29th March

Week Commencing Sunday 29th March 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you are keeping well. This weekly update has more space devoted to the message than usual because it investigates some difficult questions surrounding the current crisis from a Christian perspective.

Practicalities

  • The Deacons and I will be keeping in contact with members and attenders by phone and offering prayer for you over the phone.
  • Please do not hesitate to contact your pastoral Deacon or myself should you be unable to fulfil a practical need such as shopping or collecting a prescription. We will do our best to help you in these circumstances.
  • Do think about phoning others in the fellowship who might value conversation when they might otherwise have limited or no other human contact and feel lonely.
  • Should you feel lonely or frightened do call me or your pastoral Deacon and we will pray for you.
  • Some have asked about the finances of the church. Most people pay by direct debit. If you usually give money for a loose offering please set aside that amount each week. Either wait until you return and give the accumulated monies then, or send a monthly cheque (payable to Angmering Baptist Church) to Mr Dick Gibb our treasurer. Send the cheques to Dick’s home address.
  • The funeral of Mr Harry Waters will take place on Wednesday April 1st, 11.00 at Worthing Crematorium. Harry’s daughter Margaret, her husband Michael and I, will be the only ones permitted to attend. Please do remember us in prayer.
  • Please also remember in prayer Mr Brian Head and Mrs Joyce Sait who are unwell. Next week’s update will include a full family news section and prayer diary for April.

 

HYMN

 

All my hope on God is founded,
all my trust he shall renew;
he, my guide through changing order,
only good and only true:
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
all that human toil can fashion,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

Day by day our mighty giver
grants to us his gifts of love;
in his will our souls find pleasure,
leading to our home above:
love shall stand at his hand,
joy shall wait for his command.

Still from Earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done;
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son:
hear Christ’s call, one and all –
we who follow shall not fall

 

God and Viruses.

We are presently bombarded with information about the Coronavirus. At times like these we might question why God created such terrible viruses.

This issues in the wider problem of suffering in the Natural Order that we see today. It is asked how can there be a Creator when we see suffering and pain in His Creation?

As far as viruses are concerned we should understand that some bacteria are positively beneficial. Indeed, what many people drink every day to aid their indigestion is a form of bacteria. We would not be able to digest our food properly without certain bacteria in our gut. However, it is since The Fall of humanity that disease, decay and death have intruded upon our existence:

The book of Genesis explains the origin of suffering and death. In the Creation account in Genesis 1 we read ‘That God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good’. The Creation was very good.

But then follows The Fall described in Genesis chapters 2 and 3.

Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband, and he also ate it. So they sinned against God by disobeying God’s commandment. Romans 5:12 says ‘just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’. So death in the world is the result of sin. And it has resulted in the deaths of all people.

God did not suddenly inflict death and disease on Adam and Eve, but withdrew His protective care. This allowed mutations within living creatures and harmful bacteria to invade the whole of creation. Though many bacteria are necessary and useful, they are harmful when out of control.

Romans 8:18-25 affirms the whole creation (not just people) has been ‘subjected to futility’ and is now ‘groaning’ and in ‘bondage to decay’ waiting for its redemption. This state of affairs is consistent with The Fall where the whole Creation was cursed because of the man’s sin. For example Genesis 3:18 tells us the ground was now to bring forth thorns and thistles. Genesis 1:29-30 indicates the animals and people were originally vegetarian, but after The Fall we have animals whimpering in pain and fear as they attack one another.

The biblical explanation is that Suffering and Death entered the world through Adam’s sin; the Creation is cursed.

The biblical explanation for suffering and the entrance of death into the world is in stark contrast to the evolutionary view that has accentuated misunderstanding. Popularisers of evolution like David Attenborough and Stephen Fry point to evils in Nature and say they cannot worship a god who is supposedly their author. Neither could we! We need to remember there was no suffering or death before Adam’s fall. Creation was ‘very good’ and death only came about after sin. But the evolutionary view says that suffering and death are integral to how life has come about (‘the survival of the fittest’). The evolutionary view says suffering and death have always been.

Even some people in the church have been confused by this secular indoctrination. Theistic evolutionists (who believe that God used evolution) have to say that God brought Adam’s ‘very good’ world into existence through millions of years of death and suffering. They also have to assume that the fossils of creatures, some diseased some attacking one another, indicate that suffering has always been with us.

