Tuesday, 8 March 2016

I've published my first book

Cancer and Me

Since Christmas 2009, when I was rushed into hospital seriously ill, I have struggled with cancer. It was eventually diagnosed as Diffuse Large B-Cell non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and I was treated with chemotherapy. In 2012 it came back as Follicular Lymphoma - more chemotherapy, followed by two years of antibody maintenance treatment. Most recently in 2015 it was back again, resulting in a stem cell transplant.

I wrote about each episode as it happened, on my blog, which you can now find at www.andyburrows.me. This book is the collection of those blog entries.

You can read about how I coped with hospital, the procedures I had to undergo, including endoscopies, CT scans, other scans such as PET CT and MRI, and biopsies, as well as my experience of three different types of chemotherapy (R-CHOP, R-CVP and Bendamustine), Rituximab maintenance treatment and an autologous stem cell transplant. I also don't hold back in relating the emotional rollercoaster that was involved in having cancer, both for me and my family.

I hope that the book will be helpful to other lymphoma sufferers and their families, if only to compare notes and find that someone else has gone through exactly the same. I hope that by relating my first hand experiences I can help to take the fear away from some of these mysterious procedures and treatments for those who have to face them. And I also hope that I can dispel the myth that cancer is always all about doom and gloom, the myth that it's always horrendous, and the myth that treatment outcomes are always clear cut.

If you're interested, please go to my current website to find out how to get a copy.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

We Have Moved!

I have a NEW website. From now on I will be posting new stuff there. Most of the articles that are on this blogger website have been transferred there, with some of them simply getting new titles.

Take a look!

You can find it at andyburrows.me.

Over time I will remove content bit by bit from this website, and all my new writing will only be published on the andyburrows.me website. 

Thanks for your continued interest in my published material.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The cross – The shocking symbol of Christianity

The cross is the primary symbol of all branches of the Christian church throughout the last 2,000 years. It is referenced throughout the world in many different ways. Some Christians wear it as a badge to quietly let people know their affiliation. Some Christians make the gesture of the cross at times of prayer. For some it is merely a pretty piece of jewellery. And for some it has taken on a superstitious quality – vampires flee from crosses, exorcisms in popular films involve crosses, and some just wear crosses to ‘get God on their side’ when they need Him.

But I wonder how many of us think about what the cross is, or what it was when the church was formed.

Shiny gold, silver or steel crosses certainly have a certain beauty, or at least an engaging symmetry. Wooden crosses also have an attractive simplicity.

But we can only see them in that way because of the passage of time, and the progress of civilisation since the Roman empire. In reality the cross was an instrument of death, gruesome, tortuous, painful and barbaric. Crucifixion was the Roman death penalty for criminals.

In today’s world we would worry about a religion whose symbol was the electric chair, the gas chamber, the firing squad, the lethal injection, the gallows or the guillotine. It would shock us.

I wonder how Jesus would have been put to death in today’s world. Even American death penalty methods are more humane than Roman crucifixion. And yet if the Christian symbol was an electric chair there would be either shock and horror or derision.

Our central symbol reminds us, and tells others, that at the centre of our faith is someone who was deserted, pushed around, flogged, derided, dragged out to a hill, nailed through his hands and feet and hung there bleeding until he died.

But do we have that symbol merely to galvanise us as his followers to carry on the ministry of love, and his teaching of righteousness, that were cut short by death? Are we just a group committing ourselves to his cause because we’re impressed by his example and teaching, and his willingness to die without compromising it? I venture that whilst those kinds of groups do exist, they don’t survive or grow in the way that Christianity has over the last 2000 years. No, there is more to it.

And that’s part of the reason why Protestants in particular have gone for the cross rather than the crucifix. Jesus is no longer on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus was not the final word. We remember that he was taken down from the cross, buried, and then gloriously resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven. The cross is a reminder of what was, not what is.

And that reminds us of why he submitted himself to the cross. He had so many chances to avoid death. He didn’t need to be in Jerusalem during that Passover festival. His brothers had advised him against it. And yet not only did he go, knowing that the Jews wanted to kill him, but he rode into the city amidst a crowd of palm-branch-waving fans. It wasn’t a freak misfortune or a risky outing that didn’t end well. His mission was to get crucified, because he knew that he would rise from the dead and triumph over death.

And his mission in getting crucified was to take on himself the penalty for our sin. Above all his teaching on righteousness, above all his compassion and love shown to outsiders, sick people and needy people – above all this was his love for sinners, such that he left his place of perfect unity with God the Father, and put himself under his Father’s wrath and judgment, so that God’s wrath towards sinners might be turned away, and so that sinners might share in his triumph over death.

