Month: July 2016

Slain 100 years ago

JL Smith                                    Lt. John Lyall Smith M.C. Born c. 1886 Died 29/07/1916

Today marks the centenary of the death of the closest relative I’m aware of to have died in an armed conflict. Lt. John L. Smith was my grandfather’s uncle, the eldest son of my great-great grandparents John and Jessie Smith of Aberdeen, Scotland. The family came from Scotland to Queensland, when he was around 25 years old in 1911 and settled in Ayr, one hour south of Townsville (which I had the pleasure of visiting last year). John had worked as a stonemason (following in the footsteps of John Smith Snr) and had served in the Gordon Highlanders infantry regiment and Scottish Horse regiment in the British Army whilst in Scotland.  

Only a few short years into the family’s new life in Queensland, World War I broke out in July 1914. John enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in early 1915 and left Queensland from the Port of Brisbane aboard the HMAT Aeneas in June of that year. He was made a Regimental Sergeant Major upon enlistment (presumably due to prior military service in the UK) and arrived at Gallipoli in the later stages of the famous campaign. While he did not take part in the legendary Anzac Cove landings, he most certainly saw action against the Ottoman Turkish forces – as attested by his promotion to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in November and receipt of the Military Cross for “gallant services.”

John L Smith group (C)
Regimental Sergeant Major J.L. Smith – front row, centre position

His service record indicates that he was afflicted with jaundice from late 1915 until the end of January 1916 and that he convalesced in Cairo during this time. On 19th March, 1916 the 25th Infantry Battalion of which 2nd Lt. Smith was a part became the first Australian battalion to arrive in France to join fighting on the Western Front. According to the Australian War Memorial, their first major battle was at Pozieres, commencing on 23rd July 1916. John was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant during this battle on 25th July.

The map and description of the Battle of Pozieres below come from the Australian Government’s WWI Western Front History page:

Pozieres[1]

In mid July 1916 the three Australian divisions of 1st Anzac Corps marched to the Somme. On the night of 22/23 July the Corps was committed to the third phase of the Somme offensive in which the only successful attack was 1st Australian Division’s capture of the village of Pozières. Over the next few days the Australians extended their hold on the village as the Germans made determined but unsuccessful attempts to retake Pozières. In this period, at the end of July 1916, the Australians also suffered from the worst shellfire they ever experienced. By the time 1st Division was replaced by 2nd Division, it had lost 5000 men, mainly to artillery fire.

Some 500 metres north east of Pozières was a windmill on the highest point of ridge. The 2nd Division was brought forward to capture the OG lines (called by the Allies Old German line 1 and 2), which ran along the crest of the high ground past the windmill. Australian artillery observers stationed on this ground would then be able to direct artillery fire on the German rear areas up to 10 kilometres to the east in the direction of Bapaume.

On the night of 28/29 July 2nd Australian Division attacked the OG lines. Rushed planning resulted in failure, except on the Division’s left, where 6th Brigade captured a length of German trenches beyond the Pozières cemetery.

It was during the mostly failed attempt to make gains on the Old German Lines (O.G. Lines) on 29 July 1916 that Lt. John L. Smith lost his life – only a few days after receiving his last rank promotion. According to eminent War reporter and historian C.E. Bean, John was struck down – probably by German machine gun fire – “…while directing [his] men to sections where the entanglement [i.e. barbed wire] was sufficiently broken…” (Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 Vol. 3, p. 634). Elsewhere, Bean is reported to have said that Pozieres Ridge : “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.” (wikipedia). 

Tragically, John was missing in action for quite some time and his family at home appear to have learned of his disappearance from the newsreel at the local theatre in Ayr. His death was not confirmed by the A.I.F. until around October 1916. His distressed and elderly parents (my great-great grandparents) were naturally deeply grieved by his death. There is a long, painful correspondence between them and the Australian Military Command in Melbourne requesting both their son’s personal effects and the Military Cross medal he was awarded. Reading these letters has allowed me to sense some of the grief my ancestors felt at the death of their eldest son during the very bloody war. The records do not contain evidence that the matter of the Military Cross was ever fully resolved – though it appears that they would have received it from the Governor General in due course.

Today I reflect on the death 100 years ago of a young man – probably the same age I am now – in one of the most horrendous and bloody conflicts of human history.
That he lost his life in France is a sad testament to the fact that he died as a result of proud empires jockeying for Continental and even global dominance. War can be fought for just causes – such as the defense of innocent peoples and nations in the face of aggressors. But war is always the byproduct of human evil like pride and greed.

