The unlawful pleasures of the imagination

While searching for something else, I found an interesting passage in Augustine’s De Trinitate, book 12, chapter 12:

… when the mind is pleased in thought alone with unlawful things, while not indeed determining that they are to be done, but yet holding and pondering gladly things which ought to have been rejected the very moment they touched the mind, it cannot be denied to be a sin, but far less than if it were also determined to accomplished it in outward act.

And therefore pardon must be sought for such thoughts too, and the breast must be smitten, and it must be said, “Forgive us our debts;” and what follows must be done, and must be joined in our prayer, “As we also forgive our debtors.”

The sins of the mind and imagination seem particularly relevant to the internet.  What do we allow to enter our minds?

Equally by chance, I saw on Facebook a quotation of Proverbs 4:23 from something called the New Century Version:

Be careful what you think,
because your thoughts run your life.

Which is a novel rendering of the usual text:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

I don’t think we should over-analyse ourselves.  But I pass these thoughts on in case God is speaking to anyone through them.

Saying grace before ….

At the weekend, I ventured as far as the English coastal resort of Aldeborough.  Like all the little towns on the East Coast of England, it is gloomy and desolate for nine months of the year, its streets swept by the bitter weather that blows in from the North Sea.  But this weekend the sun shone out of a dusty blue sky, and the sea sparkled in the sun.

I parked in the high street, and walked towards the promenade.  On the way I looked into a little second-hand bookshop.  It was a single room, the corner of a little house.  Blocking out entirely one little window and visible from the street, never looked at, stood volumes bound from some gentleman’s library – cheap, useless books, like a Cicero interlinear, that no man would read without compulsion.

But amid the ruin of other men’s libraries, of one generation ago or two, I found a little volume of the Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb.  I leafed through it, and realised that I had never read more than a handful of these essays.  Finding the volume could be bought for less than three dollars, I bought it.

This evening I was reading the essay entitled Grace before meat, when, in his whimsical way, Lamb asked:

Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts–a grace before Milton–a grace before Shakespeare–a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading The Faerie Queen?

Of course Lamb does not mean it.  The idea is unthinkable to him.

And yet … what would happen if, before we picked up a book, we prayed?  If we thanked God for what we were about to receive, if we asked God to bless us, for what we were about to consume with our minds, if we asked Him to guard us against any poison lurking therein?

Nor do I mean only serious books; but also novels and magazines, the “light literature” with which we amuse ourselves.

Might it be beneficial?  At least sometimes?

We are what we eat, they say.  But are we not, more truly, what we read?

What if we likewise prayed before we sat down with an open internet browser, pouring words into our minds and our souls?

I make no rule here for anyone.  To do so is to forget He who said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”  No load of duties do I seek to impose on another.  Least of all do I wish anyone troubled by this.

It’s a thought, at least, that a grace before reading a blog might not be such a bad thing.

More on the arrest of the street preacher at Wimbledon

Further to yesterday’s post:

I learn from the comments at the Cranmer blog that the incident took place on Monday 1st July.

I have had no reply to my enquiry to Wimbledon Police Station.

The Daily Telegraph has today run the story, Christian arrested for calling homosexuality a ‘sin’.

A Christian street preacher has been arrested and questioned about his beliefs after saying that “fornication” and homosexuality are a sin.

Tony Miano, a retired police officer from the US, was held for almost seven hours, forced to give finger prints and a DNA sample and questioned about his beliefs on sin.

Mr Miano, who served as a Deputy Sherriff in Los Angeles County, was arrested under the controversial clause of the Public Order Act, recently amended by the House of Lords, which bans “insulting” words or behaviour.

In a video placed on YouTube he can be seen debating with two Metropolitan Police officers about whether the amendment to the law had come into force yet.

It came after a woman complained that the sermon he preached a sermon in busy street in Wimbledon, south west London, on Monday afternoon, about “lust” and “sexual immorality”, was homophobic.

Taking as his text a passage from Thessalonians, he listed homosexuality alongside other “evil” sexual temptations as being against “God’s law”.

He can be heard saying: “My friends, the reality is, we are all going to stand before God to give account for our lives.

