Cleo – a Hero for Our Times

roma

Alfonso Cauron’s latest movie has received a limited theatrical release, which sounds like a tragedy given the quality of his past output. Yet it has also been streaming on Netflix since December, so it’s available pretty much everywhere. Cauron is telling a fictional story through a period of history he himself knows. He grew up in Mexico City in the early 1970s, and he chooses to set his story here in painstaking historical detail. His vivid  backdrop is a period of great Mexican societal unrest following government atrocities of the 1960s and early 70s.

The themes of racism and inequality bubble beneath the surface of this story. Cleo is from an indigenous family who comes to the city to work as a maid for a wealthy white family. As her story unfolds we see that, even though she serves this family, she is the same as them. Even though she is financially poor, the problems in her life mirror those in their wealthy life.

As you let Roma wash over you…I think the movie is saying that life in all its vividness and grounded-ness is a real leveller. Everyone goes through similar experiences. Loss and suffering is no respecter of persons. We all hit it at some point. Including the experience of regret, of guilt.

A lot has been written about Cauron’s technical prowess that’s visible in Roma. But what struck me (I’m not a filmmaker) was the honesty displayed in his movie. He is taking a long hard look at human nature in all of its depth, and unflinchingly showing it on the screen. From the selfishness of Cleo’s partner to the selflessness of Cleo herself, I was left feeling that I’d really experienced life as the credits finally rolled. Cauron had almost given me the unique experience of actually living someone else’s life…and feeling what she felt and learning what she learned. What a gift!!

There is something about Cleo’s character that draws you. I think it might show some important aspects of humanity…of living as we are supposed to live. Imperfect yes…but yet it comes through her life and choices. Thru Cleo’s eyes, we are a person of humility, who values those around us and persists in thinking the best of them…even when they mistreat us. Of doggedly carrying on, even when the odds are stacked against us and we’ve got many reasons to give up and try something else. And – even though society around her is collapsing into violence – Cleo continues prioritising the important people in her life. She isn’t distracted from knowing what the right thing is…and continuing to do it.

I think the feel and the smell of Roma stays with you afterwards…because in many ways we’re struck by Cleo as an inspiring role model…a hero for our troubled times. She isn’t presented with all the flash and pizzazz served up by the next Marvel superhero film. She’s not Captain America. But – in a sense – she’s a real hero. The person we would want to be if we faced those sorts of troubles.

The thing is…we are facing these sorts of troubles today. Culture is under attack right now. In Britain…Brexit is threatening to drag us down into a whirlpool of dread and uncertainty. And across the pond…the horror of US Government shutdown and the resulting economic deprivation…all for the sake of a questionable (un) Presidential project…leaves you wondering whether anyone really cares selflessly about anyone anymore? It leaves you feeling like everyone is just on a short fuse…ready and willing to explode in exasperated outrage any minute.

Our world needs people who nevertheless… prioritise the feelings and needs of others. Even though they are in the minority as they do so.

In Roma, this is what Cleo is doing. I think she consciously or unconsciously tries to live out the call of Jesus Christ to “do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”[1] We see it in her patience with her abusers, and her loyalty to her suffering family.  There’s a clear attractiveness to living life this way. It’s a principle and philosophy which underpins God’s idea of what positive and healthy relationships could be like. Cleo shows us that…living this is not a soft option. Its not easy to live this way in the midst of a society that is embattled, angry and just doesn’t value you that way.

And yet…the results of persisting in living this way are so valuable. It results in a life of belonging, of family, and of facing the future together with those who love you. If our society is going to survive…it will do so in this way. So…we need to start living this way. Doing the right thing anyway, even though so many don’t. Live like Cleo, do to others as you’d like them to do to you.

 

[1] Matthew 7:12, NLT.

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Bird Box and Walking by Faith Not Sight

Bird Box

Bird Box has launched a new meaning for “canary in a coal mine” into pop culture. In this story, bird’s tweet whenever the (apparently) invisible monsters are around…they don’t die before we do, rather they tell us “Don’t look….don’t look! Or you WILL die.”