But Lt. J.L. Smith fought for King and Country and appears to have served bravely and admirably as a soldier. He made decisions and faced situations that I will probably never have to face. He gave his life in the course of a battle that arguably contributed significantly to the weakening of Germany to the extent that they would later lose the war.
Whatever we may think of WWI and its causes – every Australian who has lived since has benefited at least indirectly from our victories in both World Wars. The death of John L. Smith and thousands of others was anything but meaningless. He made a noble sacrifice on a battlefield with a tragic cost of human lives.

And so on 29th July 2016 – 100 years on – I remember the violent end of this young man’s life. Though I’m not a big fan of our national Anzac mythology, I nevertheless find myself commemorating this familial link to that terrible conflict and the suffering of so many on the field and of their bereaved relatives at home. Lest we Forget. 

  

Advertisements

Never More Justified

Going through Galatians at church and starting to read through 1 John with a friend, have been good catalysts for thinking about justification and sanctification. It is always easy to confuse who and what we are already as Christians with what we’re becoming, how fast we’re becoming it and how far off the mark of perfection we still are. So I wanted to take a quick look at some truths about justification (“having a ‘right’ standing in our relationship with God”), sanctification (“being made progressively more holy/conformed to the image of Christ”) and glorification (“being perfected in Christ through our resurrection from the dead and enjoying Him for eternity”).

Justification

There is much that can be said about so grand a topic as justification. But in brief we can say this by way of introduction: Justification refers to our status in relation to God. God regards believers in Christ as “righteous” in His sight and allows them to enjoy a right relationship with Him.

The basis for our justification is Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement. The perfect, sinless Jesus suffered and died in place of sinners and took God’s wrath upon Himself as the consequence of our sins. Thus, He dealt with the sin that had made us “guilty” in God’s sight and had left our relationship with God as one of brokenness and enmity.
However, Christ’s death did not only address our sin-guilt and gain us some sort of “clean slate” before God. His sacrifice was a “propitiation” for our sins – designed to not only deal with God’s holy wrath against us, but to bring His favour upon us in its place.

cross

Since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, people around the world have been invited to trust in Jesus as their Saviour and be united with Him, by faith, in His death and resurrection. When someone trusts in Jesus in this way, not only does He serve as the substitute that took away their sins – but God counts (or “imputes”) Jesus’ righteousness to the believer, as if it were there own. When this happens for someone, they are justified (made right before God) completely by grace (i.e. because of God’s goodness and kindness and not based on any goodness or good works of their own) through faith (i.e. they become right in God’s sight and receive this new status, solely by trusting in Jesus as their Saviour).

Never More Justified  

Justification happens at the beginning of someone’s Christian life – when they repent and believe in the gospel. It is important to understand and appreciate the importance of the truth that once God confers this status upon someone it does not vary by degree, fluctuate or come and go. Once justified, the Christian is never more (or less) so than the hour they first believed.  To explore what this means for us, I will make the following 3 statements.

#1 We are never more (or less) “right” with God, than when we first received the gift of justification. 

Our understanding and appreciation of our justification may increase, but not our righteous status itself. This is a natural consequence of our righteousness or right standing with God being a free gift of grace and the imputation of Jesus’ own righteousness. If we were expected to increase or complete our righteousness in the sight of God, it would mean that our own good works contribute to that righteous status. But our good works cannot justify us before God, neither do they increase or complete our righteousness as though something about our status was lacking. Because God already regards us as though we have loved, honoured and obeyed (excuse the matrimonial phrase!) Him the way His perfect Son Jesus did, we can never be “more right” with God than we already are as justified Christians. Why? Because we can’t be in a “righter” relationship with God or enjoy a “righter” status with Him that exceeds the relationship and status Jesus has with the Father, and that very standing has been counted to us.

