Thursday, June 04, 2020

Capitalism Alone (2) Commodification

In his book called Capitalism Alone, Branko Milanovic says that the reverse side of atomization is commodification.

In atomization, we become alone because all of our needs can be satisfied by what we buy from others, in the market. In a state of full commodification, we become that other, we satisfy the needs of people through maximum commodification of our assets, including our free time.

What capitalism does is to give us, as consumers, the ability to purchase activities that used to be provided in kind by family, friends, or community. But to us as producers, it also offers a wide field of activities (precisely the same ones) that we can supply to others.

The most obvious case is the commodification of activities that used to be conducted within extended families and then, as people became richer, within nuclear families. Cooking has now become outsourced, and families often do not eat meals together. Cleaning, repairs, gardening, and child-rearing have become more commercialized than before or perhaps than ever. Writing homework essays, which used to be “outsourced” to parents, can now be outsourced to commercial companies.

The growth of the gig economy commercializes our free time and things that we own but have not used for commercial purposes before. Uber was created precisely on the idea of making better use of free time. Limousine drivers used to have extra time between jobs; instead of wasting that time, they began to drive people around to make money. Now anybody who has some free time can “sell” it by working for a ride-share company or delivering pizza. A portion of leisure time that we could not commercialize (simply because jobs were “lumpy” has become marketable. Likewise, a private car that was “dead capital” becomes real capital if used, to drive for Lyft or Uber. Keeping the car idle in a garage or parking lot has a clear opportunity cost. Similarly, homes that in the past might have been lent out for a week without compensation to family and friends have now become assets that are rented out to travellers for a fee. As soon as this happens, such goods become commodities; they acquire a market price. Not using them is a clear waste of resources. Whereas in the past their opportunity cost was zero, now it is positive (p.190).

This does not mean that everyone will use every free moment to do a gig, or will rent out their home every day that it is empty. Similarly, we do not use every minute of our lives to try to earn money. However, once the opportunity cost of the hitherto free activities becomes positive, we are ultimately led to think of these activities as commercial goods or services. It then requires greater effort of the will to let opportunities go and not succumb to benefiting from them.

Just as there is a logic in the way hypercommercialized capitalism obliterates the divide between the production and family spheres, so is there a certain historical logic in the progression of what becomes commodified. First, agriculture was commodified through the commercialization of surplus production, that is, through a movement out of subsistence agriculture. Then came the commodification of manufacturing activities, especially clothing production. New markets emerged as the goods that had traditionally been produced by households started to be produced commercially. At the origin of the Industrial (and industrious) Revolution in Europe was wage work outside the home and, together with it, the practice of using the wages thus earned to purchase commodities that had previously been produced within the household by these same workers (with productivity much higher under the new system). This is exactly the same that we observe today with respect to services. The commodification of services, and ultimately of free time, is just an additional logical on the road to development.

Personal services are more difficult to commodify because productivity increases are slower than in the production of goods (so the advantages of commodification are less obvious), and the gains from the division of labor are less: the advantage of a delivered meal compared with a home-cooked one is not as clear as the advantage of buying mass-produced shoes compared with making them at home.

The commodification of our economy is easy to get sucked into.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Capitalism Alone (1)

I have just read a book by Branko Milanovic (2019) called Capitalism Alone. I found most of the book rather uninteresting, but towards the end of the book was a chapter that really shifted my thinking. It contains some ideas about what is happening in our modern society that should be disturbing followers of Jesus. These changes are not good, but they are real, and most of us are part of them. If we do not understand what is happening and develop serious alternatives, we could be in serious trouble.

According to Milanovic, the whole of life is being commercialised. There are two sides to the commercialisation of our economy and society: Atomization and Commodification. I will give explanations of these two big words in the next couple of posts.

Milanovic defines atomisation in the following way. It is a situation where individuals become the most important component of society, at the expense of other groupings.

Atomization refers to the fact that families have largely lost their economic advantage as an increasing number of goods and services that used to be produced at home, outside the market and not subject to pecuniary exchange, can now be purchased or rented on the market. Activities like preparing food, cleaning, gardening, and taking care of babies and sick and elderly people were provided “free” at home in traditional societies and, until very recently, in modern societies (unless one was very rich). It was certainly one of the main reasons marriage existed at all. But with increasing wealth, we can purchase almost all of these services externally, and we have less and less of a need to share our lives with others. It is not an accident the richest societies today tend toward a family size of one (p. 185).

It is not necessarily because people in poorer countries love being together, but because they cannot afford to live alone. Living together “internalizes” these activities (cooking, cleaning, and so on) and also provides economies of scale in everything from cooking oil to electricity (that is, utilities and cooking expenses are lower for two people living together than for each of them living alone multiplied by two) But in rich societies, all of these activities can now be outsourced. Taken to a dystopian conclusion, the world would consist of individuals living and often working alone (other than for the period when they are taking care of children), who would have no permanent links or to other people and whose needs would all be supplied by markets, in the same way that most people today do not make their own shoes but buy them in a store. There is similarly no reason why anyone (except the very poorest) would have to wash their own dishes or prepare their own food.

Atomization (which, taken to the extreme, implies the end of the family).

Milanovic explains that this atomization has increased the legal intrusions into family life. Some of these are good and some are bad.
The reason why the family has been the unit that takes care of the old and the young, and exchanges goods and services among its members regardless of who is a net “winner” or “loser,” is because the rules existing within families are different from those holding outside (p.188).

Todays commercialized model lies at the other extreme. The external – world is allowed to break inside not only in the form of the delivery of dinners and cleaning services but also in the form of legal intrusion. These intrusions—such as prenuptial agreements, and the ability of the courts take away children and to control the behavior of spouses toward each other—while in many cases desirable developments (e.g., in preventing spousal abuse), further hollow out the internal tacit compact that held families together. This legal intrusion of society into family life is just another instance of outsourcing. The internal family “legal code” is simply outsourced to society at large, the same way that cooking a meal is outsourced the nearby restaurant. Both types of outsourcing cannot but raise the ultimate question: What is the advantage of family or of cohabitation in a rich, commercialized world where every service can be purchased?

If we are honest, we will realise that we have all participated in this process of atomisation. If we are going to resist the trend, then we need an alternative model for society that is based on loving one another and serving each other.

This atomisation of an economy has three stages. It ends with everything that takes place in the home being commercialised.

