In a world seemingly full of pain and suffering, if we believe in the existence of God we might well ask: ‘What possible good reasons would God have for permitting these evils?’

At the risk of explaining away the question – and a very large question at that – it is, I think, helpful to look at what we mean by our terms: specifically, what do we mean when say something is ‘good’?

The ancient Greeks, who are known as much for their deep thinking as their incredible abs (thanks, 300), had some ideas about this. They may have been around a long time ago but I think that they’re not so different from you or I.

One of these Greeks, a man by the name of Epicurus, concluded that what is good is that which is pleasurable. Essentially: if it feels good, it is good. We’re not a million miles from that today in our society. In this way of thinking, a good thing is an event or action that results in pleasure, whereas, correspondingly, a bad thing results in pain.

There is some truth to this. It is undeniable that many pleasurable things are good. A great night out with friends that leaves us feeling good can be truly good! In the opposite manner, incurring a broken arm when mountain biking is at the same time both painful and bad. But these examples don’t cover the whole picture.

So, zooming out a little with this question, we might ask, ‘Are there things that are good that aren’t pleasurable?’ On thinking about this it’s rather obvious that there are. For instance, there are selfless acts of bravery that risks life to save others. The parents, for example, who are badly injured after running back into their burning house to rescue their young child. We would all want, I think, to say that this is a good act, despite it being pretty low on the pleasure scale.

Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and one of the top philosophers of religion in the last 50 years, acknowledges that suggesting both the existence of God and the existence of pain and suffering, in a world made up only of pleasurable goods, would be a very big problem.

“My suffering would be pure loss for me if the only good thing in life was sensory pleasure, and the only bad thing sensory pain; and it is because the modern world tends to think in those terms that the problem of evil seems so acute. If these were the only good and bad things, the occurrence of suffering would indeed be a conclusive objection to the existence of God.”

Because there are some things that are good, which are not pleasurable, we can allow for the painful alongside the good without contradiction. The painful moment never, ever feels nicebut there can exist a deeper element to the moment, which is truly good.

In a me-centered culture, where my happiness is king, pain can be a terrible thing. When my felt-happiness is the most important thing for me then I will do all I can to avoid the discomfort.

Swinburne I think rightly observes that the ‘acute’ nature of pain can come as a shock to us. It’s a jolt that can awaken us to a reality that our self-centeredness has obscured. In this way, some pain is not without its (valuable) uses, as C. S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The political landscapes of two countries I love greatly are currently swaying like a suspension bridge in an earthquake. On my side of The Pond a referendum on membership to the European Union is to be held this coming Thursday. The implications of this vote are potentially huge.

Across the Atlantic and, 8 years on from then-Senator Obama’s first successful run to the White House, the Democrats and the Republicans see gaping fault lines within their own ranks as they summon the courage to unite under banners they just simply can’t all believe in.

The votes cast in June in the UK and in November in the US could be hugely divisive.

The rhetoric being deployed to promote particular campaigns is much the same across the board. On matters like the economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty we are told there are disastrous consequences if we go one way, and a terrible future if we go the other. We are informed that it is a bold move to vote [Out|In] or [Hilary|Trump] because [your choice] is the only way forward for our country. And Woe! to us if we vote [against your choice], for calamity is lurking at our doorsteps.

Searching for a Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Bible says it and we trot this out in at moments like this, to support a strategy and endorse an idea. We use this verse in our personal lives, when we feel that our our own outlook has stagnated and it’s time to refocus. We use this verse to help support the pastor’s strategy for the new direction of the church. And yes, we can use it when our national political viewpoint is contested.

And right now I think this verse is indeed apt, although not perhaps for assumed reasons based on first glances. This verse is not really talking about personal, church, or national strategies at all. It is talking about a revelation of God and His law to His people.

Interesting, this oft-quoted verse from Proverbs 29:18 is usually rendered in the King James vernacular (although we seldom use this version in our churches or personal study any more). The NIV says, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”, and the ESV puts it this way, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”

The verse is really a warning to heed God’s commands, to follow the vision of the Lord because, as the second part to the verse tells us, “blessed is he who keeps the law (ESV).” If the Bible is God’s primary revelation, then nations who turn from it do indeed “cast off restraint” and unrestrained by this life-giving governance they drift, at best uncertain, and at worse under misguided zeal leading to despair.