There were points in this movie where I wanted to close my eyes. It’s deeply unsettling at times. The idea that, unless one is prepared to live one’s life blinded, is horrifying on all sorts of levels that are wonderfully explored in Bird Box. Trying to keep two little ones safe while riding the rapids blindfolded – now that’s an excuse for extreme anxiety right there.

People have spent time this Christmas trying to work out whether the underlying premise of Bird Box is a metaphor for some important aspect of modern life? Perhaps it’s all about the fear of becoming a parent? Well, having been a parent for 22 years, I can say that I’d sure hate to have done it blindfolded. Maybe instead, the metaphor is a warning against social media and the way people behave on it? Not sure about that one. It’s what I DO see on twitter that worries me, not what I don’t see.

But one idea that struck me hard was the notion that Bird Box is about religion, that people take a blind leap of faith to become “religious.” While I won’t speak on behalf of “religions,” I will speak on behalf of Christianity. And – at first glance – the Bible does seem to say something about “walking by faith and not sight.”

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

“For we live by believing, and not by seeing.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NLT)

So the question is – does Christianity require its adherents to limit our vision, and to close our eyes to the things in front of everyone else’s noses. That sounds crazy…like a real tragedy…people holding themselves back for no good reason. Is Christianity the intellectual equivalent of donning a blindfold and stupidly choosing to stumble through life like “the Bird Box lady” (twitter’s name for Sandra Bullock)? After all…the monsters aren’t real…right?

No – Christianity’s not like this caricature suggests. And I’ll give you three reasons why I say that (there are many more).

1 – Christianity is about looking reality square in the face, not looking away or hiding from it.

The reality is that people are capable of evil things, and our niceness turns out to be a thin veneer of morality. One of my professors, Clay Jones, comments that having studied genocides down through human history, “genocide is what the average person does…we are all born Auschwitz enabled.”[1] If you want an example of this, the leading cause of premature death in the world in 2018 was abortion. I think it strains credulity to suggest all those abortions were done on medical grounds.

“More than 41 million children [were] killed before birth…8.2 million people died from cancer…5 million from smoking…1.7 million died of HIV/AIDS.”[2]

Christianity is about unmasking this sort of reality and saying it as it is. All of us are capable of great things, selfless things…but also evil things. The monsters in the real story turn out to be us. And Christianity recognises this. Suffering is real, and people like you and me cause it.

2 – Christianity is not about wearing a blindfold. It is about wisely recognising the limitations of my sight.

Christianity is not about limiting one’s vision. Its about facing reality. But it’s also about understanding faith in the right way. Faith is not “the blind embrace of ideas despite an absence of evidence or proof,” rather faith is about exercising “confidence, trust and reliance”[3] in the right person.

Because Christian faith is about trust and reliance, it is therefore requires us to have proper reasons, evidence and knowledge on which to base or trust and reliance.

I choose to trust the God who has revealed himself to me because on my own, I am severely limited in my abilities and my understanding of what is going on in the world, and even in my own life. It’s not that I have no vision or understanding at all, its just that I’m limited in what I can know. So, I choose therefore to trust the one who’s got the big picture in full view – God.

If you think about it, faith therefore requires reason and evidence, and it results in a widening of our confidence not a restriction of it.

3 – Christian faith is about using all our faculties to live life based on what we can see and know, while leaving the mysterious hidden stuff in God’s capable hands.

Because I’m just a limited human being, there is bound to be stuff that I simply do not know and this bothers me.

I want to know that my kids and grand-kids are going to grow up happy, healthy, successful and fulfilled. But there’s no guarantee. I can do all I can do to bring that about…but…I’m limited. I want to know that I’m healthy and, as I look after myself, I’m going to be free of disease and sickness. But – there are no guarantees.

