fire us up now for what he has in mind for eternity.  

What if – God really did create us?

Whether God created us or not, here we are, billions of us, some of whom can’t help wondering if God had something to do with it, because the alternative provided by the likes of Charles Darwin isn’t very exciting. 

The poor chap had a very limited imagination. Picture a bunch of kids in a classroom hearing Darwin’s idea that we all came from “a warm little pond with all sorts of… (chemicals, in which) …a protein was chemically formed.” Yawn, yawn.

Oh boy, our poor kids; how we’ve limited their imaginations. Here they are, born with an insatiable curiosity for learning, and imaginations just waiting to be ignited, and they get stuck with Darwin, whose curiosity and imagination could only come up with pond scum as the source of all that we see around us. 

But tell the kids about UY Scuti, a star so big that if they drove a car round it just once at a steady 100 kph (60 mph) they’d be driving for 8,517 years, and then tell them a superpower simply spoke UY Scuti into existence, like a magician producing a wriggling white rabbit from an empty black hat, and have a magician do just that in front of the kids to illustrate the possibility of such a power in existence, and what kid’s imagination wouldn’t be stirred? I wish someone had done that for me in school, compared to the boredom I had to endure in class instead.

No wonder kids have little interest in God. It’s because we’ve stifled their imagination. Bring God into the picture and ask the question, “What if God really did create us?“ – and what possibilities does that open up in their heads instead? What if such a superpower really does exist? Because if it does, why on earth did it create the likes of us? What was it thinking? 

Well, kids, we can find out, according to one fascinating source, which says we can actually seek out this superpower and find him, because he’s easily findable. And discover in the process that he was the one who created us, and why. Is that something they’d like to know, therefore, or would they rather just stick to getting through school to get a career to make money? Their choice. But know that others before them were willing to take that journey into the unknown and came back with amazing stories to tell.  

They tell of a power that clearly knew everything about them, because in their search for such a power it was obvious they were being led. In other words, the superpower was responding. Imagine that. It’s like people who buy all sorts of equipment to send messages out into the universe to see if other life exists, and one day they suddenly receive a message back that clearly indicates “Message received, what would you like to know?” 

Well, what I’d like to know is what I’m here for when I’m only conscious for a few years and then I’m dead. We’ve got these amazing bodies and searching minds, but at most we’ve got maybe fifty good years in us to figure things out, so please, capture my imagination as to what I’m a human for so I can, if only briefly for now, experience it. 

And those who ask for such tell of places they had no idea existed. They were lifted into dimensions that revealed a world dedicated to making the absolute most of we humans have got. Our talents are stretched, our stamina strengthened, our courage immensely increased, ouir personalities changed into something that could even be called attractive, and if not attractive, certainly trustworthy and reliable. 

We’re being made into something amazing, in other words, that makes things and people flourish wherever we go. Given the chance to live forever we would be powerhouses of love, joy and peace, and think what would happen to the planet in the care of such people.  

Well, I’d love to see what would happen to our planet in the care of such people, because that’s what the superpower made us for, to enable this planet to flourish in the care of us humans, and to bring to life and beauty all that is tucked away in it.  

It would be nice to have a taste of it now, though, so I know what the Bible says about us is true, that we are loved, cherished, stretched, expanded, transformed, and trained professionally by the great God himself to equip us with the nature and the skills we need to make life forever something for all of us to really get excited about.  

So “What if God really did create us?” But that’s the point, “What if?” Because if he did create us, then I’ve got 1,156 pages in a book he had written that tell my why he created me and how I can experience it to prove it’s true. I can go the pond scum route instead, but when I see what it’s done to the imagination of children and the awful mess this world has become, I weep.  

What if….God really does exist?

Putting aside all the usual objections to God existing, what difference would it make in a person’s life if God really does exist?

I wondered about this from a rather practical point of view, because I’ve based at least fifty years of my life on God existing, and what difference has it made in my life? And has that difference been noticeable to others who’ve known me through the years too? 