Our Political Decisions Should Serve Us; They’ll Never Save Us

I am alarmed by what I see in our countries right now. I am alarmed by the state of the discussion, the level of conversation, the tactics being employed to convince swathes of voters to lean one way or the other. I am concerned by the standard of debate, because it so rarely seems to approach a state even remotely close to being generously termed ‘debate’.

The Bible I believe does speak about politics and Christians should be keen to get involved. Our politics should serve our human flourishing, something Christians ought to be deeply concerned with. Our politicians serve as our leaders, individuals the Bible without qualification tells us to pray for. The economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty – not to mention the many other issues – concern people, concern the planet, concern a world that the Bible quite clearly demonstrates repeatedly that God cares for enormously.

Our politics are important because people are important, and people are important because God made them and made them in “His image”. We are immensely valuable, which means that the decisions that we make about our lives and our futures are indeed deeply important.

But politics won’t fix our broken world. A certain individual elected and given more power, or a certain decision reached over national governance, these won’t fix our world. Broken people voting for broken leaders with imperfect abilities and imperfect desires can’t bring us to the promised land.

The Bible tells us that the root problem in our world is not political, but moral. And that each person in this world is affected by the problem. Pardon me for sounding trite and overly-simplistic, but if as a nation we all got on our knees before God and repented for our individual selfishness and pride and pleaded for mercy would we not be more likely to be united?

If our individual hearts were more bent towards God’s would not our corporate gaze spot the injustices, the brokenness, the problems more quickly and act with greater compassion to heal them?

Democracy, moulded by Christian thinkers over centuries, seeks to restrict evil intentions and promote good; limit abuse and release healing. It acknowledges that the human heart is fickle and that humanity has a problem. It is not naive in thinking that all we need is a little more effort, a little more education, a little more this and that and we will see great happiness in our time. Nor is it pessimistic in thinking that people from all walks of life and from all beliefs can’t make a positive difference for us all.

Democracy is not a perfect system, but a system suited to a broken world. Democracy doesn’t change the core state of the world, but deals with the condition that we find ourselves in. Therefore democracy – or any other form of rule or government for that matter – will never heal our deepest wounds. The condition that affects us all is beyond our own ability to fix, and therefore all our efforts, of which our politics is a part, have no potency in the matter.

A Christian Vision for Politics

The issues before the voters in the UK and the United States this year are large. They are important and I believe we should get involved. How we do that and to what extent is probably a matter of conscience for each Christian.

As for me, I know I don’t pray enough for my leaders. I know I don’t know enough about the matters at stake. I know I’m not gracious enough in how I respond to different views.

So: pray more, learn more, and show more grace. That’s my personal Christian political vision going forwards.

Pray More

Prayer acknowledges that we have limits, that we don’t know everything, but that God does know everything.

Prayer puts me in closer relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who holds the master plan.

Prayer properly aligns my allegiances.

Prayer brings me to task over my shortcomings as I hold my life openly before God.

Learn More

We have a rational God who communicates to us rationally. Therefore Christians have affirmed the use of the mind for centuries (many great universities of the world serve as markers of rich historic Christian heritage).

We have a sure foundation for trusting our thinking, because we believe there is ultimately a rationality to this universe. We believe there are rational reasons to our existence – it’s not blind chance – and we can know them and communicate them.

This foundation supports our learning. Because we can know, we can learn. We have a firm base from which we love the Lord our God with all of our mind by increasing our knowledge and wisdom of the world and so bringing the mind of God to all matters around us.

Grow in Grace

If there’s one thing above others I ask for more of that my life might reflect more of God, it’s grace.

Extending deeper grace to others can only be supplied by my leaning on a deeper grace that I have received myself. To show more grace, I must rest on God’s grace more.

Too often I lean on my own perceived strengths and abilities, too proud to continue to acknowledge my unceasing need for grace.

To bend the knee before God to receive salvation by grace was a defeat to my proud soul. My old self is dead, yes. I have new life in Christ, but my soul does not always know this. I encounter acts of prideful rebellion that seek, with the passing of time, to justify that one act of humility by proving myself worthy.

My soul believes that Jesus death for me was deserved.

How utterly disgraceful. In grace we were saved, in grace we live our lives. By the power of Christ’ Spirit were we raised from death to life, and by the power of Christ’ Spirit we are to live this mortal life to His glory.