Now – I can choose to live my life doing my best, burying my head in work and relationships and business (therefore limiting my attention to just those things)….which is not wrong. But I would suggest that an even better way of living is giving myself to all these important things while also rooting myself in my trust, confidence, reliance….or faith in God. Trusting that however it turns out…he has the best for me. This is not to say everything in my life will turn out as I want it to. It does mean that I don’t have to fret and worry about this, because ultimately God’s in control and it’ll turn out as he wants it to.

The truth is…often I am confused and scared and anxious about life. And I feel inside like “the Bird Box lady”. And yet, I also know something else to be true.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” Deuteronomy 33:27, NLT.

[1] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 60, 62.

[2] Thomas D. Williams, Abortion Leading Cause of Death in 2018 with 41 Million Killed, Breitbart, http://www.breitbart.com/health/2018/12/31/abortion-leading-cause-of-death-in-2018-with-41-million-killed/.

[3] J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, In Search of a Confident Faith, (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2008), 16, 17.

Embracing “Where the Lost Things Go”

mary poppins

During her promotional tour for Mary Poppins Returns, I heard Emily Blunt say that, at the start of filming principal photography, Rob Marshall held his actors back from visiting the Cherry Tree Lane set. His intention was to wait until the conditions were just right, the lighting and the set build was complete, and the Mary Poppins score was playing over the studio sound system. Only then were the actors allowed to take their first steps back into the fictional world they were going to bring back to life for us. She remembered the emotional experience this was for the wonderful Dick Van Dyke.

I feel the filmmakers have beautifully succeeded in capturing the tone and the voice of the original classic movie (tho apparently not P L Traver’s original vision!) and again brought a positive message out for adults and children alike. Bravo, guys.

As a child who watched the original with his sister Annie, I always felt that the song “Feed the Birds” somehow captured the heart of that original story in a poignant, almost painful way. George Banks, and his opportunity to learn to cherish his family over his career. Similarly, I feel the new song “Where the Lost Things Go” does the same for Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns. Whether it be the painful loss of the children’s mother, the agony of the loss of the share certificate that Michael and Jane hunt for, and the threat of the loss of the house.

Well maybe all those things

That you love so

Are waiting in the place

Where the lost things go.

The message of the song that Mary Poppins sings to the children is that nothing is lost without a trace. They may be out of place, but they are in a place where we will find them again.

Back in 2007, my family lost Annie, and she died way too young leaving her children behind. You can imagine the effect Mary Poppins’ new song had on me in the darkened cinema. As I think about it, this is a gentle song that fiercely faces reality. Life involves loss. It is the nature of life, it is the experience of every person at every time. It’s a universal experience. And yes – we dwell on those things or those places or those people who seem lost to us now. But – they only seem to be lost.

Memories you’ve shed

Gone for good you feared

They’re all around you still

Though they’ve disappeared…

Nothing’s gone forever

Only out of place.

This is a song of hope for all of us. How beautiful it was when the children sang the song back to their hurting and broken father. It’s a lovely sentiment. But is there any reality to it for real life? Outside of the confines of the Mary Poppins fictional world…in our all too real lives…does this song work still? When we’ve lost people, jobs, status and position… When we face the insecurity of Brexit. Does the song still work? Do our lost loved ones only live in our hearts as a cherished memory? Is security still possible for us in the midst of uncertainty? Listen to the final verse.

So maybe now the dish

And my best spoon

Are playing hide and seek

Just behind the moon

Waiting there until

It’s time to show

Spring is like that now

Far beneath the snow

Hiding in the place

Where the lost things go

 

As I listened to this, it reminded me of something. There’s a phrase, an idiom, a refrain that is repeated throughout the Old Testament…about those who die being gathered to their people.

“Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 35:29)

“All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation …” (Judges 2:10)

And the message of the New Testament takes this on further. Jesus himself teaches that “My father’s house has many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)

The message of Christianity is not just that God is preparing a place where he longs for the lost people to go. But rather, there is a place waiting for them that they will recognise as their home. What’s more…those who we have lost…are waiting to welcome us when we die.