This is why the cross is so important to Christians. Without the cross of Jesus Christ, without his suffering and death, without his resurrection from the dead, we are lost along with everyone in the world. We are stuck in our sin, facing lives of futile hardship, ending in futile death, if we don’t have the cross of Jesus. It’s a symbol of our hope.

That centuries-old instrument of tortuous death is our reminder that we have eternal life, and have nothing to fear, because of the death and resurrection of the one who hung on it – the Son of God. Because of the cross, if we repent and believe in Jesus, we have forgiveness. Because of the cross, those who are in Christ have nothing to fear from anything – not sickness, not persecution, not famine, not poverty, not torture, humiliation, not even death – because we have a certain hope that cannot be taken away. It doesn’t depend on us. It’s already been achieved by what Christ did… on the cross.

Lord, let me live every day with the cross of Jesus, your Son, reminding me of your steadfast love towards me in him. May I boast in nothing except his cross. May I fear nothing because of his cross. I can only come to you in prayer, because of his cross. So give me strength to follow him, knowing that the cross of Christ gives me, and all your people, the hope of a certain, eternal and infinitely better future. AMEN.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

I've had cancer and I am not angry with God

When I first heard about Stephen Fry’s now infamous outburst against God in a recent interview on Irish TV, I admit that I dismissed it as the ranting of a celebrity amateur atheist.

However, I’ve started to take it a little more seriously after something I saw on facebook. What I saw was Stephen Fry’s ranting replayed in someone’s own words in commenting on a Christian tweet. “Reasons we should be angry with God,” said the person, “He allows all the suffering in the world. Cancer, rape, war, murder…”. Fry’s comments, I assume therefore, have struck a chord with a number of non-Christians, who would call themselves either atheists or agnostics. And therefore Christian responses also need to be heard and spread.

However, what follows here is not attempting to be a full response. In fact it’s not even how I would usually approach this issue.

What is on my mind on this occasion is simply that lots of Christians suffer and still love God.

In fact I have suffered myself and I am not angry with God. I have had cancer twice in the last 5 years and I am not angry with God.

I have been made redundant at least 3 times, and had one 8-month period where I was unable to find a job and almost came to financial ruin, and I still believe in God. In fact I love God.

Perhaps someone will say to me, as Satan suggested to God about Job (Job 2:4,5), that I haven’t suffered enough to really test my faith. Perhaps that’s true. And perhaps there are harder challenges to face in the future. But for now, no one can accuse me of speaking with no experience at all of suffering. At the very least people should concede that when I speak of my faith in relation to suffering I am not speaking abstractly.

I guess this is on my mind because people like Stephen Fry (when they say “God is mean”, “God is horrid”, “How dare you God?”, etc, etc) speak as if it’s obvious that if there is a god we should hate him for all the bad things that happen in the universe. And they don’t bother to ask what Christians actually believe about God and about the suffering in the world before making vitriolic statements. The implication is that if you’re suffering and remaining a Christian then you must be stupid, because suffering should lead you to hate God. But I want to point out, 1) there are, and have been, millions of Christians that have suffered and have not lost faith; and 2) the Christian worldview in fact does have a perfectly cogent positive explanation for the existence of suffering in the world.

Suffering is bad

Perhaps I should also make clear at the outset that I hate suffering. I hate cancer. I hate war. I hate murder and oppression. I hate earthquakes and the death of children in floods and hurricanes and plane crashes. Suffering is bad. Pain is bad. Death is bad. Illness is bad. There is no sugar-coating the awfulness of suffering, whether it’s the middle-aged lymphoma sufferer being laid aside for a few months suffering sickness, exhaustion and financial difficulty, or whether it’s the thousands of infants both killed and orphaned in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

And I could write another whole article explaining how those statements make sense within a Christian worldview but don’t make sense in an atheist worldview. If we are just randomly formed collections of atoms, developed as a species after billions of years of random mutations, how does it make sense to say that cancer cells are abnormal? How does it make sense to say that pain is bad? How can we make value judgments about random purposeless happenings, painful or not?

But that’s not what I want to draw out here.

The question I want to explore is: Why do we Christians love God in the face of such awful pain and suffering?

God is all-powerful and perfect by definition

First let me say that God is most certainly all-powerful and perfect. I say that because it’s common for atheists to argue that the all-powerful and perfect God of Christianity cannot exist because of human suffering. They say that a good and loving God would want to alleviate suffering, and an all-powerful God would be able to alleviate suffering. So they say that the fact that human suffering exists shows that such a God doesn’t exist. If a god does exist, suffering exists because he is either powerless to prevent suffering (and therefore he is not all-powerful) or he doesn’t want to prevent suffering (and therefore he is not perfect). The force of the Fry-type argument is the latter. But the outcome is similar.