#2 We are never more worthy of justification than we were 

In Saving Private Ryan a band of U.S. Soldiers embark on a deadly mission to rescue the only surviving son of a mother whose lost three out of four boys to the carnage of World War II. As they make their way to try and save Private Ryan, the officer in charge of the mission, Capt. Miller makes the remark: “He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease or invent a longer lasting light bulb.” By the time the credits roll, six out of the eight who set out on the mission to save Private James Ryan have died. A high cost, even if their mission was based on a noble principle. As Capt. Miller lies dying from fatal gunfire he utters his final words to Ryan, “James, earn this…earn it.” The film ends with an elderly James Ryan pondering that very question at a U.S. War cemetery. Had he lived a good enough life? Had he done things worthy of the great cost paid for him?

spr

Justified Christians certainly owe our lives to Jesus, who undertook the greatest rescue mission of all and made an unmatchable sacrifice to save us. I could be tempted to picture Jesus on the Cross, looking down at me with His bloodied visage and saying, “Yarran, earn this…earn it.” Thankfully, we find nothing of that kind of message on Jesus’ lips in the Gospels. Yes we should live wholeheartedly and single-mindedly for the one who died for us. But if I got to the end of my life and had a Private James Ryan moment – if I’d understood the greatness of Jesus as a Person, the enormity of His sacrifice and the seriousness of my sin – I’d have to conclude that I hadn’t lived a life that earned the sacrifice made for me.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be “worth” the sacrifice He made, nor does He imply we need to “earn” what He did for us.
We ought to be immensely thankful for the Cross and shape our entire lives around who Jesus is and what He has done. But the best-quality, blue-ribbon Christian is never going to be “more worthy” of what Jesus did for them – no matter how good their post-conversion lives are. Salvation is by grace – grace is never earned.

#3 God is never more “pleased” with us as His children (at least at the fundamental level)

I saved the controversial one for last. God’s pleasure in us as His children is inseparably linked to our union with Christ by faith and God’s counting as true of us what is true of Jesus. God the Father’s pronouncement at Jesus’ baptism: “”This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) applies by derivation to us as God’s adopted children in Christ. Justified Christians are God’s beloved sons and daughters and God is well-pleased with us because of who we are in Christ.

5700504330_f68e6ca722_b[1]

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that our actions can’t be displeasing to God when they dishonour Him or fail to love others. Nor does it suggest that sin has no effect on our familial relationship with God. What it does mean is that God’s fundamental pleasure in us comes not from what we can offer to Him by way of obedience, but from His seeing Jesus when He looks upon us as His children. [Note: Just this morning when I’d already planned to write on this topic, I stumbled across a good article dealing with potential misunderstanding and abuse of this truth. Worth a read].

This means that while our way of life certainly can be more or less pleasing to God (more on that in the sanctification installment), we need to be careful how we think about whether we’re pleasing to God ourselves. If God’s pleasure in us as His children depended on the quality of our obedience, He would never be pleased with us, because our best duties and offerings are always stained with sin. But if our faith is firmly in Christ, we can rejoice that God is pleased with us because we are united with His perfectly obedient Son.

We should only doubt God’s pleasure in us as His children if we ourselves are pleased with our sin. If we are unrepentant, we make light of Christ’s sacrifice and fail to come to Him for forgiveness and salvation. When such a state of life persists, we ought to question whether we truly are united with Christ and God’s beloved children.
But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness: our relationship with God is secure in Christ and He is well-pleased with us because of the Son.

[1] Waiting For The Word “Baptism of Christ 3” (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Religious Scandals – Thomas Watson

A special guest post from my good friend Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)

watson

I acknowledge the luster of religion has been much eclipsed and sullied by the scandals of men. This is an age of scandals. Many have made the pretense of religion, to be a key to open the door to all ungodliness. Never was God’s name more taken in vain. This is that [which] our Saviour has foretold. ‘It must needs be that offences come’ (Matthew 18:7). But to take off this prejudice, consider: scandals are not from true religion—but for lack of true religion. True religion is not the worse, though some abuse it. To dislike piety because some of the professors of it are scandalous, is as if one should say, ‘Because the servant is dishonest, therefore he will not have a good opinion of his master.’ Is Christ the less glorious because some who wear his livery are scandalous? Is true religion the worse—because some of her followers are bad? Is wine the worse—because some are drunkards? Shall a woman dislike chastity because some of her neighbors are unchaste? Let us argue soberly. ‘Judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:24).

God sometimes permits scandals to fall out in the church out of a design:

(1) As a just judgment upon hypocrites. These squint-eyed devotionists who serve God for their own ends, the Lord in justice allows them to fall into horrid debauched practices, that he may lay open their baseness to the world, and that all may see they were but pretend Christians, but painted devils! Judas was first a sly hypocrite, afterwards a visible traitor!

(2) Scandals are for hardening of the profane. Some desperate sinners who would not be won by piety—they shall be wounded by it. God lets scandals occur, to be a break neck to men and to engulf them more in sin. Jesus Christ (‘God blessed forever’) is to some a ‘rock of offence’ (Romans 9:33). His blood, which is to some balm, is to others poison. If the beauty of piety does not allure—the scandals of some of its followers shall spur men to hell.

