Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Furies (1)

I have just finished reading a book by Lauro Martines called Furies. It gives an account war in Christian Europe between 1450 and 1700. I have always hated war. I have never believed the hype of the militarists and warmongers who glorify war.

Most histories of war focus on the decisions of the political and military leaders and the outcome of their battles. Martine’s tells the story of the impact of war on the ordinary people. There experience was truly horrifying. The costs of war for them far outweighed the military casualties.

I am not a complete pacifist. I believe that there are situations, where war could be justified, but they are very rare. I set out the conditions for a just war in Defence and War. One of the important principles is that the benefits of a war must outweigh the costs.

I have read quite a lot of history and I have not found a war yet that met the criteria. Reading this book confirmed that. Few wars justify the cost in terms of the military casualties. After reading Martine’s book, I realised that including all the civilian casualties dramatically increases the cost of war, making most wars unjustifiable.

During the period covered by the book, Europe was almost continuously at war. The hundred year’s war in France had just ended. There was a thirty years war in Germany. There was an eighty years war and a nine years war. One war just rolled into the next and the mercenary armies moved for one to another.

Kings could gather armies of 30.000 men. Some would be locals, but many would be mercenaries drawn from all over the world.

The cost of paying and supplying and army of this size was huge, and few kings could afford it.

Armies relied on foraging the areas they travelled through to get supplies. Solders relied on looting to compensate for not being paid.

Having and army move into and area was a huge disaster. They would commandeer all food. If the harvest had just finished, they would take the lot, leaving local people to starve until the next harvest. Farm animals would be taken for food and wagons would be confiscated to carry cannons and supplies. People who objected would be beaten and have their homes smashed. Woman and children were often stolen and used by the solders.

The approach of the regiments terrified villagers. Their raids frequently ended in the mass theft of livestock, fodder, grain, tools, carts and horses. Villagers were beaten, killed, and held to ransom; and women were sometimes raped or abducted. Arson was frequent, employed particularly against obstinate peasants. To feed themselves in the following famine, villages often had to sell off common lands at prices fallen to less than half of their normal value (p.13).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Curse not Sin

Homosexuality is becoming a challenging issue for the church.

Here in New Zealand a law allowing same-sex marriage has been passed into law by the Parliament. The opposition was being led by a Christian group, but it has been unsuccessful in gaining traction. In the United States, the Supreme Court has agreed for the first time to hear challenges to laws banning same-sex marriage. The court will hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Christians will have to decide how to respond to these changes.

At a more practical level, some Churches are having to decide how to respond to homosexual people joining their church. Jeff Cook has written about the challenge he has faced.

The topic itself has gone nuclear. Churches across the country have split or fired staff because of their opinions or their confessions of sexual struggle. Recently, the church I planted lost a third of its support because of its approach to homosexuals in our community, and here is where the American Church sits: in a place of pain and tension, with both sides now solidifying.
The normal evangelical response is that homosexual behaviour is a sinful. People who come to faith should repent of their sin and turn for the wicked ways. That seems quite straight forward.

But Jeff Cook was challenged by the experience of one lesbian woman in his church.
One of the lesbian women who now serves in our church had a dramatic conversion experience and life change that was unlike anything I have seen before. I cannot think of anyone else who, after encountering Christ, changed so many of her habits, pursuits, and priorities. She is a radically different person and her transformation was unmistakably the work of God’s Spirit. But apparently the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality yet, and I find that worthy of note.

Why would God refrain? According to most of Christian culture her sexuality ought to have been the Spirit’s first target for conviction and repair, but her experience was not unique. I hear from those in other churches that gay men and women coming to faith and clearly stepping into a life of discipleship and sanctification are likewise not experiencing God transforming their sexual preferences. So how should we read this?
My response is slightly different. I believe that homosexuality is more of a curse, than a sin. Homosexuality is a curse that is the consequence of the sins of previous generations. When a sin is widespread in a society, worse sins take control and dominate the subsequent generations (2 Kings 10:31). Sodom is an example. Most Christians will be surprised to learn that Sodom’s root sin was not homosexuality, but pride and greed. Ezekiel explains what really started the rot in Sodom.
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom : She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49).
The sins of Sodom were arrogance, laziness and refusal to care for the poor. It seems that when a society makes an idol of comfort and pleasure, it will descend into promiscuity and eventually into homosexuality.

Homosexuality is a second-generation sin. The sin of the previous generation curses the following generation to an even worse life. I am not saying that the later generation is not accountable for their actions, but their behaviour is often the consequence of a pattern established by the behaviour of a previous generation. What Lot found in Sodom was just the natural outcome for a society that worshipped comfort and wealth.

Our individualistic culture finds the inter-generational aspect of sin hard to understand. In some cases, it passes directly from father to son, but more often it works from one generation of a society to the next. When one generation moves into sin, the next is hardened and compelled to go further. One sin always leads to another. This pattern of going deeper into sin can be seen in Romans 1:18-32. When a culture denies the existence of God, worships the environment and exalts human wisdom, they, or the next generation, will fall into sexual immorality.
They became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another (Rom 1:23-27).
When people persist in worshipping created things, they end up worshipping their bodies and they have no protection from lust. God gives them over to the “desires of their hearts” which leads to sexual perversion. This may take more than one generation to work through the culture, but without repentance, it is inevitable.

The reason why homosexuality has become more common in our society is that previous generations stopped believing in a Creator and exchanged the truth about creation for a lie. Therefore, God has given the current generation of our society over to seduction and homosexuality.

Rather than condemning those who are inflicted, we should see their fate as a warning about the state of our society, and that we all share responsibility for this decline. The Church is the guardian of the gospel, so the greatest responsibility rests with us. We are part of a society that enjoys wealth and comfort; and the church has not been much different. Even those who do not accept the prosperity gospel are fairly serious about their comfort. Therefore, we should not be surprised that our culture is going down the same path as Sodom.

Going to back to Jeff Cook’s question about why people coming to faith in Jesus are not having their sexuality changed.
Why is it that many gay folk are redeemed and becoming sanctified and apparently not challenge to work on their sexual preferences by the Spirit?
The answer may be that repenting and believing is the correct response to sin, but it does not deal with a hereditary curse. If homosexual preferences are a curse that has come of a consequence of the sinful behaviour of the previous generation, it will have to be broken and healed. Unfortunately, the modern church is not well prepared for this task. We struggle to set people free from the curse of the common cold, so we are not ready to deal with such a serious curse.

Churches that have not dealt with the sins of comfort and prosperity will struggle to deal with sexual attractions. If we have not dealt with the roots, we will find it had to change the branches.

For more see Homosexuality.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Muller on Capitalism (8)

I have quoted extensively from Jerry Z Muller, because he raises some important issues for those who care about the future of society.