I need more grace, to give more grace. And more grace in how I deal with people is going to be more winsome and thus aid – nay, fuel – my goal to share my faith more than all my other designs and plans.

With grace and by grace Christians can enter the political fray, indeed any part of this created world, and demonstrate something of the nature and character of God who holds all the answers to all our problems.

Some of us are called to be politicians, some of us will campaign, some of us will pontificate on Facebook – all of us will give an account for our activities and will be asked whose kingdom we were building.

Reformation and Revival

The history of these two great nations is replete with times when after much prayer God poured out His Spirit – Revival – causing many to return to Him and the study of His Word – Reformation.

A people with a redeemed heart and a renewed vision of God’s truth have sought to inform politics, the arts, business, education – all areas of life – to demonstrate and reflect God’s great love for all that He has made.

If we think we’re beyond this now, know that there were those who went before who faced the same doubts. But by faith and great prayer and great effort much was accomplished that now stand as examples to us in history.

The challenges our countries currently face can be the alarm that awakens us to the need for a true vision, that spurs us to repentance, revival, and reformation.

I believe there is a present opportunity to bend the knee, call out to God, and by His grace add a chapter of success to our nations histories. Let us not miss it.

I was excited from the moment I first heard about this project. It didn’t take much to grab my attention when I read the scope of the proposal: teaching Christian worldview and apologetics to teenagers, on an island, in a camp. This isn’t new to me.

So the first thing I did was to reach for my globe. ‘Right, where are the Azores?’, I mused. Finding at first the Canary Islands, I went hunting around and quickly discovered this little island chain, a thousand or so miles off the coast of Portugal, slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

A couple more emails, one purchased ticket later, and now I’m en route to Portugal.

I’d love to say that I was full of vision and purpose at this point, but when it came to it, sitting on that flight, I did wonder what on earth I was doing. I had at this point only exchanged a few emails. I really only knew the bare bones of the project, and next to nothing of the people involved. The excitement of the potential gave way to the fears of the unknown.

Well, half way to Terceria Island, in the Azores, I met Henk and Corrie in Lisbon. Henk is a businessman. Well, that’s not really it. I mean, we sum up people by their trade, but that so often falls short of who they are. Henk is a man possessed by a higher vision who seems – from what I can tell – to have led a life of adventure in business and ministry all over the world. He’s one of those people who seems to have really been captured by a calling. Meeting Henk along with his lovely wife, Corrie, is the beginning of the development of the picture of my weekend ahead.

Upon landing on Terceira we meet Art. I want to call him Doc immediately for some reason, but this wouldn’t be right on a number of points. Art was a Registered Nurse in the US Air Force with the rank of colonel, until he retired 10 years ago to pastor a church on Terceira Island. Bright-eyed, tall, and friendly, he offered a warm welcome.

Art and his wife, Debbie, took us to their home where we were made to feel very welcome. A quick walk down the promenade by the sea, in the dark, a snack and it was bed time.

Sunrise in the Azores

Sunrise on Terceira Island (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Well, the next day dawned and revealed the full beauty of the island. If the Big Island of Hawaii met Devon, England, and had a small love child, Terceria would be it. Green fields, bisected by small black stone walls lined the hills. The ocean met the shore over more black, volcanic rock but this was the familiar notes of the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific. For some reason they smell different to me.

The countryside was, to me, a mixture of Devon and Hawaii

The countryside was, to me, a mixture of Devon and Hawaii (View All The Photos from the trip here)

The climate was humid, but cool. Light breezes and steady temperatures were the norm for the weekend. When we drove higher in the hills we entered the clouds, and a mist perpetually hung over much of the island.

One of the first orders of the day was to go back to the airport and pick up Barry. Barry – who to me bears a striking resemblance to Tony Stark – is an energetic American from Little Rock, Arkansas. Despite the jet lag and horrid lack of sleep, Barry was brimming with excitement. He and Henk had last met over a decade ago, in Tanzania, at an Ostrich farm. That is a story way past the purview of this tale, but if you ever do hear it you won’t stop laughing from amazement. A truly incredible intertwining of the threads of life, and rich with deep meaning for both men.

DYG Camp

Looking out over the camp (View All The Photos from the trip here)

With Barry in tow we proceeded to the camp. Art has been working on this camp for 8 years, and more recently has made it a prime focus after stepping down from his pastoral role. Now, when I first heard ‘camp’ I thought of some land with some tents and some facilities. I was not prepared for what I met.