Believe me – I know the pain that results from the realization that I’m never again going to enjoy my little sister’s company, watch her selfless life choices, and listen to her encouraging voice. That was a tough truth to grapple with. And – I expect I’ll experience this challenge again when I lose future loved ones. Yet – in the midst of this challenge – there’s a real hope that the Bible, and “Where the Lost Things Go” reminds me of.

So maybe now the dish

And my best spoon

Are playing hide and seek

The day is coming when we will find each other again. I recommend playing this game as someone who knows and loves the Jesus who is preparing this home for us…because there’s no guarantee we will experience that home otherwise. But why would anyone reject such a wonderful offer? That meets the longing in all of us…brought out by Mary Poppins…to be reunited with everyone we lose? Jesus wants it for each of us.

 

 

 

What if we got the debate backwards?

 

die-hard-poster

It’s almost become a herald of Christmas…the debate begins. “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” Honestly, I think those of us who remember it hitting cinemas in the summer of 1988 are the hardest to convince. Everyone else is like – “Huh? Of course it is a Christmas movie!”

As Reginald VelJohnson, who played Sgt. Al Powel, said this year… “It’s set at Christmas time, it’s full of Christmas music. And – John McClane’s wife is named HOLLY!” Debate over?

Well…what if it’s the wrong debate. What if we should consider the possibility that Christmas is a form of Die Hard? I don’t mean the modern trappings of Christmas…I mean the Bible’s description of the birth and life of Jesus? What if this story…has more similarities to the movie…than we realise?

 

Remember, Die Hard is basically a tale about an everyman cop from New York, coming to LA to meet his estranged wife Holly Gennero with the hope that they will rebuild their marriage. Hans Gruber and his group of entertaining thieves disrupt the party at Nakatomi. And very quickly “move up” from thievery to terrorism, murder and kidnapping. McClane crawls through ducts, is ripped to shreds by broken glass, is tricked by Hans Gruber (Bill Clay), and is horrified at the prospect of jumping from the top of the building before the roof blows off. He’s frustrated in his attempts to save Holly by:

  • the terrorists (Who says we’re terrorists?)
  • the media (Did ya get that?)
  • the police (I’ve got 100 people down here and they are covered in glass!)
  • the FBI (You asked for miracles? I give you the FBI).

Yet McClane is supported and encouraged by the help and encouragement of a second everyman – Sgt. Al Powell, who is just a simple beat cop with a desk job, constantly on the radio and ready with words of encouragement. Yet he’s also ready to beat his own demons and saving McClane at the end by shooting the last remaining bad guy.

If ever there was a movie with the message that, “The everyman has the power to beat the odds and save the day”…it’s got to be Die Hard?

 

If ever there was a story that says an everyman has the potential to transform the world…its Christmas.

 

Jesus’ Birth was a Struggle

Jesus’ mother Mary has a struggle on her hands to find a safe place to rest and give birth. Jesus’ entry into this world is a race against the clock…it’s touch and go from the start, and they had obstacles to overcome on the way

“…the time came…she gave birth to a son…and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.” (Luke 2:7, The Msg)

 

The Local Authorities Decided to Eliminate the Baby

Unwittingly, some scholars who had been waiting for the birth of an important child told King Herod about it. Herod quickly decided he would “move up” from being an unpleasant ruler, to practicing infanticide. He arranged for all the newborns in the small hamlet of Bethlehem to be killed, in the hope that Jes/us was amongst them. While he missed his target…I do like to think that Alan Rickman would have played an excellent Herod (I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.)

“Herod … flew into a rage [and] commanded the murder of every little boy” (Matt. 2:16, The Msg)

 

Jesus Lived the Life of an Everyman

We don’t know a lot about what he did as a child. There are clear hints he possessed wisdom beyond his years. Yet, he lived and worked in a humble setting as a carpenter, surely the most normal occupation at that time?  He was such a no one, that when his public ministry began, many in his community refused to take him seriously.