An advanced capitalist economy does indeed require an extensive financial sector. But whatever the benefits and continued social value, the financialisation of society nevertheless had some unfortunate consequences, both in increasing inequality by raising the top of the economic ladder ( thanks to the extraordinary rewards financial mangers receive) and increasing insecurity among those lower down ( thanks to the intense focus on short-term economic performance to the exclusion of other concerns).

Capitalism today continues to produce remarkable benefits and continually greater opportunities for self-cultivation and personal development. Now as ever, however, those upsides are coming with downsides, particularly increasing inequality and insecurity. Marx and Engels accurately noted, what distinguishes capitalism from other social and economic systems is its “constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions and everlasting uncertainty and agitation.”

Now as then, the question at hand is just how to maintain the temporal blessing of capitalism while devising preventative and correctives for the evils that are their eternal concomitant.
This last para is really important. The benefits of capitalism are amazing, but the downsides cannot be ignored. All the secular and socialist solutions to this problem have failed. Christianity offers a solution that will work, but unfortunately it has not really be tired. Unrighteous wealth should be given away and righteous wealth should be shared. See Jesus on Money and Secular Capitalism. Christians should be comfortable with insecurity, if they understand God's plans for the future.

That Donkey Again?

This may be a bit unfair, but when I read the response of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to the Boston bombing, my first thought was “The American prophets are distracted with their ranting about gun control, so God had to prophesy through a donkey, again”. Here is what he said.

Any attempt to make a link between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, is in vain. They grew up in the US, their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of evil must be searched for in America.
Those searching for the roots of this evil should be asking why Patriots’ Day releases the spirits of violence across their land. Waco, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Boston and West all occurred around this day. They were not connected physically, but there must be a link in the spiritual realm. Living in the antipodes, I do not know much about it, but according to Wikipedia, Patriots Day is celebration of a couple of battles in the War for Independence (did it start with the eating of an apple). Celebrations of war often proclaim faith in military power that releases spirits of violence and war.

Many Americans are fearful of an external attack on their nation, because they do not understand the nature of our struggle. Being surrounded by oceans, America is the hardest nation in the world to invade. The real danger is spiritual attack, and that comes from within. For example, are the prophets ranting against gun control and expressing their faith in gun power unwittingly releasing spirits of violence?

Many Americans believe that when the big evil comes, they will head to the hills with their guns and raise a resistance (like wagons on the prairie). Unfortunately, the real enemy is spiritual, so it cannot be defeated by guns. Faith in military power actually feeds the spirit of warring violence. When the real evil arrives, it is far more likely that Americans will use their guns to tear their nation apart, and the gospel will lose.

Many American Christians are afraid of Islam. This fear seems to be absurd at two levels. American military power far exceeds all of the Islamic nations combined, so they will never be a serious military threat even if they all joined together. The Christian gospel is far superior to the Islamic religion, so it should be winning the evangelism struggle hands down. However, at the spiritual level the situation is much more dangerous. Four of the main spirits that work through Islam are:
  • religious spirit
  • good works
  • violence
  • fighting and war
These spirits already have a stronghold in the United States culture, which leaves the nation spiritually vulnerable.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Muller Capitalism (7)

Jerry Z Muller suggests that education is not the solution to equality.

In today’s globalised, financialised, post-industrial environment, human capital is more important than ever in determining life chances. This makes families more important, too, because as each generation of social sciences researchers discovers anew (and much to their chagrin), the resources transmitted by the family tend to be highly determinative of success in school, and in the work place.

As the political scientist Edward Banfield noted a generation ago in The Unheavenly City Revisited, “All education favours the middle and upper-classes child, because to be middle- or upper-class is to have qualities that make one particular educable.” Improvements in the quality of schools may improve overall education outcomes, but they tend to increase, rather than diminish, the gap in achievement between children from families with different levels of human capital.
The unrecognised and unleashed power of Christian discipleship is that it can created the middle class attitudes necessary to build human capital.

Violence is our Game

A young rugby player who is an All Black has been charged with assaulting his partner and the mother of his baby. Appearing on television with the head of the rugby union and the manager of his rugby franchise standing beside him, he tearfully mumbled and apology. It was so well orchestrated that something had to be wrong.

The irony is that this young man was used to front a campaign against domestic violence. The slogan for the campaign is “Violence is not our game!” The problem is that violence is their game. Rugby is a very violent game. The game is a based on physical intimidation, with the most forceful team winning. Defenders throw their bodies against attackers with violent force to stop their progress. Coaches psych up their team to hate and dominate their opposition.

Supporters will say that this is controlled force. I am more concerned about the spiritual effect. Evil spirits love a mixture of emotion and physical violence, because they are able to intrude themselves. So I am not surprised that a young man who is encouraged to be violent on the rugby field behaves in the same in an emotionally charged situation at home. If you give a spirit of anger and violence a home, it does not go away when you walk off the field.

Our society has become quite unbalanced. Parents who smack their children are treated as criminals. Rugby players who use violent force in a rugby game are national heroes. We want to get rid of domestic violence, but violence is our game.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Muller Capitalism (6)

Jerry Z Muller discuses the impact of capitalism on the roles of men and women.

One crucial impact of the rise of the postindustrial economy has been on the status and roles of men and women. Men’s relative advantage in the preindustrial and industrial economies rested in large part on their greater physical strength—something now ever less in demand. Women, in contrast, whether by biological disposition or socialisation, have had a relative advantage in human skills and emotional intelligence, which have now become increasingly more important in an economy more orientated to human services than to the production of material objects. The proportion of the economy in which women could participate has expanded and their labour has become more valuable—meaning that time spent at home now comes at the expense of lucrative possibilities in the paid work force.

The redeployment of female labour from the household has been made possible in part by the existence of new commodities that cut down on necessary household labour time (such as washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, water heaters, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens). The greater time devoted to market activity, in turn, has given rise to new demand for household-orientated consumer goods that require less labour (such as packaged and prepared food) and the expansion of restaurant and fast-food eating. And it has led to the commodification of care, as the young , the elderly and the infirm are increasing looked after not by relatives but by paid minders.

As the economy has passed from an industrial economy to a postindustrial service and information economy, women have joined men in attaining recognition through paid work, and the industrious couple today is more likely to be made of peers, with more equal levels of education and comparable elves of economic achievement—a process termed “assertive mating”.

Given the family’s role as an incubator of human capital, such trends have had important spillover effects in inequality.

A family with two professional parents has a huge advantage over a family with one or two unskilled parents.


Today is ANZAC day, the official memorial day in Australia and New Zealand. It marks the launch of the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War.

The First World War was a total waste and nothing good was achieved at an enormous cost.

The Gallipoli campaign was the mad plan of a crazy young warmonger called Winston Churchill. He seemed to have an obsession for war, but did not care about the human cost.

The war was a battle between the four, dying, Christian empires of Europe. Turkey had no interest in the dispute, but Britain and Germany bullied it into taking sides, because they wanted access to its resources. The Ottoman Empire was already on its last legs. The war killed the last Moslem empire, and the new nation state of Turkey emerged in its place.

The leaders of Europe blundered into war because they made threats against each other and then were too arrogant to back down. France and England had dominated Western Europe since the Spanish Empire collapsed, and they were threatened by the rising star of the united German nation. They seemed to want beat it up before it became too strong. All pointless posturing of pompous politicians.

The British reasons for joining this strange terrible war are even more obscure. They had the world’s largest empire, so they might look weak, if they did not join the fight.

The embarrassing question that no one dares to ask is why young Christian men from New Zealand, a small nation in the South pacific were attacking and invading a Moslem nation just off the Mediterranean. New Zealand soldiers had no justification for invading and killing the Turkish people defending their homeland. We should be embarrassed by this event. If a Moslem army from the Middle East tried to invade New Zealand, we would kick up a great fuss, so why was it alright for us.

I presume it was justified for us to invade a distant Moslem nation, because we are British, and God is on our side.

Despite our legends, the Turks proved to be the better fighters, and after months trapped on the beach and clinging to the rough hillsides above it, the British forces had to withdraw after the Turks inflicted massive casualties on the trapped armies.

The official line is that they gave their lives for their nation, but their lives were stolen for a political lie.

New Zealand celebrates a defeat by people we considered inferior for our national day. What does that say about us as a nation? If we had learned from our mistake and were looking back with humility, that would be okay, but to look back on a defeat and pretend that it makes us a great nation is a bit warped.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Muller Capitalism (5)

Jerry Z Muller writes about the growth of service industries and decline of manufacturing. Globilisation has reinforced the trends.

In 1973, the sociologist Daniel Bell noted that in the advanced capitalist world, knowledge, science and technology were driving a transformation to what he termed “post-industrial society’. Just as manufacturing had previously displaced agriculture as the major source of employment, he argued, so the service sector was now displacing manufacturing.

In a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, the production of manufactured goods depended more on technological inputs than on the skills of the workers who actually built and assembled the products. That meant a relative decline in the need for and economic value of skilled and semi-skilled factory workers—just as there had previously been a decline in the need for and value of agriculture labourers. In such and economy, the skills in demand included scientific and technical knowledge and the ability to work with information. The revolution in information technology that has swept through the economy in recent decades meanwhile has only exacerbated these trends....

Globalisation has not caused this pattern of increasingly unequal returns to human capital but reinforced it. As the manufactured goods and routine services are outsourced, the wages of the relatively unskilled and uneducated in advanced capitalist societies decline further, unless these people are somehow able to find remunerative employment in the untradeable sector.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Muller Capitalism (4)

Jerry Z Muller explains the tension between dynamism and security that is produced by capitalism.

For most of history, the prime source of human insecurity was nature. In such societies, as Marx noted, the economy system was orientated toward stability-and stagnancy. Capitalist societies, by contrast, have been oriented towards innovation and dynamism, to the creation of new knowledge, new products, and new modes of productions and distribution. All of this has shifted the locus of insecurity from nature to the economy.

Hegel observed in the 1820s that for men in a commercial society based on the breadwinner-homemaker model, one’s sense of self-worth and recognition by others was tied to have a job. This posed a problem, because in a dynamic capitalist market, unemployment was a disctint possibility. The division of labour created by the market meant that many workers had skills that were highly specialised and suited for only a narrow range of jobs.

The market created shifting wants, and increased demand for new products meant decreased demand for older one. Men who lives had been devoted to their role in the production of the old products were left without a job and without the training that would allow them to find new work. And the mechanisation of production also led to a loss of jobs. From its very beginning, in other words, the creativity and innovation of industrial capitalism were shadowed by insecurity for members of the work force.....

The dynamism and insecurity created by nineteenth-century capitalism led to the creation of new institutions for the reduction of insecurity, including the limited liability corporation, to reduce investor risks; labour unions to further protect worker interests; and mutual aid societies to provide loans and burial security.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Muller Capitalism (3)

Jerry Z Miller explains that unequal abilities become more significant as barriers to opportunity are removed.

If capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, however, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or progress far once they have done so. Form or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population―such as women, minorities and the poor—from benefitting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before.

The inequality that exists today, therefore, derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity. And that unequal ability, in turn stems from difference in the inherent human potential that individuals begin with and in the ways that families and communities enable and encourage that human potential to flourish.

The role of the family is shaping individuals ability and inclination to make use of the means of cultivation that capitalism offers is hard to overstate. The household is not only a site of consumption and of biological reproduction. It is also the main setting in which children are socialised, civilised and educated, in which habits are developed that influence their subsequent fates as people and as market actors. To use the language of contemporary economics, the family is the workshop in which human capital is produced.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Muller Capitalism (2)

Muller says that a serious consequence of the dynamism of capitalism is increased insecurity.

Capitalism’s intrinsic dynamism, however, produces insecurity along with benefits, and so its advance has always met resistance. Much of the political and institutional history of capitalist societies, in fact, has been the record of attempts to erase or cushion that insecurity.

The right has largely ignored the problem, while the left has sought to eliminate it through government action, regardless of the cost. Neither approach is viable in the long run. Contemporary capitalist polities need to accept that inequality and insecurity will continue to be the inevitable result of market operations and find ways to shield citizens from their consequences- while somehow still preserving the dynamism that produces capitalism’s vast economic and cultural benefits in the first place.

Capitalism is a system of economic and social relations marked by private property, the exchange of goods and services by free individuals, and the use of market mechanisms to control the production and distribution of those goods and services….

Throughout history, most households had consumed most of the things that they produced and produced most of what they consumed. Only at this point did a majority of the population in some countries begin to buy most of the things they consumed and do so with the proceeds gained from selling most of what they produced.

The growth of market-orientated households and what came to be called “commercial society” had profound implications for practically every aspect of human activity. Prior to capitalism, life was governed by tradition institutions that subordinated the choices and destinies of individuals to various communal, political and religious structures. These institutions kept change to a minimum, blocking people from making much progress, but also protecting them from many of life’s vicissitudes. The advent of capitalism gave individuals more control over and responsibility for their own lives than ever before- which proved both liberating and terrifying, alowing for both progress and regression.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Muller Capitalism (1)

Jerry Z Muller has published an important article called Capitalism and Equality: What the Right and Left get Wrong in Foreign Affairs (March/April 2013). Jerry Z. Muller is currently a Professor of History at the Catholic University of America. His message parallels that of Guy Standing, but whereas Standing leans towards socialism, Muller is a conservative. He is the editor of a book called Conservatism.