Tents? Pah. Cabins. Beautifully constructed, little wooden cabins. Dotted around like hobbit homes across undulating land. There were sports areas, and camp fire areas, an amphitheatre, a fire pit, brand new showers and space for the new kitchen and camp shop. This was no ‘lets have a go and see’ operation but rather the result of careful planning and work over a long period of time.

Camp Cabins

Camp cabins, dotted about the site (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Camp cabin interior

Each cabin is furnished and ready to go (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Under construction

A few buildings are still under work, estimated to be complete by early June (View All The Photos from the trip here)

In this setting Art shared his vision for bringing youth to the camp – English speaking youth from all over the globe – to train them in worldview and apologetics. More and more it is being observed that young Christians across the world aren’t properly equipped to a) know what they believe and why, and b) give a defence of their faith when asked. So, when they get to college/university and run into that beautiful/crazy/overwhelming confluence of ideas, their faith can be rocked.

A little while ago, at a school in High Wycombe, I witnessed first hand the wonderful questions that teenagers ask. They ask their own questions. They weren’t rehashed, or run of the mill, but framed by their own thought processes. Many university students, on the other hand, might rehash objections that they’ve overheard. But a school student has in many cases not been exposed to these yet. It’s a wonderful time of life to engage them and challenge them to think for themselves about their faith and why they believe it.

Art, Barry, Henk – all three were united in vision for the scope of the camp, and we were all excited for the opportunities we were tapping in to.

The camp will be completed this summer, and will be a wonderful location for training young students. In addition, Barry proposed another fantastic idea. Tim Caldwell, youth pastor at Fellowship Bible Church, Little Rock, had suggested to Barry that perhaps we could use the whole island as a classroom. As Barry told us of Tim’s idea we began to connect the dots. There are beaches, and forests, and volcanoes, and parks – a wonderful, great big outdoors. And so we trundled off around the island and our excitement grew and grew.

16th Century fort on Terceira

The 16th Century fort – could it be our classroom? (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Harbour lighthouse

Walking to the harbour lighthouse (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Terceira landscape

The dramatic Terceira landscape (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Terceira swimming pools

Swimming pools, only slightly improved by man (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Forest seating

Ancient forests complete with modern conveniences (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Lost in the woods

I could have stayed in this location for hours (View All The Photos from the trip here)

Terceira Island, by way of Portugal, has had some EU money spent on infrastructure. So for a small island where the predominant industry is small scale agriculture, the roads and public parks are very good. We found picnic areas complete with running water and BBQ pits all over the place. Not only that, but they situated in such dramatic locations film producers spend nights dreaming of. The island was stunning. Barry’s idea made so much sense!

We prayed, we talked, we Skyped Pastor Tim in the US, we walked, and we ate great food (thanks to Debbie!). I remembered those fears I had on the plane … What was I doing? Where was I going? Who was I meeting? Well, some times in the service of our Heavenly Father, he really does go ahead of us. No, it’s true! Christian ministry is not all based on what you or I can accomplish out of our resources, or our contacts, or our passion. God knows, we – the wealthy Christians – can do a lot in our strength. But God is always in control, and when we get on board with His plans He can do great things that are well beyond the scope of our imagination, and more beautiful than our fears are dark to us.

We set a date for a trial run this year: June 26th for 10 days. Knowing that with the European school holidays this will mostly be North Americans joining, but in the expectation that next year, 2017, we will run several camps across June, July, and August. If you know of anyone, 15-18, who you think would benefit from 10 days in the Azores, learning about worldview and apologetics, then please let me know. The Facebook page and website will be live soon also and I’ll link to them when they come online.

We had so much fun throughout the course of the weekend. These men and women that I met are passionate people who love God and from whom I can learn much. They have served God well and bring with them experience, compassion, and wisdom. I am excited to be joining in this project as we press in to the opportunities that we are presented with.

One incredible Azorean dinner later – the local food was exquisite – and we were rushing back to the airport. Henk, Corrie and I headed for Lisbon once again, with Barry heading back to the US the following day. As I write this now, on the plane returning to London, I am smiling as I think about how much fun we can have when following God’s leading. There is adventure and newness that reveals more of God’s character. I am thrilled to be involved and look forward to seeing plans unfold.