“And whether our sin is sexual in nature or not, if we have violated his law in any way – whether it is homosexuality, whether it is refusing to abstain from evil in the heterosexual community and we are lusting after people we are indulging in fornication, but even beyond that if we have so much as told one lie – God sees us as a violator of his law, God does not see us as good.”

He said that during his time at the police station he was questioned about his beliefs.

“He asked me, among other things, whether I believed homosexuality was a sin,” he explained.

“He also asked me: ‘If a homosexual person came to you and was hungry, would you give him something to eat?’

“It was unnerving to be questioned about my Christian beliefs and I was made to feel that my thoughts could be held against me.

“The two final questions were: ‘Do you believe you are 100 per cent right in what you did today?’, I answered yes, and “If you were to go back there tomorrow, would you do the same thing again?” to which I also answered yes.”

He was eventually released without charge around midnight.

There could be no charge, of course, for he had done nothing wrong.  The “arrest”, and the deliberately prolonged incarceration and “questioning” were merely harassment, intended to intimidate.  The phrase “the process is the punishment” describes what happened here; drag someone through the system in order to stop them doing something which is entirely legal.  Even if they are found innocent, just being accused and tried — at deliberately elaborate length — is a shattering experience for normal, innocent people.

I gather that Tony Miano has sought legal advice.  I hope that the Metropolitan Police are forced to pay a large sum in damages.  I also would hope that whoever was responsible for this is discharged from the force.

Street preacher arrested at Wimbledon, held for seven hours

There is a worrying report at the Cranmer blog this evening.  It is good that they have highlighted this, because it seems to have gone otherwise unreported.

Mr Miano has recently been out preaching in Wimbledon. He very much enjoys biblical evangelism, speaking about spiritual growth, personal holiness and the person and work of Jesus Christ. On Monday, his theme was sexual immorality – all forms (1Thess 4:1-12). He talked about sin – heterosexual and homosexual – without discrimination. As he was preaching, a lady heard him say that homosexuality was a sin, and promptly summoned the police, who duly arrived.

Mr Miano was then arrested for violating Section 5 of the Public Order Act: he was accused of using homophobic speech likely to cause anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.

He was escorted to Wimbledon police station, where he was photographed, finger-printed and had a DNA sample taken. He was then incarcerated in a cell for seven hours.

And he was interrogated about his faith in Jesus Christ.

He was asked if he believed homosexuality was a sin. He was asked from which portion of the Bible he was preaching. Incredibly, he was asked whether, if a homosexual was hungry and walked up to him, he would give them something to eat.

He was then informed that there was sufficient evidence from his responses to forward his case to the CPS, and that the judge could order him to remain in the country for 4-5 months while his case came to trial.

This story reads like something out of the Keston College annals of religious persecution in Russia.  The preacher … the informer … the bullying police-officers … the jeers at religion.

Of course we don’t blame the police for doing what they are told.  The rulers of Britain have made this happen, and have ensured that the police will do this when the situation arises.   The judges have likewise been screened to ensure that they too will toe the line.

These kinds of stories are troubling because each such incident sends a direct message to Christians: you are not wanted, and we will arrest you if you share your faith.  What kind of country directs that message at a harmless minority?

However I have emailed Wimbledon police and asked for a statement.  It is always wise to check one’s facts.

In the mean time, may I suggest that Christian readers remember to pray for both the informer, and the policemen involved, as well as the preacher and the blog that reported it.

UPDATE: I find a curiously similar story from 2010. Preacher Dale McAlpine was arrested under similar circumstances, and was committed for trial in September.  But on May 1 the Mail on Sunday reported the story, echoed by the Daily Telegraph the next day.  Two weeks later the BBC reported that the charge against him had been dropped.  On December 18 2010 the Daily Mail reported that the police paid out 7,000 GBP plus legal costs, and refers to “new guidelines” issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers, entitled “Keeping the peace”.  Perhaps they should issue a new booklet, and address it to Met Police.  They might entitle it “Taking the peace”.

Christians in the madhouse of the early 21st century

Via Monday Evening I discover an amusing post, Anthony Esolen’s Welcome to the Mental Ward. The author points out that, in our day, the people who have power have reached such a point that their demands make no sense, even from their own point of view.  The article is impossible to epitomise, but is well worth reading.

