Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

search engine by freefind

hit counter


Give Birth to Justice

Mark 13.8 Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be earthquakes everywhere and there will be famines. These things are like the first pains of childbirth.

There are Christians who look at the Bible and try to calculate the future. Apparently some have seen there direct predictions of the attack on New York's Twin Towers on 11 September, 2001.

If one reads the Bible in this way, it's tempting to hope that if things get really bad in the world, God will one day come down from the clouds and make them better.

We can read these words this way if we so wish. But such a reading is not helpful - if only because events are likely to prove us incorrect. History is littered with Christian groups who have fervently expected the end of the world in their day. Such groups range from the Essenes in the time of Jesus and the Fifth Monarchists during the English Civil War, to Jehovah�s Witnesses in our own day.

As we all know, they were without exception wrong.

The danger of believing that the world will be sorted out by God at some indeterminate future point, is that it encourages many to become fatalistic about the future. Worse, at least one group today seems to want to hasten God's rescue by encouraging war in Israel. They justify this bloodthirsty position by referring to predictions by modern-day Calamity Janes that the "first pains of childbirth" will start in the Middle East.

However, most scholars believe that Mark�s mini-apocalypse and Daniel's so-called "predictions" in the Old Testament were both written, not before a calamitous event, but afterwards. The Book of Daniel was written after the Greeks had desecrated Jerusalem in the second century bc. Mark's passage was penned after the Romans destroyed the city in 70ad.

On this reading, the words accredited to Jesus, far from being a prediction of the future, were Mark's comfort for the present. It is hard for us to imagine the horrors and brutality of Rome. Remember, this was a society which, only 70 years before the time of Jesus, crucified the followers of Spartacus three deep for forty miles along the Appian Way. Many of the poor wretches stayed alive for up to a week.

Maybe words like those in Mark 13 give hope to an Auschwitz generation and to others who have lived through horror. When, for example, up to a million people were hacked to death in Rwanda, what hope was there? What hope is there for young people growing up in parts of the developing world today?

We in the West can't criticise from our relative comfort those who cling to the belief that one day God will come and make it all right.

And yet we know that in reality God will not come down from heaven and put it right.

As a result, those we most admire are those who have not accepted that injustice is inevitable. They have not waited for God to sort things out. They have actively set about creating justice.

Such in the 20th century must include Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. None of these accepted as inevitable the injustice of the world around them. None of these read Mark 13 and taught that Jesus would come down from heaven to make the world better.

Far from it. They fought for justice, they suffered for justice - and through them justice came.

So if passages like Mark 13 have any value beyond comforting people whose hopelessness we cannot imagine, then surely it is to inspire us to be prepared to suffer the pains of ourselves giving birth to a genuinely just world.

[Home] [Back]