And atheists and agnostics come to the same practical conclusions. An atheist may say that God doesn’t exist because if there was an all-powerful good God then there wouldn’t be suffering. An agnostic may say that there may be a good God, but if there is He’s irrelevant because He can’t do anything to make a difference in the world (this is the kind of God mocked in The Simpsons). On the other hand the Fry-esque agnostic may say that there may be an all-powerful God who created the world, but if there is He’s not worth bothering with because He doesn’t do anything to prevent human suffering. For both atheists and agnostics there is no God they want to believe in, and certainly no God they want to love.

But as a Christian I see things differently.

God created the universe. And if He is powerful enough to create the entire universe in all its mind-blowing scale as well as its infinitesimal detail, then He is certainly powerful enough to do something about human suffering. He could have made fire that doesn’t burn flesh. He could have stopped the earth’s crust from fracturing and causing earthquakes and tsunamis.  He made our emotions, so He could change our emotional responses. He made our bodies, so He could make them impervious to pain. He created desire, so He could have created only pure unselfish desire.

God is all-powerful by definition, because He created all by His power, and he created all power (heat, light, gravity, magnetism, etc) by His power.

And God did not have to create the universe. He was happy and complete without it. It was His decision to create it. And having decided to create the universe He wasn’t bound to necessarily create it in a particular way. There is no physical or logical law in the universe that meant God had to (i.e. was bound to) allow suffering.

So if I believe God has power to prevent suffering, and if I hate suffering, why do I still love God who still allows me to suffer, and others to suffer more? Doesn’t that make Him mean and uncaring? Doesn’t that also make Him hypocritical on one level, because He commands His followers to love and care for others, even their enemies, and yet He apparently doesn’t do everything in His power to do the same?

Before we get to answer that, though, there’s something else we have to be clear about. God is not just sitting back, folding His arms and not doing anything about suffering. He is not an idle bystander who could intervene but chooses not to. In the Bible God tells us that suffering is something that He initiated in response to human disobedience. God created a perfect world with no suffering, but God brought suffering into the world.

The first time suffering is spoken about in the Bible is in Genesis 3, where God responds to the first sin: “I will surely multiply your pain…” (v16); “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it…” (v17)

Stephen Fry and today’s angry atheists/agnostics make out that God allows suffering because He isn’t perfect. How can He be perfect? How can He be called Good if He causes and allows all this suffering? But the opposite is true.

God initiated human suffering and universal decay because He is perfect.

Being the Creator of everything makes God the definer of everything. Human beings, we’re told are created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). That means we are made to function in the same way, with creativity, with relational capacity, with moral sense, acting, thinking, speaking, and so on. And by definition the original is always the perfect version, against which the ‘copies’ are compared. So when we look around the different moral standards operated throughout humanity, if we want to know what is perfect we must look at the original. God is by definition perfect, because we were made to be like Him. He is the original, who we were intended to be ‘copies’ of.

Sin has marred us as His special creation, because we have distanced ourselves from His character. We are no longer the perfect ‘copies’ that we were before The Fall. And just as sin marred us, God has ensured that human beings cannot live without the frustration and pain of an unmarred universe. Why should beings that have shrugged off the image of the perfect live in a world fit for the perfect?

So God’s omnipotence (all-powerfulness) and His perfection are foundational. If God is the Creator of everything He is all-powerful. If God created human beings in His image then He is perfect. And suffering, pain and death, are the consequences of sin ordained by the all-powerful, perfect God.

The unfairness of suffering points to the solution

Now at this point I’ll acknowledge that part of the struggle we have with thinking about suffering is not with suffering per-se. If Osama Bin Laden suffered, who cares? If Adolf Hitler suffering, who cares? If a mass murderer or terrorist suffers, who cares? Right? The suffering we struggle with is the suffering of those who don’t seem to deserve it: The child who has leukaemia, the poor who starve in the Third World, the families devastated by earthquakes and tsunamis. Even if we admit that nobody is perfect, the pain that some people go through seems out of proportion with their sin.

Why do I love a God who seems so unfair?

Jesus’ disciple, John, said, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

God loved us? With all the pain and suffering and misery and death in the world? God loved us?

Yes. Because if we struggle with the unfairness there seems to be in suffering, we need to ask ourselves what was the most ‘unfair’ suffering in the history of the world? The widest disparity possible between the extent of suffering and the amount it was deserved would be between infinite pain and sinless perfection. Jesus was sinless perfection, and yet on the cross suffered infinite pain in His death and in separation from His Father.

The worst suffering in the universe was inflicted on the One who least deserved it. And who is Jesus? He is God’s one and only Son. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “all the fullness of God” is in Him (v19).