One can identify three historical types of interactions between the private and public (economic) spheres. The first is the precapitalist one, where production is carried out within the household. This “household mode of production” was long characteristic of China, all the way into the nineteenth century, when western Europe had already moved to the much more prevalent use of wage labor that defines the second historical type. This second type involves the use of wage labor outside the home (that is, not the putting-out system in which people do piece labor for others inside their own home). It is part of a typical capitalist mode of production with a sharp distinction between the production and family spheres—a distinction that Weber thought was absolutely fundamental for capitalism. Finally, the new hypercommercialized again unifies production and family but does so by folding the household into the capitalist mode of production. We can see this as a logical outcome in the development of capitalism, as capitalism moves to “conquer” new spheres and to commodify new goods and services. This stage also implies substantial improvements in the productivity of labor because only sufficiently wealthy societies can afford to fully commodify all of the personal relations that have traditionally been left out of the market.
As I read this, I couldn’t help wondering if working from home, which has become popular during the lockdown, is part of the third stage that he describes.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Knee to the Neck

When I saw the video of a police officer (state official) with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, choking him until he surrendered or died, I thought of American foreign policy, which is supported by both political parties and most US Christians.

  • The people of Venezuela voted for a socialist government, so an American knee was put on the neck of the nation, applying sanctions to strangle the economy until the people come to their senses and submit to the will of the United States.

  • The American knee has been on the neck of Cuba for half a century with economic sanctions designed to strangle the economy supported by covert interventions, because the Cubans threw out a corrupt American-supported dictator.

  • Official policy towards Iran is to press the knee on the neck of the nation and choke the life out of the Iranian economy with economic sanctions and military blockades until the people agree to do the will of the US president and elect a government that will submit to American demands.

  • The examples go on and on, including Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Somalia, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

Judging by the smug look on his face when announcing new sanctions, the US Secretary of State, who declares himself to be a Christian, seems to enjoy putting his knee on the neck of nations that will not submit to American power.

The racism that plagues the United States goes way beyond Blacks and Latinos. An unstated racism often undergirds US official foreign policy.

  • The sad thing is that many police officers had their racist tendencies reinforced while serving with the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • The ungrateful Iraqis elected a government that is too close to Iran, so the US will use military force and sanctions if necessary, until they come round to the right way of thinking.

  • The backward Afghans have a primitive culture, so they need US cultural advisors to bring them into the twentieth century, using M16s if necessary.

  • Hatred of the Chinse people is becoming the official policy of the US mainstream news media. The Christian prophets have taken up the cry and are declaring that the devious and nasty Chinese will have to put them back in their place by the US.

The American practice of imposing economic sanctions and applying military and covert force to the neck of nations that refuse to comply with the American will has the support of both political parties and is a vote-winning policy. I wish that the Christians who are standing against police brutality and racism understood their government's official policies of using economic and military force to choke the economic life of peoples overseas that do not bend to their authority.

I wish that Christians who declare that burning buildings and destroying utilities that people need for life is a terrible waste would understand that using bombs to destroy buildings and utilities was American government policy in Raqqa, Mosul and Baghdad.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

War and Violence and Power

When I see traumatic events on the television news, I try to look behind the event to identify the spiritual powers are at work. I am not just interested in the spirits that are harassing the people involved, but try to understand how they are manipulated by the government-spirits that control the city or nation where the events are occurring.

When I watched the clip of the police officers inflicting death of George Floyd, I was struck that there was no anger or fear, just a calm use of brute force and power. I saw the spirit of violence and power at work.

The riots in Minneapolis show the same spirits at work. This is more than just racism, and its consequences. People who dominated and aggrieved at their treatment have been stirred up by the spirit of war and power and violence to wreak destruction against those they feel are holding them down.

This is not surprising, because the United States has been dominated by spirits of war and violence and power from its inception, partly because it was birthed out of war. Whereas other British colonies, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, easily negotiated their independence from Britain, the Americans could not wait, and went to war with Britain to gain independence. This gave the spirit of war and violence and power a place to stand in the new nation.

This is what always happens in America when people have a problem that makes them uncertain and afraid. The spirit of war and violence and power ensure that the first response to get out the guns and go to war. There are numerous examples.

Most western countries abolished slavery using legal methods, but in the United States, it had to be done by war at a cost of half a million lives.

When planes hit the Twin Towers in New York, the nation’s first response was to go to war. The spirit of war and violence and power led President George W Bush into a “forever war” with Afghanistan and a destructive war in Iraq, despite the lack of connection with the event that shocked the nation.

The spirit of war and violence and power manipulated President Obama in the same way. When problems arose in Libya, he rolled out his cruise missiles and wrecked a nation that was previously prosperous.

The emergence of China as an economic superpower has led to calls for a war against China. This is a natural response for a nation controlled by a spirit of war, violence and power.

Even when dealing with a virus like Covid19, the best way to unite the people into action has been to declare that it is a war against the heart of the nation.

When President Trump made his response to the Minneapolis riots, by tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, this is what you would expect in a country controlled by a spirit of war and violence and power.

On Memorial Day, facebook showed displayed pictures of massive cemeteries with thousands of white crosses in neat rows. I see them and think about the lives wasted on pointless wars. I think about the young Christian men whose inheritance and legacy was cut off. I think about God’s purposes for their descendants that cannot be fulfilled.

In contrast, Americans look at these pictures and declare it to be something good and noble. They talk about the experiences of their parents and grandparents to makes themselves part of the story. Unfortunately, this gives a place to the spirit of war and violence and power.
A nation that honours the spirit of war and violence and war on Monday should not be surprised that the same spirit breaks out in looting and violence and destruction on Thursday.

I fear for the future of America. Its economic dominance of the world economy is waning, but its military power is as strong as ever. History shows that empires are at their most dangerous when their power is declining. Throw in a spirit of war and violence and power, and a strong military, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Real Gathering

Today in my bible reading I came to Ezekiel 34. I was struck that God’s main gripe against the shepherds of Israel was that they had “allowed the sheep to be scattered”. God was upset about his sheep being scattered, because it allowed the wild animals to attack them. They were picking the scattered sheep off one-by-one.

When Jesus called the disciples,

they came to him.
that they might be with him (Mark 3:13-14).
When the Holy Spirit fell on the early church,
they were all together in one place (Acts 2:1).
When thousands came to faith,
All the believers were together (Acts 2:44).
The emphasis was on being together.

Somewhere along the line, this has all changed. For the modern church, it is acceptable for the flock to be scattered all over a city, provided they are together for a couple of hours on Sunday, and perhaps an hour on Wednesday night.

The problem is that the flock is scattered for the other 6 days and 20 hours of the week, so the spiritual powers of evil can pick them off one-by-one. I presume that God is still upset when he sees his sheep scattered and vulnerable to attack.

Pastors in New Zealand are currently delighted that due to the easing of lockdown restrictions, they can now bring 100 of their scattered sheep together for a two-hour meeting on Sunday, but I am not sure if God is quite so excited, if the sheep still remain scattered and vulnerable during the rest of the week. I suspect that he wants a lot more for his people.