(3) Scandals in the church are for the caution of the godly. The Lord would have his people walk tremblingly. ‘Be not high-minded—but fear’ (Romans 11:20). When cedars fall, let the ‘bruised reed’ tremble. The scandals of professors are not to discourage us—but to warn us. Let us tread more warily. The scandals of others are sea-marks for the saints to avoid.

Let all this serve to take off these prejudices from true religion. Though Satan may endeavor by false disguises to render the gospel odious—yet there is a beauty and a glory in it. God’s ‘commandments are not grievous’.

Let me persuade all men cordially to embrace the ways of God. ‘His commandments are not grievous’. God never burdens us—but that he may unburden us of our sins. His commands are our privileges. There is joy in the way of duty (Psalm 19:11)—and heaven at the end!

An excerpt from the closing paragraphs of Watson’s Beatitudes (1660). Available here.

A Child’s not a Person – when the Law is an Ass

The Queensland Parliamentary Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee continues its inquiry into our State’s abortion laws. Please continue to pray for an outcome that sees the lives of unborn children preserved in Queensland, rather than one that sees the unborn become even more vulnerable.

In reading some of the presentations made by experts to the committee, here, it was no surprise to see legal experts argue for law reform on the basis of the laws pertaining to abortion being outdated and inconsistent with each other. After reading through the relevant articles of the Queensland Criminal Code, I have to agree. The law needs to change, not only because some elements of it are outdated, but because there are some serious inconsistencies between relevant sections. But I don’t agree with the legal experts when it comes to how these issues should be addressed by the Parliament…

Relevant sections of the Criminal Code

The most relevant legislation in the Criminal Code relating to abortion – and the articles Mr Pyne’s bill would completely remove from the Code – are Sections 224-226:

224 Attempts to procure abortion

Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

225 The like by women with child

Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 7 years.

226 Supplying drugs or instruments to procure abortion

Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything whatever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.

 

Causing a miscarriage or attempting to, has been a criminal offence since 1899. Many believe this should change, because 21st century community values don’t consider abortion to be something that should be treated criminally. Many others believe abortion must remain a criminal act, due to the seriousness of its nature: it destroys a human life.

On a practical level, the above sections of the code put some level of restraint on how abortions are carried out – but their use as the basis for criminal investigation and prosecution are extremely rare. Court rulings allow an exemption from any criminal guilt in procuring or performing an abortion when an appropriate medical professional believes there is a threat to the mother’s physical or mental health should the pregnancy be allowed to continue. Thus, we might say that abortion is only technically criminal in QLD – a dissatisfying status quo for activists on both sides of the debate, but seemingly a happy medium for successive pragmatic state governments.

But the massive inconsistencies and outdatedness of the law come when we examine other sections of the Queensland Criminal Code. For instance, the Code treats an unborn child as a human being that can be unlawfully killed in Section 313:

 

313 Killing unborn child

(1) Any person who, when a female is about to be delivered of a child, prevents the child from being born alive by any act or omission of such a nature that, if the child had been born alive and had then died, the person would be deemed to have unlawfully killed the child, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.

(2) Any person who unlawfully assaults a female pregnant with a child and destroys the life of, or does grievous bodily harm to, or transmits a serious disease to, the child before its birth, commits a crime. Maximum penalty—imprisonment for life.

 

Note how the above section treats the killing of the child about to be delivered with the same seriousness as a child who has been born. The penalty of life imprisonment indicates that the law regards the almost-born-child death as substantially equivalent to the death of a newborn child. Likewise, when a pregnant woman is assaulted and the child’s life is destroyed, the maximum penalty of life imprisonment would suggest that something equivalent to murder has been committed.

The massive inconsistency therefore comes in the Code’s dealings with homicide:

291 Killing of a human being unlawful

It is unlawful to kill any person unless such killing is authorised or justified or excused by law.

292 When a child becomes a human being

A child becomes a person capable of being killed when it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of its mother, whether it has breathed or not, and whether it has an independent circulation or not, and whether the navel-string is severed or not.

 

It is Section 292 that is outdated and inconsistent with what we saw in Section 313 above. Our law is inconsistent to treat an unborn child’s destruction as judicially equivalent to murder in one section of the Criminal Code, while holding that an unborn child cannot be considered “a person capable of being killed” in another section. If someone hits a pregnant woman’s stomach with a hammer and the unborn child dies, they are guilty of a crime and liable to life imprisonment under Section 313, but they haven’t actually killed a legally recognised “human being” or “person” according to Section 292. And of course, Section 292 completely removes the basis for any argument that abortion is murder under Queensland law – the unborn child is not a “person capable of being killed.”

13730795_1221895087829000_7039632259243565681_o
[1]

The above sections of the Code and abortion

So the abortionist can only be held to account for criminal conduct under sections 224-226 – the very sections Mr Pyne wants removed from the Code – and only if they cause the miscarriage of a pregnancy without having one of the justifying conditions recognised by the Courts. Removing sections 224-226 will mean that killing unborn children through abortion will no longer be a criminal offence, while killing an unborn child through unlawful assault will carry the same potential sentence as murdering a newborn child or adult citizen.

This will not rectify the inconsistency under the law. Either the killing of any unborn child must be regarded as the killing of a human being (per Section 313, contra Section 292) or the killing of any unborn child must not be regarded as the killing of a human being (per Section 292, contra Section 313). Out of the two, it is Section 292 that should be reformed in light of the values expressed in Section 313 (with Sections 224-226 either being changed positively to reflect this or remain as is).

It has been suggested that Section 292 is a very old legal principle, which existed because of the difficulty in legally proving that an unborn child had been alive prior to an action that is alleged to have caused its death. But it is true that medical advancements render such a principle obsolete. With the current state of obstetrics/gynaecology, ultrasound/radiology technology and forensic science – facts that were previously undiscernible beyond reasonable doubt in relation to the child’s living state can far more easily be established. Not only that: but the weight of medical evidence is in favour of an understanding of human life as beginning at conception.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And so, when it comes to the legal reality surrounding these issues in Queensland, a child is not a person, when the law is an ass. Section 292 is a dumb, unfounded, archaic and inconsistent piece of law in Queensland. It is a blight on the entire body of law in this State because of its baseless absurdity. Unborn children are human beings and there are no solid legal grounds for not recognising them as persons capable of being killed. Therefore, the best principles of law with respect to unborn children, as embodied in Section 313, should be what shapes the other relevant sections of the code.

Section 292 should be reformed to read something along the lines of:

292 The beginning of a human life

A child is a person capable of being killed, from time of conception and shall be regarded as a human being throughout the embryonic and foetal stages of its development.

 

Sections 224-226 relating specifically to abortion should remain part of the QLD Criminal Code and these sections should be enforced to prevent the killing of innocent life where necessary (on a side note, I favour an approach where the prospect of criminality serves mainly as a legal deterrent towards women considering seeking an illegal abortion, whereas medical professionals or others found guilty performing an abortion would face the full punitive consequences of killing a person under the law). The Queensland Parliament should legislate positively to restrict the ease with which medical professionals can recommend and carry out surgical and chemical abortions. We should be moving away from abortion-on-demand not towards it. Abolition should be the desired outcome, rather than proliferation.

In summary, Parliament should reject Mr. Pyne’s private member’s bill – but it should also act to ensure the law is not an ass by ensuring that a child (born or unborn) is a human being and legal person.

[1] https://www.facebook.com/humancoalition/photos/a.473787345973115.107637.134452023239984/1221895087829000/?type=3&theater

What’s at the end of Satan’s Rainbow?

6698188817_4f724ff5a3_b[1]

What’s the Go with Pokémon? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, you’ll probably be aware that the release of Pokémon GO has caused the beginning of a global sensation. As droves of young (and perhaps not so young) people walk around with their smartphones out like they’re going to take a photo (but are really trying to capture animated monsters that first caused waves around the world 20 years ago) – pop culture seems to have entered a new era.

4267327909_06db8899e7_b
Almost the real thing…[2]

Of course, the prevalence of Pokémon GO is naturally going to bring discussions about video games to the fore of Christian conversation once again. Already I’ve had a brief discussion with a brother about the common Christian responses to Pokémon back in the 1990s and I’ve seen people linking to old articles on Facebook about the apparent evils of the popular game franchise. Pokémon games certainly aren’t the only video games that some Christians find objectionable for one reason or another. There are many more worthy contenders on the market for our disapproval  in response to the content of games. But some Christians are anti-games altogether. So what are we to make of it all?