So what difference would be noticeable? Well, how about what Paul wrote in Romans 15:2-3, that “Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” 

And that would surely be noticeable, because not pleasing oneself is hardly the driving force in people’s lives today, and certainly not to one lady who told me recently, “From now on I’m only doing what pleases me.” 

So in not making pleasing myself my priority in life I’m providing a clear comparison as to what difference a belief in God makes. And it also happens to be the one thing that would change the world if we were all able to do it. If we could all live to build each other up, rather than live to please ourselves, imagine what kind of world we’d have instead. It would be wildly and wonderfully different to what we’ve got at present. 

But isn’t this what turns people off God and Christianity, the idea that “not pleasing oneself” means not enjoying good food, not playing golf or watching movies, or not spending hours buried in a favourite hobby? Is that what Paul meant, though, in these two verses?  

No, it isn’t. In context he’s talking about “bearing with the failings of the weak,” verse 1, and who does that nowadays? It’s a traditional school sport to pick on other kids’ weaknesses, and a source of great personal pleasure to adults as well, finding fault in politicians, employers, neighbours, other races and nationalities, spouses, other people’s children, and how people dress, talk, look or treat their animals. It’s open hunting season all year round on social (more like unsocial) media unearthing people’s failings and digging for skeletons in their closets. 

Wouldn’t it become highly noticeable, therefore, if I as a teenager did not do that on social media, or as an adult I didn’t join in the character assassination of a work colleague? 

But to do that takes a power I don’t have naturally. The pressure to follow the crowd and not be seen as different is huge. To be different brings out the bully and scoffer in people, and who likes being ridiculed and picked on day in and day out? 

But we’re Christians to show how wonderfully and radically different a person’s life becomes for believing God exists, compared to what drives people naturally. And it took a whole chapter in Romans 14 to remind Christians of that, stirred by some old-timer Christians who’d been picking on new Christians for not eating meat or drinking wine, and for giving sacred significance to certain days (verses 2,5 and 21). 

So rather than “bear with the failings of the weak,” these old-timer Christians put pressure on the new Christians to get with the program and put these silly ideas behind them. But not, unfortunately, to the benefit of these new Christians, because these so-called “silly ideas” they had were matters of conscience to them. They really thought what they were doing was what God wanted. 

So Paul told the old-timers to back off if these new Christians showed even the slightest signs of distress at being picked on or pressured to change (Romans 14:15). And that’s not an easy thing to do when it’s the chance to prove your spiritual superiority and greater wisdom.

But because it’s so difficult it then becomes a grand opportunity to show what difference a belief in God’s existence can make in a person. It can turn a self-pleasing, superior-minded bully into a sensitive, unselfish peace maker. And what a proof God exists that is, because only supernatural help can do that.  

A simple question like, ”What if God really does exist?”, therefore, really comes to life in the difference it makes in a person if he does exist, and in ways that are visibly and radically obvious. And in ways so desperately needed too, in a world where pleasing oneself to build oneself up and look down on others are such a driving force behind one’s dealings with other people, and look what a mess we’re in because of it.  

Experiencing the supernatural – hopefully

In Romans 15:4 Paul writes, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

That’s quite a statement, because in one sentence it summarizes the entire purpose of the Old Testament. It’s to give us – who are living in this world now – hope. 

But how can that be? How can a book full of “old stuff” meant for Israel provide us with hope today? We’re living in a vastly different world, with so many things going wrong in it, most of them totally unresolvable too. Hope, therefore, has to be a pipe dream, a fantasy and deception promoted by political spin doctors, clever advertisers, and propaganda artists in big business, purely to make money and keep themselves in power.  

And we know it too, don’t we? We know the reality of life in our world, that it’s geared to making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and that greed and the lust for money and power are wrecking the planet, destroying our physical and mental health, and turning us into depressed zombies or angry, negative cynical, destructive protesters. So how on earth can anyone have hope with that lot going on?