The answer appears in Ezekiel 37, a passage that many pastors will refer to on Pentecost Sunday, because it speaks about the Holy Spirit falling on scattered bones. However, something important is usually missed. The first thing that Ezekiel prophesied was that the bones would come together.

There was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them (Ex 37:7-8).
This was not just a casual meeting; it was a proper joining together with tendons and skin (as prescribed in Eph 4:16).

When the bones were joined together in a proper body, Ezekiel prophesied again, and the Holy Spirit came down and the body rose to new life. Scattered sheep cannot experience the fulness of the Spirit. Joining together is essential for receiving his fullness, and protection from the attacks of the enemy.

See Circuit Breaker.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Pauline Dogmatics (4) Story

In his fourth chapter Pauline Dogmatics, Douglas Campbell talks about how to testify to Jesus in a clear way.

Jesus arrives in our story somewhat unexpectedly. He is a revelation, and we learn about him by way of revelation. He is a gift. So he simply arrives, suddenly, unannounced. He is a surprise. Before the arrival of God in person in Jesus, we did not possess this truth about the universe in all its fullness, and so we could not tell our story properly. It was his arrival that told us where our story needed to go.

If we want to tell a true story about Jesus, whose truth has been revealed to us, then we need to begin with Jesus. We have to begin our story in the middle. I don’t see any other alternatives. Jesus is the truth. We must therefore begin with his arrival as a fact and with our initial response this arrival in confession and adoration, which is why this book began where it did, with the truth that is Jesus. The story about Jesus must begin with Jesus having already arrived.

This is really a really important point. To understand the problem that Jesus resolved, we must look at what he did and what he achieved. If we come to Jesus assuming that we already understand the human problem, we will get it wrong.

If we read Gen 1-3, without Jesus’ revelation, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the human problem is mostly a problem with God and that we need to appease his anger with us, but that is misleading. When I read Ephesians and Colossians, I find that human have a far greater problem with the spiritual powers of evil.

When you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him (Col 2:3-15).
He made us alive. He destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil and paid the ransom that they demanded for our freedom. There is nothing here about us needing to appease God first.

Douglas Campbell also deals with the history question.

The resurrected Jesus was still present within our human experience in some way, appearing, for a time, to these figures of and blood. In short, these events are said here to have been real. They really took place. And since they took place in the past, they were history in the broad sense of that word, which raises an additional truth question for us.

Such events leave marks that creatures of flesh and blood both produce and process. But we evaluate lingering evidence from the past as confessing Jews and Christians, rooted in the truth that God was fully present in Jesus and that Jesus is related, inseparably, to his Father and Spirit. And this location creates a presumption about reality—about the very nature of history. From this location, we do not expect past events to be limited to what we see and hear and touch, or to the material and textual remainders of those events. The past as people have lived experienced it is not all that is. God can work there, and we believe he did work there. In fact, God made the entire situation in the first place. So we should not evaluate the past the way that many modern historians do, when they bring a different, fundamentally secular account of broader reality to bear on it, and go on to pronounce certain things possible or impossible (such judgments are often not, strictly speaking, historical at all, but are philosophical and even religious claims; they are claims built on various foundational projects.)

But we do nevertheless expect any material and textual remainders to attest to the truths of the gospel insofar as those intersected with the lived experiences of those who see, hear, feel, and touch. So the question still arises whether this attestation exists, as we expect it to. As God enters our situation, one of the results his graceful condescension is a vulnerability to this sort of procedure. As God enters history, however gently, we expect an impact on history, however slight.

Campbell says that from the evidence in Paul, we can confirm that these events did in indeed take place.

I really like this approach. I read a lot of history, but I am struck that historians often struggle to agree on what happened as recently as a hundred years ago. They can tell us about what happened in the past, but given the lack of certainty their method produces, it is foolish to say that the resurrection did not occur due to failure to comply with their standards. Jesus is confirming his resurrection every day.

For those who want to more, Douglas Campbell has been going through his book online, chapter by chapter, during the shutdown. This series makes the message of the book really clear. The talks are listed under the heading "Lectures" at this link.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Pauline Dogmatics (3) God of Love

The heart of Paul’s gospel is love. That seems obvious, but Douglas Campbell explains the enormity of what this means in his third chapter.

At the heart of the universe is a play of love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

The nature of God is revealed definitively by the death of the Son on the cross for us at the behest of the Father and the Spirit. There the Father has offered up his beloved only Son to die for us, doing so, moreover, while we, the objects of this costly mission, were rebellious and hostile. Before any response had been offered, then, the Father undertook this ultimately costly act for us, which the Son obediently carried out. And this proves that the Father’s love for us is utterly fundamental to his character, and limitless, as is the Son’s and their Spirit’s. This God will stop at nothing order to reach us and to heal us. God undertook this supremely painful action—the Father’s sacrifice of Son—to save a snarling and ungrateful humanity. Astonishing!

Paul is well aware that this divine dimension is nothing short of mind-blowing. So he even prays at one time that we will be granted the capacity to begin to grasp it with the help of the Spirit. Without this revelation, effected by God, we lack the ability to understand the enormity and power of the divine compassion.

The way that God relates to us is mindboggling too.
The definitive encounter between God and humanity now takes place completely on humanity’s terms. As a result, God does not overwhelm people. People are met where they are, as human beings, by someone who is like them, who bears their very nature. And this act respects humanity. There is now no coercion in the relationship, whether physical or metaphysical. We are not overawed; we are not struck; we are not pushed or pulled around by an overtly superior being. God respects our humanity, including our free responsiveness, profoundly by meeting us an equal, which necessitates an incomprehensible lowering on God’s part. And yet this mode of humble engagement makes perfect sense. God is a God of relating and a God of love. And a God of love would relate to us in the most gentle and noncoercive way possible. Loving relating is gentle, not coercive, and it entails equal relating.
This explains how God reaches out to people who have not received a revelation of his love.
It follows from this remarkable insight into the nature of God that of course God the Father, the risen Jesus, and the Holy Spirit would delight in continuing to reach people through other people, gently and noncoercively, on their terms, walking alongside them, through other people.

Our God loves to relate through people. This is how a loving God operates.

When I thought about my coming to faith, I assumed that it was just me and God, perhaps because he had elected me. In hindsight that is fairly arrogant. Thinking more about these quotes, I realise that it was the prayers of my mother, the prayers of my wife who had chosen to marry a Christian man who turned out to be an atheist, and the prayer, faith and witness of our Christian friend, which allowed the Holy Spirit to break into my life, when I was looking the other way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pauline Dogmatics (2) Truth Claims

In the second chapter of Pauline Dogmatics, Douglas Campbell explains how we can be confident that God’s revelation to us in Jesus is true. I found his approach incredibly helpful, because it clarified something that I have always realised, but could not articulate clearly.

