Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Jacob: The Full Story on the way to publication? 27 July

July 27, 2017

Jacob’s life story: feeling weak, cheating, lying, stealing, loving, acquiring, losing, mistrusting, letting go, blessing. A tale of men, women and angels, of wrestling between the sexes, between men, between God and man. A tale of the promises of God, the limits of God, the strange and subtle workings of God. A tale of family, favouritism, fear, fury. A tale of what it means to be human and what it means to be Jewish.

 ‘Jacob – The Full Story’ is the exact Bible story, filled out.

Draft words for the back cover of my next book, I hope

Many people know that Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven. Most do not know the message of that dream and whether Jacob heeded it. Many people know that Jacob cheated his twin brother, Esau, out of his blessing. Most do not know whether or how they were ever reconciled. Many people know that Jacob wrestled with God. Most do not know why God was determined to put Jacob on the ground. Many people know that Jacob had his name changed to Israel, Most do not know how Jacob connived in the first genocide. Many people know that Jacob gave his son Joseph an amazing coat. Most do not know how Jacob angered Joseph in blessing his sons. Many people know that Jacob was promised blessing in the land we know as Israel / Palestine. Most do not know how he came to die an alien in Egypt.

As well as recounting and explaining the lesser-known times in Jacob’s life, Jacob – The Full Story, portrays his thoughts and feelings, his conversations with others, and background to the Bible account. Jews have long filled out their Bible stories in a tradition called Midrash. Myjewishlearning.com explains: ‘Midrash is commonly defined as the process of interpretation by which the rabbis filled in “gaps” found in the Torah. It is a literature that seeks to ask the questions that lie on the tips of our tongues, and to answer them even before we have posed them.’

Draft beginning of the Introduction.

To find a Publisher, first find an Agent. Publishers won’t read manuscripts from writers, only from Agents. Finding a Book Agent is now a challenge.

Agenthunter.co.uk offers help. (https://www.agenthunter.co.uk/) The website contains details of many UK Book Agents, searchable according to the kind of book you are writing. Jacob: The Full Story can fall into categories of adult fiction, historical fiction, romance, religion. Searching accordingly gave me many names. A good start.

A closer look showed that some of the Agents Hunted do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Some were not even interested in fiction. The searching and the Agent info was not as fine-tuned as I had expected. I was given a long list of names to work through, with little to choose between them.

First on the list, though, was an Agent more likely than most. Some serendipitous coincidences. Her company says ‘no unsolicited…’ but she is quoted as encouraging writers to make bold approaches. Using AgentHunter was helpful. And it was a free trial on the understanding that I would write about it on my blog.

Suddenly, though, my plans were unexpectedly, happily, diverted. A cousin gave me money for Freedom From Torture, the UK charity caring for victims of torture. I used some of the money to go to their ‘Big Street Feast’ at BAFTA, Piccadilly, in June, intending to use the rest on other events of theirs. The Feast turned out to include an Auction. The Auction turned out to include a couple of Writing Workshops with Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With A Pearl Earring and others. The winning bid turned out to be the amount I had left of my cousin’s money. Tracy will help with Jacob: The Full Story.

Smiley face. Very smiley face.

Roger Harper

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Atonement as Blood Covering, A Fresh Understanding? 17 November

November 17, 2016

On Sunday evening I was talking ‘Atonement’ with assorted Derby clergy who do beer and theology once a month. I was presenting an understanding that the central problem with sin is the wounds we inflict on others. God deals with this by a covering of blood like a scab covering a wound to enable healing and prevent festering.

‘There goes my theology!’ said one Minister half-joking. He described himself as less Conservative Evangelical than he has been. He recognised that the ‘Blood Covering’ understanding has claims to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical view.

‘Why haven’t I heard this before?’ asked a fired-up Minister’s spouse. He was aghast that he was hearing a Bible truth which he thought many others needed to have heard before. 

This understanding comes from Leviticus 16, the instructions for the Annual Dealing With Sin – Yom Kippur. ‘Kippur’ means, simply and literally, ‘covering.’ The blood makes a Covering, v 27. (‘Kippur’ was spread over the inside and outside of Noah’s Ark to prevent it leaking. There kippur is usually translated ‘pitch.’ A covering which protects, preserves, makes good.) When Wycliffe was translating into English he didn’t want to translate kippur as ‘covering’ (not sure entirely why not) so he invented a new word: ‘at-one-ment.’ For years we have thought that the blood ‘makes atonement’ whereas the Hebrew is more literally that the blood is ‘for covering.’ This has been known in theological circles for a long time. 