The author fails to make the connection, but there is one.  The common link is convenience.  These are the demands of people who feel that they have total power, and feel no need to be logical.  Whatever they want, they want, and that is an end of it.

Those who see this as the consummation of the 60’s generation, the “if it feels good, do it” generation, are very likely correct.

But how should we respond to all this?  It would be easy to read the article as a right-wing rant against the PC society.  But I think we must look beyond this.  Those of us who are Christians need to recognise that the picture is fair, and assess that picture against eternity.

We must, of course, refuse to be conditioned.  There is nothing to be said, rationally, for conforming willy-nilly to the demands of such people.  We must keep their nonsense out of our heads, despite the bombardment they make with the mass media.  It is hard, in truth.  Nor should we disengage with society, for we must talk to the fellow-souls here on earth.

We must also beware of allowing our political tendencies to shape our response.  Those on the political left have it harder here, for the rulers are of the left; they may find themselves tempted more than those on the political right.  The right may be tempted to bewail the “good old days”, not least because baiting the right is part of the policy of the masters.  But both must resist being contaminated, either by conforming or reacting.  Instead we must conform our minds to Christ, and submit to the word of Scripture.

It is easy for us to feel anger and fear at the actions of the dominant groups in our society.  Nor are these irrational responses; these groups are full of hate, fond of intimidation, and quite happy to send people to prison for doing or saying what every man and woman in the west has said or done for a thousand years. But we should remember that God is in charge.  None of these people may do anything, without Him allowing it.

It may amuse us to learn that, in England, these people have abused the power of appointment to ensure that no Christian has been made a bishop since 1997, and all candidates have to be in favour of making women and homosexuals bishops.  I do not entirely despair to seeing the same people, one day, obliged by the puppeteers to endorse the appointment of a horse for archbishop.

With that, we may recall how it was in the 1st century AD.  The emperors brought Roman society into contempt.  Educated Romans mocked at the worship of the gods.  Martial and Statius flatter Domitian, suggesting that Jupiter and Hercules are far inferior to the god on the Palatine, on whom they depend.  Other writers of the period make their doubt that there are any such deities explicit.

Readers of Martial’s De spectaculis can see how the Romans began to depict their religion in the arena.  Those brought up to revere the courage of Scaevola, who sacrificed his hand to the flames rather than betray his country, were able to see a condemned man do the same, because he had been threatened with being burned alive if he did not.  In the process, the Romans must have been led to think less of Scaevola.  The selfishness of the era of Nero and Domitian degraded those who practiced it, and dissolved the religion and society which they lived in.

We may recall, however, that the same people were quite willing to persecute Christians for not sacrificing to the gods in which they themselves did not believe.  For their real belief was to bow to the powerful.

Let us instead look beyond the purely human side to this.  The scripture tells us that we must obey the authorities, but that we must see that we battle with powers and principalities in this life.  These people, whom we despise or fear or treat with disgust, these debauched creatures desperate to debauch others, are victims themselves.  They profess to be wise, yet they are playthings of a mightier intelligence, one that is not their friend.  They have chosen to place themselves in Satan’s power.  They have chosen to reject God; and He has punished them, by allowing them to experience the consequences that they desired.  They have rejected his wisdom, as inadequate, and He has allowed them instead to fall into madness.  Against this, humanly, we may have little power.  But God is mighty, and prayer effective.

In human terms this nonsense will not last.  It is far too toxic for any society to endure for long.  History is a series of reactions against preceding periods.  As the baby-boomers die, sanity will reassert itself.  In 30 years we will look back and wonder at the craziness.  But in the meantime we must endure it, but not be stained by it.  It will limit us, in what we can do in this society.  But do it we must.  Quietism is not an option.

We must also pray.  We must pray for God’s grace, that we may keep safe.  We must put on our armour each day.

We should pray for the victims; those whose lives are ruined by vice, greed, selfishness and the consequences thereof.

Finally, we must pray for those men and women who do the evil.  For they are doomed, unless God takes pity on them and causes them to repent.

It doesn’t matter if the world goes to hell.  One day it will, or so the scripture says.  But it matters a great deal how we respond to the world as it does so.