It’s understandable that hope is being replaced with despair, but here’s Paul saying in verse 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   

As far as God and Paul are concerned, hope is still a viable possibility, and in fact it’s meant to happen, and was even predicted to happen in the Old Testament. Paul quotes one example in verse 12 from a statement made 2700  years ago in Isaiah 11:10, that a “root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations,” the result being, “the Gentiles will hope in him.” 

But the Gentiles will hope in him for what, exactly? It’s in “the promises made to the patriarchs,” Romans 15:8, “so that,” verse 9, “the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy.” It means there’d be a time coming when people (us Gentiles now) would realize that what God promised to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be brought to life and into reality by this “root of Jesse,” meaning, of course, Jesus Christ, who’d be made “the ruler over the nations” after his resurrection. 

In other words, Jesus is ruling the world right now – and is doing so purely because of God’s amazing mercy (verse 9), in not giving up on us despite what we’ve done to him, to the planet, and to each other.  

And some “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13, see that, get it, and revel in hope because of it. Why? Well, for two reasons: first of all, that no matter what happens on this planet it still fits in with God’s plan to “bless all peoples on earth” – exactly as God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3. And secondly, “so that (we) Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” verse 16.

What an amazing statement, that we Gentiles have been set apart by the Spirit of God to be an “offering” to the world. In what way? In the hope that we have, because we “trust in him,” verse 13. We trust in the promises God made to the patriarchs, “so that we overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13. 

It’s what we’ve been set aside as Gentiles for, just as Isaiah predicted. Hope, therefore, in a world that has no reason whatsoever for hope, is what we carry with us, no matter what is happening in the world, or to us personally. And that’s what makes us “so acceptable to God,” verse 16, because hope is what this world needs more than anything right now. It’s what the desperate and powerless need to see and hear. It’s what the gospel is all about, and has been ever since God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. 

And Paul understood that. That’s why “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel,” verse 20, so that “Those who were not told about Christ will see, and those who have not heard will understand,” verse 21, quoting another 2700 year old verse in Isaiah 52:15. 

It is God’s intent, then, to fill us supernaturally with hope, and to make it our ambition to see others filled with hope too, “so that all nations might believe and obey him,” Romans 16:26. 

Experiencing the supernatural – sorrowfully

In Romans 8:26 Paul writes, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

In the past I’ve taken that to mean the Spirit will pray for me when I can’t find the words to pray, or the right words to pray. But I noticed in the Revised standard Version quoted above that it’s not “words” the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with,” it’s “sighs.” And really sad sighs too, “groanings” according to the NIV. It’s the awful low sounding, chin on chest reaction to a horrible pain or despair.

And it’s pain and despair so great that there aren’t words to express it. I understand why, in Mark 5:38, people “were crying and wailing loudly” in the room where Jairus’ 12 year old daughter lay dead. Words could not express the depth of despair they felt at the awful sight and tragedy of a child dying so young.

And aren’t there things happening in our world and lives too that leave us in the same helpless state, where all we can do is “sigh and cry over all the  abominations” that are leaving people’s lives and the planet in ruins? 

But I’d never thought that my sighing and crying could actually be the Holy Spirit’s very own sighing and crying in me. You mean the Holy Spirit is in the same state I’m in?  

Well, yes and no. Yes, because that’s what Paul is saying in Romans 8:26, but no, because the Holy Spirit’s groanings are more than just the natural grief and mourning we feel. I groan when I roll my ankle really badly, first of all because of the pain, but also because I know for the next six weeks I’ll be handicapped and hobbling and worrying about rolling my weakened ankle again, and I sigh and cry at the adjustments I’ll have to make to my schedule.

There’s a heavy dose of self-pity mixed in there. But that’s obviously not the reason for the Spirit’s sighs and groaning. The Spirit is sighing at our helplessness, not his. And it’s because of our helplessness that God doesn’t have the words to express the tragedy that is us. He didn’t at the time of Noah either. Evil had so infected humanity with such terrible inhumanity that “God’s heart was filled with pain” and he “grieved” at the hopeless mess we’d become. He wished he’d never created us, because of the horrors it had caused (Genesis 6:6-7). 