Now we have just spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the fact that the basic truth criterion for the church is the lordship of Jesus, which is to say, the God whom Jesus embodies with complete fullness. And I have emphasized that we know this about Jesus because it has been revealed by the Lord to those who follow Jesus. So this truth claim is active and essentially reveals itself. God in person present with us is the truth, which is our central truth criterion as well.

Everything else now needs to be measured against this truth criterion, and it is clearly an extraordinary one. The center of all truth is a crucified Jew who was resurrected on the third day; and all God-talk; and really everything else besides, has to be measured against it, which is really to say, brought in subjection to it. And we know this truth because this God has revealed it to us—that God is present most directly in this person and in events and activities associated with his life. Hence our truth criterion is alive and active on its own behalf!

However, people who are not responding overtly to the disclosures of God in these terms understandably reject this criterion as the ultimate measure of truth.

These people want to measure by truth by a different criterion and encourage us to do the same. It is here that the gambit is offered and it must be firmly rejected.
If we do this—if we accept this request and, in effect, start playing this game—then we place another truth criterion over the top of God to judge God, who is our truth. Hence this move turns out to be a denial that God is the ultimate truth. God is merely a truth and no longer the supreme truth, which is to say, the truth. We have thereby abandoned our initial position that God is our truth criterion and by doing so, we are really saying that God is not God. God isn’t synonymous with the truth, because there is another truth there that is bigger and better God, which really doesn’t seem like a good idea, once we think about it. God is not the truth?

We have stepped back from God’s gracious personal involvement as the truth in our own situation and have accepted the idea that an alternative approach to the truth should be superior to it...

God’s mode of dispensing truth has thereby been demoted to second place—which, as we have just seen, denies what it is entirely—and we have turned to some other mode of our own invention.

A more technical name for the procedure whereby we elevate our own truth criteria over the truth that is God, ultimately to judge God’s truth or falsity, is “foundationalism,” which denotes here our provision of a different foundation for truth from one that God has laid for us in Jesus, and hence a structure that we ultimately build for ourselves.

Any such philosophical attempt to construct a perfect foundation for thought and knowledge is indeed a form of foundationialism. In the light of the revelation of the Trinity, however, we can see that this exercise in human hubris exists in many more forms than philosophical foundationalism alone, and each of these needs to be identified and resisted.

To build a foundation for the truth ourselves is to reject the truth and to build our own version of the truth, which we then make the judge of all truth, and so the lord of truth, at which moment in effect we bow down before it and proclaim it as our new lord. So epistemological foundationalism, however sophisticated, is, at bottom, nothing more than another golden calf.

And we don’t need to do any of this. We are Christians, located by the work of God within the central truth that explains all of reality. We are in the truth already.

My experience reflects the reality that Douglas Campbell is describing. When I began studying philosophy at University in the early 1970s, I discovered that my Christianity was just a habit, and decided to become an atheist. However, after a while, I discovered this was a lonely position, as life was without meaning and purpose. I was just another animal that would live and die on earth. Because I could not bear to be an atheist, I decided that God must exist. I kind of created a god in my own image, because I decided what he would be like.

At this time my wife and I were invited to a Bible Study led by a young woman who was a friend of a friend. My wife wanted new friends, because we were living in a new city, and I liked arguing, so we agreed to go. When I got into arguments with this young woman leading the group, she would fall back on the bible, and quote what it said.

One day I was skimming through the Bible look for new arguments to use against her, when my eyes lighted on Isaiah 40:12-14, especially verse 14.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD,
or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
God struck me hard between the eyes. I had been telling God who he could be, but he showed me how ridiculous it was for a human to tell his creator what he was like and how he could behave. I was blown away, and told God that I would accept who he showed himself to be, and that I would follow him.

I knew that this is a new kind of knowing, different from what I thought I knew. I realised that it was a revelation from God. It began as a revelation of the truth of the scriptures (as per Barth) and developed into a revelation that Jesus is a complete and perfect revelation of God (as per Campbell).

This revelation as a different kind of knowing. I realised that I was absolutely certain about that revelation. I also realised that I had this confidence, because the Holy Spirit was witnessing to the truth and giving me a certainty, that I could not have generated on my own.

Later when I started at theological college, my friends were all reading Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, which was popular back then, looking for evidence for their faith. I found his material interesting, but slightly irrelevant. I knew that my faith in Jesus was a revelation from God that had been confirmed by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Any other justification for my faith seemed weak by comparison.

I realise now that looking for this kind of evidence was bowing to a different criterion for assessing truth. I had chosen to stick with a superior criterion for truth which is God who is himself the truth.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Pauline Dogmatics (1)

I really enjoyed reading the first four chapters of Pauline Dogmatics by Douglas Campbell that came in the free Kindle sample that I downloaded. They were really helpful. These days most Kindle sample of books from Christian authors are full of recommendations from people whose opinion I do not really care about. So, I get to the end of the sample before I am out of the preface, which is frustrating. Pauline Dogmatics is quite different, because I got four complete chapters, and no recommendations. Well done Eerdmans.

The chapters that I have read are very accessible and quite easy to read. The footnotes are hidden at the end of the chapter.

The first chapter asks the question: “How do we know what God is like.” This is the most important question anyone can ask, as the answer changes the nature of life. Paul’s answer is that we know what God is like through his revelation in Jesus.

It is clear that Jesus will reveal God definitively and decisively as God. He is God—a momentous assertion! So to look at Jesus and to see what he is like is to look at God and to see what he is like.

There is a gap here that we just can’t bridge unless God Has graciously bridged it from His side of the divide and become one of us and lived among us. What a gift!

God is definitively known only in Jesus. This is where God is present with us fully, and nowhere else—not in a book, a tradition, a piece of land, a building, or even in a particular people (unless, that is, he has taken up residence in one of them fully). We worship and pray to none of these things; we worship and pray to Jesus because Jesus is God, and so we know God fully and completely only as we know Jesus.

I labor this point a little because it is so central, so simple, so quickly introduced and understood, and so easily and rapidly abandoned (note Gal 1:6). We must affirm the insight that Jesus is Lord, along with all its entailments, and protect it, viligantly resisting all other candidates for this status. (People, and especially Christians, seem to love to avoid, to marginalize, and to obscure God’s gift of God’s very being to us in Jesus for all sorts of odd reasons).

Accurate God-talk is Jesus-talk. And God-talk that is not in some very direct sense Jesus-talk is probably not God-talk. Jesus is the key piece of information concerning God, in the light of which all other God-talk must be evaluated, which includes everything in this book and everything that Paul wrote.