Guidance in Christian life and the sort of things we should do

An interesting post by the Ugley Vicar makes a point that is worth repeating:

Maybe you are a square peg in a round hole – there is no shame in that. One of the turning points in my life came when, sitting in the vicarage in Sparkbrook, my eye was caught by Romans 12:6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (RSV).

I had thought that God had called me to this particular job, despite many people telling me it was not a good idea, because God calls you through feelings and signs, even to do things you don’t seem cut out for. This was what happened in the books I’d read. But I was desperately unhappy and hanging on by a thread.

Suddenly I had this sense of revelation. According to the passage, you should use the gifts God had given you. So the right job would be one where you could do that. But according to what I’d learned, the right job had nothing to do with your gifts. You went where your feelings led you. Now I found myself thinking, either my view was right, or the Bible was right. And it was blindingly obvious which!

If we follow our gifts, where do they lead us?

Christians rescue snowed-in motorists in UK: story in Daily Mail

From the Daily Mail today:

Thank Heavens for Snow Angels! How a group of Christians got through to help stranded drivers hours efore the emergency teams arrived

  • Motorists stranded on A23 towards Brighton for up to 13 hours
  • But more than 30 Plymouth Brethren turned out to lend a helping hand
  • Airports and railways also hit during traffic chaos

Pity the poor souls out there on the highway to hell.

Cars were skidding into ditches or ploughing into snowdrifts … truckers were forced to abandon jack-knifed lorries … people were wrapped in blankets and shivering against the cold.

For up to 13 hours, motorists were stranded on the A23 towards Brighton when a few miserable inches of snowfall turned the road into a skating rink.

But – praise the Lord – salvation was at hand. For the only True Grit that seemed to work was the resolve of a modest group of Christian evangelists, undaunted by the chaos.

They became ‘Angels of the A23’ by working until dawn to help desperate motorists who must have wondered if hell would freeze over before they were rescued.

More than 30 Plymouth Brethren, as they are called, turned out in a fleet of trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles to tow cars to safety, care for shivering casualties and dispense that most quintessentially English of comforts – hot tea and Bakewell tarts.

Yesterday they were hailed as ‘snow saviours’ by those stuck for hours at Handcross, a few miles below the end of the M23 in West Sussex. ‘They were absolutely brilliant,’ one driver said. ‘It would take the council a week to organise something like this. They were angels and everyone was really grateful to see them.’

The Plymouth Brethren is a 200-year-old religious fellowship group without structured hierarchy or  formal membership.

Among those on the rescue mission was Mark MacIntyre, who works in the medical supply industry.

He initially arrived around teatime to find his nephew, who was among those stranded.

Yesterday he said: ‘When I got up here I realised the severity of the situation and organised the others.

‘The road obviously hadn’t been gritted, or the snow was too much, and there were cars stuck as far as you could see. The snow was just blowing across the road and was gradually turning to ice, making it really treacherous.

‘There were about 30 of us with seven 4x4s. It was a kind of rapid response unit … we were on the scene within about 45 minutes.

‘One of the Land Rovers we have has the facilities to make tea and coffee and had plenty of supplies on board, so we were dishing those out to the police as well as people who were stuck in their cars.

‘Everyone was really grateful. A hot drink can mean a lot when you are stuck outside at night.

‘By the time we left at about 4.30am the snow ploughs seemed to be on top of the situation.’

Alas, the Brethren couldn’t reach all parts of the country yesterday.

Despite Highways Agency teams working at ‘full capacity’ through the night, dozens of stranded Sussex drivers bombarded the internet with complaints that they never saw a gritter or a snow plough. 

The chaos caused by Britain’s worst spring freeze for 27 years spread rapidly across the country. As well as the roads, airports and railways were also hit, bringing most of the south east to a standstill. All Eurostar rail services were suspended.

Although snowfall in isolated patches reached 4.7inches, the worst-hit areas of Sussex and Kent experienced only a couple of inches. But thanks to the fact that the snow did not settle but turned to ice as temperatures plummeted as low as -3C, it became unusually treacherous. The AA was expected to have attended more than 15,000 calls by the end of last night – almost double the normal rate. Guernsey and Jersey airports were closed. The Channel Tunnel shut for six hours, causing huge delays on the M20 in Kent.  …

The story is also mentioned briefly in the Guardian.  The Telegraph has a picture of another group of the Brethren shovelling snow away from the entrance to the doctor’s surgery at Stow in the Wold.