2015 was a good year for the Demolition Squad, the apologetics wing of Christian Vision for Men (CVM). Amongst other things, select highlights include:

It has been a joy watching this project that Andy Kind and I planted a couple of years ago grow.

Blogging for Men

In my first stint with CVM back in 2009, we introduced a new blog, as well as a fresh social media and email newsletter strategy. Under the current team these tools have been nurtured well, resulting in new growth and development taking them way beyond those first steps. When I came back on board, in 2012, with a vision for an apologetics ministry for CVM, we immediately looked to these tools which were working to deliver on our ideas.

It has been a fun – and challenging! – task to write helpful articles to equip men to share their faith well by tackling popular objections and questions that we all face.

Looking forward to the year ahead, and mapping out a strategy for the year, requires a quick look back at where we’ve come. All future progress stands on the shoulders of yesterday’s accomplishments. So before I get in to the tasks of 2016, I thought I’d take a look back at the articles I wrote in 2015:

Shortly after Sgt Mehmet Ciplak picked up the toddler, snapshots from the moment – one that he’ll never forget – bombarded the world. The powerful photographs prompted a furious outcry. The boy was just a toddler. His family were searching for peace after their country had been torn apart. Their European future, awfully close, would never be.

Through the politics, and the opinions, and the protestations, and the answer-searching melee that consumed the online-world, the reality of the situation pierced through it all. The little boy had died and it was a tragedy.

Sadly it is a tragedy all too common but too little observed by those of us far from the epicentre of this horror. But on that day we took note. That son could have easily been our own. The innocence of youth shouted louder than our grown-up arguments. We were moved; we were shamed.

The episode was deeply emotional. Too emotional, perhaps, if that were possible. Accompanying the images, in suit, were the comments and the opinions. The deep and traumatic feelings we experienced at first were later replaced by a haunting suspicion that maybe we had missed something before. Mediterranean deaths aren’t new. Families looking for their future across the sea aren’t new. This tragedy wasn’t original.

We pause to process and our reason catches up to our emotion, like the shy child at primary school who is finally heard after the kid on too much sugar crashes. We reason that our emotion is getting the better of us and we ought to bring everything in to balance. We should consider the wider problem etc. We won’t be hijacked by our emotions, we muse.

But the picture of the boy on the beach doesn’t go away. Artists memorialise him and ensure that he is not forgotten.

The little boy died and that is tragic. It is tragic because he was valuable. He was valuable to his family – to his brother, and his parents. He was valuable to his wider community; he may have even been a part of the rebuilding of his country one day. He was valuable to his never-met host country that would have played home to him for a while.

But his value was so much more than that. This little boy was valuable because he was a little boy; he was a human being. We may reflect our value as humans by the way we love, the way we work, the way we help others, but our intrinsic value is not in what we do but in our very being. When tragedy strikes a fellow human, something inside of us breaks for them because deep down we realise the wrongness of the marring of something so dear.

It was right and appropriate for the watching world to catch its breath and experience a sliver of the pain of this boy’s life. It was right to be shocked and to be shamed. One of our own had died.

Our emotional responses to pictures of suffering point us to the felt reality of our inherent value. Our reason then asks questions of this. How and why are we valuable? What determines our dignity?

It seems to me that we have three options here: we can say that human beings aren’t valuable (pessimistic and dangerous); or human beings are valuable because we say so (wishful thinking); or human beings are valuable because they have been ascribed value (unconditional). History will tell us that the first option has been tried often, and suppressed entire nations. The second option is where most of us are probably at now (often a position taken because we don’t like the former). But the third option – commonly rejected out of hand – is truly interesting. If our experiences in this world point to a value that we can’t properly define, shouldn’t our search for meaning ought to look to loftier realms?

If the clues lead us to investigate an area that we don’t want to go, shouldn’t we rethink our underlying assumptions and motives? Europe – by and large – doesn’t do God. But the outpouring of grief over this tragic loss suggests that deep down it perhaps so desperately wants to.

sorted-magazine-nov-dec-2015This article first appeared in the November/December 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine.



Apologetics for Men

November 13, 2015 — 1 Comment

In 2012 Carl Beech, Andy Kind, and I got together in a room in Chesterfield to talk about how we could help with the tough questions that are asked both of ourselves and of our faith. Carl – as the then head of Christian Vision for Men (CVM) – wanted to reach the men of the UK with the good news of Jesus. Andy – the comedian and storyteller – wanted to blend his comedy with his apologetics passion. I – fresh out of my training with The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics – was eager to get stuck in where there was a need. And this is how the Demolition Squad was born.

