Sunday, October 30, 2011

Big bang, eschatology, Colin Howson and anticapitalism

Great sermon this morning from Associate Vicar about eschatology. 

I sometimes reflect that we now know that it’s about 14bn years since the Big Bang.  So if we consider the 2000 years since the incarnation in that context it’s 0.0000014% of the age of the universe. To put it another way, if we map 14bn years onto a normal lifespan of about 70 years we have about 2bn years per decade.  So 1M years corresponds to 1.8 days and 2000 years corresponds to 5 minutes.

Went last night with C to Catholics and for first time had the new liturgy.  In many respects it is an improvement except that they have "peace on earth to men of goodwill" which may be a good translation of pax hominibus bonae voluntatis but it is far from clear that this is what Luke 2:14 means. Eudokias comes from eudokew which is what God says at the baptism "in whom I am well-pleased"  In Romans 10:1 Paul speaks of the eudokia of his own heart towards the Jews.  It seems clear here that eudokia/s is about God's relationship to others, not the relationship of men to each other or God. JB has "men who enjoy his favour".

They also have "after supper he took the chalice" when the word is the ordinary word for cup - though since it was in the form of a passover meal it would probably have been a special cup.

Colin Howson has kindly sent a response to my critique of the first parts of his Objecting to God. It's outselling QoT in the UK although not (by a very long way) in the US. He'd be keen to publish some of our debates and so would I - but even keener to publish the article about what we agree on which we wrote for Prospect years ago. 

I'm deeply unimpressed by the "anti-capitalists" at St Paul's. It's ridiculous of them, with no mandate at all, to call for the abolition of the Corporation of London and the City of London Police.  Other local councils have hardly covered themselves in glory, and  the City of London Police are the lead force on fraud - so the effect of these loon's "demands" would be to encourage fraud and malfeasance in the City.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jumpy, and Positive Psychology

To the Royal Court for Jumpy a new play by April De Angelis starring the wonderful Tamsin Greig. Extremely funny and very well written, in an excellent production with a strong cast who work together really well.  Decidedly cringe-making in places and I'm somewhat glad to be seeing it when our younger daughter is 20 and not 16.

Look out for Michael Marcus - who on his first professional engagement gave a very good little talk at the end appealing for Acting for Others.

In some ways it's an optimistic play - the basic stability and resilience of family life re-asserts itself - but in other ways it really brings into focus the meaninglessness of modern secular living.  I'm reading Charlotte Style's excellent book Brilliant Positive Psychology and it really emphasises how hope, purpose and faith make a difference to people's lives.  Lives without hope are indeed, hopeless.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lights of the world - Philippians 2:18-30