Where do we see blood covering? Blood is released by a wound and then covers the wound to form a scab. This covering by blood enables healing, repair, reconstruction, to take place under the covering. The covering by blood stops infection from entering the wound and hindering healing. (Similar to the pitch-covering stopping the waters of chaos from seeping into and damaging the ark.) Is this the fundamental understanding of what is happening to the sins of the people? Their wounds, especially the wounds they have inflicted on others, are covered by God-given blood so that healing and repair can happen, without the world, the flesh and the devil hindering the process of healing? This likening of the Covering by blood to the formation of a scab is probably a new insight.

A further insight from the Hebrew, which I have not fully thought through, is that the covering happens in the Holy of Holies, the blood being placed specifically on the top to the covenant box. We are used to this top as the ‘mercy seat.’ The Hebrew word is ‘kaporet.’ The same ‘kpr’ root as ‘kippur.’ The NRSV translation rightly notes that the Hebrew is literally the ‘cover.’ The blood–covering is placed on the cover. Does the blood renew the cover, annually? Is this like a damaged scab being renewed with more blood, covering the parts which have become exposed? 

Implications of ‘Blood Covering’ as how God deals with sin:

The primary focus is on what the blood covers rather than on the relationship between humankind and God. The primary problem with sin is that humans wound each other. This damage provokes God to anger, as any parent is angry against someone hurting their child. The anger means that there has to be a distance between God and the wounder. But the rift with God is not dealt with directly, even by an intermediary, leaving the wounds untouched. The rift with God is dealt with by the blood which covers and heals the wounds. Once the wounds are on the way to being healed, God’s anger can pass and the relationship with Him is restored. 

On the cross Jesus was pouring out His blood to cover all the wounds inflicted by humanity, thereby bringing healing, repair, to those wounds. By Hs stripes we are healed. The blood which oozes from cuts all over Jesus’ body, covers not the wounds to His skin and tissue, but the wounds we have inflicted on other people. On the Cross Jesus was extending His ministry of healing. He had demonstrated Himself as the Healer par excellence. As he died, His blood, His life, was made available for wound/injury-healing for everyone, everywhere. There is a clear connection between Jesus ministry and death, which are often separated in other understandings of the cross.

The world, the flesh and the devil try to make wounds fester. Festering wounds, in people’s bodies, hearts, communities, nations, are the work of evil, trying to hinder the work of God through Jesus. How much do we see this in our world, our news?

The blood stops the forces of festering. The wounds are then healed gradually. Jesus’s blood covers once and for all. ‘Under the blood’ the Holy Spirit works gradually to heal, repair, sanctify. The work of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with Jesus is seen to be integral. Other understandings of the cross don’t see the Holy Spirit as integral to the process.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted (rather than on the rift in our relationship with God which is a consequence of the wounds) is the same as the Biblical focus in Judgement on ‘according to their deeds.’ (Mth 25:31-46 Sheep and goats, Rev 20:12,13 and many other places.) We are not judged for what we believe or how we have related to God. We are judged according to what we have done. (This goes against the understanding that idolatry is the central problem in humanity.) All of us have injured some people. That is our central problem to which we have to face up. (Our good deeds are irrelevant. The common view that the good deeds outweigh the bad is like making a defence in court on a stabbing charge by saying ‘I’ve donated millions to charity.’ What else we have done is not the point.) Have we inflicted injury? Was it our responsibility? How are we going to put it right? Those are the central questions. We need Jesus to put it right, heal the wounds we have inflicted, by faith in His blood shed on the cross. (Idolatry can and does lead to us wounding others and thinking it is justified for the sake of all kinds of false gods. Idolatry is a malign influence, but the wounds which idolatry justifies are the core problem. Think someone walking by on the other side because their understanding of religious purity, or of bad events being God’s will / punishment, trumps the need to help the injured traveller.)

This understanding answers the exact question ‘What does it mean that Christ died for our sins?’ ‘Christ died to cover our sins, the wounds we have inflicted on others, like a scab covers a wound, ensuring that, in the end, the wound is healed. Christ’s death, Christ’s blood, means that all sins are covered, ultimately healed.’ The classic Evangelical understanding says ‘Christ died for me. He died in my place. He took the anger of God so that it doesn’t come to me.’ This is answering a slightly different question: ‘What does it mean that Christ died for me?’ The Evangelical answer says my sins caused God’s wrath but leaves me in a good place and my sins untouched.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted also echoes the ‘Life Review’ in Near-Death Experiences. This Review enables us to see and to feel all the wounds we have inflicted, so that we can acknowledge responsibility for them and have them healed by the Being of Light.

Is the Blood Covering understanding a fresh insight? Has the connection between covering by sacrificial blood and covering by a scab been made before?

Can the Blood Covering understanding be said to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical understanding?

Please comment!

Roger Harper

 

Rethinking Hell in London: 10 November

November 10, 2016

Rethinking Hell in London was a great conference with stimulating speakers, interested and perceptive attenders. Much fascinating talk about the subject at meal times, not usual at Christian conferences. We would have liked more people to share the truth-seeking. I left heartened and energised by gracious engagement with an important subject.

My message was that the traditional Hell is a distortion of the Biblical message of Hades and Gehenna. Part of the distortion is talking of one place instead of two, assuming that when Jesus used two names, He meant the same place.

This distinction was new to many there and challenged by one of the other speakers. Some said that the most useful part of my presentation was to chart the differences between Hades and Gehenna:

Hades                                   Gehenna

Torment                                Destruction

After death                            After Judgement

Has gates and keys                Is a fire, a lake of fire

Presence of Jesus                   Away from Jesus

Presence of holy angels          Same place as beast, devil, false prophet

No fear                                  Fear

Gospel preached                     ?

Jesus risen as first fruit           No resurrection from this second death

Ends at Final Judgement         ‘Eternal’

Part of the distortion is that on entering Hell, understood as after death, wicked people are supposedly told ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ Jesus, in contrast, says ‘Don’t be afraid… I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ This means that Jesus has the power and authority of entry and exit to Hades, where the wicked go when they die. Jesus can go in and out of Hades and take people in and out of Hades. I consider Jesus not only can, but does. Jesus can and does seek and save the lost even in Hades. This is why we are not to fear.

You can hear me explaining this at the first, 2014, Rethinking Hell Conference in Houston, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyNeF4CF8hU

This year, as requested, I talked about responses to the message of Hades and Gehenna.

Complexity: An honest response might be: ‘One hell, that of endless torment, was bad enough. Now you are talking about two hells!’ We are so used to thinking that eternal life begins the moment we die. It takes time and effort to take in that there is life after death before Final Judgement and more, or no, life after Final Judgement.

Clarity and Confidence: ‘I have got really excited about the whole thing. Now you wouldn’t expect someone to get excited about hell, but you might understand someone getting excited about there being no hell…’ The words of David Munby to his congregation in Barnsley, Yorkshire. A Church Warden wrote: ‘Now there is more clarity and less mystery, more appreciation of Jesus as my Saviour and the Saviour of others, more connection with God as my loving Father.’

Comfort: One elderly woman in a Malaysian home group had tears in her eyes as she thought about the hope of Jesus using his keys for her good non-Christian parents. She is far from alone.

One man in my prison was much disturbed by being inside when his mother, not a Christian, was terminally ill and then died. He had had sessions of bereavement counselling but was still distressed. As his release approached, the issue became more acute. I talked with him of Jesus being able to take messages to people who have died, (because He has the keys of Hades and came to serve us.) The man wrote a letter to his mother with all he wanted to say. We placed it on the Communion table. I told him that this was not only a symbol. Jesus really was taking those words and delivering them to his mother. A few weeks later the prisoner considered that he had no further need of talking about this either to myself or the bereavement counsellor. He was simply less distressed than before and could face his upcoming release in a better frame of mind.

Talking to Jesus, asking Him to pass on a message, is much better than the common, unhealthy, practice of talking directly to the dead, either at the grave or when looking at the stars.

Repentance: When our emphasis is ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys, even after death,’ this feels like ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys to unlock a better future for you in this life as well.’ There is always a point in repentance. All will need to do it, and the sooner the better. It is never too late.

Disturbance: Many people, particularly in the UK, believe that ‘we all’ (except maybe the few really wicked people) go to heaven because we’ve led decent lives. The message of Hades and Gehenna can make these people uncomfortable, disturbed. When talking in churches it is best to begin with the more comforting message of Paradise and the New Universe. The words of Jesus, and of John the Baptist, however were deliberately disturbing to those who considered they were basically all right on their own.

Being ignored: David Hilborn, Principal of St John’s School of Mission and Editor of the Evangelical Alliance Report The Nature of Hell wrote of my book The Lie of Hell ‘it deserves serious attention and a serious response.’ Instead there has so far been virtually no response.

Why carry on with the message of Hades and Gehenna?

Because it is Jesus’ truth.

Because it can unite Christians. Traditionalists who hold to the idea of ongoing torment for the wicked after death can see that this happens in Hades. It is ‘for ages and ages’ but not eternal. Universalists who hold to the idea that most, maybe all, people will eventually reach ‘heaven’ can see that Jesus having and using the keys of Hades makes this likely, though not certain.

Because it might unite Protestants and Roman Catholics. Can Protestants accept Hades as Biblical, separate from and preceding Gehenna, the Hades to which Jesus has the keys and to which the Church has access, the gates availing nothing? Can Catholics accept Hades as the lost ancestor of Purgatory, the truer, more original, teaching of the Church founded on the revelation given to Peter? Protestants would have to learn what is the role of the Church beyond this life, instead of dismissing the idea of any such role for the Church. Catholics would have to learn the true nature of Hades, of which Purgatory is an artificial shadow, and from which release is not earned through penance or prayer, but given as free gift through the gracious forgiveness of Jesus and to which the Church bears witness.