Now three years in, with articles written, podcasts attempted, and conferences attended we’ve pulled together some of best content and blended it with a fresh, funny (thank you, Andy) voice in one book: The Ultimate Survival Guide: How to talk about God, the Bible, and stuff.

The Ultimate Survival Guide: How to talk about God, the Bible, and stuff

CVM are taking orders online now

25+ Common Objections Covered

Talk about Jesus anywhere and you will inevitable face questions in response. This is as true in the UK as in other countries. However each culture will frame questions in a particular way and with a particular emphasis. The challenge that Carl, Andy, and I faced was how to answer the questions being asked from men in the UK. Not this narrows the scope of book to too fine a spectrum, the book is still broader than something aimed at bird watching enthusiasts from Hull, for example.

Over the first three years we employed different tactics and approaches, and having distilled all our thinking, writing, and speaking we came up with three areas of questions tackle in the book: Scientific and Logical Objections, Personal and Emotional Objections, and Biblical Objections.

Scientific and Logical Objections

From ‘There’s no such thing as absolute truth’ to ‘Science has replaced God’, the challenges come thick and fast in this category. We’ve focussed on 8 challenges:

  • There’s no such thing as truth
  • There’s no proof for God
  • Science has disproved God
  • The Universe is just there/has always existed
  • Who created the Creator?
  • We evolved out of chaos
  • So many different religions…they can’t all be right!
  • What about people who haven’t heard about Jesus?

Personal and Emotional Objections

Because man is not a purely rational being, many objections to faith will take a more personal tone. From ‘Is it a weakness to need to believe in God?’ to questioning the good and bad that religion – and Christians – have done, there are many responses to tackle here. We again chose 8 questions to focus in on:

  • Christianity is intolerant
  • Christians are hypocrites
  • All religion is brainwashing
  • Look at all the harm that religion has done
  • It’s just wishful thinking
  • You don’t have to believe in God to be a good person
  • A God of Love wouldn’t send (good) people to Hell
  • But Stephen Fry said it

Biblical Objections

The Bible is hugely important to our faith. Christians read it, believe it, and base their lives on what it says. So can we trust it? Sink the Bible, and you sink Jesus. But if the Bible can sustain its claims of divine inspiration & authority then Jesus is real, what happened 2,000 years ago really took place, and we have some thinking to do! We provide answers to 9 questions in this section:

  • All religions basically teach the same thing
  • Jesus wasn’t a historical figure, but was based on pagan myths
  • The Bible has been doctored and corrupted
  • Jesus didn’t think of himself as divine
  • I believe Jesus was a just good moral teacher
  • The Bible is irrelevant, outdated and outmoded
  • God is a moral monster
  • Jesus didn’t rise from the dead
  • Why did God kill his own son

Oh, and the Problem of Suffering, too …

This one is a biggy, so we added an extended section at the end of the book dedicating more time to unpacking this particular challenge and explore some of the hopeful replies that Jesus offers in response. Read an extract from this section on the CVM blog.

The Ultimate Survival Guide is now available to pre-order from the CVM website.

9 Coffins

September 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

As I approached the roundabout I could see the helicopter through the top of my windscreen. It was hovering, purposefully, keeping a keen eye on something yet unseen by me. I next caught sight of the police bikes. Two of them, both with their riders with their hands in the air bringing the oncoming traffic to a halt. I sat in my car, waiting, and with the other drivers around me wondered what was going on.

Would there be a glimpse of someone famous? A dignitary, perhaps royalty, or a senior politician maybe

The sirens came next and more police bikes sped through the gap before fast-response cars followed. It was then that I saw the first hearse. It took the roundabout at speed, and was followed in quick succession by eight more. With only a length between them it was like watching an ominous race.

They sped off followed by more chase cars, all under the eyes of the men in the sky above.

9 hearses; 9 coffins. 9 of the victims from the Tunisia beach attack. I was suddenly only a few feet away from this shocking episode of evil.

One moment the victims were holidaying on a beach and now under comprehensive escort they were travelling the A40 at record pace. The hearses caught me by surprise. But I remember thinking that no one would have been more surprised than the victims themselves.

In a world where atrocities seem to take place at an alarming rate, the horror of evil actions remains shocking when observed by those near to them.