Paul attributes the cause of the conviction about the lordship of Jesus to the call of God the Father and the activity of the divine Spirit, and here we see a third divine actor taking the stage in addition to the Father and the Son.

Paul has made some dramatic claims concerning divine activity. Spurning the contributions of the intellectuals and academics of his day, he has attributed certain important events within visible history—here the conversion of the Corinthians—to the hidden workings of God. They learned about God, he says, because God somehow spoke to them, and in so doing they became convinced of God’s presence in Jesus.

This describes my experience when I became a Christian. When I gained a revelation of Jesus, everything changed. I could not look at the world without seeing God’s handiwork. I could not think about the way the world functions without seeing God at work.
God is at work revealing his nature and purpose, and that this nature and purpose are so definitively revealed in the figure of Jesus that we must acknowledge the truth that this crucified figure was and is God and hence God in person, although, as we have just seen, Paul spoke in biblical language here of Jesus as Lord. This truth then lies at the heart of everything else because God lies at the heart of everything else, and we now know just what God is like. And we know this truth about God because it has been revealed to us by God. The truth has revealed the truth.

With God’s shockingly unexpected identity revealed to us in Jesus, we see that we have no accurate notion of God in ourselves with which to measure a claim about God and God’s nature and thereby to determine whether it speaks of God. God is foreign to our limited creaturely and sinfully distorted nature.

To affirm a revelation of the truth that Jesus is Lord as a revelation of God to us is consequently and necessarily to affirm a threefold activity by God in three different places: the Father sending Jesus into the world (i.e., sending him here from some other place); Jesus being sent the world, specifically to Galilee and Samaria and Judea; and the Spirit revealing this to us wherever are.

And we have learned that Jesus is God the only way we could—because God has told us that.

The chapter on knowing the truth really explained my experience clearly. I will summarise it in my next post.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Bullying Beast

In a recent series of posts, I gave ten reasons why the United States might be the Beast of Revelation. The Beast is a bully.

While fighting the coronavirus, the United States has continued with bullying other nations.

  • Sending battleship into the Barents Sea (Russia’s Gulf of Mexico)
  • Imposing additional sanctions on Syria.
  • Gathering warships of the coast of Venezuela.
  • Sailing aircraft carriers close to the coast of China. Sending B-1B Bombers towards China.
  • Berating countries that used Cuban doctors.
  • Threatening to attack Iran.
  • Vetoing a UN resolution to end conflict everywhere in the world while the coronavirus is a problem.
A Beast cannot help bullying, even when more urgent tasks are at hand. The cap seems to fit.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Faction Stuggles

Christians assume that the spiritual powers of evil are united in opposing God’s purposes. If Jesus cannot get unity in the church, there is no way that the powers of evil will be united, given that they are deceptive, vicious and rebellious. There are factions amongst the spiritual powers struggling for control of the forces of evil.

Satan gained the critical victory over Adam and Eve, so he was on top for a while., but was not tough enough, so Death and Destruction took over. However, they overstretched, and Noah’s flood was an enormous defeat for them. This allow the Beast to gain control, which resulted in the Babel empire.

The giving of the law strengthened the status of Satan again, because increased his ability to accuse, allowing him to grab the top position for a few hundred years. Once Israel went in exile, he lost ground and the Beast was able to gain control, by using the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome.

Jesus’ resistance of temptation was a major defeat for Satan. He would have been mocked by the other spiritual power for being defeated.
When Rome collapsed, the Beast lost his power and would be mocked by other big spirits looking to take the top place. However, he rose to power again with the emergence of new empires, beginning with Napoleon, the British, German and American empires.

The next big change occur when the Destroyer is released from the Abyss where he has been trapped since the flood (Rev 9:1-12).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Certainty??

A businessman seeking government support for dealing with the coronavirus made the following statement on television.

We just want certainty!!
I suspect that he does not understand the basic reality that faces all businesses, in fact the whole of life, and that is uncertainty. All businesses face uncertainty all of the time.

When a new business starts, its success is uncertain. Even if it has a really good product, the behaviour of consumers is uncertain. They might choose to stick with their existing suppliers, even if their products or service is not as good. Competitors might undercut the new businesses with a cheaper price. There are dozens of other things that could go wrong. Even if the manager/owner has planned for all possible eventualities, things could happen that they have not planned for.

Existing businesses also face uncertainty. Even if a business had a good year last year, there is no guarantee that it will be successful in the next year. Customers might switch to different suppliers with different products. Competitors might find a source for a product that is cheaper and better. Other unforeseen events could cause problems for the business.

A business owner or manager that expects certainty is dreaming. Successful businesses are those that can adapt and respond to uncertainty. Profit is a reward for dealing with the uncertainties of life effectively.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Prepared

God is exposing the churches lack of preparedness for operating through a crisis. The 8-week shutdown for the coronavirus has been a fairly trivial crisis, but the church has become ineffective because its people are so scattered that they can only relate to their neighbours one-on-one.

The lockdown was a time of opportunity when many people were shaken and fearful, and some were feeling the pain of losing their jobs, but most Christians did not know their neighbours well enough to share openly with them. And their neighbours could not see the body of Jesus functioning, because that only happens when the church meets on Sunday.

Our problem in the West is that we have lived through seventy years of relative peace and prosperity. The modern church operating model functions quite well in that situation.

Many church leaders assume that we will soon go back to peace and prosperity, so their way of doing church will continue to be viable. Unfortunately, that might be a false hope.

Over the last fifty years, there has been a massive decline of faith in the western world. Things still seem to be OK on the surface, but as God has been squeezed out, the spiritual powers of evil have been inadvertently allowed in. They are getting greater freedom and ability to work evil in this part of the world, so they are unlikely to stop.

I believe that they were behind the GFC and the coronavirus, and have noticed how effective these were for hurting people and disrupting society. These were not by any means their best efforts, so I expect that if there is a return to “peace and security”, it will not last long, because the spiritual powers of evil will have another crack at destruction and harm. So, assuming that when we are through this crisis, everything will go back to normal is probably a mistake.

Persisting with a church model that is only viable during “peace and plenty” seems to be rather na├»ve. No serious business would develop a product that can only function under perfect conditions. Rather they develop products that can continue to operate under a variety of adverse conditions.

Christian leaders should be thinking in the same way. Many years ago, when I was the leader of a church, someone asked me what would happen to the church I led if the pastor was arrested and the church doors were locked by the political powers. That did not seem very likely then, but it has happened in many places around the world. That set me thinking. Was I serving the people that I was paid to lead well, if I was not preparing the church to operate effectively through all possible eventualities?