I hope readers will forgive me if I post the notes I prepared on this passage - which is really interesting (at least to me). The translation I give is NIV with corrections.
12 Therefore, my dear friendsa, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—work outb your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to work in order to fulfil his good purposec.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like lights in the worldd 16 as you hold firmlye to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. 17 But even if I am poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of youf. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfareg. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrowh. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to mei.
BTW I use w for omega  
a)   (v12) “my dear friends” is literally “beloved”.
b)  (v12) “work out” the word is katergazesthekata means through and ergo means work.  Of course out salvation is not our doing but as Tom Wright says (in Paul for Everyone: the Prison Letters, which is superb) Paul “wants the Philippians to work out for themselves what this business of being saved will mean in practice. The phrase ‘your own salvation’ isn’t meant to contrast this work of theirs with any work of God in salvation. It is contrasting their own responsibility for their spiritual welfare with the responsibility that Paul would take if he were with them. He isn’t there, and for all either of them know he may never be again. They therefore need to be obedient – to him, but much more to God – in Paul’s absence even more than in is presence”.  (BTW “continue to” isn’t really in the Greek, it’s reading a bit too much into the tense of the word).
c)     (v13) RSV has “for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his own good pleasure”. Wright has “After all, God himself is the one who’s at work among you, who provides both the will and the energy to enable you to do what pleases him”.  The Greek is theos gar estin ho energywn en humin kai to tehlein kai to energein huper tes eudokias literally “God therefore is the [one] operating in you [plural]   both the to will and the to operate on behalf of the goodwill”.  Motyer (in The Message of Philippians) says “energw … characteristically describes work which achieves its purpose… [God] does it because He wants to. It is of free divine choice: for his good pleasure. Nothing then can stop the ongoing divine work”
d)   (v15) the quote is from Deut. 32:5. But “stars in the sky” isn’t right. The Greek is phwsteeres en kosmw which means “lights in the world” (thus RSV and Wright – Motyer uses the RSV throughout).    phwsteeres is the normal Greek word for lights (eg LXX Gen 1:14) and it comes from phws (light) – the word for star (aster) is completely different in Greek (and Hebrew). Now this is said to be a reference to Daniel 12.3 and indeed this will have been at the back of Paul’s mind with the references to resurrection and persecution; but the LXX has lamprotees tou sterewmatos… hws hoi asteres  (brightness of the firmament… like the stars) and of course what will have been at the front of Paul’s mind is Jesus’ many sayings about light such as Mat 5:14 “you are the light of the world” phws tou kosmou.
e)    (v16) holding firm (epechontes) – the word has connotations of paying attention to (Lk 14:7, Ac 35, 1 Tim 4:16)
f)      (v17 & 18) The RSV has “Even if I am to be poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith”  and Wright “Yes: even if I am to be poured out like a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith”  The NIV is being over-rigid about the tense of spendomai (I am poured out) and “coming from” is really stretching the Greek which just has tees which is the normal word for "of".   In 17-18 The Greek is chairw kai sugchairw… chairete kai sugchairete. “rejoice and together-rejoice”  What a wonderful language to have a single word meaning “rejoice together” !
g)     (v20) Wright is very good indeed here: “It is interesting that he doesn’t say ‘Timothy is a wonderful teacher’ or ‘Timothy is a very devout and holy man’ but ‘Timothy will genuinely care about you’… [being] a good pastor…has more to do with sheer unselfish love than anything to do with the person themselves…Notice, particularly, how ‘looking after King Jesus’ interests’ and ‘being genuinely concerned for your welfare rather than his own’ are, for Paul, two ways of saying the same thing. For Paul the communities that gave allegiance to Jesus and king and Lord were not as it were distantly related to their master. He and they were bound up together, he was present with them, his own spirit lived in them individually and corporately. Thus, to serve Jesus and to serve his people are one and the same. To care for the church is to care for the Messiah’s body. And doing this, clearly, is part of what Paul means by ‘working like a slave alongside me for the gospel’.”
h)   (v 27) Wright again: “The present passage enables us … to see… what this joy really is – and what it isn’t…. [Paul] was truly glad to have Epaphroditus with him, and was truly horrified at the thought that he might die. Verse 27 is most revealing: God took pity not only on Epahrodius…but also on Paul, so that he wouldn’t have one sorrow piled on top of another.  ‘Well Paul’ we want to say, ‘What was the sorrow you already had?’ Presumably he would reply ‘ being in prison…’
     ‘Why couldn’t you let go of the sorrow and simply rejoice, as you’re telling us to do?…And …if Epahroditus had died…Wouldn’t you have wanted to rejoice that he had gone to the Lord?’
     Again he might reply, ‘I do rejoice…but at the same time I love my friends…I don’t believe that our emotions are silly surface noise and we should get down beneath them to a calm untroubled state…The joy I’m talking about …doesn’t mean that everything is already as it should be, only that with Jesus enthroned as Lord we know it will eventually get there.  But if, while we’re waiting for that day, we pretend that we don’t have human emotions…then we are denying part of what God has given us.’
    After all, part of Jesus’ own path of humble obedience (2:6-8) was his weeping in agony both at his friend’s graveside (Jn 11.35) and in Gethsemane (Heb 5.7)”
i)      (v 30) again the NIV isn’t right. Wright gives “He came close to death through risking his life for the king’s work, so that he could complete the service to me that you hadn’t been able to perform” and the RSV has ‘for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me’. The Greek is  Hoti dia to ergon Christou mechri thanatou eeggusen paraboleusamenos tee psuchee, hina anapleerwseeto humown husetrema tees pros me leitourgias which is literally “because on account of the work of Christ as far as death he drew near, exposing the(his) life in order that he might fill up the of you lack [the] toward me of service” anapleerwseeto comes from  pleerwma which means fullness or completion, husetrema means lack/want (eg 2 Cor 8:14) or absence (1 Cor 16:17). Paul isn’t whingeing or blaming the Philippians, he’s saying that they couldn’t all come and give him help personally so they sent E. to fulfil the part of the service they were unable to perform (ie giving him the money/help personally) and E. risked his life in Christ’s service doing this.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Joyful opening at St Pauls Hammersmith, but we must do more on unemployment

Celebration of St. Paul's Centre -Oct 9, 2011Far too busy to blog - sadly.  But many events of note.
Last Sunday the Bishop of London opened the extension of St Paul's Hammersmith.  When other churches are sadly cutting back and selling off property to pay running costs, SPH has built a wonderful extension which will really help the Church's amazing work in the service of the community. Richard Chartres was in characteristically sparkling form and the whole event was very inspiring.

Work has been extremely busy and sadly unbloggable!

On Friday Ruth Palmer came round to play through Beethoven's 6th Violin Sonata. Despite 3 lessons from Kathron there is still a lot more to do before I can play it in company, though we did play the 2nd movement.  Ruth's playing of this was a revelation and I'm still trying to digest and internalise the remarkable mood she conjored up.
I wish I could have persuaded the government last year to introduce Negative Employers NI.  It's perfectly clear that the NI Holiday scheme they introduced was inadequate, and that long term unemployment is going to be a major problem in the developed world for a long while.

The fundamental thing that is happening in the world economy is globalization. 10 years ago your earnings were a function of what you did and where you did it, and unskilled westerners receieved (I shall not say earned) a lot more than many skilled Chinese and other Asians. But now real PPP-adjuste earnings at given skill/activity levels are converging globally.

This means that inequality, although falling dramatically on a worldwide basis, will grown in almost every country and that middle and lower incomes in the developed world will have to fall sharply to converge with global middle and lower incomes.

Nominal incomes are very sticky in the developed world and so this can only be accomplished by a combination of inflation and currency depreciation. But anything that we can do to move people up the skills ladder and in particular to reduce as far as possible the number of people who are essentially unemployable is really important.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Colin Howson's Objecting to God

Mother's 80th party in Cornwall was a joyful event. We went to the Headland Hotel because although a marquee at my mother's house would have been much more fun for the guests it would have been very stressful for her.  38 people so we had 4 tables of 9 or 10 and my mother and her 3 children switched at each course so she sat on every table.

The great John Lucas was one of the guests: he was of course delighted to hear about Tom Nagel, and also enquired about the 2nd article that Colin Howson and I had written for Prospect - about what we agree on - which was never published.

I'm delighted to find that Colin has now written a book called Objecting to God whose Acknowledgements page contains the following: "I would like to give special thanks to Nicholas Beale. he and I were going to write a joint book about God and science...Nicholas did provide me with a great deal of insight into the questions addressed in this book, and at all points where I have gained from it I have, I hope, given him full acknowledgement".

I've ordered the book and look forward to reading it with great interest.