We all feel the wrongness of these situations. We think of the pain of those caught up in the events. We mourn.

When the immediate grief subsides, those caught up in suffering move from looking for comfort to looking for answers. ‘Why?’ And, ‘how?’ And, ‘could it have been prevented?’ And so on.

In this tragedy – as in many – there are tales of heroism. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The acts of evil, punctuated with humanity’s finest qualities. The good right alongside the bad.

Humanity, it would seem, has the capacity for incredible acts of love and at the same time the capacity for incredible acts of violence.

Everyone who lives has to face the suffering of this world. It is a worldwide problem; it is a human problem.

What we believe about the reality of the world goes a long way to how we answer the problems that we face. Diagnosing the malady correctly is the first step on the road to health.

The Christian understands the world to be full of both happiness and suffering. Good alongside evil. Human beings have the ability to create, bring life, love well, and serve others. But at the very same time the heart of humanity, of each one of us, has been corrupted and all kinds of wrong happen to us, stay with us, and come out of us.

The Bible says that humans are valuable because they are made by a loving God. They are not a random collection of atoms. We are not accidents. And like tarnished silver, our value is not lost when our appearance has been marred.

At the very same time the Bible does not shy away from the reality of evil. Its pages are full of brokenness and hurting people.

And the God of the Bible did not remain distant from the suffering of the world, but entered into it and suffered himself.

This world, we know, is far from perfect. So how do we fix what is broken? Is it more knowledge? Is it a greater collective human effort? We will do anything: work harder, sacrifice more etc. Human history is full of marvellous efforts to this end but while they may have bandaged some wounds, they have not brought lasting health.

We have tried so much and we are left collectively exasperated and worn out. Who or what can we trust to bring us hope?

The problems that we face have proven to be huge. The answers that we require will need to be bigger still.

When we have exhausted the search for answers from within perhaps we should turn to answers from afar and when we do we can look, searchingly, at the life of a man who lived 2,000 years ago who suffered greatly for the people he loved and then astonishingly, after a brutal death, was raised to life once more. Invasive resurrection power at once affirms the value of human beings and offers a hope through a power that beats death and all its friends.

It’s preposterous. It’s extravagant. It’s utterly different. But isn’t this exactly the sort of solution we need for the problems of the world today? When all that is obvious to us has been tried perhaps it’s time to look beyond our own horizons. Perhaps we should consider placing our hope in our Maker who knows our blueprint, understands our weaknesses and our pain, and offers a plan for our redemption.

Sorted Magazine - September/October 2015This article first appeared in the September/October edition of Sorted Magazine.


Crossing Over

September 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.

This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.

The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.

For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.

Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.

However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?

With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.

What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.

Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.

C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.

Sorted Magazine - July/August 2015This article was first published in the July/August edition of Sorted Magazine.


Striking A Nerve

September 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

What is the one thing about you that is off-limits? Even your closest friends know not to talk to you about this. It’s personal and it’s private and it is not open for discussion.

It’s not that you’re ‘closed off’. Just careful with certain parts of who you are. After all, it is wise to be careful, isn’t it?

One area we tend to cover up contains the things in our lives that we don’t like. Perhaps this is what we call shame. You could be in debt, or you messed up at work, or there’s emotional pain from things long ago that prevent real relationship with those persons involved.

But equally, our hopes and dreams, those that are left, are often cocooned in emotional bubble wrap. We store them like the wedding china, unused for fear of breaking them and not being able to find a replacement.

Like a squirrel buries their nuts before the coming winter, we can bury our deepest thoughts and feelings, and like some of those squirrels, often forget all about them.

We think that they’re safe, deep down, out of the way. We’re unaware though, of how these emotions seep through us, like unsecured toxic waste. We think we’re immune to their presence because they’re buried deep, but every now and again they become exposed.

Sometimes it’s someone else doing the digging. Maybe it’s our wife, or a friend prodding a little too deeply. It’s amazing what people find when they get under the surface (just ask the Crossrail guys who have recently finished the new train tunnels below London).

More often than not however these things are exposed by complete accident. In the fields of Flanders after WWI, the frosty winters were known to bring up unexploded shells to just below the surface. The Belgian farmers knew all-too-well about this annual menace and the problems they posed to their ploughing.