All pastors and church leaders should be asking the following questions:

  • Could my church function through a serious epidemic (we have not had one yet)?
  • Could my church function through a serious economic depression (we have not had one since the 1930s)?
  • Could my church continue to operate effectively through serious state persecution with being arrested and church buildings being locked?
  • Could my church function effectively through a period of social and civil breakdown, or a serious collapse of law and order?
If they cannot answer these questions honestly with a “yes,” they should think seriously about what they are doing and if they are preparing their people for the future.

The first disciples who were trained by Jesus were able to operate effectively through periods of persecution and social disruption. Maybe we should look more carefully at the church model that worked so effectively for them (More here Church and Ministry).

The latest crisis has demonstrated that our way of doing church can be disrupted by something as simple as having to stay at home. I presume that a really serious crisis would cause terrible difficulties. I suspect that the future will bring economic, political and social disruption. Therefore, it is more sensible to prepare for the worst, and be pleasantly surprised, than to “hope for the best” and be caught short.

God’s people should prepare for disaster, but be equipped for victory.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Entertainment Industry??

Clergy in New Zealand are complaining because movie theatres are allowed to operate under Covid19 restrictions, while churches have been kept shut by the government. I am puzzled why they are comparing what they do with movie theatres, as it implies that they see themselves as providing entertainment that people turn up to observe.

When the Prime Minister announced the situation, she said that church “meet for fellowship”. She did not spell it out, but that means personal contact:

  • Listening intently to someone who is struggling
  • Hugging someone who is hurting.
  • Talking to people who need encouragement
  • Sharing a word of knowledge with someone.
  • Praying for someone who is sad.
  • Laying hands on someone who is sick.
  • Casting out demons.
  • Giving to someone who is in need.
This kind of fellowship cannot really take place with two metres separation under social distancing rules. Gathering large groups of people together while remaining socially separated is only sensible if the people are just listening to a pastor preach and praying or a music group worshipping.

Jesus said that people would know his disciples by the way that they love one another. He seemed to have more in mind than passive listening at a distance from other people (see One Another Stuff).

According to our TV news last Sunday, a church in New Zealand gathered with people sitting in their cars in the car park, with security staff checking that they stay in their cars. They watched a big screen with worship leaders singing and the pastor preaching. If that is what some Christians need to do to keep them strong in their faith, that is fine with me, but I wonder what impression people watching the news get. People watching stuff on a big screen gives a false idea of what it means to follow Jesus and belong to his body.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Crisis Budget

Modern governments offer a full-service salvation. They have to commit to doing more than previous governments in order to get elected. All political parties have played this game, and it has gained resonance as faith in God has declined. Consequently, governments are now expected to solve every human problem, including supporting businesses when they face a crisis, and providing work of people who have lost their jobs.

The problem is that there are significant limits on what governments can do. They cannot create real jobs. In the 1970s, the NZ government tried to deal with unemployment by making the Post Office and the Railways to take on extra staff, but this resulted in bloated inefficient organisations with more staff than they could use.

Governments have the power to make people do things that they do not want to do, but that is not much help in an economic crisis. They can take money from some people and give it to others, but that is not very helpful either. Governments can set interest rates low, so it is easy for businesses to borrow, but during a crisis, additional debt is not usually the solution. The other thing governments can do is borrow money without limits, and spend it.

Given these limits, I was interested to see how the current NZ government would respond to the coronavirus crisis when it presented its annual budget last week. A budget is a presentation of the government’s plans expressed in financial terms. And there is a huge expectation that the government will deal with every problem that worries people. (I was going to say that the expectation is unfair, but the politicians have encouraged it, so it probably is fair).

The problem is that politicians are ordinary people just like you and I. Some are really clever, while others are plodders who got where they are by being in the right place. They are skilled in managing the political process and communicating it (not an easy task) but they are not skilled in solving economic problems. And they always protect their power, because they know that when it is lost, it is almost impossible to recover it. So they have to pretend that they know what they are doing even if when they don't.

Unfortunately, politicians do not have the wisdom of God. They don’t have the wisdom needed to solve all the economic problems the economy currently faces. I feel sorry for them because they do not have the wisdom and knowledge to do everything they have promised to do, especially during a crisis.

The Minister of Finance is a career politician. Politics is what he has always done, so he is not an expert on economics or crisis solving. He got the role because it is a powerful position and he missed out on the roles that would normally fall to the deputy leader of the winning party, due to coalition compromises.

Government leaders can get economic advice, from the government bureaucracy that has been put in place to support them. Unfortunately, the people who work in these departments are just ordinary people, too. Some are very clever, but many are mediocre. Most want to do what is right, but they also care about promotion and advancing their career.

Commentators who probably know have said that the skill level in the departments that are responsible for the economy has declined in recent years. The is probably true. Once people in the public service used to stay in one area for many years and become experts in their field. That rarely happens these days. People work in an area until they are competent and then rotate to another area of work. They find that this is the best way to get promoted, but it means that there are very few highly skilled experts left in the core government departments.

The reality is that the government and their economic advisors do not know how to resolve the current economic crisis. There is no textbook they can look up, or expert they can call, to find out how to do it. The truth is that no one knows what to do in a crisis like this one, so governments tend to revert to doing what they have always done.

They can look at crises in the past to see what was done then, but they were different, and many of the government plans to resolve them were not that successful. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some government actions made the situation worse, and it took a war to get things going, so that is not a helpful example. During the Global Financial Crisis, governments around the world spent billions trying to resolve the problem, but the recovery was weak and sluggish and many of the causes are still causing problems. In each case, the politicians claim that the situation would have been worse, if they had not acted, but there is no way of knowing if this is true.

As I expected, the budget turned out to be the best efforts of a government committed to full-service salvation, but without a clear understanding of what to do. They do not know how to resolve the current economic crisis, so they chose to do what governments have always done: borrow billions and spend it on various projects they hope might work. When the money is all gone, I suspect that we will look back and wonder where it all went.

The restoration of the economy will actually come through creative and innovative people identifying new opportunities and creating new businesses to meet the opportunities they perceive. It will be assisted by existing businesses identifying openings or gaps in the market, and expanding to meet needs that people have. How quickly that can do that will depend on how smart and innovative the people of the nation are. Rather than expecting governments to rescue us, the people of the nation should be looking to lead the recovery themselves. Time will tell if we are up to it.

Expecting a godlike government to deliver us from all our troubles is a mistake.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Prices and Value

Writing about actions to control the spread of the coronavirus, a lawyer recently wrote, “Value counts more than price during an emergency”. He then misquoted Oscar Wilde. What Wilde actually said was, “A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

From an economic point of view neither statement makes sense. The problem is that value is a subjective thing. We all put different values on different things and experiences. An absolute standard of value does not exist, except in the mind of God. He is omniscient, so he can assess the goodness of everything.