Not long after Pokémon first burst into the world, Brisbane alternative rock band Regurgitator released a catchy tune called Black Bugs. It somehow manages to act as both a tongue-in-cheek nod to the literal demonisation of video games by some sections of the community  and a cautionary tale about the unending, addictiveness of gaming.

I got killed by Black Bugs on my video game
Then although to myself it doesn’t mean that much
I keep dying and dying over and over again
And now I feel I’m alive so I’ll just pretend

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Turn off the TV to low now and I’m not the same
I’ve got to remind myself that it’s just a game
It’s getting harder and harder to get to sleep at night
I think I let them shoot me so that I can die

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?
What’s at the end?
Tell me is this the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

The song’s hook is a vivid description of addictive gameplay as a colourful “rainbow” used by Satan to entice someone to embark on a quest for the treasure that they anticipate will lie at the end. The trouble is, the best games are either never-ending – or at least require scores of hours of immersive play to complete. Equally problematic is whether the sense of achievement, virtual reward or limited social glory gained from beating a game or getting a better score than others is really that satisfying in proportion to the time and effort that has gone into it. Thus the golden refrain: “What’s [really?] at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Many conservative Christians would be happy to identify certain games as satanic – either due to their content or the aforementioned addictiveness and side-effects they might have on players.

The main charge levelled at Pokemon has tended to be that it features monsters that have occultic connections (especially the ghost and psychic types) and that these things are not spiritually neutral – having more in common with demonic forces than with godliness. Other games, such as fantasy role-playing-games like World of Warcraft are likely to receive the same kind of reception. Other games again, are seen as immoral, inappropriate (and therefore, perhaps by extension, satanic) for other reasons, such as graphic violence, sexual content, coarse language etc; (games in the Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat franchises come to mind as reasonably recent examples).

But is it a helpful approach to label all or some video games as being “of the Devil”? Does such a declaration promote godliness in our churches and protect our young people from harmful influences, or does it cause more problems than it remedies?

I think the issue has been too contentious and super-charged with emotion and vastly differing perspectives for us to ever see a consensus amongst evangelical Christians on this issue. But I think the dangers of legalism are themselves a satanic, corrupting influence that we must be on guard against in our churches. Thus, making morally-binding, blanket-statements on issues the Bible doesn’t address directly is often a risky practice. Therefore it seems wise for churches not to attempt to guilt their members out of playing video games in general. A rules-based, guilt-based or fear-based approach is not conducive to sanctification, but encourages external morality and self-righteousness instead.

However, when it comes to content and side-effects, no Christian should be encouraged to game without discernment. God does care about what we view with our eyes. He cares about which desires we choose to feed. He cares about whether your gameplay amounts to innocent relaxation and recreation or interferes with your devotional life and your commitments to family, friends, neighbours and work.
Dare I say, God cares if our thoughts are constantly immersed in an imaginary world, when there is a real, present world He has called us to live godly lives within. He cares when our hearts inhabit a virtual la-la land, to a greater extent than they look longingly for the eternal reality that has been promised to us in Christ.

But while video games may be the vehicle by which some people embark on a vain pursuit of temporary pleasure and elusive satisfaction, they are by no means the main or only means of doing so.

You see, I think the question, “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?” is a good one, precisely because it applies to so many areas of life and potentially futile pursuits. Some people might waste hours of their lives playing games that keep leading them on an endless quest – not realising that there’s little more than the carrot on the stick they’ve been chasing waiting for them at the end (if indeed it ever comes). And yes there can be something deceptive and perhaps even sinister or satanic about this addictiveness.

But when I look around at the “real world”, I see plenty of people chasing satanic rainbows that are just as illusory and just as unprofitable at the end. Millions of people sell their souls to a career in order to chase a rainbow leading to happiness in material wealth. Family, ethics and the glory of God are ignored to reach the dream of financial success – but there’s a disturbing lack of reward at the rainbow’s end. People selfishly chase the rainbow of fame – thinking that a great name and popularity will be worth all the risks and hard work. But while this rainbow promises greatness, adoration and a sort of immortality at the end – personal insecurity, popular fickleness and eventually death and relative obscurity are what actually awaits.

Even in the church, Satan can offer us promises of influence, honour, recognition, applause, acceptance and social security if we deludedly chase a rainbow of respectable religiosity. We can spend hours acquiring Christian knowledge, doing Christian activities and seemingly serving others, all the while being motivated by the promised reward of greater status in the eyes of others and a greater sense of self-fulfilment.