Imagine being God and having to watch humans descend ever deeper into the depths of hell. But here we are now in much the same situation, and we’re now groaning at the horrors going on, not out of self-pity, but because the Holy Spirit is now living the pain-filled, grieving heart of God in us.

No wonder I feel so down some days, and nothing anyone says can comfort me. Thing are happening in the world or in my family or to my chums in church that I can’t do anything about and all I can do is watch helplessly, wishing I could do something, but I can’t. And neither will God solve the impossible horrors for now either, because “he set a day when he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31), and until that day comes the horrors will continue.

I need God to comfort me, therefore, just as Jesus promised he’d comfort those in mourning in Matthew 5:4. He’s doing it too, by showing us it’s because the Holy Spirit is living God’s heart in us that we’re feeling this way. We’re experiencing the supernatural sorrowfully, therefore, in sharing the sorrow and lament of God himself at what’s happening to people and the planet. 

And God sees that happening in us, as Paul says in Romans 8:27, that “he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” and how wonderful that is to our Father, because it’s clear evidence that we’re being conformed and transformed into the image of Jesus himself, who was also called “a man of sorrows” in Isaiah 53:3. It’s proof we’re on the way to becoming true children of our Father, just like his firstborn Son. 

For now I watch helplessly as people stumble through crisis after crisis with no solution, most of which I cannot do anything about. And some days I am just shrieking inside. I’m wailing, lamenting, mourning, groaning, and cannot find the words to even express how I feel to God. But to think that’s how the Holy Spirit feels too and he’s actually expressing his heart in us.   

Experiencing the supernatural – sensitively

In Romans 14:13 Paul writes, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” 

You’d think that deliberately or unknowingly tripping up a fellow Christian would be the last thing we’d want to do. But sensitivity to fellow Christians is not exactly a strong point when one has strong beliefs on touchy subjects. 

Paul cites three examples in Romans 14: Some Christians were dyed in the wool vegans, who ate nothing but veggies; others believed in observing sacred days, while others thought it was wrong to drink wine.

Other Christians, however, thought all three of these things were daft, and they had no qualms about saying so. It’s like some Christians today who believe Halloween is nothing but satanism in disguise, being snorted at derisively by their fellow Christians who think Halloween is just a bit of harmless fun for the kids and a great way of getting to know the neighbours.    

But many times in church history Christians have frothed and fumed at each other over things like the date of Easter, the validity of the sacraments, the veneration of saints, and whether war is justified, or not. Today Christians snarl at each other over how young or old the earth is, should women and practicing homosexuals be ordained to the ministry, is same sex marriage really marriage, can we vote, dance, march in protest, and join the armed forces? And should we observe the sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, resist euthanasia, and continue to threaten people with burning in hell forever? 

And it’s tragic that we Christians have split our churches and even killed each other over our differences – totally going against the grain of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3-6 – but it shows how hard it is to be sensitive and respectful to people who think differently, even as Christians.  

Fortunately, Paul offered a solution to the problem: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote, “and don’t think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” And he wrote that in Romans 13:14, in the verse just before he launches into Romans 14.

In Paul’s mind the only solution was a supernatural one, a transformation from  our typical thinking patterns (Romans 12:2) to those of Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8). 

So this is something else we can experience supernaturally, that we really can get along together as Christians even with strong and differing beliefs on touchy subjects. Which is good to know, because what Paul talks about in Romans 14 is tough for us to do naturally. 

Like, for instance, not looking down on, judging or condemning each other in those touchy “grey areas” where there is no direct command in the Bible for or against (verses 3-4, 13). And can we respectfully accept another person’s conscience and “not eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause our brother to stumble” (verse 21)? 

These are tough to do, but God accepts people’s conscience (verse 3), and he’s well pleased when we do as well (verse 18). Why? Because we’re “acting in love” (verse 15), and living the “peace and joy” of the kingdom of God (verse 17).

It doesn’t mean we have to give up what we believe to be right or wrong. Paul, for instance, believed there was no such thing as a “wrong food” (verse 14), but he kept that to himself when he sensed it might distress a person if he made an issue out of it (verses 15 and 22). 