Sometimes it’s a friendly, unassuming conversation that touches something of us we had forgotten about long ago. And sometimes it’s something with a little more bite.

At the beginning of the year Stephen Fry was interviewed on Irish television channel RTE and when asked what he would say to God were he ever to visit the pearly gates of Heaven, he replied vehemently, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Of course Fry isn’t the first to voice this age-old problem in such strong terms. But the response seemed unnaturally large. Newspaper articles and blogs were published in reply and the clip from the show went viral on YouTube.

For many people Fry touched on a nerve. His words shattered the flimsy structures constructed around such buried thoughts like, ‘why did I have to experience that horrible thing?’

There are some big questions in this world that aren’t easy to answer. There are also big parts of who are that we’d rather leave unquestioned. But it was Socrates who told us that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

Sometimes the thought of sifting through our inner person feels about as fun as receiving a do-it-yourself-molar-extraction kit for Christmas. Thankfully, we’re not left to our own unskilled hands to do this. In an ancient Hebrew poem a request is made of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”

The God of the universe, who made you and knows you and loves you and has complete skill in all matters, wants to work with you to uncover who you really are. If you let him he will deal with your unexploded ordinance and he will unearth your buried treasures.

God’s love frees us from the fear of tough questions, from the pain of deep memories, and it frees us to be the person he created us to be. Life is too precious to live it in avoidance of who we really are, so why not, as the Good Book says, ‘cast all our burdens upon him.’ It’ll be a load off your mind.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the problem of pain, might I recommend ‘Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense’ (Faith Words, 2014) by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale as an excellent starting point on the subject.

Sorted Magazine - May/June 2015This article was first published in the June/July edition of Sorted Magazine.


Follow Me

September 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you ever introduced a friend to a favourite sport of yours? I tried this with my wife (then fiancée) during the Six Nations last year. “It’ll only take one game and she’ll be hooked,” I mused. But which game would I choose? It couldn’t be Scotland v. England (I have split loyalties). Now, I love the way the French play, but only when they decide to play which frankly left too much to hope for so they were out of the question. I settled on Ireland v. Wales thinking that’s where the magic will happen.

It’s all easier with hindsight of course. Looking for the best examples we would all (Brits, that is) pick the 2005 Ashes over 2014 or the 5-1 against Germany over most-any World Cups finals post 1966 etc. When we want to sell something we’re going to look to the best example we can find and offer that moment as our chief evidence.

I’ve found this pattern true of most things. We point to the best of something – be it a product, or a sport, or an idea – when we’re seeking to promote it. Advertisers tell us what their thing does best of all. The fact sheets tend to be stacked with the favourable measurements at the top.

We do this too with religion when we point out the merits of a particular faith. Ideas and arguments from every viewpoint seek to offer the top example. It seems to me however that in all of the selling and highlighting of religions, only one really does stand out because, well, it just goes about things differently.

I am of course talking of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian faith is a man who claimed to be God. This is a claim that none of the leaders of other major world religions dared to make.

Every religion, or non-religion, has its best examples and top arguments. Christianity however claims that best isn’t good enough and offers ‘perfect’ instead. Jesus Christ was so bold to claim that not only was he a great man and therefore a great example, but more than that he was a perfect man and therefore the only example.

That’s why the early Christians would talk about the gospel – literally, the good news – of Jesus Christ. He was and is the example.

Christians follow Jesus’ example of offering the same Good News. But instead of pointing to ourselves, we point to Jesus.

A Christian following Jesus may themselves be an excellent illustration for the Good News, but their example really, ultimately, looks past. Christians aren’t saying ‘We’re perfect, follow us’ but rather ‘Jesus is perfect, follow Him’. The life of a Christian ought to serve as a pointer to Jesus himself.

Of course, it’s not always that simple and Christians, who though friends with Jesus and becoming more like him, are still human and get things wrong too. It was Mahatma Gandhi who famously pointed out, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

But it was Saint Augustine who wisely pointed that we should “never judge a philosophy by its abuse”. The testimony in a Christian’s life should be that he or she isn’t the same person that you knew last month, last year, 10 years ago etc. That over time there is evidence of change into a person of character more similar to Jesus’ own.

When Jesus called his first disciples he said to them, “Follow me.” Over time Christ’s followers came to see that his invitation wasn’t just a good idea from a good leader, but the most valuable summons ever from the most perfect of men.

Sorted Magazine - March/April 2015This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine