Daily bread

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Recently I attended a session where we looked into the Lord’s Prayer in greater depth. We broke into groups and each looked at only one or two lines, reflected on those lines, and then shared our reflections with the others. We looked at the fifth line, quoted here from Matthew 6:11 :-

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Give us today our daily bread

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It’s a straightforward enough line, but it carries extraordinary depth. Firstly, it is an acknowledgment that our provisions and sustenance comes from God: we don’t actually make our own bread. We don’t even make the money to buy bread by ourselves. As the line from the traditional order of service puts it, “All things come from Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Every breath and every talent we have are gifts from God.

There were two other verses which were suggested in connection with this one. The first is from Proverbs 30:8-9 :-

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD ?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

I love the emphasis on sufficiency here. Provide for my needs, but not for all my earthly desires. Give me the right amount so that I can remain focussed on you – neither too much, that I become enslaved to prosperity, nor too little, that I am too concerned with my own hunger and material provisions. In either extreme, our hearts will be drawn away from God and into improper living. Yes, God is aware of our material needs as inhabitants of this physical realm, but the wisdom of the writer is in asking that he not be distracted by the physical realm so much that he ignores the spiritual.

The second passage then shifts our perspective again. This one is from John 6:32-35 :-

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Not only is Jesus reinforcing the message that all blessings and provisioning comes from God, he is also explaining that true fulfillment can never be found in satisfying only the needs of our bodies. Infinitely greater is the fulfillment of a relationship with Jesus, and true satisfaction will only be found there. As Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

We have both body and soul – we are neither angels nor animals. Our bodies need care and nourishment, and so do our souls – but our souls are eternal, and we need to be careful that we give them the bread they need.

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Related posts:

Asked and answered

Why the suffering?

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Asked and answered

The question came up again last night – does God always answer prayer?

Yes.

But this is generally not what the person asking that question has in mind. What they’re really asking is often something more along the lines of, “Does God always do what we ask Him in prayer?” In answer to that question, No, of course He doesn’t.

There’s a relevant passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus is explaining the virtue of persistence in prayer:

Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13, NIV)

The important thing to note here is what the petitioner was asking for. He was hungry, and he was seeking bread. This is a good and worthy request. It is in the best interests of the hungry person to have food. And we see in Jesus’ explanation at the end of the passage that God knows what we need and desires to give us good things.

But what if the son asks for a snake? Or a scorpion? Would a loving father give it to his son, simply because it was asked of him? Of course not.

Let’s try another version. What if the person who comes knocking in the middle of the night is an alcoholic, and he’s desperately asking you for a bottle of vodka? If you love him and want the best for him, no matter how much he pleads you won’t give it to him.

God knows your heart and your needs, and knows what is best for you. He knows you better than you know yourself, and He loves you even when you would seek to destroy yourself.

God always answers prayers. But sometimes the answer is “No”.

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Related posts:

Serious, not fanatical

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Models and hermeneutics

So, I recently wrote an essay (“On Spherical Cows and the Search for Truth“) about modelling and its relationship to reality, and also how modelling helps to illustrate how scientific theories work. My main point was that models (and other theories) are limited by their assumptions, and it is generally disastrous to apply a model out of its original context and objectives, because we almost invariably end up inheriting inappropriate assumptions.

At the same time, I’m reading Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, and thus I’m thinking a lot about appropriate exegesis and hermeneutics in a Biblical context. I see many parallels between the ideas presented in the modelling essay and the approach described by Fee and Stuart. Thinking about this more, I’m wondering if there isn’t something to be said for a similar approach to scriptural interpretation as we use for scientific theories.

Let me try and explain what I mean.

With science, we believe that there is an underlying truth that is the natural order, and we build and test theories (and models) to try and understand that natural order better. Our theories are not the fullness of nature, but they represent (sometimes well, sometimes poorly) certain aspects of nature.

Similarly, we believe that the Bible contains God’s truth, and remains relevant to all of us at all times. But to understand a given passage, we must first understand the context and literary style of the writing (the exegesis part), and then interpret the text within that framework (the hermeneutical part). But our interpretation of the scripture remains a representation of the Truth, rather than being the fullness of the Truth.

