It’s not fair!

Whiskey_Chocolate_Cake.jpgHow would you feel if you found out someone else was getting paid more than you for doing that same job? Understandably pretty miffed I expect. It’s not hard therefore to relate to the consternation of the workers in Jesus’ parable when they found out that workers who worked less hard for less time got paid the same as them.

But what is Jesus saying here?

Grace : The payment does not need to be linked to the amount of work. The extreme case of this would be where we get something we have not earned. That is called grace. And in fact does not the employer in the parable answer his critics by saying “its my money to do with what I want. What is it to you if I give more to one person than another”. So this parable is about grace.

Anger : When someone else gets more than us we can get angry. It’s just not fair. We seem to be born with a very sensitive fairness detector. Children are outraged if a chocolate cake is sliced in such a way that someone else gets a molecule more than them. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is wrong to pay one sex more than another simply because of their gender. It is wrong to take advantage of a workforce simply because they are vulnerable and have no alternative other than working for meagre wages. We should be highly alert to these things for the sake of justice. But that is not what is going on in Jesus parable. The wages are not based on anything about the workers. The reason for the differing amounts is in the hidden purposes of the giver who is not constrained to give based on anything outside of himself. For grace to be grace the giver must be free to give or not give as he wishes. The moment there is outside constraint, grace becomes wages. (Romans 9:21-24)

One final point: We are not the ones who have toiled away all day to earn God’s love! Jesus did the work in the heat of the day. We, who were called at the last minute, get the wages and the inheritance he earned. Our wages would have been death (Romans 6:23). When we start to think of ourselves as having “earned God’s grace” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) we will get angry when others are shown grace. Jealousy is a dangerous emotion. A big warning flash light on the dash board of our heart signalling a potentially deadly grace deficit.


Image from Wiki FotoosVanRobin



A few more quotes I thought were note worthy:

“When I first met Nora, my future wife, we disliked each other so much we were drawn together like magnets. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She was also well educated, funny and dressed magnificently, with a wink to 40s film noir. I have never been unfaithful, though I had plenty of opportunity in the Sex Pistols. We both played the field before we met and found it very wanting.” John Lydon, The former Sex Pistols singer said this in an interview in the guardian


“There are four principles we need to  maintain: First, read the word of God. Second consume the word of God until it consumes you. Third, believe the word of God. Fourth Act on the word of God”. Smith Wigglesworth


I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest, the quote unquote ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, and if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself. Fantasitc Mr Fox



The new Surface Pro


I’ve been waiting for months for the Surface pro 5 to come out. It turns out that there is no Surface Pro 5 but there is a new Surface Pro. It doesn’t look much more than an update but Panos Panay does a great job of presenting it in the best possible light. Interesting to see the techniques he uses to do that:

He starts by speaking of the evolution of the development of China (the country where he is making his announcement). He does it in a personal and pictorial way:

Here is a picture I took 11 years ago. Here is the picture I took from the same place yesterday. I used to come back from China and tell my son…

He is telling a story with two pictures. It’s a good way to introduce a subject. Much better than talking about technical specifications. He puts it in a human context. He engages with pictures. It’s a good start.

Like China surface pro is not a picture. It’s not a moment in time. Is a journey, it’s a motion picture. It is a continued evolution. You have to watch the whole story to understand it’s beauty. This moment, here today in China… This brings us to the next step in that journey right now. I would love to introduce to you the new surface pro.

Great words to introduce the product. “Journey…motion picture…evolution…story…beauty”. Then ground it in the here and now: “this moment here today in China”.

“Today I stand here and our journeys come together in this room”

“800 new custom parts that come to life.”

He is having to work hard but he’s doing a great job.

When talking about the screen he says

The picture is true and real, which is so important when you want to get work done, when you want to create.

Again, great adjectives. Also, he links features to what people want to do and through that creates a desire for the product.

So, good intro, and the screen apparently is “true and real” (ie slightly improved:-). But how do you talk about a new hinge in a way that is engaging? Answer: use a family photo.