And what did He die for? As John said, He was sent “as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” He took the ultimate punishment that we deserved so that our sins could be atoned for, removed, dealt with, so that we wouldn’t have to face that punishment.

Paul characterized Christ’s sacrifice in this way: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:6-10)

Elsewhere we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

So those who accuse God of not doing anything about human suffering are ignoring the most significant event in human history. In dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, Jesus, God’s Son, was not just dealing with suffering. He was dealing with the root cause of suffering – sin. He was dealing with the sickness and not just the symptoms. And that leads us to three points:

  •      The physical suffering, pain, betrayal and rejection Jesus suffered, and the wrath he suffered at the hand of his Father on the cross, shows that we under-estimate the seriousness of our sinfulness. We don’t appreciate how much God’s image has been radically ruined in our selfishness, our desire for self-rule, our hatred of His rule. Because Jesus died for our sins we see in the horror of his death the horror of our sins. Not only is it what we deserve for our sins and our sinfulness, but you can get a measure for the seriousness of the disease from the seriousness of the treatment. Just as cancer requires drastic treatment like chemotherapy, surgical organ removal, stem cell transplants or radiotherapy, sin requires drastic treatment in the death of God’s only Son. That shows you how seriously God takes sin.
  •      Jesus’ death takes away our sin, and through his resurrection God’s purpose was to give us the hope of eternal life. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul says in Romans 6:23, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So our concern for the suffering and pain of this life (as well as the meagre pleasures) must always be set against the infinitely greater pleasures of the eternal life that is promised in Christ.
  •      More than that – for those who have repented of our sinful, self-centred ways, and have faith in God through Jesus Christ, it is those very pains and sufferings that prepare us for the glory of eternal life by exposing to us the transience of this life. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

It’s these perspectives that characterise the Christian gospel and worldview. It’s why the Christian worldview is good news, not just an alternative philosophical system. It teaches us, as it taught Job in the Bible story, to be humble as we both recognise our sin and recognise the eternal nature of God’s good purposes for His people.

That’s why Corrie Ten Boom could remain joyful and faithful when living in the squalor of the Nazi death camp.

It’s why Joni Eareckson-Tada has remained joyful and faithful after being totally paralysed below the neck in a diving accident 50 years ago.

It’s why the apostle Paul stuck to his mission to preach the gospel in spite of beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, illness and persecution.

And that attitude is displayed by Christians the world over. Not perfectly, not consistently, but visibly and tangibly. Suffering may knock back the true believer. It should still shock us and move us. But rather than despising God for allowing it, we recognise God’s justice in it, and look to God our Father for our relief both now and for eternity.

My hope

Atheists and agnostics who tell us all the reasons why God is worthy of our hatred and anger imply in doing so that Christians are either sadly deluded or dangerously stupid. But I hope at least two things emerge from what I’ve outlined above:

  •      Christians have a faith that is rational. Suffering is not a philosophical problem that undermines our belief in the existence of God. On the contrary: The big picture solution to suffering is what the Christian message is essentially all about.
  •      The joyful, faithful, Christ-praising, lives of suffering Christians around the world, will I hope at least give pause for some thought among those tempted to jump on the Stephen Fry bandwagon. If Christians can be joyful in the face of the inescapable awfulness of suffering – some much much greater than my own – if their faith does not fail, shouldn’t that at least cause some tempering of the rhetoric?

Ultimately my hope is that somebody somewhere would read this and rethink their attitude to God, because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, turn to him in repentance and faith, and enter into eternal life.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Spending too much at Christmas - what I said to my kids

This is what I wrote on the private blog I have for my kids last year…
There are a couple of things I worry about at Christmas if I’m honest.

One is that as a family we’ll lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas – which is that Jesus gave up His place with His Father to be born on earth in order to die for our sake, to save us from our sins. That’s something that will affect us for eternity – forever. Compared to the enjoyment we have each Christmas, which lasts for a few days, and even the presents which could last for a year or two, Jesus is much more important and much more precious.

The other thing I worry about is that Mum and I will spend too much on you, and that you won’t appreciate just how much it costs. By now you should be able to work out roughly how much the presents cost and work out that there are four of you, and that there are stocking presents as well, and therefore work out how much all these things would have cost altogether. And then you could think about what else we could have bought for that amount – a new car? A holiday abroad?

But here I want to hopefully make you see that there is a way of thinking about these two things together – the spending and the true meaning of Christmas.