Muller is concerned about the link between capitalism and equality, and is worried that conservatives just ignore the problem.

Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the postindustrial capitalist world. But despite what many on the left think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it, for the problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized. Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it -- because some individuals and communities are simply better able than others to exploit the opportunities for development and advancement that capitalism affords.

Despite what many on the right think, however, this is a problem for everybody, not just those who are doing poorly or those who are ideologically committed to egalitarianism -- because if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Standing Precariat (4)

Guy Standing says that historically we are at a fascinating point. Karl Polanyi wrote a book called the Great Transformation in 1944. There was a period dominated by financial capital in the nineteenth century. Inequalities and insecurities multiply until there was a crisis, which can do go two ways. Society can lurch towards Nazism and Fascism, or a new progressive movement can emerge to change the patterns of distribution and freedom. He thinks that we are at that crisis point now, so it is exciting to see what might emerge.

Polanyi was analysing the emergence of the national market economy. What we have now is the emergence of a global market economy. The great transformation needed a proletariat: a stable, disciplined, full-time labour supply to work in factories. The global market economy needs an unstable labour supply that will accept an unstable lifestyle.

The young educated precariat are looking for new forms of freedom and association. The Occupy movement was a build up of primitive energy. 2012 was the lull before the storm. Standing hopes that the next two years will see the emergence of new progressive vision.

The precariat was the inevitable consequence of government policies. A Faustian bargain was made in the 1980s. All parties appealed to the middle class, and ignored the precariat. They knew when they liberalised their economies that wages and benefits would have to fall in the rich industrialised countries. The politicians knew that opening up to China and India would produce downward pressure on wages, but they did not say this publicly, because they needed to be re-elected. To compensate for lower wages, they allowed cheap credit and an orgy of consumption, knowing that they would have moved on before the crisis hit. The world has now gone into austerity and inequality is continuing to grow.

Standing went on to propose some solutions, but they did not seem to be relevant to a modern society. However, the problem that he has identified is a serious threat to the peace of society. If something is not done, it could blow society apart. Christians should be thinking about how they can bring a solution to this problem. Jesus was comfortable dealing with the precariat of his time. To be taken seriously, we will need to bring practical solutions, not just pass judgment.

I describe one alternative here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Standing Precariat (3)

Guy Standing says that the precariat must be understood as an emerging class. There are three varieties of precariat.

  • People falling out of the working class are the first group. Their parents had stable full time work, so they know what they want, but they do not have it... This group is dangerous, because they are relatively uneducated, very desperate, very angry, and very easily mislead by populists of the far right. Many neo-nazi groups are appealing to them because it seems like migrants are taking their job. Populists play on their fears, and say they are afraid, because of “them”. These groups are often part of the precariat, so the precariat is at war with itself.

  • Denizens are migrants and ethnic minorities, who do not belong anywhere. They have less rights than other people in their society, often because they are taken away from them by the government. They often lose social rights, because they may have fallen foul of the law. They do not have citizens rights in any country. This group keeps their heads down and concentrates on surviving. They are politically detached. This is dangerous, because they could be dragged into the wrong trends.

  • Young educated people with status frustration are the third group. They have spent a huge amount of money on their education in expectation of employment, careers, identity and status. Millions have been told to invest in the future, they have taken on debt and have found that they have been sold a lottery ticket that costs less and less and more and more. The debt bubble is going to look small compared with the education bubble. Universities have been turned in human capital factories that no longer encourage curiosity, a sense of history and the ability think. The market for graduates is over supplied.

The first part of the precariat is vulnerable to demagogues, but the third part is more progressive in its orientation, and is a rapidly growing in proportion. Thirty percent unemployment rates indicate a huge pool of disaffected youth. Most people have children and relatives in the precariat. The third group are green, they are furious about the fact that they cannot use their education.

The third group is rejecting old style politics of centre left and centre right. The old laborist traditions of social democracy do not appeal to them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Standing Precariat (2)

Guy Standing identifies four A’s that have influenced the emerging precariat. When combined together he says that they make a perfect storm.

  • Anxiety. More and more people a faced with anxiety and a sense of insecurity in their lives. This is not insurance based insecurity due to the probability of debilitating events. This is anxiety based on chronic uncertainty in many aspects of life.

  • Alienation. The precariat no longer feel that they are doing what they would like to do. They are forced to be part of this insecure work force. They often feel underemployed, yet feel over-employed in that they are pressed to do things that they do not want to do. Governments are telling people that they must be flexible, adaptable and mobile, but are not offering a model where people can have a sense of security in their career.

  • Anomy is a sociological concept that comes from Emil Durkheim and refers to a sense of despair of escape. It sense of passivity induced by a feeling that whatever I do I cannot get out of this mess. This sense of anomy permeates many millions of people and many communities in the Western world.

  • Anger is the result of the other three. There is an incredible sense of anger out there. The Occupy movement comes out of this.

Standing describes a precariatised mind. The precariatised mind arises from the loss of industrialised time. We dealt with life in blocks. People got up in the morning and went to work. They had family time in the evening. There were blocks of time in life for schooling, work, then retirement. We now have tertiary time where we flit between activities due to external pressures. We never know what we should be doing. People have lost the ability to reflect and concentrate. We have lost a sense of control as time has been commodified.

Cross or Cathedral

The cathedral in the centre of Christchurch was badly damaged in the 2010 earthquake. Now it is turning into a controversy. The Anglican Church is building a temporary cardboard cathedral on another site nearby, using some of the insurance money that they received for the damage to the cathedral. Now a group advocating the restoration of the damaged cathedral has gained a court decision against the cathedral trustees stating that the insurance money cannot be used for the temporary cathedral, but must be used to repair the damaged building.

Now the Anglican Church has released three options for the damaged cathedral. The first is to repair the damage to the existing cathedral. This will cost twice as much and take twice as long as others. The second option is to destroy the damaged building and build a replica from earthquake resistant materials. The third option is to build a modern cathedral on the site of the damaged cathedral, taking a few artefacts across. Popular support for a modern cathedral is quite strong, but there is also staunch support for the repair option.

Resolving these issues could take a long time, but that does not matter much. The cathedral casts a dark shadow over the square during winter, which tends to keep people out. I would prefer to see people coming into the square and using it for recreational activities. So if no cathedral is built, it might be an improvement.

The open area in the centre of the city where the cathedral is sited is called Cathedral Square, but it is actually the shape of a cross. I think that an empty cross is a very appropriate symbol to have at the centre of a city called Christchurch.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Standing Precariat (1)

Earlier this year I heard and interview with Guy Standing. His message was one of the most important that I have heard for a while. His solution is mostly wrong, but he has diagnosed a problem in modern society that everyone who cares about the future should think about. The fact that his solutions will not work, does not make the problem he has identified go away.