Because it might improve society. Sociologists have shown a link between a general belief in an ‘or else’ after death and both lower crime rates and economic growth. See https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/hell-on-the-net-controversy-and-crime-july-22/

With the message of Hades and Gehenna we help the Church, and the nations, to be transformed by the renewing of our understanding. We spearhead a unity that the Church has not known for hundreds of years. We annihilationists become redundant because there are no more conflicting schools of thought but one Church built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, Hades and Gehenna. We are agents of renewal in faith and hope and love for everyone.

 

A hell of a message? My paper at the Rethinking Hell Conference: 15 September

September 15, 2016

A hell of a message? Proclaiming ‘the other place’ after death, to people in the UK is the title of the Paper I will be presenting at the Rethinking Hell Conference in London, October 7 & 8, in one of the ‘Breakout’ sessions. http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/

Breakout is a good heading for what I have to say.  Jesus enables people to break out of ‘hell.’ This understanding, drawn from the Bible, breaks out of usual, historic, Christian teaching.

The organisers asked me to cover more of the ‘So what?’ particularly in the UK context. I have explained in detail the Biblical basis for the ‘breakout’ view of ‘hell’ in my book The Lie of Hell (www.laddermedia.co.uk) and in my Paper in A Consuming Passion (http://rethinkinghellbooks.com/resources/aconsumingpassion ) So what difference does the message of Hades and Gehenna make to people, to churches, to society? This year’s Paper gives my answers along with those of others who have grasped this understanding.

I will give an overview of how people in this country now see ‘hell’, and have seen it in the past, particularly in the 19th Century. Then look more closely at the Church of England understanding, somewhat muddled (not unusual) but surprisingly Biblical. Jesus taught of two places for the wicked after death, using two different names, Hades and Gehenna. Hades is the remand prison before Final Judgement. Gehenna is the destroying fire into which the devil will ultimately be thrown, along with any people who still want to be attached to the devil and his ways. Jesus has said he has the keys of Hades and this is to take away our fear. He can let people in and out of Hades. This means that there is hope and comfort for everyone, along with a warning that all of us will need, sooner or later, to admit our mistakes. Through this understanding there is a possibility of bridging some of the great Christian divides, including the divide between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Some people may well think that I am making some outrageous claims. There should be lively debate.

Please join us if you can: http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/

Afterwards I will post more of my claims and the response to them.

Roger Harper

Justin Welby depressed at Greenbelt about Gay Marriage: 2 September

September 2, 2016

Justin Welby is depressed about gay marriage. On Saturday, at Greenbelt, he was interviewed by Kate Botley. He was delightful, engaging, humorous, positive. He talked about himself, when asked, honestly and humbly. He talked about the Church with love and hope. He emphasised the church being filled with the Holy Spirit. He talked about Jesus and how he, Justin, has to, and delights in, talk about Jesus. In South Sudan in a Cathedral with the dead bodies of some of the staff in plastic bodies outside, he talked about Jesus. What else can you do?

Then a question was asked about gay marriage. As Justin answered a dark cloud seemed to grow and grow over him. He was no longer expressing hope and love, but heaviness, anxiety, depression. He didn’t seem to see or have much faith for a way forward. He talked at length about how homophobia is not on and what the Church has been doing and how hard the issue is. Very hard. Very very hard. Gloom.

Justin seemed to forget his guiding principle of talking about Jesus. Yes! Talk about Jesus and gay marriage. That’s part of the way forward. We’ve talked enough about Leviticus and Romans and how we all feel about gay marriage. We’re Christians, for God sake! We follow the Christ. Let’s talk about Jesus and gay marriage. When we read through the Gospels what light do they shed, about gay marriage? My reflection on doing this is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/ This is one view. Let’s all do it and see what comes.

Justin seemed to forget about being assured that the Holy Spirit is in the Church, leading us into all truth, including the truth about gay marriage. Let’s also listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church of England. Justin knows about guidance and prophecy and discernment. He just needs to bring out his knowledge and say ‘Let’s work out how to listen to the Spirit and then do it. Let’s aim to be people like those in Acts who came to being able to say “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that…” Let’s all be open to the Spirit surprising us.‘ My reflection on this, for what it’s worth, is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-the-holy-spirit/

All Justin has to do is be true to himself, talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and smile and relax. Justin wants ‘good disagreement.’ On Saturday he was so taken up with saying what he thought needed to be said officially that he missed a lovely example of good disagreement.

The question at Greenbelt was ‘My partner and I will be married next year. I know God will be blessing our relationship. I know the Church won’t now be blessing us. When do you think the Church will be able to?’ All delivered in grace and good humour.