In the same way that we cannot take a scientific theory which describes the interaction of sub-atomic particles at a quantum scale and apply it to larger scales, we cannot take a hermeneutic which is appropriate for one book and apply it to the whole Bible. Our hermeneutic for a particular passage incorporates assumptions that are specific to that book, and we risk inheriting inappropriate assumptions in using the same hermeneutic for another passage.

It is equally inappropriate to use a literal historical hermeneutic from (for instance) 1 Samuel and apply it to the Psalms as it is to use a theory from the field of genetics and apply it to psychology.

This is still very much at the idea stage, so I’d appreciate your thoughts!

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Related posts:

On reading both books

On Spherical Cows and the Search for Truth

Matters of interpretation

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Introducing Godde

Over at Urban Mystic, Tim has put up a very interesting post about his usage of the term “Godde” and its implications for our image and preconceptions of the Divine.

It’s called “Why use the word Godde?

From the article:

“I think of this as an expansive and empowering term. Its expansive because it asks that we stretch our view of Godde beyond what we’ve had. Because we’ve tamed “God” with our theological definitions and public services we’ve therewith lost a sense of respect, awe and wonder at this elusive, magnificent and wondrous Being.”

Tim goes on to explore the significance of both the masculine and feminine aspects of God.

You should go and read it now.

Chesterton on Miracles

Another excerpt from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, this time on the subject of miracles:

But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up.  Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma.  The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them.  The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder … If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural.  If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things … you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism — the abstract impossibility of miracle.  You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist.  It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence — it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred.  All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle.  If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles … Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.

The sceptic always takes one of the two positions; either an ordinary man need not be believed, or an extraordinary event must not be believed.

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Related posts:

Believing and understanding

Faith: reflecting on evidence

Plus ça change…

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Chesterton on Nature

Another excerpt from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. (I promise I’m not being lazy with these extended quotations, it’s just that he was such a great writer I don’t want to detract from them with my own scribblings).

“The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals.  On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but you cannot be human.  That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger.  It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger.  But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

“If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden.  For the obstinate reminder continued to recur: only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature.  The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition:  that Nature is our mother.  Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this:  that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.  We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.  This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

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Related posts:

Plus ça change…

Two evolutionists walk into a bar…

On reading both books

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Plus ça change…

I’ve just finished reading Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. What’s most fascinating to me is that it was written over 100 years ago and yet the issues that he’s discussing – materialism, evolution, determinism, conflicts fought in the name of religion, morality in the absence of divine guidance, etc. – are all exactly the same things that are shaping the debate today. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Here are a few selected excerpts:

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Chesterton on relativism:

“Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one.  Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view.  We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own.  Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.”

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…on the faith of rationality:

“Reason is itself a matter of faith.  It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.  If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ‘Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?’ The young sceptic says, ‘I have a right to think for myself.’ But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, ‘I have no right to think for myself.  I have no right to think at all.'”

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…on the philosophical aspects of evolution:

“Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself.  If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism.  If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into.  It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything.  This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about.”

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…on knee-jerk scepticism:

“The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it… It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end.  It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself. You cannot call up any wilder vision than a city in which men ask themselves if they have any selves.  You cannot fancy a more sceptical world than that in which men doubt if there is a world. It might certainly have reached its bankruptcy more quickly and cleanly if it had not been feebly hampered by the application of indefensible laws of blasphemy or by the absurd pretence that modern England is Christian.  But it would have reached the bankruptcy anyhow.  Militant atheists are still unjustly persecuted; but rather because they are an old minority than because they are a new one.  Free thought has exhausted its own freedom… We have no more questions left to ask. We have looked for questions in the darkest corners and on the wildest peaks.  We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers.”

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…on the history of the Church:

“…in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations. If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery the answer is simple:  it didn’t. It arose in the Mediterranean civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire.  The world was swarming with sceptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun, when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast.  It is perfectly true that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that the ship came up again:  repainted and glittering, with the cross still at the top… If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new.  She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch… How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”

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Related posts:

Chesterton on Nature

Chesterton on Miracles

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