Appearing to “serve God” but doing it to seek our own glory and advancement instead of His is a much older and more dangerous satanic rainbow which we should be more wary of than we are amusements like video games. And calling yourself a Christian, while the trajectory of your life is aimed at achieving something other than the glory and enjoyment of God, is all too easy to do. And there are hundreds of ways to do it.

And so, whether you game lots, sometimes or not at all is a question of fairly minor consequence. The real question is: which rainbows are you chasing. And if the things you’re chasing and the promised reward you’re hoping for at the end are independent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, maybe it’s time to ask: “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?”

 

[1] joinash “Rainbow” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Sadie Hernandez WILD PIKACHU APPEARS! (CC BY 2.0)

Death knocked three times…

6536845445_b017ac9391_b[1]

Once upon a time, Death knocked three times at the door of my family. It was 2002, I was a teenager, still in high school and hadn’t experienced the death of any close family members thus far in my young life. Then just before Easter that year, I came home to find my family in the throes of grief. My paternal grandmother, “Nanna” as we called her, had succumbed to death as a result of breast cancer. It came as a shock – I’d been aware she had cancer but had no idea her health had been in decline. This first, cruel intrusion of death had a big impact on my family.

A few months later, our beloved family dog Ranger, who we’d owned since I was 3 years old also died. While losing a pet is not the same as losing a grandparent, it was another taste of death, another round of grief and noticeable, daily absence from family life.

Another few months passed and my maternal grandfather, “Granddad” passed away from a coronary episode. I knew him better than my Nanna, as he had lived much closer to us and I’d spent much more time with him growing up. This was in many ways the biggest personal loss of the year – the death of the most important male figure in my life after my father – but by that stage I was well fatigued from all the grief and mourning and found it difficult to express my sorrow with my emotions so drained.

That was when death knocked three times – by far the darkest season of my life with the greatest sense of loss I’d experienced. But unbeknownst to me, death would knock three times in a short space of time once again, many years later.

Towards the end of 2014, I found out simultaneously that I had fathered a child and that the child was in all probability already dead. It was a shocking experience, as I only had limited, rather removed, second-hand knowledge of miscarriages and a child dying long before it was due to be born. There will always be a sense of sadness for the loss of the baby who would have been approaching his or her first birthday around now, had they continued to grow and develop healthily within their mother’s womb.

A year ago today, my maternal grandmother, “Grandma” passed away a few days after her 92nd birthday. Although her death at that age was by no means unexpected, it still had a profound sense of grief attached to it, as she was the grandparent I had the closest attachment to out of all four. She had been part of my life, almost weekly, from the earliest times until well into adulthood and now suddenly she was gone. I wished I had seen the signs more clearly at the time and recognised that she was in fact about to die – but she had come back from poor health so many times before that it was too difficult to discern whether another comeback was around the corner instead of deterioration to death.

Then, just three months ago, my wife’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. The way she died and the way we found out about it were both quite traumatic. There remains to this day, things we will probably never know about what led to the circumstances surrounding her death. It has affected me significantly as a son-in-law seeing his mother-in-law lose her life without any warning and as a husband trying to do the best to comfort and support his grieving wife who lost her mother without any warning. Once again, there is a hole in our lives because Death knocked again.

These three deaths differ in detail and are tragic in different kinds of ways. But each one has stained the last three calendar years of my life with the shock and pain of death. Once again, I find myself in a dark period, where my family has been visited too many times by that most unwelcome intruder.

Here are my reflections during this season when death has knocked three times:

1) I hate death

Death is the greatest reminder that there is something profoundly wrong with the world. As a Christian I have to acknowledge that humanity deserves to suffer at the hands of death – because our rejection of God and His goodness is so wicked and ungrateful that we all ought to be left to Death as its playthings. And yet, at the same time, death is bad. I hate what it is and what it does. I long for a world where it no longer exists. You can probably only hate death when it’s come close enough for you to stare into its wretched, ugly face. It has for me and I hate it in truth.

2) We all must face the death of loved ones – and it’s a terrible reality

Sometimes it’s hard to truly appreciate the impact that the death of a loved one has had on someone else when we see it happen to them. We’re sad for our friends, co-workers or acquaintances when we see them mourning, but often we’re sufficiently removed from the situation to not feel the power of the emotional shockwaves they’ve been hit with. But even those reading this who’ve never lost someone who was an important part of their lives will have to experience it personally one day. That’s the terrible truth that faces us when we love people in a world that’s tainted by sin and death. It’s sad because it means that in all likelihood I’ll see many more people go through what I’ve gone through in the last couple of years, before too much time passes.