Justin could have said ‘Thank you for your gracious attitude. You’re not castigating the Church for being homophobic and unjust. You’re accepting, with regret, where the Church is now. You want the Church to move ahead on this. You envisage it taking some time yet. Your attitude is lovely. You have given us a great example of good disagreement. And no, I don’t know when (or if) the Church of England will move ahead as you want. Jesus doesn’t know when He’s going to come again. Only the Father knows. There are some things the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t know either! If we can all have your gracious patient attitude we may well come to agree sooner than if we castigate each other. Part of the trouble is that people get up on their high horses to discuss this. Let’s ban the high horses, listen to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. Amen?’

Peace and joy be with you Justin.

Roger Harper

Government trying to kill off Sundays: 23 February

February 23, 2016

The UK Government is trying amend the current Enterprise Bill in order to increase Sunday Trading through devolving power to Local Authorities. This will kill off the small remaining space in the week for community rest. UK readers, please write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative, and ask them not to support this sick scheme.

Ill thought-through. The Government’s case is built on forecasts of possible economic benefit, surveys which show a substantial number of people would like their choice of when to shop widened, support for traditional rather than internet shopping, and a proclaimed need for London to compete internationally with other tourist destinations.

The Government give no detailed working of the economic forecasts. They do not demonstrate how the substantial increased salary and energy costs to retailers would be offset by increased sales. Rather, the findings of customer surveys indicate that people do not envisage spending more. People only envisage a wider choice of when to shop for the same amount of goods.

The Government quote no economic evidence. The most obvious such evidence would be from the extension of Sunday Trading for the Olympics. The Government do not mention this, probably because in that period there was a slight decrease in Sunday spending compared to the previous year. The slight decrease coupled with bigger overheads for retailers put pressure on retailers to raise prices. More widely the Government show no evidence that the extension of Sunday Trading so far in this country has led to more sales overall, rather than displacement of sales, or has created more jobs, or has lowered prices. These would be obvious figures for the Government to produce if they exist.

The Government give no evidence that increased Sunday Trading would reduce internet shopping. They could quote surveys of why people use internet shopping, which indicate that not being able to go to a shop before 10am and after 4pm on Sundays is a significant factor. The lack of such evidence probably indicates that Sunday shopping hours are an insignificant factor in people’s choice to shop online. The growth of internet shopping in the UK is much more due to the good, quick, delivery services possible in a nation more compact than others.

The Government take no account of proven economic success. Germany has the most successful economy in the world. Germany also has far less Sunday Trading than the UK at present. If our Government are, as they state, ‘committed to increasing the UK’s productivity’ they should learn from our most productive neighbour.

The Government are saying ‘We guess this will be good economically, but we are giving no evidence to support this view.’

The Government also give no indication of the administration costs of their scheme. Each Local Authority would have to spend valuable time and money consulting, debating and deciding their local rule. They would need to employ people to administer and enforce their policy. Some of these would already be employed, for instance in Trading Standards, but the added workload would be to the detriment of their existing work. The Government have given no costings for all this, hardly a business-minded approach to running our country. The probable reason for lack of costings is that their scheme would add to the administration costs of the country as a whole without bringing any assured benefits.

The Government also give no indication of the environmental costs of their scheme. Our international commitments mean that we must reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption. All Government policies should have this in mind. The Government gives no assessment of the environmental impact of their scheme, while many businesses have to make such assessments for their expansion plans. The probable reason for lack of such assessment is that it would be very difficult to show how the increased fuel use for running shops for longer could be offset.

Hasty The lack of proper evidence and assessment shows that the Government’s scheme is being rushed. The amendment is being added to a Bill in its late stages to enable a quick decision and implementation. The Government are already saying that the changes ‘will’ take effect from the autumn of this year. They disregard the possibility that their scheme may not be accepted in the Commons. The Government state that there will be enough debate in Parliament, while also making sure that the Upper House has no opportunity for such debate.

Devious Before last year’s election, Conservative Central Office wrote clearly on behalf of David Cameron that the Party had no plans to change the existing good compromise on Sunday Trading. No apology has been issued for this misleading.

The Government’s explanation of their amendment begins by proclaiming that not allowing shops to open before 10am of after 4pm on Sundays is ‘stifling.’ This is a clear exaggeration. Their case continues with rhetorical language. and little substance.

The Government’s response to the Consultation last September quotes exact figures for people supporting their scheme and no figures for other views. These other views are dismissed in more general terms. They quote the number of Conservative Council Leaders and Members (misleadingly reported in the Press as Leaders alone) who wrote in support of their scheme, without indicating what proportion of Conservative Council Members this constitutes. 149 such people sound like a substantial number, but not when compared to the greater number of Conservative Council Members across England who declined to offer such support.

One example of such response is from South Oxfordshire District Council who indicated to the Government that they were in favour of the scheme. Their own consultation of local people showed 45% in favour and 56% against. (Their figures! http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Sunday%20trading%20hours%20-%20consultation%20summary%20-%20SEPT%202015.pdf ) Other Local Authorities may well have supported the Government Scheme more from Party loyalty than local opinion.

