Friday, November 22, 2013

A coincidence of 50th anniversaries: C.S. Lewis, Doctor Who and JFK

This weekend sees a remarkable coinciding of 50th anniversary celebrations. On 22nd November 1963, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy both died. Just one day later, the first episode of Doctor Who aired on BBC TV. I view JFK and Doctor Who as enduring legacies - one fact, the other fiction - iconic heroes of hope for all humanity. JFK is the world leader whose life was tragically cut short by assassination. Doctor Who is the stranger from another world whose life goes on for ever, thanks to the imaginative plot device of regeneration. Both these themes resonate with us - echoes of a fundamental mythos of dying and rising again, of heroic Saviourhood. This storyline transcends all culture and history.

I think C.S. Lewis would have approved. In his essay 'Myth Became Fact' [1] Lewis argues that "The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history." Jesus is literally the desire of all nations - whether or not they realize it. That desire is expressed in our contemporary admiration of shadows - both historical heroes like JFK and fictional heroes like Doctor Who.

To quote Lewis' 'Myth Became Fact' again, "We must not be nervous about parallels and Pagan Christs: they ought to be there - it would be a stumbling block if they weren't."

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Finding Christians in Unexpected Places

Like Philip Yancey, I feel it is always a privilege to discover God in unexpected places. However I have recently encountered Christians in unexpected places too.

I am not a particular fan of stand-up comedy, but according to my reputable sources Milton Jones is a moderately bright star in the comic cosmos. Hence my surprise to learn that he is a Christian - and more than that - one who is prepared to be 'out' about his faith. Milton Jones is a stand-up Christian as well as a stand-up comedian - good for him!

I guess I shouldn't really be surprised. 'It takes all sorts to make a world' as the saying goes. Indeed, God will take all sorts to make up his heaven: 'From every nation, tribe, people and language'. [Revelation 7]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is my God too small?

On a recent transatlantic flight, I got through several good books. The first was 'Your God Is Too Small' by J.B. Phillips. This book is as provocative as its title suggests. Phillips enumerates different ways in which people diminish the appreciation and influence of God in their personal lives. It left me wondering whether my God (or at least, my personal understanding of God) is impoverished.

In the terminology that Phillips uses, my too-small God is probably the Second-Hand God. I know God on other people's terms, based on other people's experiences, filtered through other people's lives. While it is valuable to read books, listen to others and learn from them, Phillips has encouraged me that I need to get closer to God personally and to start enjoying Him. Another book that I read on my travels was C.S. Lewis' Perelandra. As the hero Ransom converses with the green lady on Venus about obeying her God Maleldil, she utters the best line in the book:

All his biddings are joys.

I wish I could claim the same sentiments for my relationship with God! This would make my devotion feel far more first-hand than second!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Unexpected Kindness

The tale of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ most well known stories. Indeed, the phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has entered everyday idiom to describe a helpful person. The Samaritans organization is one example: they are well-known for providing emergency support to people in trouble.

Jesus always used stories to teach important lessons. There are several points in the Good Samaritan story which resonate with contemporary themes. (1) Assisting other people when we can is the principle underpinning the political notion of the Big Society. The Good Samaritan himself seems to epitomize the Big Society ideal. He suffered inconvenience and incurred expense because of his willingness to help someone in need. (2) Disillusionment with traditional religion is currently strong, as it was in Jesus’ day. The priest and temple worker in the story were disinterested and skirted round the problem as quickly as possible. They were unwilling or unable to help. (3) Attitudes of suspicion and resentment against foreign immigrants linger now, as in Bible times. Jewish people in general did not respect Samaritan immigrants; however Jesus’ love reached out to people of all races, impartially.

In my opinion, the enduring theme of this story is that help comes from unexpected sources. This idea crops up so often in novels and films: Think about Pip in Dicken's Great Expectations, the eponymous heroine in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Polish Jews in Schindler’s List. In each case, the people in need are astonished when they discover the identity of their benefactors. In the Biblical narrative, the most surprising and most radical help of all comes from Jesus’ intervention in human history.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to be a stranger in the world he had created. During the years of his public teaching and travelling, he helped thousands of people yet he was homeless and penniless. Finally he died, hanging on a cross outside Jerusalem. His body was bruised and beaten. His blood was shed. His life was laid down. How could he help us – the ‘Lord from heaven’ who became a ‘man of sorrows’?

We must recognize that we desperately need help. Like the wounded man in Jesus’ story, we have been battered by the storms of life, disappointed by broken promises and deceived by the devil. We are sinful creatures, often unwilling and always unable to improve our condition. Religion may appear to promise some respite but it eventually proves utterly powerless to help, like the priest and temple worker in Jesus’ story.

What we need is a personal intervention, a rescue – spiritual first aid. This is what Jesus offers us. He is the true Good Samaritan; the stranger who has every reason to pass us by but instead he stops and makes every effort to help us. He died to win us forgiveness. He rose again to guarantee our acceptance with God. He lives for ever to care for us. One day he will return to take those who trust him back to heaven.

As we listen to politicians extolling the virtues of a Big Society, let’s remember that Jesus came from heaven and died on the cross to enable us to be citizens of heaven. If we trust in him, we become members of the Biggest Society of all!