However the worldwide flood is widely documented in the Bible, and takes up four chapters of Genesis. In our last film at ABC we heard geologist Dr Terry Mortenson give solid scientific evidence for that year long, mountain covering flood, creating global upheavals (Genesis 7:11) and leaving millions of fossilized whole animals and plants in layers of sedimentary rock laid down all over the earth. We do not see millions of years of gradual geological work but fossil graveyards and layered canyons that speak of a global catastrophic flood. An event that happened after The Fall. The suffering and disease evidenced in the fossil record is not therefore a record of what has always been, but rather a record of what took place after The Fall and as a consequence of the worldwide flood.

The God of the Bible loves us. Suffering is an alien intrusion into His Creation, the result directly and indirectly of Adam and Eve’s sin. But God permitted this because He wanted to give us free will. Love is not love if it is forced; it can only be love if there is a real choice. However human beings ever since have chosen to break God’s laws and the result has been suffering. In his book ‘The problem of Pain’ C S Lewis writes: ‘It would no doubt be possible for God to remove by miracle the results of the first sin ever committed by a human being; but this would not have been much good unless He was prepared to remove the results of the second sin, and of the third, and so on forever. If the miracles ceased, then sooner or later we might have reached our present lamentable situation: if they did not then a world, thus continually underpropped and corrected by Divine interference, would have been a world in which nothing important ever depended on human choice, and in which choice itself would soon cease from the certainty that one of the apparent alternatives before you would lead to no results and was therefore not really an alternative.’

Human sin leads to suffering. Selfishness, greed, lust, arrogance and bad temper often lead to broken relationships and unhappiness for example. The suffering here is caused by our own sin and the sin of others towards us.

Sometimes God actively judges sin in this life. The biblical worldwide flood is an example of suffering on a global scale caused by sin, resulting in God’s judgement. When ‘the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time…his heart was filled with pain’ (Genesis 6:5, 6).

It is, at the same time important to stress that not all suffering is the direct result of our own sin. Job’s friends thought Job’s suffering/sickness must be the result of his own sin- but they were wrong (Job 42:7, 8). Jesus repudiates the automatic link between sin and suffering (John 9: 1-3). Jesus also points out that natural disasters are not necessarily a form of punishment from God (Luke 13: 1-5).

The secular view of suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption. On this view there are two things to do when they occur. The first is to manage and lessen the pain. The second is to look for the cause of the pain and eliminate it. Christians have been on the forefront of medical relief, hospitals were born out of the Christian worldview, established by Christians, as was the modern hospice movement.  But Christianity goes beyond the management and relief of suffering- it sees that suffering is meaningful. ‘There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine’ (‘Walking with God through pain and suffering’ Timothy Keller).

In 1967 teenager Joni Eareckson was left paraplegic after a diving accident. In her book ‘Diamonds in the dust’ she writes ‘…After three depressing years of suicidal despair over my paralysis, I prayed, ‘God if I can’t die, show me how to live, please!’ Things didn’t change overnight, but with that simple prayer my outlook began to change. I realised I had to take responsibility and face reality head on. With God’s help, I would have to learn how to do the impossible- handle life in a wheelchair. And God did help! I’m convinced the Lord was touched deeply by my short simple prayer. I pushed myself out of the way in order to rely on His Spirit…’ The story of her spiritual growth through fifty years of trauma has been an inspiration to countless people all around the world.

Richard Bewes in his book ‘The top 100 Questions’ writes about what we can learn from viruses:

They instil a sense of humility. Long before the electron microscope had identified the virus, the very presence of disease and infection was a constant reminder that we are subject to death. None of us escapes; a hundred years or so- and there’s a clean sweep right across the planet. Certainly the answer has been found to some of these viruses, but there is no denying that, however long we live, it is usually some infection that finally kills us. But consider this too:

They instil a sense of eternity. Not in themselves of course. But repeatedly a virus attack will cause us to look up and around for answers. This heightens the possibility of our becoming exposed to the one factor that can give us real pointers- the revelation that God has given us, culminating supremely in Jesus Christ. Many millions of people never even begin to think about God and His saving plan, until they or a loved one were struck by an apparently random disease. Focus on the virus alone- and the mystery may seem insoluble; but if we can stand a little further back, we can learn to view the fallenness of our situation through the wide angle of God’s revelation. Without that revelation we could never have known of his loving purposes.’