Well done, Mr MacIntyre, and the Plymouth Brethren.  I don’t know whether these are open or exclusive brethren, but the service rendered was very timely, and well done, and Christ was honoured in it.

Official: Christians banned from operating adoption agencies in UK

It’s now official.  In Britain, you may not operate an adoption agency if you are a Christian.  That is, according to a doubtless carefully selected judge, the law.  The establishment have kept the story quiet, as well they might; but there is a report in the Daily Mail:

… a  four-year legal battle by the adoption  society Catholic Care against  equality laws making it place children with gay  couples. … Mr Justice  Sales rejected the claims of the Leeds-based agency.  His ruling means it will now abandon its  100-year-old adoption service, which found families for ten children every  year. …

Catholic Care said it will now be  forced to  close its adoption service. Ten other Catholic adoption  societies have already  stopped all their adoption work.

Labour’s Sexual Orientation Regulations came  into force in 2008 and became part of the Equality Act passed in  2010.

And why is this?  Because gay lobbyists insist that every adoption agency must provide boys to “gay couples” if they desire it, and the establishment has enacted laws that mean resisting this absurd and evil demand is “discrimination”.

The classic method of religious persecution is to demand of a religious group that they do something which the person demanding it knows is forbidden by their beliefs; and then discriminate against them when they refuse, by denying them various civil rights.

Well, Catholic Emancipation was nice while it lasted.  What was it?  150 years in which being a Catholic was not a bar to employment or running a business?  The charity has provided adoption services for nearly all that period, since 1865.  But no longer.

And how do those responsible report this?  Here’s the Huffington Post, in a gorgeous example of deliberate dishonesty.  The emphasis is mine.

Catholic Charity May Close Adoption Services Over Gay Couples Ruling

A Roman Catholic charity said it might close its adoption services after a tribunal ruled that it cannot refuse to help gay couples adopt.

Catholic Care, the care agency for the Diocese of Leeds, has already been told by the Charity Commission it cannot opt out of equality laws that force it to offer adoption services to homosexuals.

Following the ruling, it said: “Without the constitutional restriction for which it applied, Catholic Care will be forced to close its adoption service.

“In doing so, it will be joining many other faith-based adoption services that have been forced to close since 2008.

“The reason for this is that the services permitted by the current constitution are in conflict with the aims of the charity.

It is good that the charity has persisted with this case.  For it lays open the bigotry of the establishment, from the Charities Commission, which would rather leave children in orphanages than have Catholics find homes for them; to the corrupt judicial system which knows very well that freedom of conscience is a basic human right, yet finds against those who appeal to it; to the dishonest BBC, which does not even report on the story (as far as I can see); to the left-leaning blogs like Huffington Post that misrepresent the story; to the newspaper owners who follow the line; to the supposedly “alternative” TV stations like Al-Jazeera, which faithfully trot out the dishonest, blaming the victim for failing to conform.  I had not realised myself until tonight, I admit, that stations like RT and Al-Jazeera on UK television were also under the control of the same handful of evil people; but there can be no rational reason why a Moslem TV station would otherwise endorse this.

Let us, however, remember the scripture: bless those who persecute you.  For this world is nothing: eternity is what matters.  Let us look at other blessings that have accrued here, and how God has allowed this evil that good may come from it.

The difference between the church and the world is once again evident.  The gay lobbyists and their allies, in their rage, have caused Christians to witness their sincerity and self-sacrifice for Christ before the whole world.  The Catholic Church stands forth, before the eyes of the whole of the UK, as the true church, willing to be persecuted rather than conform to what is wrong.

The crude accusations that the gay lobbyists and their allies have told redound to the glory of their victims; for who needs to misrepresent the facts about criminals?  Rather, the misrepresentations show that the Christians are in the right; for those who are in the right can only be opposed by deceit and misrepresentation.  Let us then bless the gaystapo, as they have rightly been called, for their testimony to Christ.

Catholic Care have demonstrated, before the eyes of heaven and earth, that they serve only one God, Jesus Christ; and are faithful whatever the cost.

Well done, you good and faithful servants.