Standing says that globalisation has opened up the world economy. This has encouraged free markets, competiveness, capital flows and commodification. The nature of the state has changed and the institutions of social solidarity have been dismantled. The workforce of the world has trebled shifting the balance of power between labour and capital.

Standing says that a class fragmentation has taken place, that makes old-style Marxist categories redundant and antiquated. New classes are emerging.

  • The plutocracy is at the top. They are much less than one percent. These billionaires are often on the edge of criminality.

  • The salariat still have long-term employment security. They get the benefits of pensions, sick leave and annual leave.

  • The proficians are self-entrepreneurs, independent minded, educated. They are very busy selling their services, but they are on the edge of exhaustion.

  • The core is the old working class. They used to have stable long-time employment in full-time jobs. This group is shrinking fast.

  • The precariat are taking shape at the bottom. This is a class in the making, so they are not fully aware of what is happening. They have insecure employment, insecure incomes, insecure jobs. Increasingly, they are employed in indirect forms of labour. They are people who do not have an occupation narrative that gives a sense of obligation and meaning to their lives. The cannot define themselves in occupational terms. They have to get a huge amount of work for labour that does not get paid, eg training and travel between jobs.

Guy Standing's book is called The Precariat: The New Danger of Class

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Responsibility for Evil

There is plenty of evil in the world, but the scriptures explain who is responsible.

  • The spiritual forces of evil have immediate responsibility for all evil on earth. They are opposed to God and exercise their powers of evil whenever they get a chance. Job did not realise it, but he was under attack by evil spiritual forces.

  • Humans have judicial responsibility, because we gave the powers of evil the opportunity to intervene on earth. God created humans and gave them authority over the world. When humans disobeyed God, they passed their authority onto the forces of evil. Humans invited evil into the world, so we are legally responsible for the consequences. Jesus defeated evil on our behalf, but when people reject him, they nullify the effects of that victory. When God’s people reject the blessings of the covenant and move under the curse, they give power to the enemy. Humans give evil permission to be active on earth, so we are judicially responsible for it. We cannot shift the blame back to God.

  • God is strategically responsible for evil being on earth. He created a world and gave control of it to humans. He also gave them freedom to lose their authority on earth to the powers of evil. Giving this freedom to humans was a huge risk, and God must have known we would fail. His choice led to a situation where he was shut out of the world, and had to wait for some humans to invite him back. He could not intervene again until that happened, and while he was waiting, for the powers of evil would be free to wreak havoc (see Gods Big Strategy).

God does not shirk his responsibility for creating the world in this way (Isaiah 45:7 is an example). He has the big picture. I presume he decided that in the long-term (eternity), the good he could achieve would far outweigh the harm done by sin and evil. We cannot see the full picture, so we cannot judge him for choosing the set the world with potential for evil. He is a good God, so we have to trust that he knew what he was doing. God has made the world the way it is, so he is strategically responsible.

Creating the potential for evil is not evil. God is innocent on that count. Choosing to be evil is evil. That is what the devil and his spiritual forces did. Inviting evil into the world is what human did. That created a terrible mess of God’s good world. Humans are responsible for that mess.

See Problem of Evil.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Harsh Prophecies

Some of the prophets brought a very harsh message in the name of God. He sometimes does not seem to be a God of Grace.

The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
their pregnant women ripped open (Hos 13: 16).
This is what the LORD says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem. I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them (Jer 13:13-15).
To understand these words by Hosea and Jeremiah, we must understand blessing and cursing, and spiritual warfare.

Once we understand that struggle between God and the forces of evil for control of the world, it becomes clear that God took a huge risk when he intervened in the world to establish a covenant with the children of Israel. His problem was that he could not create blessing without creating curses. Once he had chosen them and started to bless them, spiritual warfare shifted towards Israel. The spiritual forces of evil that had been wreaking havoc all over the earth did not want blessing to break into their world so they attacked it with a vengeance.

This shift in the spiritual struggle was not a problem while the Israelites were faithful to God. He could deal with anything that the enemy threw at his people. However, when they shut God out by their disobedience, as they inevitably would, they would not just lose their blessing and fall back into normal misery. When they rejected God’s blessing, they were leaving themselves without spiritual protection in a dangerous place. They were exposing themselves to the spiritual forces that had gathered to attack them. This is the curse. God did not have to do anything when the people disobeyed, because the spiritual forces of evil were waiting to choke off the plan of God by destroying his people. This is why the blessings and curses are spelt out so clearly (Deut 28).

The reality of blessings and curses explains why some of the prophets brought a harsh message. God could not create blessing, without allowing a curse to emerge. Blessing cannot exist without curse, because the absence of blessing is a curse. The blessing brings the curse into existence, powerful and waiting to pounce. The outworking of the curse of the law was automatic. The prophets described the evil that became inevitable when the children of Israel disobeyed and shut out God. The forces of evil were ready to go to work and do evil in their midst.

When God had intervened to bless his people, he inevitably gave the powers or evil the right to curse, if his people rejected him. To acknowledge this responsibility, he sometimes spoke as if he was the one who was executing the judgment on Israel, although the judgments were actually being executed by the powers of evil. However, God always take full responsibility for his actions, so he spoke through the prophets as if he was bringing the judgment. Indirectly, this was true.

The spiritual struggle for control of the world is a tough one, as the powers of evil are totally ruthless. Those who choose their side will often get their fingers burnt. The prophets’ message had to be harsh, because harsh stuff would happen when the forces of evil got a free hand to work out their evil plans.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jesus had to Die

The shift in authority on earth is also the reason why Jesus had to die on the cross. He might be able to forgive those who have sinned, but he also had to deal with the powers of evil. God had given them a place in his creation, but they had rebelled against him and chosen to work for evil. Human sin gave them authority on earth, and they have played it for all that it is worth.

The powers of evil demand the same penalty for all who have sinned. Because God is just, he must treat all his creatures consistently. He cannot forgive and forget the powers of evil, or they would live on to mess up the future world that God has planned. They have to be destroyed at the end of the age, so their evil is finally ended, but they demand a similar penalty for all who have sinned, especially humans. Satan is the accuser of all humans prosecuting them before God. He points out every sin and demands that because God is just, they must die for their sins. Satan is a court prosecutor, who is definite about the penalty required. He has even offered to inflict this penalty himself.

God could have chosen to ignore the requirements of justice, but that would be against his nature, so he came to earth as a man to pay the penalty himself. Jesus handed himself over to the forces of evil to inflict the penalty that they wanted to impose on all sinful humans. His death satisfied their warped form of justice, but it won salvation for everyone who puts their trust in him. God then defeated the plans of evil by raising Jesus from death and lifting him up to his throne in heaven. The accuser was thrown out (Rev 12:7-11) and the Lord of Lords took his place.