What made me think about it was the word ‘lavish’. It’s a word that means ‘more than enough’. It indicates being given luxuries and treats, rather than just what you need. It’s what I thought when I tried to think what to buy you for Christmas, and when I realised that you don’t need anything. What we bought you for Christmas were things that were treats, things that are nice to have, but things you can do without. I thought that if we’re buying stuff you don’t really need, then we are being lavish. The other word is ‘extravagant’. We’re giving you everything you need and more!

And that made me think of where that word lavish appears in the Bible. There are two places I can think of:

‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1)


In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.’ (Ephesians 1:5-8)

You may not understand all of the big words in those verses, but you should be able to see that one of the ways God has been lavish with us is that we can be called His children. He as adopted us through the Lord Jesus Christ. When we call Him our Heavenly Father, we should realise that that is His lavish gift to us. It’s much more than we deserve.

The only reason we can have this wonderful gift is because of the sacrifice Jesus made in coming to earth and dying for us. That gave us God’s other lavish gift to us – forgiveness of our sins.

So because of Christmas, because Jesus was born and lived and died for us, we can be forgiven from all the awful and wrong things we’ve done and said and thought. And not only that, but we can be called children of God! So God gives us everything we need and more… forever!

Just imagine if you were the Queen’s son or daughter. Imagine if you were part of the Royal Family. Would you have everything you needed? Everything you wanted? Whatever food you wanted? Whatever clothes and toys? Could you go on holiday just about anywhere you wanted?

Now think about how much greater God is than our Queen. He is the maker and the ruler of the whole universe – everything that exists. He has the power to be able to do anything. He is perfectly good. So it must be so much better to be in God’s Royal Family!

So when Mum and I spend so much money on you at Christmas, when we are lavish with our gifts to you, just remember that God is much more lavish and extravagant. He has adopted us into His family, given us things that will last forever, forgiven our sins, all through the lavish gift of His Son…

… Jesus who came at Christmas.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

David Silvester’s Mistake – Was He Right or Wrong?

In my last post I was thinking about the reaction David Silvester received recently to his open letter accusing UK Prime Minister David Cameron of bringing God’s judgment upon the nation. In the letter he said that, “The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.” The particular breach he was talking about was the redefinition of marriage, passed into law by the British parliament months earlier, enabling same-sex marriages to take place. The natural disasters he linked to it were the heavy rains, storms and flooding that beset southern England early in 2014, and which continued to worsen even after his letter.
I observed last time that whether or not David Silvester is right to link the floods directly with the displeasure of God because of the same-sex marriage legislation, the reaction of the secular media and the public was really a reaction to truth that is central to the Christian message. He called homosexuality sinful and he portrayed God as involved in (and judging) the affairs of mankind. The reaction is because they don’t like the assertion that an unelected being is in charge, setting rules they don’t like, and enforcing them, whether they voted for Him or not. I concluded that since the gospel of love, forgiveness and hope cannot be understood without knowing what we need to be forgiven from and saved from, David Silvester was absolutely right to speak of an active sovereign God and point to the need for repentance from sin.
What I want to examine now is whether Mr Silvester is right to claim that the Bible clearly shows God as actively punishing wayward former-Christian nations with natural disasters; and whether he is right to link the winter 2013/14 floods with the same-sex marriage bill.

Sovereignty, sin and punishment

Mr Silvester claims that, “the scriptures make it abundantly clear”, and so we will turn to the Bible and check it out. Whole books are written on this subject, but let’s try to do it quickly…
1.  The Bible clearly conveys God as being in absolute control over His universe, and therefore nothing happens (including floods) outside of His purpose.  “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” (Psalm 135:5-7) (See also Daniel 4:34-35; Psalm 22:28; 113:4.)
2.  The Bible clearly conveys God as holding every human being, family, community and nation responsible for living according to His rules, and judging them with His wrath for disobedience. (Psalm 9:8; 98:9; 96:13; 58:11; 149:7; 47:8; 94:10. See also Jeremiah 46.)
3.   God’s ultimate judgment will be in the future when this present creation is swept away and His people will inherit the new perfected creation, and the rest will be consigned to eternal torment being excluded from any of God’s blessing. (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1-7; Matthew 25:46)
4.   However, the Bible shows us that God does act now in this life, punishing nations for systemic and ingrained wickedness, as well as blessing nations for genuine obedience. (Deuteronomy 9:4; Isaiah 13)
5.   In the Bible, God’s punishment on nations comes in the form of famine, wars, disease, economic hardship, division and confusion, being enslaved to other nations via debt, and the like (e.g. Deuteronomy 28). The 10 plagues on Egypt (Exodus 7-13) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) are among a very small number of occasions where God visits particular focussed judgment in a miraculous way. The Great Flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8) was the only time recorded in the Bible when God used storms and flooding to bring about His judgment.
6.     Homosexuality is ‘an abomination’ according to God (Leviticus 18:22) and was one of the reasons that He punished the Canaanites: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled... and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (vv24-25).
So it’s clear that the Bible does portray God as all-powerful, able and willing to punish the disobedience and wickedness of nations directly, both now and in the final judgment. And it’s also clear in the Bible that homosexual sex is something that God sees as sinful and worthy of punishment, and that He uses both natural and human disasters as means of delivering judgment upon nations.
It’s also probably true that God does hold His own people under stricter discipline, and that the UK monarch’s coronation pledge in church, before God and all UK citizens, to rule according to ‘the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’, makes the UK a Christian nation.
So I can see why David Silvester draws his conclusion that the UK is under God’s judgment, that same-sex marriage is part of the reason for that judgment, and that natural disasters (i.e. floods) are a manifestation of His judgment.
But there is, however, some evidence to the contrary.