Extending Sunday Trading, in some Local Authorities, would have a greater, visible, impact on our communities than most other Government legislation. It would be a major and noticeable change. The Government should not be seeking to introduce such change through a late amendment in an unrelated Bill.

Harmful to our nation The Government highlight that they are trying to implement a request from shops in Knightsbridge and the West End of London. They make no mention of the rest of the country. As well as adding costs to every Local Authority, their scheme will lead to dissension and division within and between Local Authorities and to confusion as to which shop is open where. Such confusion is likely to put off shoppers.

The Government state that they want to give Local Authorities the ability to prioritise some sectors over others eg high street rather than out of town. The Government want to do this by giving the large retailers what they want and by disregarding the views of convenience store owners. There is a clear mismatch between what they state and what they are proposing. If the Government are concerned to support the high street and smaller traders, they should listen more to the representatives of these sectors and maintain the current compromise.

The Government make no mention of the impact to our society in any terms other than economic. They seem to be unconcerned about anything other than the economic theory of the free market. Sunday as a day of rest, including rest from shopping, is a significant marker in our national life that we humans are more than economic units. Our Government wants to remove this marker.

The detriment of longer Sunday Trading to shop workers and their families has been well expressed, not least by the Union USDAW. Thought should also be given to people who live on or near busy roads who at present relish the comparative quiet early and late on Sundays. If shop workers were working earlier and later, public transport to enable them to travel to and from work would also probably need to be increased, whether the transport workers want this or not. This would add to the overall cost of public transport. Of course this does not apply to London, where there is a full Sunday public transport service already, but the Government should think not only of London.

The Government indicate that they are siding with many large retailers and London shops. They are breaking a long established, well supported, national compromise to favour one interest group based in London.

The Government also seem to be in thrall to free market ideologues. In some ways having a complete Sunday of retailing will make little difference. This is only a matter of a very few hours in a whole week. It is not at all clear that shops would benefit economically. Yet the Government insist on bringing their scheme to the Commons, using up valuable Parliamentary time and energy. A few months ago the Government said, realistically, that they would not take their scheme any further. Now they are pushing it again. It seems that there are some people, connected to the Government, who find even a few hours of respite from retailing an affront to their free market ideology. They must be allowed to sell whenever they want. It is their right. The market, or more particularly the dominant market traders, must not be curtailed in any way.

Please urge your MP to vote against the Government amendment. Better for them to vote for family time on Sundays, for shop workers’ rest, for corner shops, for restricting the carbon output of big stores, for a clear national policy, for our current ‘classic British compromise,’ for national values other than those of the free market.

Roger Harper

UK Government plans to extend Sunday trading can be stopped: 24 August

August 24, 2015

The UK Government is asking people to give their views on its proposal to give local authorities the freedom to allow longer Sunday trading hours where they want. You can read the full Government rationale at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/451376/BIS-15-359-consultation-on-devolving-sunday-trading-rules.pdf 

Our Government quotes unsupported prediction that extended Sunday trading will bring economic benefit. Keep Sunday Special show how fabricated this claim is: http://www.keepsundayspecial.org.uk/evidence/mythbuster How can shops paying more for staff time, heating buildings for longer, mean that prices will be lower? How can local authorities take on this extra administrative role without diverting stretched resources from other areas? 

Our Government disregards the detriment of extended Sunday trading – social, environmental, spiritual. Allowing this proposal to go ahead means saying ‘Possible economic benefit is all that matters to us as a nation.’ More families will be unable to find time to meet when no-one is working. More carbon will be released into the atmosphere. More people will feel their only worth is economic.  

The present rules on Sunday trading are widely regarded as a good British compromise. The last attempt by Government and large retailers to break this compromise, in 2006, was defeated by a targeted campaign. This year’s attempt can also be defeated. We must not allow a good working compromise to be replaced by division and dissension between and within local authorities.

Please can I encourage UK readers to return the Response, by 16 September, with a clear ‘No?’ https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ccp/devolving-sunday-trading-rules

Please encourage others also to respond. 

To write to you MP go to https://www.writetothem.com/

If you would like to do more, including going in person to the Minister concerned, please comment. 

Roger Harper

PS How strange that this consultation is taking place in holiday season when many UK Christians are already much involved countering the Bill in Parliament to allow Assisted Dying!

Proof of Hades? The Experience of Eben Alexander: 8 July

July 8, 2015

‘Darkness, but a visible darkness – like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it… Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity – like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are… My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just … limited.’ (p29f)

This was the first part of Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience in November 2008 as related in his book Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster 2012). His Experience is significant in that his brain definitely had no functioning at all, nor any possibility of functioning. As a neuro-surgeon, he concludes that his brain could not possibly have been giving him the Experience in some kind of hallucination. The only explanation he can see is that his soul was truly experiencing life beyond this life.

