Gloriously beautiful

Is beauty just in the eye of the beholder? It is just a psychological state? If one person thinks something is beautiful and another thinks the same thing ugly, are they always both right? Are some things intrinsically, objectively beautiful, independent of our opinions and preferences? Is there always an implied “to me” that comes after the statement: “Wow, that is truly beautiful”?

Well, it seems (to me at least!) simply looking at something truly beautiful answers that question. In the same way that tapping a solid object gives us a reassurance of its objective existence, the feeling of awe at a sunset, or painting, or person is an indication that there is something really beautiful about it. A random sequence of beeps of different frequency and duration is objectively different in a particular sort of way to Beethoven’s 5th, and its not just that one carries information. It’s a certain type of information. We could turn the phone book into a tune by matching letters and numbers and spaces to notes and it would not be beautiful.

Or think of it another way. Why do we like music? Why does it resonate with our emotions? Why does it release the feel good chemical dopamine in the brain?

God is the ground and source of beauty. Another word, closely linked with beauty is glory which constantly radiates from God. It is the beautiful dazzling outshining of his invisible excellence. He made the world and everything in it to display his glory. We are made to appreciate the glory of God and response to it in praise and worship.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1 (ESV)

The conversation between the trinity is all about glory:

Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” John 12:28 (ESV)

Jesus came to glorify God, by revealing him to us that we might know him:

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:1–5 (ESV)

 

Light was created to make manifest God’s excellence. I know “manifest” is an old fashioned word but I love it. It means to reveal something in such a way that it can be seen and perceived by the eye. As a noun it can refer to a list of the cargo carried by a ship so that it can be unloaded and distributed in an organised and effective manner. Light was created to be the carrier of the goodness of God onto the back of our retina such that we perceive and receive his goodness. Being more specific photons were made to bounce of (apologies to physicists) Jesus face and trigger rods and cones in our eye. More metaphorically of course its about us knowing God (really knowing who he is and entering into a tangible relationship with him) through Jesus.

The glory of God shines out in the night sky, and in fact all creation, but there is also in inward light in each believer who knows Jesus:

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)

In Psalm 27 David asks for one thing. One thing only. The most important thing to him:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Tim Keller tweeted this recently:

“Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful….You should never go to God because he’s useful. Go because he’s beautiful. And yet there’s nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.”

Of course we do come to God because his is useful, at first anyway. I came to him because of my need for forgiveness, meaning and purpose.

 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:5

 

But the manor and means by which we are granted these things takes our eyes of ourselves and onto the one who is so gloriously good and gracious. Jesus, the son of God, is given up to death on a cross, bearing our sin and turning away God’s righteous anger.

David is saved but the result is not that he goes on his merry way. Rather his heart is won and he seeks the face of God.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 8 You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” 9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! 10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.

God’s beauty would never be in the eye of a beholder were it not for the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals God to us, but we need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of our hearts to see him. Without God’s enlightening we are born blind to his beauty.

Here is a link to my God Puzzle page on beauty.

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Did you have a free choice to read this?

doorsI love the program “The Big Questions”.

Hats off to the makers and to Nicky Campbell. They get a really good range of people on it and tackle questions that really matter. In this show (sorry if it’s no longer available) they ask if we have free will.

So do we? Well, what is free will? I would say it is being able to make choices that are not completely determined by past natural causes. If you think we are just biological machines then I would have thought that rules out free will. It is just an illusion. If, however, you believe we are more than that, then the door for free choice is left open. You could even argue the other way: given I know I have free will (the truth of that being so axiomatic and existential) I must be more than a machine. There must be a non-natural part of me.

If that seems too rash a step, try heaping up the implications of not having free will. If I think that my choices are not actually free, in that they are entirely constrained by natural causes and effects, then it leads to a number of conclusions that I know are simply not true. It would remove me from any moral responsibility. It would also undermine any confidence I have in my thinking process. Why bother agonising over a decision if it’s predetermined? I challenge you to make choices while simultaneously knowing that they are not real. The belief that we are not free is self-defeating in multiple ways.

Thinking more theologically, the Bible is another source of data I can use to answer the free will question. It seems at first to help, but then it gets more tricky. First, God asks us to make choices. He must do so with some kind of integrity, knowing that he is speaking to individuals that can make choices, and not robots – all be it complex biological robots, simply ticking and whirring along. Second, he calls us to account for the things we do. We do have moral responsibility for the things we do. Third, we are in his image, and God himself is not a robot whose thoughts are causally determined. For a start, there was a time when there was only God, hence no external cause and effect mechanism. Internally, I guess you could argue for some kind of predeterminism in God’s choices, but since God is spirit, we are outside of the realm of the natural world and the cause and effect mechanism we know. It makes more sense just to think about God as a being who makes free choices. In fact, you could say free choice is grounded in him.

