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)

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Wheat or Darnel?

Matthew 13.30
  Let the wheat and the darnel both grow together until harvest.

There is a well-known saying, "United we stand, divided we fall." And although this expression is usually taken up by specific groups or political parties, many see it as the only eventual path for humanity to take.

Perhaps one day, in the far future, there will be one world government, one currency, even one language. However, in our present time any attempts to make us "one" seem doomed to failure. Communism, for example, with its ideal of fair and equal shares for all, failed because communists are human like the rest of us, with hopes of wealth and freedom, and because amongst humans there will always be a buyer and a seller, an employer and an employee.

Esperanto, a language to cross barriers and cultures, has never really taken off because nationality (and our native tongue) gives a sense of identity to people, and is not easily given up.

The United Nations is rather ineffectual because nations agree in principle to acceptable codes of conduct, but can never quite agree what they should be especially when they happen to be in conflict with national interest. So the list goes on, with our common humanity constantly being the stumbling block to truly being a "common humanity".

The religious sphere, of course, is no better, with schisms breaking out at every opportunity, and with each one believing they are just a little nearer to God than their neighbour (or in some cases, much nearer).

This is why it is good to see Psalm 139 listed in toda's reading. Psalm 139 must rank as one of the most intimate and yet universal pieces of religious writing.

It reminds us, rather bluntly, that under God we are all one anyway. None of us can get away from his presence. We cannot escape his influence even if we cross the seas, or rise to heaven or descend to hell. God knows no political or national boundaries. All life is one under God. We really cannot get away from God, because he is part-and-parcel of our very makeup, of life itself. Or to quote Genesis, we are made in his image, and as Paul says, we "live, move, and have our being" in him.

As far as the psalmist is concerned, God knows our every thought, something that the author obviously finds both wonderful and fearful. So should we!

Yet despite being made in his image, we are not robots, and we have freewill to do as we please. Presumably this is why Jesus talks of the "wheat and the darnel" in Matthew's gospel and of the separation that is to come between the righteous and the unrighteous. We have the paradox of the ever present, all seeing and knowing God who, according to Jesus loves us mightily, allowing us to blunder our way into hell if that is our wish. God lets us make our own way, mistakes and all.

We are, each of us, free to choose to be wheat or darnel.

There is a strong emphasis in the bible on "righteousness", defined in the Oxford dictionary as 2just, upright, virtuous and law-abiding

2. These attributes are good and wholesome, but are somewhat dependent on whether our lawmakers are righteous themselves. If a law is wrong - and some are - is it righteous to follow them regardless? I think not, but it is a problem.

Ironically, most democracies allow for protest by writing in as part of their constitution civil liberties, freedom of speech, the right to appeal or to withdraw labour. Jesus, it would seem, accepted laws that were helpful and ignored those that weren-t. Least of all could he accept hypocrisy, oppressive laws given under the pretext being helpful.

Much of today's lessons, and much of scripture in general, tries to separate the religious world from the secular. It is those who recognise God and are led by the spirit who are "the wheat"; those who live Godless lives are the darnel, or weed, and doomed to the fire.

Paul himself recognised the two natures of mankind, the earthly and the spiritual, the animal against the "higher nature". Those who strive for righteousness, it is said, are destined to be adopted as "sons of God". Strive for the higher things, says Paul, and leave the baser things behind, and there lies true life.

If nothing else, Christianity gives us a challenge in life. Whether there is truly a "life to come" and we are to join Christ in his glorious resurrection is one of life's big questions. We don't know, but we can pursue it in faith. I once asked a devout Christian how he knew "it was all true" (not a question I would phrase today!). He said he didn't - but he lived it as if it was.

That seems a good way forward.

And the reassuring thing is (for the righteous), as Psalm 139 says, that whatever we think or do, or wherever we go, God is there; there is no escaping him.

Depending on whether we live a righteous life, or one of evil intent, an ever-present God can be seen as a comfort or a threat. Words of life � or words of everlasting torment.

Wheat or darnel?

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