Eben calls the place where he first found himself ‘Underworld’ or ‘The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.’ ‘… like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrices of roots…’ (p30)

The Old Testament’s answer to the question ‘Where do people go when they die?’ was ‘To Sheol – a place of darkness and semi-consciousness, a gloomy half life.’ ‘…for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘… the underworld was not a particularly important concept for the Israelite writers… Descriptive details are very sparse, but suggest a somnolent, gloomy existence without meaningful activity or social distinction…’ (Philip S Johnston Shades of Sheol – Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, Apollos IVP 2002, p85) Sheol was synonymous with ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Grave;’ the dead were understood to be half-living down under the earth – very much like a mole or earthworm.

Jesus talked of Sheol with its Old Testament understanding. When the New Testament was written, in Greek rather than Hebrew, the writers used the Greek name Hades as the translation of Sheol. (This is clearest in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16.) Hades in the New Testament is the same place as Sheol in the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of Sheol as a place to which people are brought down, a place of darkness and also a place of affliction. The deeply unpleasant nature of (semi-) existence in Hades / Sheol was one of Jesus’ additions to our understanding of it. Jesus also spoke of ‘the outer darkness where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth’ implying that there may be different sections of Hades / Sheol with different degrees of darkness and affliction.

For Eben Alexander the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was deeply unpleasant. He was immersed in sound, ‘a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong … like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are.’ (p29) ‘Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar – as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.’ (p31)

‘How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea… When I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.’ (p29f) Eben Alexander uses the word ‘aeons’ or ‘aeons and aeons’ (in a talk recorded for Youtube) to describe how long he was in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.

Revelation 14:9-11 describes people in Sheol / Hades in affliction ‘to ages of ages’ (to translate the Greek literally) or ‘to aeons of aeons.’

Although Eben felt like he would always be in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, he was rescued from it. First came ‘a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.’ (p31) This made the experience worse, the rhythmic pounding more brutal, the faces more ugly and threatening, now with reptilian bodies he could feel rubbing against him. He could now smell a stench of death. ‘Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go?’ (p32)

‘Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above…’ (p32) ‘Turning slowly it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard… The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around… Then, at the very center of the light something else appeared… An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up…’ (p38)

Eben was lifted up out of the darkness, with its brutal noise, into a place of light, colour, and beautiful, permeating, music. He calls this place ‘The Gateway.’ It sounds like Paradise as talked of by Jesus and Christians. The beautiful music, the same as made by the spinning light, came from innumerable immense beings which he calls the origin of the human understanding of angels. The spinning light which rescued him from the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was, in our terms, an angel.

Jesus proclaimed to John in Revelation 1:18 that He has the keys of death and Hades. Nearly everyone understands these words to mean that Jesus has the authority and power of entry and exit to and from Hades. Jesus also has angels working for Him. When Jesus rescued Peter from prison in Jerusalem, He sent angels. Peter saw angels taking him out of prison, not Jesus, but he understood they were acting on behalf of Jesus, in answer to the fervent prayer being made for him. (Acts 12) Jesus can bring people out of Hades Himself; Jesus can also use angels to bring people out of Hades, as He did with Eben Alexander.

Eben describes fervent prayer for him. Firstly, his own prayer. Just before he became completely unresponsive ‘out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear and heard by all the doctors and nurses present… “God, help me!” ‘(p24) Secondly, the prayer of many Christians, family and friends, including his neighbour, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest. They were asking Jesus to help Eben and Jesus did.

Later Eben returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View and, through remembering the angel and the music, was able again to be lifted out. Then he returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View without being able to be lifted out. This time, however, he was also aware of ‘countless beings … surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance.’ They were murmuring, a quiet version of the same glorious permeating sound of the angels in The Gateway / Paradise. ‘Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me.’ (p103)

Revelation 14:9-11 not only describes people in affliction in Hades for ages and ages, but also ‘the holy angels’ present with the people in Hades.

Together with the angels praying in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View Eben saw faces. ‘Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too.)’ (p103) Six other faces, saying things, also appeared, faces of people he later identified as his wife, her sister, friends and his son.

In Matthew 16:18 talks about building His Church, ‘and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Gates serve to restrict or prevent entry and exit to a place. Jesus is saying here that nothing will restrict or prevent His Church from entering and leaving Hades. As the angels join with Jesus in His mission to seek and to save the lost in Hades, so His people, those called out to belong to Him and His Father, also join with Jesus in that same mission. The Church’s role begins in this life and continues in the next. Even now, Christians, through prayer, can ‘enter’ Hades. The prayer of Christians is heard in Hades.

This ministry to the dead, prayer for the dead, is, doctrinally, most controversial. It has been much abused over the years and was a trigger for the Reformation. Yet, in the simple way Eben describes, we see confirmation of the simple extrapolation of the words of Jesus. The gates of Hades will not, do not, prevail against the Church. Hades cannot keep the Church out. Hades cannot keep the prayers of the Church out.