Let’s change tune. These are my daughters. They are absolutely beautiful. Now I didn’t just put up pictures of my daughters so you could see them, although they are super-cute. And actually this isn’t about the screen that they are watching, although they like the new screen. It’s about the kick stand. It’s about how versatile the product can be. While my daughters use it to watch movies, way too much, people use it in so many different ways. The newly designed hinge on this product is absolutely incredible. There are over 20 custom parts in just that little hinge right there.

See how he talks about something as dull as a new hinge in the context of a dad’s delight in his daughters?

Trouble is at this point, even though I’d love a new Surface Pro and even though he is doing a great job of putting the refresh in a good light, it’s not enough to keep me engaged. There is nothing being teased. No mystery, revolution or innovation that is hinted at to keep me watching to the end. By this point I get the picture. It’s a bit better. The price is the same but the pen and the type cover are now extra. So it’s a bit better and you pay more for it. That sums it up quite well. Reminds me of the Pepsi advert from The Invention of Lying. A man in a suit stands next to a table with a can of Coke on it:

I’m here today to ask you to continue buying Coke. If you’ve been drinking it for years and you still enjoy it I’d like to remind you to buy it again some time. Its basically just brown sugar water. We haven’t changed the ingredients much lately so there is nothing I can tell you about that. Changed the can around a little bit though. You can see the colours are different there, and we’ve added a polar bear so the kids like us.

He then says how it can lead to obesity. Then finishes with this:

I’m bob. I work for Coke and I’m asking you to not stop buying coke. That’s all.

He takes a sip and mutters:

a bit sweet

I think there is an add somewhere in the film that reads:

Pepsi: When they don’t have Coke

Interestingly one viewer, after watching the plain speaking Coke advert commented:

strangely? that made me want a coke.

The unusual nature of honesty and plane speaking sometimes wins the day.

I may still get the new Pro at some stage. It’s slightly faster, has a slightly more colourful screen, slightly more movement in the kickstand, slightly smoother edges, and a slightly lighter weight. It is better than the Pro 4, just not by enough to get too excited about. I guess two key things are the lack of fan in the i5 version and the significantly longer, but yet to be verified, battery life.


Update 8th June : Ok, it growing on me. “Instant on” is another plus.

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.





Are we in a simulation?


The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation is the following:

40 years ago we had pong. Two rectangles and a dot. That’s what games were. Now 40 years later we have photo 3D realistic simulations with millions of people praying simultaneously. And its getting better every year. And soon we will have virtual reality and augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all then the games will becomes indistinguishable from reality (me – not true. Linear improvement yes, but not decreasing increments). Even if that rate of advancement drops by 100 from what it is right now. Then you just imagine its 10,000 years into the future. Which is nothing in the evolutionary scale. So given we are on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality. And those games could be played on any set top box or PC. Or whatever.l And there would probably be billions of such computers or set top boxes. It would seem to follow that the odds that we are in base reality is 1 in a billions. Tell me whats wrong with that argument?

Well, ok.

1) What if its not linear improvement, but decreasing increments. What if Mores law does not hold. What if it turns out that it takes longer and longer to build simulations that are more realistic? This equation is always getting bigger in y as time t increases but it never gets to 1.

y = 1 – 1/t

So we could get better and better simulations but never get totally realistic ones.

2) Where does the figure 1 in a billions come from? Its arbitrary. There are far too many assumptions here. Who says there is only one universe? Why would we think AI is doable in all of them? How on earth can you calculate the probability for such a thing?

3) Brilliant point made by someone in the comments section:

The only problem with Elon Musks statement is that if we are in a simulation, he’s basing his analysis of if we are on how fast technology advances in a simulation, and technology could advance at a different rate in the “real world”..


But it does highlight something. How do we know the universe is real? Science cannot tell us. In fact if you take this guys argument as sound (which I can’t see that it is) science tells us that we are not in a real universe. We need another source of reliable knowledge to inform us that this universe is in fact real? What is that? Can we be sure we are not 10 levels down in an inception like dream simulation?


Now here is the thing. I know we are not in a simulation because I have another source of truth to draw on. What about you?

More on this in the God Puzzle.

The above quote comes from here.

Either we are going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilisation will cease to exist. Those are the two options.


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.