Humans are left with their subjective valuations. You might place a high value on rock music, whereas I might think that classical music is more valuable. There is no way of comparing the strength of the valuations of different people, and no way of aggregating the valuations of different people.

We could get large groups of people together and debate the value of things, but that would not get us anywhere.

It is not perfect, but in this situation, price is often the best indication of value that we can get. If a rock album sells in reasonable numbers for $10.00, that indicates that a significant number of people value the record more than they value other things they could get with $10.00. On the other hand, the people selling the album are willing to take that price, because they value the album less than what they could buy with $10.00. This implies that $10.00 is not a bad estimate of the value of the album.

Of course, there will be exceptions to this. If no one actually buys the album at the price, that would suggest that most people consider its value to be less than $10.00. The producer would have to shut sales of the album down because it over-estimated its value. If only rich people are willing to pay $10.00 for the album, then this price is a poor estimate of the value of the product.

However, in most situations, where a product is buying and selling in a relatively free market, the price is a reasonable indicator of the value that a large number of people assign to it.

When making decisions about what to do, prices are useful information, which should be included in the decision-making process. They are not perfect, but they are indicative of value. Making a decision without taking costs and prices into account is foolish, and will often lead to bad decisions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What is God like?

Some would say that he is a retributive judge, who cannot forgive unless the penalty for sin has been paid.

Others would say that he is kind, forgiving and merciful.

The first view is not even an Old Testament portrayal of. Ezekiel 18:24-32 tells a different story of God’s justice.

If a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust (Ezek 18:27-29)?
If the person turns from their wickedness, they will live. Their wickedness will no longer be held against them, but will be forgotten. The Israelites said that this was unjust, but God disagreed. He said they were unjust, so they did not understand God’s justice.

At the end of the prophet’s message, God makes his attitude clear.

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD (Ezek 18:31-32).
God does not want people to die for their sins. He wants to give them a new heart and a new spirit. He does not take pleasure in people being punished.

If we look at the life of Jesus, the answer to the question above is obvious. When he met ordinary, broken people he did not demand that they face retribution for their sins. He did not say that the had to pay the price of justice before he could forgive them and heal them.
When the leper to him asking for mercy, he reached and touched him. He then healed him (Mark 1:40-41). Jesus forgave the sin of the paralysed man who was lowered through the roof (Mark 2:5,11-12). He did not require him to meet the demands of justice first.

Imagine this end to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31).

While the lost son was still a long way off, his father saw him, and sent a servant to explain that he wanted to forgive him, but that he would have to repay the debt he owed before he could do so.
This does not have the same ring as the parable that Jesus told.

Imagine this ending to the parable.

While the lost son was still a long way off, his father saw him. He wanted to forgive him, but he couldn’t until the debt was paid. So, the father called the older son and demanded that he pay the debt that his brother owned. When the son had repaid the debt at considerable cost, the father welcomed the lost son that he had never stopped loving.
This does not make sense, but it is what many Christians preach.

Paul explained what God has done in his letter to the Romans.

All are put right freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24).
This redemption came freely by his grace.
He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time (Romans 3:25-26).
God chose to pass over sins committed beforehand. He was happy to forgive, because this demonstrated his righteousness.

Some preachers say that God demands propitiation for sin, ie his wrath has to be satisfied. That is not true. It is the spiritual powers of evil who had to be propitiated, because humans had let them grab authority over the earth from them.

I never had to propitiate my father, ie give him a gift to calm down his wrath. Everyone would agree that a son who had to propitiate the anger of his father with a gift had a terrible father.

The idea that God needs retribution for sin before he can forgive them is a distortion of his character. It is Satan who accused people and demands retribution against them. Jesus died to satisfy his demands for a ransom.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Voluntary Response

In my view, voluntary responses to epidemic diseases are better than government-imposed ones. People know what level of risk they are willing to bear. A one-size-fits-all approach does not make sense.

In the modern world there is a tendency to assume that coordinated action can only take place if it is ordered and enforced by the state. That is not true. People can make good decisions about what to do if they receive good information.

  • During an epidemic, elderly and sick people are the highest risk. They can easily choose to stay at home. Most have family or friends who can do shopping for them.

  • Elderly people living together in rest homes are extremely vulnerable. Managers of rest homes should be vigilant in keeping viruses out. Their clients and their families should be putting pressure on them to manage this risk effectively.

  • People can find out what their friends and family have been doing and work out if they are likely to have been in contact with the disease. They can happily meet with some people, but would choose to stay away from others, who carry a potential risk.

  • Flying on aeroplanes is risky because it means close contact with people who may have been in contact with the disease, but people understood this risk well. Before the government shutdown was put in place, the numbers of people flying had dropped significantly, as they decided that the risk was too great and stopped travelling. Much of the spread of coronavirus occurred when people flew back home to beat the government lockdown.

  • Managers of small and medium workplaces know their staff and can work out who is at risk of bringing the virus to work. They can organise for them to stay at home to protect their other staff.

  • Screening can be very effective in minimising risk. By asking their staff and customers a few simple questions, people who are at risk of spreading the disease in the workplace can be identified and isolated, or excluded.

  • When moving around, people can easily separate themselves from other people, if they think that there is a significant risk of community spread of the disease. If they are really concerned, people can wear masks and visors.

  • Large meetings with strangers attending are very high risk for infection spread. Even before the government enforced lockdown was put in place, large numbers of people had stopped attending big meetings. Organisers were becoming concerned at being responsible for the consequences.

  • Businesses are innovative. Takeaway shops and restaurants have found ways to serve people without being exposed to the risk of infection from other people. Other retailers and shopping malls can also develop strategies to keep their customers safe from risky contacts. The risk might be greater, but people can decide if they want to take the risk, if they are willing to accept the consequences.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

North Korea

I presume that the Pharisee who looked down on the tax collector at the temple would have prayed for him too. Of course, his prayer could not be answered, because, unfortunately, hypocrisy hampers prayer.

With the speculation about the health of Kim Jong-un, many American Christians were praying for his overthrow, and are praying for and prophesying the reunification of the two Koreas.

Unfortunately, reunification is unlikely to come until the United States repents of its policies and activities in Korea.

  • During the Korean War (1950-53), the United States imposed terrible destruction on North Korea. It dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theatre during World War II. This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry.

    The United States killed over 2 million people in a country that posed no threat to its security. By 1953, American pilots were returning to carriers and bases claiming there were no longer any significant targets in all of North Korea to bomb.

    In the spring of 1953, the Air Force targeted irrigation dams on the Yalu River, both to destroy the North Korean rice crop. Five reservoirs were hit, flooding thousands of acres of farmland, inundating whole towns and the laying waste to the essential food source for millions of North Koreans.