Not an exact link

Jesus explicitly rebutted the claim that if bad things happen to people they must be worse sinners than those who don’t suffer. He was asked (Luke 13:1-5) ‘about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them,  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?    No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.    Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?    No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”’ So there were no specific sins to which those disasters could have been linked.
We might also consider that the famine in the time of Joseph (Genesis 41 and following) was not explained in the Bible as a punishment of the Canaanites, any more than the wealth that the Egyptians gained through it was due to their righteousness. And yet it was God who warns Pharaoh of it in advance, and God who brought it about.
We should also consider that the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires were for long periods very rich and successful forces in the world, and yet that was not because of their righteousness, for they were some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in world history.
Even in our living memory we could point to the fact that we suffered the horrors of two world wars during a period when church attendance was high and Christian morality was still very much adhered to by the majority of the British and American population. However bad the 2013/14 Southern England floods were, they caused nowhere near the same level of destruction or loss of life as the World Wars, and yet Christians would argue that we have generally morally declined rapidly since then.
So however much a disaster looks to be an extraordinary work of God, we are not entitled to draw the conclusion that it is aimed as a punishment on a specific misdoing.
Let me clarify further by saying that I do believe that the UK and other Western nations are under the judgment of God. Social fragmentation, economic crisis, STDs, increasing health and psychological problems, etc are all evidence of God’s wrath. And the weakness of the church is also a sign of God’s wrath. And I could even agree that the floods were part of God’s punishment, because they are financially draining on the country’s financial services sector (insurance companies).
And I also believe that the UK and Western nations have been gradually eroding Christian morality as the basis for national government and law – whether that be the abolition of the death penalty, the legalization of abortion, the acceptance of sex (hetero- and homo- sexual) outside of heterosexual marriage as normal, Sunday trading, talk of legalizing euthanasia, embryo research, not curbing the greed of rich bankers, or changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
What I can’t find support in the Bible for is the assertion that a particular spell of bad weather, or a particular catastrophe, can be linked to a particular rejection of God’s laws, unless God explicitly says it is.

A sad reaction to a slightly misguided prophet

So I do think that David Silvester is wrong to confidently assert that the winter floods were God’s judgment on the UK because of the same-sex marriage decision. There is no Biblical justification for saying that.
I also think that if He were here in person, Jesus may have said something similar to his statement in Luke 13, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, God is in control, He is causing the rain, wind, storms and floods. And we are sinners, rejecting His ways. And He does threaten awful punishment for those who reject His Son and fail to repent of their sinful ways – definitely in eternity, but sometimes in this life too.
Sometimes even if natural disasters are not directed at any particular sin, the events demonstrate to us tangibly, visibly, audibly, physically,
1.     How powerful and awesome God is, because He has power over all those events; and
2.     That we have no strength to resist His power.
Natural disasters cause us to fear because we cannot resist or control these things, and that fear is really the fear of God, because He is behind it all.
I find it very sad that the reaction to hearing about God’s judgment is not fear. If you found yourself in gangland territory, and heard that you had annoyed the local mafia (even if you thought you’d done nothing), you would fear. Why is there no fear when there is a suggestion that we are on the wrong side of the Almighty Creator and Owner of the entire Universe, and that He is angry? Why aren’t we quaking, asking what we have to do avoid His wrath? Why don’t people at least ask whether this is true?
The reason is because our sin has blinded us. Our desire to determine our own destinies, our desire to live the way we want to live with no one telling us what’s right and wrong, has eclipsed our natural human sense that we are created and are responsible to our Creator. It’s as if we’ve turned the volume up on the TV deliberately so loud to blot out the voice of conscience, just because we don’t want to change…
It just shows how far we have strayed when we can even block out the voice of these storms. Because even if the floods are not a particular judgment on a particular evil, they still shout at us, “God is awesome! Don’t be on the wrong side of Him!” Events like this should force us to face up to the fact that Christianity is not a private religion – God in my little heart. If God is God at all, He is awesome, owns everything that exists, and can do anything with anything that exists. He can’t be limited to church buildings, and particular places or times. He is the One to whom every created being owes their existence, and every human being owes their worship.
The sad thing about the mainstream reaction to David Silvester’s letter to the Henley Standard is that the overwhelming response is ridicule and horror and not fear and repentance.
The prophets of the Old Testament faced the same kind of reaction among the Jews, who were supposed to be God’s special people. The prophets predicted God’s judgment upon their waywardness and unfaithfulness, and they were often locked up, beaten, ridiculed and chased into hiding (take Elijah as an example).
On the other hand when the prophet Jonah (the one of the Big Fish) went to the non-Jewish Ninevites and called them to repent in order to avoid God’s judgment on them, they did in fact repent. They wept and mourned, and God saw that and turned away from the punishment He had planned.
And the big point of Jonah’s story was that whilst the Jews were persecuting prophets, thinking that God would never do anything bad to them, the people they considered to be beyond mercy were receiving mercy because of their heartfelt repentance.


