Help our unbelief

Help Our Unbelief

Hebrews 3 begins with language conciliatory to Jews converted to Christianity and to Jews in general. Christians share in the heavenly calling. That is our blessing, purpose and goal. The blessing comes from heaven in Jesus Christ and the blessing takes us to heaven in Jesus Christ. That is Christianity’s niche market, that is our offering to humanity. Last week Neil Barber of the Edinburgh Secular Society wrote a letter to The Scotsman newspaper. He said, “With Edinburgh’s Mortonhall Crematorium being closed for five months to allow for repairs following fire damage, this might be a good time to remove the Christian symbols from the chapels and from the Garden of Remembrance to reflect what should be the religiously neutral nature in a publicly funded building'. I wrote in reply, 'Neil Barber continues his mean-spirited and narrow minded attacks on Christian enculturation. More broadly, he consigns everyone to his view that there is no resurrection and no life after death. He has no right to demand such absolutism. Let Christian symbols remain for they offer hope to all humanity.” What do you think is going to happen? We will wait to see. When St Paul was being tried in Jerusalem as a traitor to Judaism, he called out ‘I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead’. That is our hope too, central to our Faith, based on Jesus’ resurrection and on our experience of the Risen Jesus in our lives.

In this chapter the writer expands his arguments for the superiority of Jesus. He goes a step further. Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses is the acknowledged founder of Judaism. Moses met with God. He received the Ten Commandments. He led the Exodus. He formed the beginnings of the Law which distinguished Jews and Judaism to this day. To claim that Jesus is greater than Moses is to make a great claim. In verse 1 the writer also calls Jesus ‘the apostle’. Nowhere else in the New Testament does this happen. He is using the term with the meaning of being the ambassador of God with his full authority on earth. Jesus is also the high priest who makes access for us to God. Verse 3 continues 'Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses'. Moses’ status was that of a servant of God. Jesus is the Son of God. Moses was a servant in the house of God. Jesus is the owner of the house. We call this building a house of God. But in fact it is you and I who are the house of God. On Saturday at the Children’s Gala, the proclamation will be read and will include the words, 'Whereas Emma of the House of Parker has been chosen by the lieges and townspeople of the domain'. The House of Parker is the Family of Parker, not a building, but people.

The word ‘if’ appears in the Bible importantly. Paul uses it to make the point that the Christian must persevere and be faithful in order to win the crown of eternal life. Here the writer makes a similar point. 'And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast'. We can let go of God, we can give up on our professed faith. We can become disillusioned. We can lose our faith. Many do. The writer cautions, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'. Today means for us, in our time on earth, in our generation, in our years. There’s another ‘if’ but it is a positive ‘if’ and it suggests that God is speaking if only we may listen and hear. As this portion of Hebrews is addressed to Jews and Christian Jews the writer recalls Jewish history at the time of the wandering in the wilderness when the Chosen People complained that their lot was too hard. They were short of food and water. At least, they remembered, in Egypt we had food and water and shelter. What have you brought us out to Moses? Where is God?

Today we might echo that complaint. Where is God? Where is the triumph of Jesus Christ our Lord? We can lose our nerve. The Church of Scotland has lost its nerve. So has the Anglican Church and even the Roman Catholic Church in Britain. And the truth is that there are complex issues in our world today which the simple Gospel does not seem easily to answer. The traditional explanation that everything that is wrong in this world is due to human sin and wrong doing requires further exploration. We know that throughout human history there have been plagues, pandemics and epidemics. Where do they come from? How do they start? Why are they present? Some, like AIDS have clear origins in human lifestyles. Scientists suggest that viruses likely originated in insects many million years ago and at some point in evolution developed the ability to infect other species—probably as insects interacted with or fed from them. But they actually have no idea why viruses begin and admit so. What about the Zika virus? Zika was discovered in monkeys in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented. It is the mosquito which carries various viruses bringing malaria, dengue fever and zika to humans. A certain type of mosquito became domesticated 4000 years ago in Africa, living in and around homes and villages. The mosquito was brought across the Atlantic with the slave trade. The journalist Matt Ridley thinks that since deaths from malaria have been reduced by 60% since 2000 a similar programme to eradicate the zika carrying mosquito could all but eliminate it. Brazil did almost entirely eradicate the mosquito from 1947 to 1958 but then let it multiply again resulting in zika this time. He argues that spraying will not work because of massive city conurbations but points to a new technique of genetic modification of mosquitoes to shut down their breeding and eliminate them almost entirely.

The fact is that disease is part of the human condition. If a cure for one disease is found, another disease appears. Gene therapy takes the same process a stage further. We humans just manage to stay ahead of the game. Only just. It is unlikely that disease will ever disappear from the human condition. Is it then just part of the random nature of evolution? The fact that humans find cures suggests the triumph of order over chaos. In the Old Testament, everything good and bad was held to come from God. Lots of people still believe that today. There was a retributive type of Christianity here in Scotland for centuries which powerfully linked personal behaviour to misfortune. But Jesus did not make this connection. The man blind from birth whom Jesus healed had not sinned nor had his parents, said Jesus. His enigmatic answer isn’t complete though. The man was blind so that God could demonstrate his healing power through Jesus. And we know that many good people suffer. We can point to collective lifestyles which are harmful to us. We can point to greed and disorder in the way we live. Abuse of alcohol and drugs are direct causes of deaths among younger people. We can surely point to abandonment of Christianity in our own country. The prolonged torture and murder of Liam Fee and the torture of two other boys by Rachel Fee and Nyomi Fee (note these are Biblical names) is the logical consequence of the abandonment of any stable system of human morality and accountability. Is Christianity not a better option? Is Jesus Christ not the better way? There is enough of an answer in Jesus Christ for us to take him seriously. There is the possibility that the more people who live Christians lives that there are, the overall better the human condition will become. There is healing in Christ. His peace extends to nature and to the origins of viruses.

The writer of Hebrews makes a direct connection between abandonment of God and failure to receive his promises. 'See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily'. Maybe you come to Church just for yourself. Do members of your family share your faith? Do your children and grandchildren go to any Church? Not all of ours do. But your faithfulness is a blessing to them and to many others for generations to come. Our worship is the oxygen that society needs to live. It is a cleansing process. It mitigates the worst excesses of wrong doing in society. It stays the strength of evils in the world. Christian worship is heroic and worthwhile and victorious in connecting with the Risen Jesus Christ and sharing His love and life and power with others. This is a great calling in life and it has been given to you. So do not lose heart or faith or belief or hope.

Robert Anderson 2017

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