Jesus died to satisfy God’s justice, but he also died to satisfy the powers of evil who claimed ownership of all sinful people on earth.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:44).
Jesus gave his life to buy back the lives of the people who had been kidnapped by the evil one. The ransom was not paid to God. It was paid by God to the powers of evil who had gained control of people seizing authority over the earth.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wrath of God (2)

When the Scriptures refer to the wrath of God, it is often a euphemism for the powers of evil working evil in situations where sin gives them the freedom to do harm. There are many examples, but here are a few.

Great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2 Kings 22:13).
The king was really saying that the sins of the fathers had released the powers of evil to do great harm in their nation. This is referred to as the wrath of God.
They mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy (2 Chron 36:16).
When the people mocked God’s message, they lost his blessing and allowed the forces of evil back into their nation. The prophet called this the wrath of God.

The wrath of God brings destruction.
Leave me alone so that my wrath may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation (Ex 32:10).
Jesus explained that the devil is the one who destroys (John 10:10). When the Israelites lost God’s blessing and protection, the devil would take the opportunity to destroy them.

Wrath sometimes manifests in fire.
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his wrath was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Num 11:1).
We know from Job 1:16 that fire falling from the sky was referred to as the “fire of God”. We also know that it was the work of Satan (Job 1:12). When the Israelites grumbled against God, they lost his protection, and the powers of evil were able to set fire to the outskirts of the camp and some of the people. This evil is described as the wrath of God.

Miriam got attacked with leprosy when God withdrew his presence and protection from evil attack
The anger of the LORD burned against them ,and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow (Num 12:9-10).
God did not inflict the leprosy directly, because it only came after he had gone and the cloud had lifted. The evil one moved in and inflicted the sickness when God’s protection was removed.
Wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun (Num 16:46).
The plague was inflicted by the powers of evil, but it is described as coming out from the wrath of the Lord, because God was forced to withdraw his blessing by sin.

The wrath of God is sometimes linked with fury.
I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath. I will strike down those who live in this city—both man and beast—and they will die of a terrible plague (Jer 21-5-6).
But we know from the Revelation of John that the one who is furious is the devil.
He is full of fury (Rev 12:12).
And he is the one who brings plagues on the earth (Rev 16:1). The fury associated with God’s wrath is a euphemism for the word of the evil one.

Disasters and calamities come when God withdraws from his people.
In that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us (Deut 31:17)?
When God hides his face, the powers of evil are free to work.
They made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts… Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned; for they made the pleasant land desolate (Zech 7:12-14).
The land became desolate, because God had gone, and the powers of evil had moved in.

The same practice continued in the New Testament.
Those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth,
but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Rom 2:8).
Those who reject the truth and follow evil are obeying unrighteousness, wrath and indignation, but they are really submitted to the forces of evil. They have fallen into the hands of the powers of evil, but God deliberately chooses to minimise their activity, so that they do not gain too much glory.
The law brings wrath (Rom 4:15).
The powers of the evil use the law to get an excuse to attack and harm people.
Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever (Rev 15:7).
The bowls contain the wrath of God, but what actually happens is that evil on earth releases the evil one to great harm.

God is holy and just, so wrath is his natural response to sin and evil. However, sometimes what is called the wrath of God is actually the activity of the forces of evil, which have moved in when he withdrew his blessing and protection.

I had better stop here. I have already given evil more publicity than it deserves.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wrath of God (1)

Many modern people have a problem with the wrath of God. They find it hard to understand how a God who is loving and good can demonstrate such terrible wrath. They have a similar problem with the cross. Many cannot understand why Jesus had to die. Why could God just not forgive those who have sinned, without the need for Jesus to die. Many Christians ignore this issue and just stick to the New Testament, because they cannot reconcile the character of Jesus with the way God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament.

Translation issues are one reason, but another important reason is that God will not give the enemy any glory that he does not deserve. The scriptures do not give a full description of the devil’s operations, but just gives enough information for us to understand what we are up against. God’s unwillingness to give glory to evil, means that the activity of evil is often understated in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. The actions of the evil one often described as the wrath of God.

Humans invited evil into the world when they sinned against God. By submitting to devil, they gave him authority over the earth and allowed him to work out his evil purposes on earth. Evil became part of the normal situation on earth.

God broke back into the world by establishing a covenant with the children of Israel and placing them in their own land. This covenant made it possible for God to shut out the forces of evil and bless his people. Blessing became normal in the land of Israel, but only while the people were faithful to God. This was the basis for the curses and blessing described in Deuteronomy 28 and 29. While they trusted and obeyed God, they would experience the blessing that he promised. If they rejected God, they would come under the curse.

The curse had two sides.

  1. God is holy, so he must remain separate away from sinful people. When the people fell into sin without repentance or sacrifice, God had no choice but to withdraw from his people, and his blessing went with him. Seeing his people desert him for evil, and having to leave caused God great pain. Their unnecessary sin really upset him. This is the wrath of God.

  2. By rejecting God, the people of Israel lost the protection of his presence. They moved from the place of blessing to a situation like the rest of the world, where the powers of evil are free to do their will. With God shut out of the land, the powers of evil were free to come back in and work their evil tricks. The curses were a description of what the powers of evil would so if they regained access to the promised land. This is the curse of evil.

God did not want to give glory to evil, so he rarely describes the second side of the curse. The scriptures use the term the “wrath of God” to describe the outworking of the curse, even though the forces of evil are the ones doing the harm. The problem with this is that God gets blames for a lot of stuff that is not directly his doing. He is happy for this to happen, because he would sooner take blame for or stuff that he has not done, than give glory to the powers of evil.

Describing the works of the devil as the wrath of God is legitimate, because this is the other side of the curse. The evil occurs because God hates sin, and has to draw back from it. The evil happens because he has withdrawn his protection, so it is correctly called the wrath of God. He takes responsibility, because the curse is the consequence of his character. God decided to create spiritual beings with the freedom to rebel and become agents evil. He takes also takes responsibility, because he created them, but they are direct cause of the evil on earth.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Leviathan and Job

My interpretation of Leviathan in Job is confirmed in other scriptures.

  • Job had prophesied that Leviathan was the cause of evil, without understanding at the beginning of his conversation with his friends.

    Those who curse, rouse and release Leviathan (Job 3:8).
    People who curse others release the powers of evil, referred to her by Leviathan.

  • Asaph prophesied that God would bruise the head of Leviathan (Psalm 74:14). This links back to the curse in Genesis 3:15, where God warned that the “seed of the woman” would “bruise the head of the serpent”. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy on the cross.

  • Isaiah prophesied that God would destroy Leviathan.

    In that day,
    the Lord will punish with his sword—
    his fierce, great and powerful sword—
    Leviathan the twisting serpent,
    Leviathan the fleeing serpent;
    he will slay the dragon of the sea (Is 27:1).
    This prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus when he destroyed the power of the devil. He is called the dragon of the sea, because he hides among the people of the earth.