Does reading the New Testament in Greek undermine your faith? And what can you do about it?

Christians revere the word of God.  We base our lives on it.  We study it, trying to immerse ourselves in it, in order to shape ourselves into what God wants us to be.

But we do this using translations of the word into English (or French, if we are French; German if we are German; and so on).  Inevitably we come to think of the standard translation of our day as the word of God, and its phrasing as divine.

If we come to Christ in our teens, the bible that our church uses will be the one that shapes our thinking, whose wording is embedded in our soul.  The songs we sing will use those words.  When we pray, and listen to His voice, those words are likely to shape how we hear His response.

So what happens to us, psychologically, as teenagers, if we then go to college and learn New Testament Greek and start studying it in the editions such as Nestle-Aland?  If the bible we know is “just a translation”; if we know that the “original Greek” is regarded as more authoritative, then there is the risk of two psychological effects.  Indeed it will be rather difficult for the ordinary teenager to avoid being influenced subconciously by one or both of these.

Firstly, we will certainly find ourselves asking how can we treat every word and subclause of the English translation that we knew as baby-Christians as the very words of God, when we can see the Greek, and see how the translators had to turn a knotty bit of syntax into something that made sense in English?  Does this not, inevitably, cause us to value the English less?  How can it not?  How can you treat something as divine when you can see where it deviates from the Greek?  Note that here I presume no error worse than the occasional paraphrase or mistake — the deliberate mistranslations of the new NIV are worse still, from this point of view.

How do we avoid this loss of trust, when we know that the Greek is authoritative?  And worse yet, when we see all the variants in the Greek, how can we even trust that?  What does it mean to believe that “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:18) when we know that the dots and iotas vary in the mss?

The second problem derives from the first.  A youthful mind, observing that knowledge of the Greek allows one to see mistakes and infelicities in the English, is naturally prone to become somewhat superior in its attitude to those who have never seen the Greek, and don’t even know of the problem.  Youthful superiority quickly becomes arrogance, a contempt for those trusting in the word in English, and the results are never pleasing.  The victim of it is likely to turn into something to which none of us would give house-room, all the while priding himself on his knowingness, while in reality knowing little more Greek than an undergraduate course in Biblical studies can teach him.  We can all think of blogs written by such fools, who, having abandoned any trust in the word of God, now parrot unthinkingly and even unknowingly the values and ideas of the society in which they happen to live, and which they have never evaluated.   Unconcious influence does not tend to produce critical thinking.

But what do we say, in response to this, even if we manage to avoid the laughable mistake of the second kind?

In the days when we all read the Authorised Version, there was a short answer.   The problem was reduced to some extent by the sheer prestige of that version.  It was possible to consider that God had inspired also the translators — and why not? –, and therefore to sidestep the issue.

But does anyone today suppose this of, for example, the translators of the New International Version, who shy at the word “heretic” and translate the plain old Greek word for “brothers” as “brothers and sisters”?  I think, in fact, if they had resisted the urge to tinker with the translation and left it alone, this might have happened; that the NIV translation would have become authoritative.  But I don’t think that will happen now.

I would suggest that we need to step back, and remember the fallenness of the world.  Let us suppose that God dictated an English version of the scriptures to me tomorrow (which, happily, is unlikely), perfect in every way.  Naturally I type this up in Microsoft Word, send it to the printers, the books appear and … there is a typo on page 1.  Or the typesetters omitted the last paragraph on page 397.  Or there is something.  What then?  Or, if this seems improbable, just run the book through a few reprints, and the same problems will certainly appear.

Imagine our position, in that situation.  Do we, or do we not, have the version that God dictated?

The answer of course is that it would be crazy to say that we didn’t have the gospel as revealed to me, in this illustration.  Of course we have the word; but in a damaged form.

The damage is inevitable.  We live in a fallen world.  We have treasure from heaven, but in earthen vessels.

God knows this.  We know this.  The English translations must be imperfect, because English is not a perfect language and the translators are not perfect men.  The Greek text must reach us in imperfect form, because the world is not perfect, and the scholars and the printers of the world are not perfect.