So what is this ‘wide angle of God’s revelation’ and ‘loving purposes’?

The Bible is the most influential book the world has ever known. It gives us this ‘wide angle’ of God’s revelation and loving purposes. Throughout the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), the ultimate focus is on the coming of the Messiah. All the recorded history of Israel, and much of the preaching of the Old Testament prophets are preparing the way for Jesus Christ who fulfilled detailed prophesies, including the place of his birth, and the manner of his life, teaching and eventual death (Cf Micah 5:2; Isaiah 53: 1-12; Psalm 22: 1-18).

The ultimate purpose of Jesus Christ was to restore that broken relationship between God and the human race. That broken relationship resulting from Adam and Eve’s sin which ushered in The Fall.

Throughout his three years of public ministry, Jesus lived a perfect life and could challenge his accusers to prove him guilty of sin (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15). No one else has ever lived like this. He claimed equality with God and the authority to forgive sins (John 10:30; Luke 5:21), and his unique miracles reinforced this. Because of his perfect life, he alone had no need to suffer the penalty of death which resulted from The Fall. Instead, by his death he took the guilt, sin and punishment of all who place their trust in him. So that they could be forgiven by God (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24).

Not only does Christ provide salvation from our sins, but He shows us that He (God the Son) is involved with our suffering. God is not some impassive observer. Rather God was ‘in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He became one of us; he suffered in all the ways in which we suffer. He does not just know about suffering- he has suffered himself. He knows what we are feeling when we suffer. Hebrews describes him as our Great High Priest who is interceding for us when we face trials. He understands and cares for us in what we face here on earth.

Jesus Christ literally and physically rose from the dead- an event recorded by five independent writers in the New Testament. By this he proved finally who He was and why he had come. Paul wrote, ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We will be thinking more about the resurrection on Easter Sunday’s update.

So there is a challenge for us all in the light of this revelation: For those who deny the Creator, there is no ultimate purpose either in the world around us or in suffering. Further they must give account to God on the Day of Judgement. If they have justified their sin and rejected God’s salvation in Christ they will be condemned. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (John 3:36)

So believe in the Son while it is still today. While you are reminded in the present crisis of the transient nature of this life and eternal realities. God in Christ has prepared the way to restore the whole of the spoiled creation to what it was originally. He has promised that one day Jesus Christ will return and create a ‘new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). It will be as it was at the beginning, but greater still: Because of our fall and redemption in Christ, we will have a level of grateful intimacy with God that Adam and Eve never knew. There will be no more viruses, ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passes away’ (Revelation. 21:4). Glory to God!

 

With these thoughts in mind it would be good to pray into the present crisis:

For all those across the world who have been, and are continuing to be, affected by COVID-19.  We pray that all will know God’s overwhelming, steadfast love

For the countries currently suffering from the greatest outbreaks: China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain, Germany, USA.

For those in our communities who may feel vulnerable and scared. That the love of God might be their peace.  That they may know that even in the darkest times God’s love brings hope.

For older people who are concerned about shopping, regular hospital appointments and general day to day contact with other people.

For the medical staff on the frontline of care, we pray that they will be sustained physically, emotionally and spiritually in the coming weeks.

For our world leaders and for the leaders in our own country that they will seek the wisdom of God as they make decisions over the coming days. 

For all those leading the scientific response to COVID-19 across the world. For the scientists from across the globe as they look for ways to alleviate symptoms and as they seek a vaccine for the future.

For all God’s people in this time of uncertainty and concern. That our eternal hope would make an earthly difference. For a sense of calm and clarity as well as strength to face what is ahead. That Christians will be 'beacons of hope' and 'carriers of the message of peace' at this time.

For the work of BMS overseas. Pray for BMS Personnel overseas, our partners and local communities, especially those who are living in countries where the health services and infrastructure might not be adequate to protect a global pandemic.  Pray that God will use His servants to accompany people pastorally through this valley of uncertainty, fear and even potential death. May we be a people of Hope in encouraging others in the face of crisis to lean on God’s sustaining presence and unfailing providence.

For many to reflect on the transience of this life in the current crisis. To be humbled and turn from their sin and rebellion against God and to Christ for their salvation

We acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty in and through all things and pray using the words of Paul to the church in Ephesus:

‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love’ Amen