“What’s this wisdom that has been given him? … Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas…” (Mark 6:2-3, NIV)

 

Yet this everyman recognised our danger, and chose to save us from it

Ironically, the work Jesus was born for did not involve “waxing terrorists”. It did, however, involve doing the hard job of making a way for us to escape the danger we face.

I’m always struck by the scene at the end of Die Hard when, after Gruber’s death, people are able to finally walk out of the building to safety. McClane saved them from a fiery, roof top death. The FBI guys weren’t so lucky (We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess?). And Sgt. Powell finally brought an end to Karl, who managed to struggle out of the building with murderous rage in his eyes. The FBI were happy losing 25% of the civilians…but John McClane and Al Powell managed to save everyone!

The Bible’s message about Jesus’ mission is that he came to save everyone from the destructive effects of our broken lives…our ongoing decision to reject God and live life our own way… and all the pain that this brings. Jesus made a way out of this doomed building for us so that we could walk to safety at the end of our lives. So that our own story has a happy ending.

We thought he was an everyman. But actually – he was our personal saviour. And there’s nothing ordinary about that.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)

 

You know…here’s a final thought. Maybe all of our myths and stories of the everyman facing down incredible odds to save the day for us…have a single root. They are actually rooted originally in the life of that carpenter Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, and whose life, death and resurrection still resonates in our word today?

Inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour…” J R R Tolkein

All Aboard!

pexpress.jpg

Watching Robert Zemeckis’ “Polar Express” on Christmas Eve with little ones…has to rank up there as one of the most magical experiences. I’ve done this with two generations of children in my family, and the wonder that has been produced is just glorious and contagious.

This movie was cutting edge when it was release in 2004, employing new motion capture technology to computer animation in surprising and wonderful ways. And – showing Tom Hanks in a surprising number of roles.

The story follows the experience of children who are given the opportunity to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to witness the start of Santa’s journey to deliver presents to children across the world. They experience some quite hair raising experiences on the way. Some of them are epistemological in nature…is this experience real or not? Is Santa real or not, and do I really know the truth about what’s happening? Some of the experience are just plain scary…when things go wrong and the train seems derailed and doomed to crash. Yet – they somehow manage to stay on the tracks. Even when the children get to their destination…the accidents continue and they find themselves rattling down the tracks into the bowels of the city alone and frightened. Yet – despite this mishap – they somehow find themselves in the centre of Santa’s Christmas project … and join him in time for his departure.

This movie is not just entertaining because of the reactions it produces from little ones. It’s a great tale in its own right. And – it touches some very foundational needs within us the audience. As the children are given a parting exhortation from the conductor to LEARN…to RELY ON…to LEAD and to BELIEVE…we sense that the filmmaker is also talking to us too.

This movie doesn’t just touch on personal needs, it also reflects some important aspects of the Christian message.

First – the most valuable things in life are the ones we don’t yet see. Our hero is struggling with his belief in Santa…and the scary hobo he meets on the journey feeds his fearful scepticism. “Seeing is believing.” Yet the ultimate message of this movie, and the Conductor of the train, is that “sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

In the end, it wasn’t belief in Santa that was the biggest thing. It was belief in their calling in life to lead, to trust, to learn and to believe.

For us, the most valuable parts of life tend to be the things we can’t measure and quantify. The love you feel for the children you are sharing this movie with – the hopes you have for their future lives – the precious memories of Christmases in the past.

And the God who knows us and loves us:

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” John 20:29, Msg

Second – we each carry personal responsibility in life. Our choices matter. The movie communicates this clearly. Is our hero going to board the train or not? What’s more…is he going to choose to believe…or give up his belief in Santa? And yet – the positive results of continued belief are real. He does get to meet Santa in the end…he sees him with his own eyes. And so his decision to continue to believe is clear.