Anyway, the next stage of complexity comes when we ask if God knows what our choices are going to be.  If he does, are we really free in the choices we make? Well, yes he does know what we are going to do, and yes we still make genuine choices. How can that be? Well, all I can do is build that into my understanding of God. He is a being that knows the future, including what I will choose, in such a way that does not undermine my choices.

No Offence?

The gospel can be attractive to some but offensive to others. If you think you are the ultimate authority in your life and can make up your own morality, meaning and purpose, if you think you are a good person who has not done anything really bad, or if you think really bad people should never be forgiven, then Jesus is going to offend you big time.

Found these quotes from here thought provoking given how I like to preach the gospel but also have a tendency to want to please people:

https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/08/30/so-have-you-offended-anyone-yet/

 

-“The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” A.W. Tozer

-“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” George Whitefield

-“A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, ‘I will never hear that man again,’ very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.” C.H. Spurgeon

-“You can really test what is being preached by one particular criterion, and it is this: the gospel of Jesus Christ is always offensive to the natural man. . . . If you find the natural, unregenerate man praising either the preacher or his message then, I say, you had better examine that preaching and that preacher very carefully.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

-“Why in God’s name do you expect to be accepted everywhere? How is it the world couldn’t get on with the holiest man that ever lived, and it can get on with you and me?” Leonard Ravenhill

Power made perfect in weakness

 

 

Lovely to see this rare film footage of Wigglesworth. Lester Sumrall talks about his relationship with Wigglesworth here.

He heard a story in San-Francisco about Wigglesworth which made him want to meet the man. You can hear the story here  @ 00:7:50. Wigglesworth basically killed a dying man with terminal stomach cancer, who came for prayer, by punching him.

Apparently “His daughter was stone deaf and he couldn’t get her to hear”

“He was a faith healing who couldn’t see to read and his daughter was his assistant who couldn’t hear”.

Of course, people mocked him about that but he was undeterred. He said

“if you can tell me why Elisha was bald I’ll tell you why I [need glasses] ”.

I’m going to keep praying for people even though I’m not 100% well myself…yet.

Quotes

quotation-marksEvery now and then I empty my quote store into a blog. Hope you find some of them interesting too:

 

What is missing from us that we think ‘this will be the answer – some stuff from toy’s R us!’ Russel Brand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqzpzADL8b0&feature=youtu.be

“If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings,” Steve Howard said at a Guardian Sustainable Business debate. He said the new state of affairs could be called “peak curtains”. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/18/weve-hit-peak-home-furnishings-says-ikea-boss-consumerism

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritising the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals. (Barack Obama in an interview with Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen of Christianity Today (1/23/08)

 

I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him. Napoleon Bonaparte

 

The former Russian president, Nikita Khrushchev, famously said that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had flown into space, but ‘hadn’t found god there.’ – which, as one academic responded, is a bit like saying that Hamlet had been into his attic and hadn’t found Shakespeare.” If god then what? P 95 Andrew Wilson.

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. C.S. Lewis

 

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act. Mahatma Gandhi

I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are very wise and very beautiful; but I never read in either of them: ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.’ Augustine of Hippo http://www.leaderu.com/articles/opinions-about-Jesus.html

Is Christianity true?

John Piper is asked why he thinks Christianity is true. He gives two reasons and then a final one that he says is most “existentially real for me”.

The first is historical:
“I think arguments can be mounted that are solid and compelling first for the existence of Jesus and then for the death of Jesus and for the resurrection of Jesus to give an account for why the Apostles were the way they were after his death. So that the arguments that …evangelicals have developed for the resurrection of the dead “who moved the stone” type arguments, that’s the name of a book, are strong and have helped many people get over the barrier because if Jesus has been raised from the dead never to die again and ascended into heaven then we should take very seriously and credit what he said about himself.
The second is presuppositional:
…without God as an assumption, without the Bible as an assumption, all of our reasoning processes or all of our perceiving processes are not possible. In other words every time we start thinking and every time we start perceiving, something is happening in our heads which means something and if you’re going to have any kind of credible conversation about what you’re thinking or about what you’re seeing then you are assuming certain laws of logic, certain laws of causality, certain laws of existence, which can’t have any bearing or absolute significance unless they’re rooted in God. So everybody’s talking nonsense but hardly anybody will will say we’re all just animals talking nonsense
So here is his main one:

If someone said to me, ‘tell me in 30 seconds why you are a Christian’, I would say ‘The portrait that I see of Jesus Christ, in the gospels, is self authenticating to me. I cannot meet this man and have him speak like nobody else spoke and not believe him. He wins my trust.’

And then if they say ‘Ah but how do you know that person has not been created by somebody else.’ Then I would say ‘Well, then the person who is creating him is just as phenomenal and they win my trust. And if they win my trust then they are not lying to me.’

The Apostle Paul is not a lunatic. I cannot read the 13 letters of the Apostle Paul and think he is crazy or think he is a liar.