David Silvester may have been theologically incorrect to assert a firm link between the disastrous Southern England flooding of 2013/14 and God’s anger at same-sex marriage. However, he was not wrong to point out the wrongness of same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general. He was not wrong to call for repentance. And He was not wrong to point to God as The All-Powerful Creator and Judge. For the gospel to be understood, these kinds of things need to be said.
As Christians we should be praying that God will turn hearts from ridicule to repentance, because He can do that as well. And in the meantime, we should stand with David Silvester and continue to proclaim the good news of salvation from God’s wrath, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

David Silvester's Mistake - What Was the Fuss All About?

David Silvester is a local government councillor near Oxford in the UK, until recently representing the UK Independence Party. At the beginning of 2014 he (in)famously said in a letter to the Henley Standard, “Since the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the nation has been beset by serious storms and floods.
“One recent one caused the worst flooding for 60 years. The Christmas floods were the worst in 127 years. Is this just ‘global warming’ or is there something more serious at work?
 “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.”
The response from the media and some sections of the public was censure and derision. He was then expelled from UKIP and there was a petition asking him to resign his council seat. Most comment I heard at the time falls into the category of the secularist’s favourite way of dealing with religious (and especially Christian) outspokenness – name-calling!
Mr Silvester clearly considers himself a Christian and wants to make a public stand for God’s glory and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and because of that I consider him a brother and desire to stand alongside him in the gospel. The derision and contempt he has suffered do not in themselves indicate to me that his views are necessarily as wacky and misguided as they are made out to be.
But do I stand with him, echoing his remarks? Or do I stand with him as a Christian, whilst distancing myself from such “extreme” views? I think that Christians, especially in the UK, would be well advised to ask themselves these questions. Are we glad that someone has had the courage to speak up with clear truth, even though unpopular? Or are we embarrassed that such extreme words bring the church and the Christian faith further under the contempt of our neighbours, friends, colleagues and journalists?
The whole furore sparked two strands of thoughts for me, so I’ll consider them in two separate posts. I do want to consider whether he is Biblically right in what he says. And for Christians that question must be important, as it’s all about what God is like – the God which we claim to be the only real true God.
But first, I’m also intrigued by what underlies the reaction that he’s faced for holding those views. What are people reacting to? And why have people written him off with very little meaningful engagement with his beliefs?
I will admit that what I say is only based on personal observation, and not huge amounts of research. But it seems to me that what made David Silvester so unpopular was two things:

Whose rules rule?