The other children on the train faced similar choices. Would the little girl exercise leadership, even though it got her into trouble? Would the little kid from the other side of the tracks…decide to trust his new friends even though he wasn’t sure he could?

We each carry personal responsibility for our choices. Some people asked Jesus:

“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29, NIV.

Third – there’s a theme that runs through the movie from start to end. Is this experience real…or is it simply a dream? The more fantastical things get…the less likely its real. Right? Well, the message of the movie is the opposite. Grasp hold of this, even though you aren’t sure its true. Let the truth of this experience reveal itself to you.

Fourth – stuff happens in this film that is sure to derail everything…yet it doesn’t. They are sure to be blocked by a herd of animals and miss Santa, or drown in a lake and die. They are sure not to arrive at their destination at all. And yet…they do. And they don’t just find themselves there on the side lines. In spite of all the mishaps they experienced, they eventually find themselves sitting in Santa’s present sack…at the very centre of the big man’s mission.

We are sure to experience multiple setbacks in life. We can find ourselves in a position where we are sure we have blown it for good. But from God’s perspective, no situation is too far gone. His guiding hand can lead us through any situation we find ourselves struggling through.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27

Fifth – I had it once. But now…have I lost it? Our hero leaves the North Pole shocked and saddened at the thought of losing his special gift from Santa. And yet, before the credits roll, he realises that once the big man gives you something, he makes sure you get it…whether or not you have a hole in your dressing gown pocket.

Life used to make sense to me. But lately…things just seem to be going from bad to worse. The God we read about in the Bible makes promises to us that apply an important idea to our lives. The whole story of the Bible is about mankind having everything and yet rejecting their relationship with God. But it’s God himself who takes on the responsibility to rescue us from the broken existence that has resulted from our decision. He calls us to safety, and promises to do what it takes to keep us safe.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together – spirit, soul and body – and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, The Message)

However our life looks right now – hope is found in God. He longs for us to get on board with him this holiday season.

Happy Christmas!

Challenging Hawking’s Statement on God

Reflecting on the inspiring life of the late Stephen Hawking, John Lennox (Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) is full of praise for Hawking’s greater talent and his extensive contributions as a scientist[1]. Hawking’s work on gravity, and his development of the standard model, have been immense contributions to scientific knowledge and have given many “yet to be proven” theories for physicists to explore. Hawking has taught many famous physicists who are carrying on the work today. Further – he was someone of inspiring personal resilience and determination. He beat the odds that he faced as a result of motor neurone disease.

 

Lennox went on to quote Lord Rees, previous president of the Royal Society, who observed that Hawing “attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise – for instance philosophy.”[2] There was a downside to his iconic status. Rees went on to say that we shouldn’t attach any weight at all to what Hawking says about God.[3] Rees is referencing Hawking’s atheism that is presented in his book The Grand Design.

 

Lennox makes a further observation: “Outside his own field, a scientist is as dumb as the next guy. Statements of scientists are therefore not always statements of science.”

 

Even though Hawking’s scientific opinions are held in high esteem, when he spoke outside of his field – philosophy and theology – he made some basic mistakes that he never seemed to try to correct. Lennox doubts that any philosophers or theologians ever read The Grand Design before it was published.

 

One of these mistakes is the central premise of his book. “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”[4] What is wrong with this statement? Lennox observes that it is self-contradictory.

  • Because there is something (the law of gravity)
  • The universe creates itself from nothing
  • But if there is something there is not nothing – therefore this reasoning contains a basic contradiction.

To put it even more simply:

  • x can create y
  • but x cannot create x

 

What’s sad to Lennox is that Hawking claimed to produce a universe from nothing, but did no such thing because what he calls nothing … is not.

 

 

Lennox also observes that both Hawking and Isaac Newton held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. While Newton didn’t say “I’ve got gravity…so I don’t need God,” he did say, “how brilliant for God to do it this way.” Yet Hawking was different. He saw God as a competing explanation for the existence of the universe. In other words – God fills the gaps in our knowledge, and as the gaps decrease so does the need for God.