It is not only this aspect of the nature of Hades / Sheol that seems to be confirmed by Eben Alexander’s Experience, but every aspect. Eben knew nothing at all of the understanding of Hades / Sheol. (Very few people know of Hades / Sheol because people have instead been wrongly taught or have heard about ‘Hell.’ See The Lie of Hell for an explanation, www.laddermedia.co.uk) Eben simply describes what he saw and felt. Even now he seems puzzled by what this Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View is. He coins his own name maybe because he is aware of no other name. His focus in the book and elsewhere is on other aspects of and conclusions from his Experience. He may well be surprised to learn that his Experience ties in so closely with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible about Hades / Sheol. He may also be pleased that the Bible shows clearly that Hades will one day be emptied and disposed of, together with all that is evil, all that works against life and the author of life.

Eben Alexander’s Experience could not possibly have been an experience in his human brain. He sees it as proof of heaven. It also looks remarkably like proof of Hades / Sheol.

Roger Harper

 

 

The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at  https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

The US Church – The Good, The Bad, and the Divided: 1 November

November 1, 2014

The Church is America is stronger than it has ever been. At the time of the American Revolution and early in the 19th Century only about 15% of the population were church-going. 19th Century Canadians were much more church-going, peaking at nearly 90% of the population. In the 20th Century Canadians turned away from church dramatically, as did Europeans. Canadian church-going is now well under 20%. Through the 20th Century more Americans turned to the church. American church-going is now about 40% of the population. A huge number compared to the UK.

The US Church is a free-market Church. Churches, like everything else, have to compete in the marketplace. This raises the standard of communication and organisation. To attract members church leaders need to communicate clearly and engagingly. To retain members churches need to make people feel part of something good. We in the UK learn much from the US and have more to learn.

The large US Church contains all sorts and much that is excellent. Recently I came across Greg Boyd, Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota and founder of ReKnew, an organisation and website for developing a post-Christendom Christianity, Jesus-centred, non-violent, open-minded. Here’s part of their Manifesto:

It’s our conviction that the fearful, dogmatic rigidity that characterizes so much of contemporary Evangelicalism reflects an idolatrous relationship with beliefs, which in turn causes many to become hostile and unloving when debating doctrinal issues. We are convinced God is more concerned with the love with which we debate than the content of what we debate. (See more at: http://reknew.org/2012/07/a-reknew-manifesto/#sthash.JDj7K9a8.dpuf)

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I want to shout. Greg speaks and writes intelligently, engagingly, forthrightly. He and his church are definitely among the good.

Rachel Held Evans is a very popular US Christian blogger and book writer. She too communicates great truth intelligently and winsomely. Sometimes she harps on humourlessly about her main topics, but most weeks she has something well worth reading. She’s a good ‘un.

Other Yank good ‘uns more well known in the UK include Tony Campolo, Bill Johnson, Jim Wallis, Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, Mark Virkler, Bill Hybels and, (of course if you’re a regular reader) Edward Fudge. I have learnt and continue to learn great things from these good inspiring people. Please add to the list through the comments.

There is another side to the US Church. Greg Boyd set up ReKnew partly to counteract the strident Conservatives. Greg refers particularly to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Mark has been a champion of muscular Protestantism – focusing on the call to repent above all else. He has been refreshingly gutsy, with a likeable cheekiness. He has attacked anyone who questions hell as eternal torment. He has argued that care for creation is irrelevant because the planet is going to be trashed when Jesus returns. He has insisted that women submit to their husbands. Mark came to the UK and was interviewed by Justin Brierley on Premier Radio and Christianity magazine. Mark was bombastic and aggressive to Justin, and then aggrieved when Justin broadcast the interview.

Mark Driscoll has run into mounting criticism, especially of his leadership style. On October 15 Mark resigned from Mars Hill Church, confessing ‘to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.’ http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/mark-driscoll-resigns-from-mars-hill.html Yesterday Mars Hill Church announced it is disbanding. The 13 churches in its network will either run independently or will close. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html May this be a warning to those who promote hard attitudes and hard doctrine.

Gay marriage is causing a deep crisis in the US Church. Rachel Held Evans is all for it. Mark Driscoll is all against it. Many more people are lined up on either side. (I can’t see anything Greg Boyd has written about gay marriage, which would be interesting.) The conflict seems to be fierce. The conservatives are targeted and tarred as ‘hating’ gay people. The liberals are targeted and tarred as pseudo Christians. My guess is that there are a large number of Americans, as there are Brits, who are unsure about gay marriage, not happy with either extreme. The middle ground needs to gain confidence, and speak up. I hope http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com can help.

I hope the US Church in general will continue to thrive, and will find a way of uniting, in spirit, around Jesus.