But assume that we did have the Greek text in perfect form.  Could we know, certainly, exactly what the meaning of each and every word was, in 80 AD?  Living as we do, almost 2,000 years later?  And we must remember that also, in some parts, the Greek is itself a translation of words uttered in Aramaic by our Lord.

Does any of this mean that we do not have the text?  Fools would answer yes, forgetting that the same argument applies to every book ever written on any subject.  We, as book-reading people, do not pay attention to this to any considerable extent when we read Livy or Tacitus or Jane Austen, and nor should we.  We live in an imperfect world; and we adjust to it.

What we do, in practice, is to minimise all these obstacles to hearing what God has to say.  Yes, the bible is inspired, word by word.  The words contained in it work in our hearts for God — we know this, not just from theory, but because we see it all around us.  We have to grapple with damage; damage in translation, damage in Greek, and much more powerful than any of these, damage when we read and don’t understand what God is saying to us.

The bible is a tool that God has given us.  It is as perfect as He can make it, and no doubt He interferes to help things along.  But not even God can prevent printer errors!  Nor should we expect it.

The English translations, then, are divinely inspired.  They may contain limited damage; yet in truth this is very limited.  A translation has to be very bad before the sense cannot pass through the translators words.  The Greek text is divinely inspired, even though we may not know precisely where the iota and dot should go; because a text has to be very bad before the sense of the sentence is lost.  And when we read it, we pray: so that our understanding is not so bad that we do not hear what God is saying.

It would be very nice if we had a bible that fell from heaven, graven on sheets of water-resistant PVC, which appeared in our hands miraculously when we are saved.  (It is not difficult to see why this is not so, if we imagine what would happen in our fallen world if it was!).  But this is not the case.

Long ago I heard a story of a group of Moslems who had no bibles, and yet, from reading the Koran, came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God, and were converted.  Whether it is true I do not know, yet it could be so, and it shows how God works.  God will deal with people where they are.  He can cope with translator error, in order to speak to our souls.  He can cope with the trivial copyist errors that we find in what is, after all, far and away the best preserved Greek text of antiquity.

It is right to study the Greek, so that we can know most accurately what it actually is, and what it actually says.  But I have great doubts that, in the last few centuries, all that effort has actually caused us to learn that a single sentence of scripture was wrongly understood.

The answer, then, is a sense of proportion, and an understanding that the perfection of God’s word is in that word, not in any particular version, damaged as it must be, that comes our way.  We work with what we have, we learn it word for word, and we trust in God to keep the damage at bay, in the text, in the translation, and in our understanding.  And He does.

(And if I have inadvertantly fallen into heresy in this, I pray that God will show me and I will correct it).

The basic problem

Via Trevin Wax:

Andrew Peterson: Everybody’s got the same ache; everybody’s carrying around the same sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the world. If they claim otherwise, I just don’t believe them. No matter how happy we are, there’s something nagging at us, something troubling at the periphery of our days, like we’re on a date and having a great time, but we can’t shake the feeling that we left the oven on. Something keeps us from perfect peace.

If we slipped out of the suburbs and affluence into a world where things like iPhones and viral videos don’t really amount to a hill of beans, a world where an actual hill of beans can be the difference between life and death, there would be no question that the world is broken. I’ve always sensed it, but the older I get the starker is the evidence. I see it in my own tired, sinful heart. I see it in my sweet children’s embarkation into adolescence and the grief it will bring. I see it in marriages and churches struggling to preserve their sacred unity.

And yet, even with all this darkness, there’s so much beauty. Why would that be? Why would we hunger for light and truth if we weren’t made for it? And if we were made for it, why must we contend with shadows and lies for the length of our days?

Tolkien said that sadness was part of what made the Lord’s symphony so beautiful, and I happen to agree. Joy untouched by sorrow is mere happiness.

There must be some deeper purpose behind this painfully slow redemption of the world, a purpose that turns the devil’s own tools against him – including our sorrow, which, when we don’t despair, only piques our longing. I believe there will be a reckoning, when Jesus will judge the quick and the dead, but as long as He tarries we ache for that day even as we proclaim it, even as we build the kingdom that is somehow coming and yet is already here.

I’ve never heard of this musician, but he’s bang on about the reality of living.  As you enter your 50’s, the emptiness must be overwhelming for those who do not know Jesus.  It’s bad enough anyway.