The book of Job provides a clear answer to those who seek an answer to the problem of evil.
  • Evil is not an act of God.
  • Evil is not always the result of sin, although sin can sometimes amplify the power of evil.
  • Evil is not proof that God is not good.
  • Evil is not proof that there are limits on God’s power.
  • Evil is always caused by the evil one and his spiritual forces.
In Job 1,2, the evil one is Satan the accuser in the presence of God.
In Job 41, the evil one is Leviathan, the terrible and fearsome power of evil at work on the earth.

God will not give the enemy glory that he does not deserve, so he did not give Job a full description of his operations. He just gave Job enough for him to understand what he was up against something evil.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Job and the Problem of Evil

The book of Job deals with the problem of evil, but a key part of the story is often missed. Something important happened that Job did not know about. He had no idea that the evil one was involved in his troubles.

The action began when Satan went into the presence of God and demanded the right to get stuck into Job. Prior to the cross, Satan had the right to go into the presence of God and make accusations against the people on earth. This gave him the right to do evil in the world. When Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven, the devil lost this right.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven… Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 12:7-11).
The blood of Jesus dealt with sin, so the accuser lost his privileges in heaven, and could only work on earth by deception.

In Job’s time, the devil still had a right to enter heaven. He left the presence of God to work his evil on earth.
  • Fire came down from heavens and destroyed his flocks of sheep.
  • The Sabeans attacked and stole all his oxen and donkeys.
  • The Chaldeans attacked and carried off all his camels.
  • A wind blew from the dessert and destroyed the house of his youngest son. His children, who were in the house, were also killed.
These events seemed to be natural disasters, so insurance companies would call them Acts of God. However, we know from Job 1 that they were the works of the evil one and his spiritual forces.

When Job continued to honour God, the devil decided on a second attack. He afflicted Job with boils. A doctor would say that Job had caught an infection, because he was run down by his grief, but we know something different was going on. The sickness was a direct attack by an angry devil.

Job’s comforters were a miserable lot. Each had a different perspective, but they all argued that he was suffering because he had sinned. Job refused to accept that diagnosis. He knew he could trust God, so he knew that God did not bring evil on him. His troubles were not an Act of God.

Job also knew that he had not sinned. If he had sinned, he would not be justified in complaining about his troubles, because he would have brought them on himself, but he was sure that he had not sinned.

This left Job with a dilemma. He had clearly experienced great evil. He refused to blame God, but he could not see that he was at fault, either. From his perfective there did not seem to be another alternative.

Job’s frinds kept hammering away at Jobs’ failings, but the accusation fell on deaf ears. If he lived today, his friends would have taken the opposite approach and blamed God. They would have claimed that either God is not good, is not all-powerful, or does not exist, but Job’s friends were better than this.

The book of Job ends with God answering him out of a storm. The usual interpretation is that when Job heard God speak, he learned to worship and lost interested in understanding the causes of evil.

This interpretation misses something important. In Job 40:15, God tells Job to look at the Behemoth hiding in the waters.
Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you.
God then warns that he is dreadful and frightening. The word “behemoth” is a Hebrew word that describes a powerful beast. We know from Daniel 7 that a beast coming out of the sea represents a powerful political empire. Revelation describes a Terrible Beast, which is the greatest powerful evil empire to ever appear on earth.

God was explaining to Job that part of his troubles were the result of the activities of evil political power. The camels were stolen by the Chaldeans, the forerunners of the Babylonian Empire. Job had encountered a fledgling evil empire and the result was nasty. His oxen were killed by the Sabaens. They were a powerful empire established in the Arabian peninsular, in what is now Yemen. They had become rich through political and military power.

God was explaining that the evil that affects us all is often caused by the misuse of political power. This is a warning to God’s people. The presence of the Beast in the book of Revelation means that political power will always be a threat to the Kingdom of God.

After describing the behemoth, God asked Job what he knew about Leviathan.
Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope (Job 41:1)?
The commentators assume that Leviathan is a great sea creature. This is wrong, because it makes the climax of the book of Job irrelevant to its major theme. God explains that Leviathan is too strong for humans to subdue. He has powerful armour and does great evil. Nothing on earth can match his power and all other creatures are afraid of him. The devil is the only creature that fits this description.

God was giving Job a description of the devil’s power in language that someone who did not know about the spiritual world could understand. Job probably did not grasp this, but God was answering his questions about the nature of evil. Job 40,41 explains to Job what we already know from Job 1,2, that Job’s troubles was not caused by God or his own sin. Evil is always caused by the evil one and his evil forces.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Law and Grace (24) Trawling for Principles

When Christians try to develop a political theory, they find that the material in the New Testament is too sparse, so they quickly realise they need stuff from the Old Testament law. The common approach is to trawl through the Torah fishing for principles. The problem is that the judicial laws provided by God were given as part of system of justice. They do not make sense when wrenched out of that context.

The common result is that “biblical principles” are used to support or critique a modern economic or political system. Many years ago, I read a book by EC Wines called the Hebrew Republic. He analysed the principles he selected from the Old Testament and deduced that Moses gave the children of Israel a republic, complete with constitution, president, supreme court, senate and house of representative. This was a huge distortion of the Torah, but it provided a Christian buttress for the American political system. This shows the danger of taking principles from the Torah and ignoring the fact that the laws are part of a complete economic and justice system given by God.

The truth is that people try to draw out principles, because they do not understand, or do not like God’s system of justice. This allows them to cherry pick the bits that they like, and ignore what they do not like. This is a dishonest way to apply God’s word. If we do not trust the system of justice that God has given, we are not entitled to take out principles and use them to support some other human system of government.

Once principles are extracted from the legal and judicial system given by God, they can be used to support any number of worldly systems. The only way to get the benefit of God’s wisdom is to give up our modern worldly systems and allow him to establish his system of justice in our midst.

For the Lord is our judge,
the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
it is he who will save us (Is 33:22).
If we reject God’s system of justice, we cannot expect to benefit from his wisdom. When Christians recognise that God is our lawgiver and judge, they will lose faith in human systems, and trust the system of justice that God gave to Moses.

This is the end of this series of posts. The full series can be found at Law and Grace.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Law and Grace (23) Economics

The New Testament does not outline a Christian economic system. The letters to the early church make many statements that are relevant to economic issues, but they do not describe an economic system. The book of Acts describes the economic behaviour of the early church (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37), but it is not clear whether this was a permanent change, or a temporary response to events in Jerusalem under judgment. Luke does not give enough detail to build an economic system on.

Jesus made many sharp statements about money, but he gives very little context. His brevity suggests that he was assuming that his listeners understood what he was taking back. This was the case, because everything he said about money, related back to the instructions for economic life.