And it’s that kind of sensitivity and respect for a person’s conscience that’s on offer for us to experience supernaturally. And thankfully so, because a church with unresolved conflict, from defending one’s own beliefs as the only right way to go, creates a strained and unhappy atmosphere when we’re together. 

I’m glad there is a solution, then, that through the “Holy Spirit” (verse 17) we can do as Jesus did, which “is please our neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself,” Romans 15:2-3. 

Experiencing the supernatural – politically

In Romans 13:1 Paul writes: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Paul then adds teeth to that statement in verse 2 when he writes: “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

In context Paul is talking about civic government, as we see in verse 6 when he mentions paying our taxes. He isn’t talking about submitting to the likes of Hitler and all those other murdering maniacs who go to war and slaughter millions of people. But even in our civic governments and law enforcement agencies there are people in power who make life miserable for the people who depend on them for their safety and well-being.    

So how can Paul say these bad apples in positions of authority are “God’s servants to do you good” in verse 4? Clearly, I need a major “transformation by the renewing of my mind” to grasp how “good, pleasing and perfect” God’s will is on this one (Romans 12:2). For me this is where the rubber really hits the road in “testing and approving” God’s ways as being right and superior.

But it does tell me one thing, that God is very much involved in what’s going on inside our nations. I may not clue in yet as to why he allows the justice system to include corrupt lawyers and judges, or why he allows police forces to abuse their power through overzealous violence, but I have to admit it’s only the minority who are like that. Most government agencies and civic authorities are dedicated to containing and eradicating evil, so it doesn’t run rampant. Most authorities within a nation really are “agents of wrath” that “bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (verse 4). And if we “want to be free from fear of the one in authority,” then “do what is right and he will commend you” (verse 3). In most nations that’s true, that we have little to worry about if we’re good citizens.

Bring God into the picture, then, and it can radically change our thinking about politicians and civic authorities. Imagine what life in our nation would be like without local governing bodies. We’d have anarchy, or even a repeat of Genesis 6:5 in Noah’s day when “every inclination of the thoughts of human hearts was only evil all the time.” 

God obviously had our best interests in mind, then, when instituting government and law enforcement, which is how Paul understood it too. But it raises the obvious question as to why God also gives us bad leaders and bad apples among those in leadership positions. 

Is it because they serve a useful purpose too, though? Because – to ask a touchy question – how do we react personally to bad leaders, and especially when their policies and leadership styles make us feel angry, helpless, and fearful? Do we turn to God for help or to our own devices, like violent protest, or endless fuming at the dining room table driving everyone crazy, or getting ourselves in a froth so bad we do something really stupid and maybe end up in jail?

I admit I need supernatural help when our local Council is making ridiculous decisions, or the police ignore obvious crimes and punish pettiness instead. Like Job, I need God to lift me out of this world and see him above it all, with his hundreds of millions of angels being “ministering spirits” to those who trust him (Hebrews 1:14).

It’s in the political arena too, then, that we can experience the supernatural, as we look to God to help us keep our cool, and look to him to deal with the bad apples in ways that we can’t. And isn’t that what he appreciates from us more than anything, that we trust him? So maybe he allows poor leadership in government and law enforcement to get us to trust him, just like he allowed a vicious Pharaoh in Moses’ day to stir Israel to cry out to him and God then “displayed his power” on Israel’s behalf (Romans 9:17).

Can we do the same thing today as well, then, and cry out to God for help when ruled by bad leaders? Yes, according to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:2; we can “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.”      

So I ask myself, “Am I resting all my hopes and dreams, and my mental well-being, in perfect human leadership, or in God?” If it’s God, then if there’s bad leadership and abuse of power, and wrong decisions that threaten the safety and well-being of people, I don’t have to panic or resort to bad behaviour myself. I can trust God to sort things out, since he’s the one who put those people in leadership in the first place. And if he wants me to play some active part in dealing with the bad apples, I can also trust him for wisdom and whatever else I need to do that job well too. Maybe it’s even run for Mayor myself.…