At certain times it can be quite daunting when I reflect on this truth in light of other relationships in my life. One day I will have to face the death of my last living grandparent. One day my own father and mother will be the ones that die. One day I may have to say goodbye to the most precious companion I have in life – my beloved wife. I may survive a number of my friends and relatives and perhaps even some of my own children. Grimly, the only thing that will prevent me from experiencing the deaths of those I love will be if I myself die first – leaving them to experience bereavement at my passing, instead of me being left to mourn theirs.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of Death knocking several times is the part where it leaves the calling card, promising to visit again at another time.

3) Death can strike at any time (even in a technologically advanced, sanitised, first-world society)

My experiences have been a poignant reminder that death doesn’t follow a predictable schedule, it can come without warning and can strike at any time of life. The death of our unborn child was a confronting taste of Death taking away a life that had barely begun. The shock of learning of death before I even had time to appreciate that there was life, showed me precisely how abrupt Death’s intrusions into life can be. The death of my grandmother demonstrated that even when someone has been blessed with a very long life and you know they can’t go on living forever – Death can still approach like a vicious, stealthy predator – undetected until it’s too late. The death of my mother-in-law was both harrowing and surreal in the way it emerged out of nowhere – to the point where three months on it still doesn’t feel as though it should have happened. And yet it has.

In the 21st century, developed world, we’re pretty good at delaying death and preventing it from punctuating our lives quite as frequently as it did for our ancestors. We’re masters of ignoring it as we go about our lives doing hundreds of things that seem so important, as long as we operate on the assumption that we and everyone we love will still be here tomorrow. Yet Death is the star of the nightly news almost without fail – reminding us that it’s out there and warning us that it could visit our home anytime, just like it did for those poor people all the way out there in a distant land.

4) Caring for the vulnerable

The three deaths I’ve been describing make me want to reinforce the value of caring for the vulnerable – especially those who are particularly vulnerable to death. My child’s unexplained death in the womb helps me appreciate how precious the lives of all unborn children are. We should mourn their deaths and strive to protect these most vulnerable members of the human race.

Grandma’s death from old age tells the story of those who are vulnerable to death at the other end of the human lifespan: the elderly. Older members of our families and communities are precious – that’s why we grieve when they are taken from us. We should care for them and treasure them while they remain among us.

My mother-in-law’s death is still shrouded in uncertainty, but it seems most likely that it came about as a result of the mental illness she was cruelly afflicted with for many years. Those who suffer from different kinds of mental illness are often vulnerable to death in their own way. They are precious and in need of our care and love too. We may not be able to do anything to stop death from taking them from us – as has been the case for us. But we can enrich their lives and they ours, for as long as God permits us to remain in one another’s lives.

5) Jesus knocks death on the head for me (more than three times!)

Perhaps the only real source of comfort when Death knocks multiple times is the fact that Jesus has knocked death on the head for me and will do so again in the future.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the sin in my life which brings the sentence of death upon me has been dealt with; life has triumphed over death; the fatal blow that will kill Death itself has been inflicted. Even though death still takes lives every day – the age of death is now coming to a close. The coming, Eternal Age of Life has begun to swallow it up.

Because God has kindly allowed me to hear and believe the gospel – I have passed from death to life. I have died with Christ in his death, I live with Him in His resurrection. Through the Holy Spirit’s gracious application of Christ’s work to my soul, Jesus has knocked death on the head for me personally and I’ll never experience the eternal death I deserve.

Because Christ will draw me to Himself when I die, He’ll knock death on the head when it attempts to imprison my soul in darkness without hope to await judgement. Though my body will die, this will simply be the transition that commences my enjoyment of Jesus in a heavenly state that is free of sin, corruption, distraction and misery. Remembering this truth empowers me to face death without fearing its power to deprive me of the things I love in life.

Because Christ will raise my body again and unite it with my soul to live forever at His coming, He will have knocked Death on the head definitively by reversing fully its effects. But this will be the ultimate Death of Death, when the Age of Life is fully ushered in and Death is judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire as a sign of final judgement. Millions will be raised to life. Creation will be renewed. Death will burn forever, while Life reigns.

I know Death will knock again. It will once again be painful to endure when it does. But thanks be to God that Jesus dealt death its own fatal blow and will give it a knock so hard it that it will never come back again.

[1] Delete “Death” (CC BY-NC 2.0)