Lennox observes that viewing God and science as competing hypothesis, is like saying “Henry Ford is an alternative explanation of the motor car from the laws of internal combustion. This is just nonsense. Ford doesn’t compete with the physical laws in any way – he is simply a different kind of explanation. He is agency, rather than natural law.”

So too with God. God’s not an alternative explanation to the universe from science. Hawking was mistaken. God’s a complementary explanation…the agency that harnesses the physical law he created.

 

Lennox deeply respects Hawking as a scientist, but not as a philosopher or theologian. For what it is worth…I agree with Lennox.

[1] John Lennox, John Lennox Reflects on Stephen Hawking’s Life and Beliefs, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://fixed-point.org/articles/john-lennox-reflects-on-stephen-hawkings-life-beliefs/, this source synthesised and summarised in the blog.

[2] Lord Martin Rees, Professor Stephen Hawking: An Appreciation by Lord Rees, Trinity College Cambridge, published 14th March, 2018, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/professor-stephen-hawking-an-appreciation-by-lord-rees/.

[3] Martin Rees: ‘We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Stephen Hawking says about God’, The Independent, published 26th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/martin-rees-we-shouldnt-attach-any-weight-to-what-hawking-says-about-god-2090421.html

[4] Great Minds: Stephen Hawking -The Grand Design of the Universe, uploaded 12th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPvQY8L481o.

Did the First Christians Believe in the Physical Resurrection Of Jesus?

Did the first Christians actually believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead? Or was his resurrection an idea that evolved over time? We all love a good conspiracy theory…but does this one have a ring of truth about it or not?

Richard Carrier identifies the earliest written record about post-resurrection Jesus in Paul’s letters. He goes full blown conspiracy – deciding that Paul’s idea of resurrection was “spiritual” rather than physical. To Carrier, the idea “Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed.”[1] The New Testament Gospels, written after Paul’s death, therefore contain these legends. There was no empty tomb, just an idea in Paul’s mind that got blown up out of all proportion.

But is Carrier right that Paul was talking about ephemeral spiritual resurrections and spiritual bodies?

No – the first Christians believed in an empty tomb and Jesus’ physical resurrection. The explanation gets a bit technical tho…

Paul’s Teaching on the Empowerment of Resurrection Bodies

Paul contrasts natural and spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. To western minds, we might jump to the assumption he’s contrasting a physical body with a ghostly…spiritual body. We would be wrong. Why?

Paul’s original Greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s not talking about physical bodies at all. He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

This distinction has nothing to do with the composition of the bodies. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[2] So Paul’s not talking about the composition of a soulish or spiritual body and he’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition. He’s talking about its power source.

Paul’s argument about resurrection bodies hinges on our power source – are we naturally driven, or driven by God’s power in our lives?

Carrier’s misunderstanding of Paul is probably enough to end the discussion here. But to show that the first Christians (like Paul) did indeed believe in an empty tomb and a physically resurrected Jesus, I’ll look now at Paul’s subsequent argument about the resurrection body.

Paul’s Teaching on the Nature of Resurrection Bodies

1 – Bodies are Physical

Paul teaches a right understanding of the physical body to those who despised the physical, and therefore expected resurrection to be somehow different. He appeals to God’s original creative work of the physical Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[3] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[4]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, why would he link the resurrected Christ with Adam? No – he tacitly assumes Jesus was really, physically raised.

2 – Jesus Resurrection Body is Like What Our Future Resurrection Body Will Be Like

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[5] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s.

Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives Will Be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[6] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[7]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body to his readers in Corinth. Yet Paul’s not writing about the nature of the body at all. Rather, he’s talking about what empowers the body – is it just soul, or spirit? In his argument, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[8]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Conspiracy theories about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts therefore are not grounded; the earliest Christians (like Paul) did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[3] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[4] Wright, 354.

[5] Wright, 355.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wright, 354.