The prophets made many comments about money and wealth, but they did not attempt to describe an alternative economic system. They did not need to because God had already given a perfect economic system to Moses.

Paul, Luke, Jesus and the Prophets, all pointed back to the Torah, when writing and speaking about economic issues. Christians who want a righteous economic system must go back to the Instructions for Economic Life to find God's core teaching about economics. Christian economists should study the Torah to get understanding of God system of economics.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Law and Grace (22) Political Theory

This discussion about the role of the Old Testament law will seem irrelevant to many Christians. However, for those with an interest in political and economic issues, it is really important. When it comes to economics and government, the scriptures look backwards.

The New Testament has very little to say about government and systems of justice. There is plenty of teaching about what is just and injustice, but there is no guidance about a system of judgement. Paul subversively implied that Caesar is a usurper, by declaring that Jesus is Lord, but he did not offer an alternative system of government. Jesus announced judgment on the leaders collaborating with Rome. They will be swept away, but Jesus was silent about what would replace them.

Some Christians assume that in Romans 13:1, Paul was providing a treatise on political theory in one verse. That is not true. Paul was referring back to the justice system that God gave to Moses, by referencing Deuteronomy 17:9 and 19:17. When Jesus said to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, he was not outlining a new political theology. He was reminding the people that God had brought them out from under the Pharaoh and given them a new system of justice that operated through law and local judges.
The prophets made many declarations about justice and injustice. They described the evils of the kings on Israel and Judah. However, the prophets do not describe an alternative justice system.

The New Testament letters, the gospels and the prophets all point back to the system of justice and the system of defence that God gave to Moses. When the impostors are swept away, they should be replaced by God’s system of justice, and God’s system of defence, not some human concoction. Anyone who is interested in political theory and justice must study the Torah and gain an understanding of the perfect system of justice and self-government that God gave announced to Moses.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Law and Grace (21) Guardian

Paul explained to the Galatians that parts of the Torah have been made redundant by the cross. As part of his teaching, he explains the purpose of the Torah. The covenant did not need law. God’s promise of the land was given to Abraham, 430 years before he gave the law.

The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise (Gal 3:17-18).
Abraham did not need law. He was leading a nomadic life in a large country with his family. His word was law in his household. As the patriarch of his family, he was responsible for sorting out all problems faced by his people. While they were in Egypt, the Israelites did not need a law, because they were fully controlled by Pharaoh and his slave masters. Once the moved into the land, they needed a justice system, so God gave them the law right on time.

Law was added because people were still sinful, despite being rescued from Egypt.
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come (Gal 3:19).
The promised seed is Jesus. Until he came, sin and transgressions would be a problem for any society of people living in close proximity to each. The law was added to deal with serious transgressions.
But Scripture has locked up all together under of sin (Gal 3:22).
The children of Israel were all locked up together in a small country and still prone to sin, so they needed the law to enable them to live together in peace. That was a huge blessing in the age before Jesus came.

Paul explains that the law was a guardian until Jesus came.
The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Gal 3:24-25).
The word guardian (paidagogos) is often translated as school master, but that it a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that the law was given to teach people how to be righteous. This is wrong, because the law cannot teach us about righteousness, because it does not even have a full list of personal sins.

The guardian was a servant responsible for taking a boy to school. They were charged with keeping the child safe until they got to where they were going. Their role was to protect the boy from trouble. This is a good analogy for what the law does. It protects people from the worst effects of sin until the time when Jesus has come to set people free from it. That guardian roles continues after the cross. A group of Christians living together in a community would not need the law, because love should overcome all conflicts, but those who do not believe in Jesus still need the law for protection from each other.

Speaking Ill Releases Evil

Last week, a young cricketer was beaten unconscious outside a bar in the posh part of town. The cricketing fraternity responded with a huge outpouring of sympathy from. I could not help wondering if this was partly motivated by unease about their previous comments about this young man. Jessie Ryder has an amazing talent with the cricket bat, but a problem with alcohol and “an attitude to authority” has blighted his career. When he dropped out of the New Zealand cricket team, the fans were highly critical. Last week the local team nearly beat the English cricket team, and might have been successful if this young talent had been playing. To make matters worse, while he was unable to play for his country, he took up a contract to play in the Indian Professional League for $US260,000.

Many cricket supporters had their views, but they might not realise that words and thoughts have a spiritual effect. When the people of a nation think and speak ill of a person, it gives the spiritual forces of evil permission to attack him. They can do it in a variety of ways. In this case, they attacked directly through two guys drinking at the same bar being stirred up to attack him violently and smash his skull.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Law and Grace (20) Galatians

Most Christians assume that Paul’s letter to the Galatians dispatched the Torah to the rubbish dump, but that is not quite correct. Paul was actually concerned about the practices being imposed on the growing church.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “…How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs (Gal 2:14).
He was worried that Gentiles were being forced to take on Jewish customs. He called this “judaising”. The most worrying custom was circumcision.
He began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group (Gal 2:12).

Eating with Gentiles was another concern, although the law did not forbid it, just as it did not command circumcision. Most of the Jewish customs that concerned Paul were not even in the law. The other big burden was the sabbath and the feasts that had been fulfilled by Jesus and were no longer relevant.
You are observing special days and months and seasons and years (Gal 4:10).
Paul reminded the Galatians that they have received the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus. They were not to go back to things that were cultural markers to distinguish Israel from the other nations, because they had never been able to make a person righteous. He explains that a person cannot be made righteous by keeping laws or complying with rules.
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:15-16).
Paul claimed that all real Jews knew this. They understood that human effort (works) to fulfil the standard of the law could not make them righteous. The Gentiles who do not understand the purpose of the law did not know this.

The conflict is not between faith and law, as many Christians claim, but between faith and “works of laws” (ergon nomos). Law and faith are not in conflict, because they have completely different purposes. Works of law are a distortion of the law, and false substitute for faith. Those relying on works of law are under a curse.
All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse (Gal 3:10).
Efforts to earn righteousness by works of law come from the flesh.
Are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh (Gal 3:3)?
The flesh is the sinful human nature. The idea that a person can do things to put things right with God by human effort or works is an affront to God and a serious sin whether they are part of the law, or just the traditions of men (Gal 3:21).

Monday, April 01, 2013

Law and Grace (19) Jesus

Jesus had strong words for those who teach about the law. He has not abolished the law. He actually came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.

Anyone who teaches… others to set aside one of the least of these commands will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever teaches others to practice these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19).
Very few Christians have “become great in the kingdom” by teaching people how to “obey the commands of the Torah”. Yet that is what Jesus encouraged. He expected his followers to teach people how to obey the commands given to Moses. He gave this command, because he knew that every society needs God’s system of justice and God’s economic system to live in peace.