    Prior to the war, Korea was a single country. Agriculture was primarily in the south and industry was concentrated in the north. The war destroyed the industrial base, so the North was left without industry or agriculture, making it very poor.

    This destructive bombing of civilians in their home and destructions of agriculture had few military benefits. The motive seemed to vindictiveness, because the North Koreans had initially defeated the southern forces supported by the United States.

  • In 1907-1910, a powerful revival occurred in Korea. It started in Pyongyang, which is now the capital of North Korea. After months of persistent prayer, 50,000 people came to Jesus in one year and the entire country was set ablaze. By 1948, more than a fifth of the population of Korea was Christian.

    The number of inhabitants of Pyongyang killed by United States bomb splinters, burnt alive and suffocated by smoke is incalculable… Some 50,000 inhabitants remained in the city which before the war had a population of 500,000. During this bombing, thousands of Christians would have been killed. I suspect that American bombing killed more Christians in North Korea than the Kim dynasty has done throughout its history, so American claims to care about Korean Christians ring a little hollow.

  • Korea was divided by an agreement between Stalin and Roosevelt towards the end of World War 2. They agreed the boundary should be the 38th parallel, but the people of Korea had no say in their decisions. Their country was divided by a dispute they had no interest in, and they had no choice about which side they would end up on.

    The United States put Syngman Rhee in control over the south. He had lived most of his life in the United States, so he was loyal, but he turned out to be a nasty ruler. He recruited his security forces from people who had collaborated with the Japanese. Thousands of people who opposed him were arrested and killed. He ruled as a dictator with American support until protests before the 1988 Olympics in Seoul restored civil liberties and direct presidential elections in South Korea. So American claims that it works for democracy do not have much credibility for those who remember.

  • The United States has threatened to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. Each year, it holds exercises in which it practices invading the country, during the harvest. Christian pilots fly B-52 bombers that could be carrying nuclear weapons right up to the border, as if they were going to attack. Because the North Korean army has to mobilise to deal with the potential threats, it becomes difficult to bring in the harvest, so these exercises are a threat to food supplies, as well. Why would the people of North Korea welcome the gospel from people who think that this is Christian behaviour.

  • The United States keeps a massive army in South Korea, close to the border. They are backed up with aircraft with military weapons. These forces are not necessary for protecting South Korea, because the South Korean forces are far superior to those in the North.

    Americans assume their troops are in Korea to preserve the peace and that they are not a threat to the north. However, history says that is wrong. The United States has invaded North Korea in the past and tried to destroy it. There is no evidence that the United States has given up invading countries. So, the people of North Korea are right to be afraid of a United States invasion. They look out across the demilitarised zone and see a Christian empire that likes to invade smaller nations, and is willing to fabricate excuses to do so. They hear Christian politicians declaring that they want to invade Korea. So why would they trust the Christian gospel.

  • North Koreans look out and see Christian ships imposing an embargo and preventing imports of food into their country. Why would you trust the gospel of people who are trying to starve and impoverish your nation?

  • The president of South Korea is working hard to bring peace and reunification with North Korea, but often finds that Washington is standing in the way.

    The problem is that the United States does not really want the Koreas united. It wants an excuse to keep a large military contingent close to the border of China. This is hypocritical, given that the United States got antsy at the possibility of Russian missiles being installed in Cuba. Now, with Americans needing a bogeyman to fear, and the President stirring up hostility toward China, Washington will become even more reluctant to see peace break out.

American Christians will not have God’s authority behind their prayers for the re-unification of Korea until their nation repents and stops bullying North Korea. Bullying and aggression is not the solution to bullying and aggression.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Reset

Many people are saying that life will not be the same when we come out of the Coronavirus lockdown. They are saying that we will not go back to the way we were. They are looking for a new normal.

I am not sure that this hope will be fulfilled. I doubt that four weeks is long enough to change deeply ingrained habits. I am not sure that staying at home for 5-6 weeks will bring about deep change in our lives. When the lockdown finishes, I suspect that most of us will rush back to life as it was before we were shut at home.

My father grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. His father died just when the depression was taking hold. His mother struggled to feed and clothe her five children and keep the farm going through a serious drought and the depression years. She worked hard to earn sufficient income from selling livestock for pitiful prices that prevailed so she could keep paying the interest on the mortgage, at a time when farmers all around were failing and being sold up and left homeless by the banks.

That experience scarred my father and changed his life in a significant way. Throughout his life, he would never go into debt. He would not buy anything unless he had saved the cash to pay for. When he was a farmer, he would never borrow seasonal finance from a stock firm, even though it would have helped him develop to his farm quicker, because he had seen these firms taking over all of a farmer’s income to cover their debt, and giving the family an allowance of few pounds a month to live on. The children of these farmers often had no shoes to wear to school.

I suspect that this experience produced more fear than faith. His faith was a dogged determination not to be overcome by fear, which is not really the basis for launching into something new and bold. It was later in life when my father had an overpowering experience of the Holy Spirit that he became a man of faith with boldness to do new and radical things for God.

A really traumatic experience over a long period to time can really change a person. However, I am not sure that five weeks at home can bring about that kind of deep change.

The problem is that being shut up at home with nothing to do encourages passivity. When there is nothing to do, it is easy to get comfortable doing nothing. There is nothing to do but wait for the season to end. This passivity does not gear people up to go into action and do something new when the lockdown is complete.

Life will change dramatically for some people, but these will be forced changes, not chosen ones. Many of those who have lost their employment or had the business they own fail will have their lives turned upside down. But that is nothing new. People have always been losing their jobs. Businesses have always failed. Only a minority of new businesses get beyond five years. The difference in the next few months is that vastly more people will be losing their employment or experiencing the failure of their businesses.

They will do what people have always done when they experience these disasters. They will cut back hard on their spending and search for a new job. They are unlikely to rush out and do something new in their social or religious life because they will be focussed on trying to restore their income.

I believe that the greatest prompter of change is the Holy Spirit. Deep change in our communities and our societies is far more likely to come through his work, than through a few weeks of inconvenience while stuck in our homes.

I don’t know how much the Holy Spirit has been moving in people’s hearts while they have had free time at work away from home. I am sure that a few have been pressing in and hearing him speak in their lives. But if people are filling in their spare time with hours of Netflix, he may not have been able to speak and move as he would like. What happens after the lockdown depends on what the Holy has been able to do. During the rest of the year, we will see if he has been able to move in the lives of his people and stir them up for his new normal.

When Jesus wanted to bring radical change in Judea, he formed 70 disciples into pairs and apostled them (sent) out in the surrounding towns and villages (Luke 10:1-11). In the current situation, God will do a new thing through people with an apostolic calling. What happens in the future will depend on how much the Holy Spirit has been able to prepare people to be apostled into new things for Jesus.