First, his objection to gay marriage, which is not greatly tolerated at the best of times, had a slightly unique dimension to it. David Silvester has been thrown out of UKIP, whose MPs largely voted against same-sex marriage. So it wasn’t just his opposition to same-sex marriage that has caused the furore. He went two steps further, first by pointing out that God says that homosexuality is wrong, and second by claiming that God is willing to enact some ‘consequences’ on the whole nation for simply approving of it or turning a blind eye to it.
Lots of people have expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, even some practising homosexuals. However, to say that homosexuality is wrong is intolerable in the present cultural climate; and to say that it is something deserving punishment is clearly even more intolerable.
The Daily Telegraph reported (5 Feb 2014) that David Silvester had “deepened the rift… by calling on gays ‘to repent’”. That is what got him dropped from UKIP, which initially said that he was entitled to his religious opinions. The party were happy enough to oppose same-sex marriage, presumably on the grounds (valid enough) that homosexuals have legalised equivalent civil partnerships and therefore we don’t need to redefine marriage for everyone else. That doesn’t involve belief that homosexuality is wrong, that homosexuals need to repent, or that God has anything to do with it whatsoever.
So it appears to me that the main thing that made people angry about Mr Silvester’s remarks was that he suggested something was really and objectively wrong that they believe is right. They don’t like his suggestion that homosexuality is wrong when they think there is nothing wrong with it.
My Who’s Rules Rule? series examined the generalised form of this point. Suffice to say here that the point at issue between modern secular Westerners and their Christian contemporaries is just this – that today’s unbelievers cannot stand the Christian assertion that human beings (including individuals and governments) do not have the final say on what is right and wrong, and that being out of step with God’s laws has serious consequences in this life and the next. Today’s unbelievers want to make the rules themselves… in fact it’s their fundamental rule that no one else sets the rules but themselves!
The other thing I pointed out in those articles is that secular Westerners misunderstand what Christians mean when we say that something is wrong. Just saying something is wrong, and calling for repentance, does not mean that we hate people who do wrong things. So to talk of David Silvester ‘inciting hatred’ is grossly unfair. And when you think about it, the only hatred he actually incited is hatred of himself!

The God who interferes

Second, people don’t like the idea of God interfering with their lives, and particularly that God may be angry with them, because that implies that they are not in charge and have no influence in the rule of the universe. The thought is almost, “What right does God have to tell me what to do? I didn’t elect Him to rule over me! Who is God to interfere?”
Many secular Westerners may call themselves agnostic, because they can’t bring themselves to say for certain that there is no god. But they can only bring themselves to admit there may be a god if the god that may exist is powerless or disinterested!
The kind of god that they can tolerate is one who isn’t too fussy over his friends. He forgives without any cost, just because that’s what he does, and doesn’t mind if you ignore him your whole life. He’s just there to help out if you call on him, and will meet up with you after death to sort out something nice for you. That kind of god is one that they don’t need to bother with at any point in their life unless they feel they are in desperate need. He’s not going to intrude unless they ask him to. It’s kind of a ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ type of relationship. So it doesn’t really matter whether he exists or not.
The kind of god they definitely rule out is one who says they owe Him respect, reverence, worship and obedience; who tells them what’s right and wrong; is undemocratic; and threatens them with eternal consequences for disobedience... whether they acknowledge His existence or not.
Another way of looking at it is that people seem to be ok with religion if it’s a matter of choice. Well, they would be wouldn’t they?!  Some people choose one god, some people choose another, and some people choose none. If people choose a god and then don’t do as he/she/it says then they should be aware of the consequences. Saying that a god punishes his/its/her followers for not adhering to the rules of the religion makes sense, because the followers have made a choice to be under those rules. So secular Western thought has no problem allowing for the fact that some people have religious beliefs, and adhere to a religious creed or code. It’s just their choice.
However, in contrast, David Silvester’s God – the God that Christians believe in – is One whose rules must be obeyed, and Who must be worshiped and revered, by every human being. If people choose not to do so they will face consequences, both in this world and the next. His rules apply to all of humanity and not just Christians.

The gospel issue

So when David Silvester spoke of God punishing people who don’t believe in Him for doing things that they think they have the right to do (i.e. changing the definition of marriage), it touched the secular majority on their most sensitive nerves. Whether he was right or wrong to say that the recent floods are actually God’s judgment on a nation that has given its approval to homosexuality, in essence what the secular media and the public have really reacted to are the central truths of Christianity.
Christianity presents the one and only real God as the Creator of everything, the Owner, the Ruler, the King and the Judge. He sets the rules, and sets the consequences for transgression, and enforces them. God is not passive. He cares what all human beings do, as His special creations. He doesn’t need permission from us to be our Ruler and Judge. He has that on His own authority as the one who made, and who owns, the universe.
The point is really that God’s sovereignty over the universe, and His right to be the only One authorised to define what is good or bad for humanity, are the foundation truths of the Christian gospel. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 8, “…we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
We should expect at least some unbelievers not to like it when we apply these truths and call attention to them. They conflict with their own basic principles – that morality is a matter of choice and that there is no higher authority than themselves.
But further, since we are called to ‘make disciples of all nations’ we should be aware that people will not appreciate their need of the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ if they don’t know why they need it. And they need it because they are sinners who have set aside the only real God in order to have their own way, and because God will not let that go unpunished.
So we should not be ashamed of talking of our great, holy God who sets the rules and enforces them, because that sets the foundation for presenting the good news of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Was David Silvester mistaken? Not in speaking of sin. Not in calling attention to God’s displeasure at the rejection of His laws.
But was he mistaken in linking specific natural events with God’s displeasure over specific sins? To that we will turn next time, God willing.