FROM THE BOUNDARY: Hiya! – Part three
WE’VE been reflecting on how, through the Spirit, God communicates with us – but have stressed the overarching power of divine mystery. St Paul’s question in Romans, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord?” (11:34), repeated in 1 Corinthians (2:16), surely acknowledges it. Can we ever understand God well enough to assert we know what He wants and that He’s irrefutably communicated it to us? Affirmative biblical texts may help us, of course. Or, as St Paul reminds us, we can match our understandings with what we know of the mind of Jesus, and so assert that if Jesus would have said it, or wanted it, that would be pretty good evidence that it reflects “the mind of the Lord”. Maybe. But we’d also have to acknowledge that what God may have wanted 2000 and more years ago is no guarantee of what He’d want now – well, unless we’re dotty and suggest that God stopped ‘speaking’ altogether in biblical times and that He’s all for slavery.
I’m sure that most of us accept that God knows all about us, that we’re known by name, that He cares for us. That’s corroborated daily on Facebook. ‘God loves me, watches over me’ is standard fare – well, until the Tower of Siloam falls. The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his lovely daughter are pretty earth-levelling. But acknowledging that God cares for us is not asserting that we know how precisely He’ll care for us. Most of us don’t pretend to know the “mind of the Lord”. Frankly, we’ve more sense than that. Most of us, I suspect, think like my friend Merlene who lives down the field where I take the dogs for their morning walk. With a fund of common sense, this morning she told me of her hopes for the future. “Well I don’t know how or when, but one day He’ll surprise me when I least expect it.” Yes, the ‘common sense’ approach.
There’s also reason. For example, take the statement ‘The Christian Church is an inclusive Church or it’s nothing.’ We’d be saying that ‘inclusivity’ is not an optional extra. Why? Well, because Jesus stands with the broken, the despised and rejected. He stands with the Roman centurion, the women of Canaan and Samaria, the tax collector, the adulteress. To the thief he says, ‘Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.’ Cultural prejudices, and a lot of other stuff so often relied on by so-called religious folk, play no part in his mindset. Paul – the Paul of mixed messages, even – understood this. ‘There’s neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. In Christ, we’re all one.’ That ‘oneness’ may cause problems for Caesar and even in the Church, as we know, but as a heavyweight principle indicating what it is to be a ‘Christian’, what it is to be ‘pleasing’ to God, it’s surely unsurpassed. Maybe it’s something which, for once, upstages the mystery of it all.
OK: experience, common sense, reason. Mind, for all sorts of reasons, the phrases ‘pleasing to God’ or, similarly, ‘right in the eyes of God’, very OT ideas, are problematic, not least because those who use them are all too often asserting they KNOW the mind of the Lord in a way different and more detailed than you and I do. There’s no mystery, no borderline cases. It’s cut and dried, all or nothing. A nice example of this approach has come recently in what appears to be the unsolicited pronouncements in another newspaper of the Anglican Bishop of Barbados, Michael Maxwell. In the issue of 6 November 2019, he decreed there would be “No gay priests”. The homosexual lifestyle, he said, was not “right in the eyes of God”. Then, in the 27 January issue of the same newspaper, he returned to this theme on the question of the blessing of so-called ‘same-sex unions’. For some reason he spoke only of homo-sexual unions, which he seemingly regards as a euphemism for marriage. Tell that to David and Jonathan in the context of their covenantal relationship of deep and abiding love as soul mates in which David loved Jonathan more than any woman (2 Sam. 1:26). “People must strive to live the way God wanted and do those things pleasing in his sight,” the Bishop declares. So let me get this straight. If two people come to me and tell me of their deep love for each other, and ask from me a blessing on their love in my capacity as priest, I can’t give it because Bishop Maxwell knows what God wants, because he “knows the mind of the Lord” – that the God of Love says ‘NO’ to Love? Tell it to John and Jesus.
In the same issue, Bishop Maxwell speaks of “God’s vision for Barbados”. I wonder what that is. Is it about flower shows and movie nights? Think about it. What do YOU think God’s vision might be and why? Would it be about confronting injustice and hypocrisy, compassion, standing with the marginalised? Or would it be about dress codes and strict adherence to scriptural ‘rules’? You choose.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
Hiya in the 200th Column from the boundary: Every Breath of my Breath, thank you. (Hiya to you too, Leslie. It was really nice to meet you.)